My Baking Secrets

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.

Butter

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

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!

Eggs

Once again, room temperature is best. Most recipes are written for large eggs, too, so keep that in mind when shopping for ingredients.

Flour

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.

Sugar

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.

Vanilla

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.

Oven

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!

Eleanor x

Christmastime Cupcakes

Early this year I was lucky enough to score a sweet Scoopon for a Cupcake Masterclass with Jennifer Graham of Crabapple Cupcake Bakery. Always being an enthusiastic baker, I jumped at the opportunity to learn the art of cupcake decorating from a pro. Prior to this workshop I was more of a cookies and cakes kinda gal. I had made cupcakes and muffins before but never really moved past the old icing sugar + water combo for the icing and the application tended to be pretty pathetic.

Thankfully, I learnt some great tips and tricks from Jennifer in the workshop and I left with my hands full of cupcakes, my very first piping bag set and the fabulous ‘Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook’ (which I highly recommend you run out and buy ASAP).

My Cupcake Bible

It is from this wondrous book that I bring you the Christmastime Cupcake recipe that I recently tried out on my family. These cupcakes have a mocha spice flavour and literally taste like Christmas. The recipe suggests you decorate with Royal Icing and green and red fondant holly leaves and berries. Unfortunately my local baking supplies store ran out of holly leaf cutters so I had to improvise and ended up making red buttercream frosting with white fondant snowflake cupcake toppers. I recommend making the cupcake toppers first to allow them enough time to dry, then the cupcakes and then start on the icing while the cupcakes are cooking.

White Fondant Snowflake Cupcake Toppers

Ingredients/Tools:

  • 250 grams white fondant (I bought mine pre-made from my local baking supplies store)
  • Cup of water
  • Edible Glitter
  • 2 small paintbrushes
  • Rolling pin
  • Small snowflake cutter

Method:

  1. Sprinkle clean bench top with icing sugar
  2. Massage fondant for a couple minutes to soften
  3. Roll out fondant to 3-5mm thickness
  4. Cut out 26 snowflakes
  5. Dip first paintbrush in water and lightly coat snowflakes
  6. Dip second paintbrush in edible glitter and flick bristles over snowflakes (there is no need to completely cover the snowflakes with glitter – just a touch will look beautiful)
  7. Leave on bench to dry out for an hour or more before transferring to cupcake

cut out snowflakes

be sure not to drown your snowflakes in water

finished snowflakes ready for cupcakes!

 

Christmastime Cupcakes

Makes 26

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb soda
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • pinch of salt
  • 150 grams dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup instant coffee granules
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 200 grams softened unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C and line muffin trays with large cupcake cases
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, bicarb soda, mixed spice and salt and set aside
  3. In a heavy based saucepan, combine the chocolate, coffee and boiling water over low heat. Stir continuously with a flat-bottomed spoon until chocolate has melted. Do not boil. Set aside once combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, cream the butter for 1-2 minutes. Add half of the sugar and beat for 2 minutes. Add the remaining sugar and beat for a further 2 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy and the sugar has mostly dissolved.
  5. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition or until mixture is light and fluffy.
  6. Add the vanilla and beat until combined
  7. Add a third of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat on low speed until combined.
  8. Add half of the sour cream and beat until combined.
  9. Repeat this process
  10. Add the remaining third of the flour mixture and beat until thoroughly combined; do not over-beat as this will toughen the mixture.
  11. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the mocha mixture a third at a time. Be gentle and do not over-stir. The mixture will be quite thin.
  12. Spoon mixture into cases, filling to about two-thirds full (no more as it rises a lot)
  13. Bake for 15-18 min and cool in pan for 5 min before removing to cooling rack.

flour mixture and mocha mixture

be careful not to over mix when folding in mocha mixture

baked cupcakes ready for icing!

Buttercream Frosting

Again, this recipe is from Jennifer Graham’s The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook.

