Ever wondered if there are any dos and don'ts when you're baking? Well, it just so happens there are! Mich Turner MBE's new book Have Your Cake and Eat It: Nutritious, Delicious Recipes for Healthier, Everyday Baking provides all you could need to know...
As a food scientist I am aware of the physical chemistry when I am making and baking cakes. To become a better baker, it helps to understand what to do and why you are doing it.
It is imperative you use the freshest ingredients of the highest quality. Buy fresh, use fresh and don’t compromise.
Baking is a science relying on delicate interactions between ingredients. Invest in a set of digital scales, and measuring spoons to accurately measure all dry and wet ingredients. Don’t rely on guesswork and annotate any changes you make to a recipe so you can remember for another time.
Most ingredients work best at room temperature – including butter, sugar, flour and eggs. Butter will cream better and eggs will whisk better. Take the ingredients out of the refrigerator the night before you are intending to bake. Don’t be tempted to warm butter in the microwave – it will just melt and then not be suitable for creaming. Eggs will pasteurize when the temperature reaches between 61–70°C (142–158°F). Invest in a digital thermometer to accurately measure temperature to ensure eggs and syrups are safe and stable.
Preheating the oven
Preheat the oven to the correct temperature before placing the bakes in the oven. This will ensure the batter quickly reaches the desired temperature to achieve the physical changes necessary during baking. Too low and the cake ingredients will melt before being baked resulting in a soggy, sunken, pale cake. Too high and the cake surface and sides will colour, burn and dry out long before the centre of the cake is baked. Use oven gloves to protect yourself in
• Use the right tool for the task.
• Beating and creaming should be with a wooden spoon or electric hand or desktop mixer fitted with a beater attachment.
• Folding should be done with a metal spoon or rubber blade spatula.
• Whisking should be with a balloon hand whisk or electric hand or desktop mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
• Graters, microplanes, zesters, peelers, rubber spatulas, scissors and knives will all help maximize your ingredients and bakes.
Correct sized tins & lining
Measure tins to ensure you are using the size stated in the recipe. This will ensure the batter fits the tin and bakes according to the recipe. Line tins with non-stick baking parchment, melted butter or not at all (e.g. for chiffon cakes)
Understand the physical chemistry terminology
Rubbing in – combining fat with dry ingredient, either with your fingertips (if you have cold hands) or with an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. The idea is not to melt the butter as it is distributed in small granules through the dry ingredient.
Creaming – beating the fat and sugar together to create a light, aerated emulsion. It is not possible to over-cream – so turn the electric mixer on and leave it on for a good 10 minutes.
Folding – carefully distributing the dry ingredients into an emulsion or batter. Use a metal spoon or rubber spatula to avoid knocking out air or overworking the gluten in the flour. Both would result in a dense, tough, chewy cake.
Beating – blending ingredients together but not necessarily to aerate. Use a wooden spoon or electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
Melting – the process of turning a solid to liquid.
Butter – melt in the microwave or in a small saucepan over a medium heat.
Chocolate – melt in a bowl suspended over a pan of gently simmering water or in a bowl in the microwave with medium heat being careful not to burn the chocolate.
Whisking – using a hand or electric whisk. The act of adding air to cream or eggs to achieve a highly aerated foam. Avoid fat or grease in the bowl. Wash in hot soapy water, rinse and dry with absorbent kitchen towel.
Eggs can be whisked to a frothy, soft peak or firm peak stage.
Cream should be carefully whipped and not be granular.
Eggs and sugar for whisking or meringues should be light, even and frothy, with a velvety appearance.
Caramelizing versus burning – sugar will pass through a series of changes from light thread syrup to black jack as it heats from 100 to 200°C (212 to 392°F). Heat slowly and carefully.
The most important quality to be a successful baker is patience. Allow yourself plenty of time to make a cake – perfection cannot be rushed and understanding all these principles will ensure you develop into a successful, confident baker.
Text and images courtesy of Have Your Cake and Eat It: Nutritious, Delicious Recipes for Healthier, Everyday Baking by Mich Turner MBE. Photography by Peter Cassidy. Published by Jacqui Small, £22.