Baking – like all forms of cookery – is a food science. If you get the ingredients or the proportions wrong, you can spoil the outcome. That is why it is important to always follow a recipe and only improvise if you know the food science behind any substitutions or additions you choose to make. Throughout my years of baking I have encountered every problem you could come across – from burning everything and cakes failing to rise to finding uncooked mixture in the middle of a cake and (worst of all) finding a whole cooked egg inside a cake. Below are a few of the little secrets that I have found to fix my baking blunders – and greatly enhance the flavour, texture and looks of my final products. I will add more hints to this list as I come across them.
Make sure butter is softened before using to bake. Especially when creaming with sugar. It is best to keep the butter that you use for baking in the cupboard, not the fridge. Or if you insist on storing it in the fridge due to weather, be sure to leave it out on the kitchen bench for about an hour to soften before cooking with it.
Always use full fat butter, none of this “lite” business.
Unsalted Butter is best for sweet baking, as in butter cakes etc
Lightly Salted or Regular Butter is best for savoury baking and recipes with chocolate or caramel as it enhances the flavour
Milk, like butter, is best used at room temperature when baking. If you use cold milk (and I’m sure you have in the past) you’ll notice that as soon as it comes into contact with the creamed butter and sugar – it will turn lumpy. Of course, it’s not reasonable to leave milk in the cupboard, so I suggest you measure the amount the recipe calls for and leaving out for 30 minutes or so before using it in your baking.
Again, full fat, full cream milk. Not skim!
Once again, room temperature is best. Most recipes are written for large eggs, too, so keep that in mind when shopping for ingredients.
If possible, use good quality flour.
Always sift your flour when the recipe calls for it (hell, even if it doesn’t). You’ll avoid yucky little clumps of flour in the final product and it will make your mixture lighter and smoother.
In baking, caster sugar is the most commonly used as the size of the sugar crystals dissolve well and allow for light and fluffy cakes. If a recipe specifies caster sugar, don’t be cheeky and use normal white sugar instead – it won’t work.
Most recipes out there with vanilla in them will usually call for vanilla essence. If you can afford it, using vanilla extract will improve the taste. It’s all I use now, I refuse to use essence – it’s just not the same. I bought a 200mL bottle in August and still have about a quarter of it left – and I’ve been baking a lot.
If you can find one, it’s a great idea to grab a thermometer and test out your oven’s temperature. People often blame their ovens for ruining their baking – but it could just be that the temperature you’re setting on the dial isn’t actually right. Test out the temperature and mark your oven dial for future reference.
I hope this helps! Please leave a comment if you have any questions. Happy baking!