Ingredients:

  • 200 grams softened unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 8 cups icing sugar

Method:

  1. Cream the butter for 1-2 minutes
  2. Add the milk, vanilla extract and half of the sifted icing sugar (4cups)
  3. Beat for at least 3 minutes or until light and fluffy
  4. Add remaining icing sugar and beat for a further 3 minutes or until light and fluffy and of a spreadable consistency
  5. Add extra milk if too dry or extra icing sugar if too wet
  6. Add food colouring/flavour (for my cupcakes I chose to use pillar box red food colouring)

Assembly

Once cupcakes have cooled, icing is made and fondant cupcake toppers are hardened it is time to complete your cupcake! I chose to use a large star tip piping nozzle but you can choose what you like best. Pipe icing onto each cupcake and place fondant snowflake on top. If you like, you can use silver cachous (those edible little balls) to decorate further. I used 3 per cupcake and a sprinkle of glitter.

the finished product!

Feel free to ask any questions, good luck!

Eleanor x

Secret Wonder Ingredient

For those of you planning on making my muesli (recipe here) I thought I would share with you my secret wonder ingredient that is sure to make your muesli irresistible. Unless of course you don’t like coconut (what am I saying, who doesn’t like coconut, I mean really).

And the wonder ingredient is….(drum roll please)…..

Fruit for Life’s Roasted Coconut Chips

Image

Available with the dried fruit in the baking section at Woolworths, Coles and Franklin’s (NSW) and with your coconut milk at your local Harris Farm (NSW).

Use this information wisely. And enjoy your muesli!

Eleanor x

Homemade Toasted Muesli

I make a mean muesli. I originally started making and toasting my own muesli as a result of a) being a poor student and not wanting to pay for expensive cereal ($8 a box! Are you kidding me!?), b) finding it impossible to find muesli in the shops with no almonds (I’m allergic) and c) wanting a healthy breakfast alternative to toast and sugary cereals. I’ve recently made 5 batches of my muesli for Christmas presents (packaged in lovely jars with pretty labels) for family and friends and it has received rave reviews.

Now, below is a basic how to. It’s not the kind of recipe where food science is particularly important so it’s pretty hard to screw it up. Basically, just make sure you have more rolled oats than any other ingredient and you should be fine. I’ve made it countless times and it’s never exactly the same as I just go with what I feel like at the time, try out new things and use what I have in my cupboard. Feel free to add or deduct fruit, seeds, nuts etc to your taste.

Ingredients:

  • 1kg rolled oats
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups sultanas
  • 1 cup chopped dried fruit (apples, pears, apricot etc)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted peanuts (or any nuts of your choice)
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3/4 – 1 cup fruit juice

Method:

  1. Heat oven to 160° C
  2. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl (oats, nuts, seeds, coconut)
  3. In a mug, combine juice and honey and heat in microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until honey has melted
  4. Pour juice and honey mixture over dry ingredients and mix until coated
  5. Spread out mixture onto a baking tray and bake for 20-30min or until golden brown, ensuring you stir regularly to prevent burning
  6. Meanwhile, chop up fruit
  7. Once browned to your liking, remove from oven and mix in fruit
  8. Store in an airtight container and enjoy!

Homemade Toasted Muesli for Gifts

The Best Choc-Chip Cookies Ever.

Many people claim to possess the best recipes in the world for various popular meals and treats. I am no different. I hereby swear to have the best choc chip cookie recipe ever.
Ok, it has to be said that looks wise, these cookies are a bit average. But what they lack in visual appeal they make up in taste.
This recipe is an old favourite and the only one I will ever make. It was my granny’s recipe. Being close to my heart it was this recipe that I chose to christen my brand new retro baby pink KITCHENAID mixer with….

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isn't she pretty?

Granny’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 65 grams butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 125 grams (or 1 cup) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 250 grams choc-chips
Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees
  2. Mix sugar and butter together
  3. Add vanilla and egg and mix
  4. Mix in sifted flour and baking powder
  5. Add milk and choc chips and mix
  6. Roll dough into small balls and place on greased baking tray a few centimetres apart (this mixture spreads a bit)
  7. Bake for 10-15mins (no more otherwise they’re too crunchy!)
  8. Enjoy!
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*drool*