Friday, 19 April 2013

Tips for becoming a better baker

It's no secret that we love to bake here at Domestic Sluttery HQ - a quick glance at our Baking for Beginners recipe archive reveals more than a passing penchant for rolling up our sleeves, covering ourselves in flour and whizzing up a storm with a whisk. So we must have a few expert - and easy - tips for how to become a star baker, right? RIGHT! We expect you all to spend the weekend diligently baking now (and pics or it didn't happen - show us your creations on Facebook, please! We love seeing what you've made).

Sian (she bakes after dinner mint brownies): Always have eggs and butter in the fridge. Buy them every time you go to the supermarket. I tend to go through fits and bursts with baking, one week I'll try five new recipes and then I'll lose my whisk for a month. I'm about 97% more likely to buy something if I've already go the basics in. The more you bake, the better you'll be at baking. But I still can't bake biscuits without burning them.

Sara (she bakes Lotus spread biscuits): Buy a cook book written by a chef you love, not a bakery or shop. They tend to scale down their industrial measurements for a home kitchen, with mixed results. I couldn't be without Dan Lepard as I know I can trust his recipes to work out, so I'll go for the trickier ones feeling like he's metaphorically holding my hand. AND he advocates a no-knead method for bread, making fresh loaves ludicrously easy.

Laura B (she bakes churros muffins): Stock up on cake tins and assorted bakeware when you see them at bargainous prices. Much like Sian's butter and eggs advice, having various shapes and sizes of trays and tins already in your cupboard means you'll be much more likely to dive straight in and do a bit of baking when a recipe whets your appetite. Also, buy a set of proper measuring spoons - and remember that most recipes call for a LEVEL measurement, not heaped!

Caleigh (she bakes gluten-free delights like this custard tart): Invest in a decent kitchen scale. It doesn't have to be super expensive, but weighing your ingredients accurately will always give you better results. Baking is as much about science and measures as it is flavours and creativity so follow the recipe! If you like making up your own recipes, I highly recommend you read Ratio by Michael Ruhlman, which explains the relationships between ingredients and how much of each you need to make different baked goods.

Laura H (she bakes weekly cake confections like these apple pudding loaves): I'm with Laura B on the cookware, but I think it's always important to have a stock of decent quality baking parchment or greaseproof paper. There's nothing worse than baking an amazing cake and having half of it stick to the bottom of the tin. If you're not sure which one to use, check out this handy guide. Also, never be too down on yourself if a cake doesn't turn out exactly as planned. I'm a believer in baking karma: for every 5 brilliant cakes there's one dodgy one just waiting to happen! 

Hazel (she bakes chai cake - mouthwateringly pictured above): I know that I would have much more regular baking success if I simply followed recipes and didn't veer off on my own wild tangents but I just can't help myself. I try to follow the rule of weighing everything and follow the recipe EXACTLY the first time then experiment the second. I really should follow my own advice but my baking successes are all the more sweeter when I've just followed my instincts and the disasters ever more expected. I also work on the principle that when it comes to cakes, if the mixture tastes good before it goes into the oven, then even if it doesn't bake as planned at least it will taste great.

What are your baking secrets? Do you follow recipes to the letter or have fun experimenting in the kitchen? And what's your can't-live-without-it piece of baking kit? 

11 comments:

  1. I just wanted to add that using baking parchment has made me more likely to bake. I hated carefully rubbing butter onto greaseproof paper to make sure nothing stuck. I didn't realise that you can just line a tin with baking parchment and pour the mixture in.

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  2. And making sure butter actually at room temperature! I'm so impatient (and have abutter-stealing kitten), so I tend to think 'yeah, that's warm enough'. If I think that, it takes about two minutes of beating before I realise that it's really, really not.

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    1. Oh yes. I like Mary Berry's tip about cubing butter from the fridge and leaving it in a bowl of tepid water for 10 minutes. Drain the water away and it's soft and ready to use.

      Same for eggs - I never remember to take them out, so leave them in a bowl of water for a bit.

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    2. I did that last time! It totally works. I did not do it wearing Chanel, sadly.

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    3. Don't keep eggs in the fridge, they don't need it and they take on any smells you have knocking about in the fridge. I'm lazy I just microwave the butter, probably another reason for my hit and miss baking, I JUST CAN"T HELP MYSELF

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    4. I don't have a microwave! Melting butter is the main reason me and my housemate want one.

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  3. Cold butter = baking nightmare. I realised as well that properly cutting the parchment to measure is a LOT easier than trying to cram a ripped sheet into a tin.

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  4. Above is why you need captcha thingies.

    On topic, I have found the more relaxed I am when baking the better it turns out.
    Which is why when idly baking After8cupcakes they are marvellous, but when baking for mes parents or friends, on a timebudget it's almost guaranteed to fail!

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    1. Heh, I don't know - I intend to start all my comments with "I was moved enough to create a thought :-P"

      And yes, you're right about being relaxed. I've never made decent Bakewell tarts for friends, but can churn out great ones on an idle Sunday afternoon.

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    2. Captcha thingies are horrible things! I'd rather the odd spam comment sneaking through than people not being able to comment easily. You're right about the relaxed baking, though. Trying to bake when stressed is a waste of time.

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  5. Another Mary Berry top tip is grating (very cold) butter for crumble/scones/pastry - makes it SO much easier to rub into the flour.

    If you're gonna use Pinterest then I would recommend investing in some cups, because converting American cup measures into grams is a giant pain in the bum. :)

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