As I have mentioned in previous posts, I hardly baked anything prior to starting this blog. Since then, 6 months on, I have learnt a whole lot more about baking and thought I would share those tips with other beginner bakers.
My Food Trail’s baking tips for beginners
- Buy an oven thermometer and use it. My main oven has a dial but not very clear markings so I use the thermometer to gauge the correct temperature. Accurate temperature is important in baking.
- Get to know your oven and learn where food browns quicker. As a rule of thumb, you should only use the middle shelf for baking and if making two batches of cupcakes or muffins, use the middle and lower shelves, never the top shelf. Always place items in the centre of the shelves.
- Always make sure you preheat your oven properly to the correct temperature before inserting your cakes and try not to open the oven door until the baking time has elapsed.
- Have all your ingredients out ready and measured before you begin. This helps you not to forget anything!
- Use exact and accurate measurements of ingredients or adjust at your own peril. Baking calls for exact measurements, unlike savoury cooking where you can adjust to taste. That said, I do sometimes reduce the sugar or butter content of recipes, but normally only after I have made it or because someone else has suggested it. Make sure you write down any changes to a recipe so you know for next time.
- Butter needs to be chopped into small pieces or sliced thinly and softened before creaming with sugar or else you will have a hard time combining the butter and sugar together. If you don’t have time to leave your butter out at room temperature to soften, use the microwave, but make sure you do it in short bursts and on the low setting. Butter should never be melted.
- Caster sugar should be used in baking unless the recipe specifically calls for normal white or granulated sugar. Caster sugar dissolves better in cake batters and makes creaming easier.
- Make sure when creaming butter and sugar together, you do it for long enough. It should look pale and fluffy and thoroughly combined. I realise now that in the beginning, I was not creaming my butter and sugar together properly, hence my cakes were not as soft as they should be.
- Eggs should also be at room temperature to ensure maximum volume for your cakes as well as well making mixing the eggs into the batter easier. If you don’t have time to let your eggs get to room temperature, place the eggs in luke warm water for 5-10 minutes until they are no longer cold. Eggs should be separated when cold though.
- Try to avoid using the cheap vanilla essence in a bottle. It has such a fake smell and taste – you get a much better results using a vanilla extract. I use Queens Vanilla Bean paste. It is available at major supermarkets in a small jar for about $10. It is expensive but totally worth it. If you have a Costco membership, they sell squeeze tube for just over $20 which is much better value.
- Always use full cream milk and make sure your milk is at room temperature. Cold milk apparently makes cakes shrink so microwave your cold milk for about 30 seconds to a minute if you don’t have time to let it come to room temperature.
- Only use eating chocolate in your baking. Cooking chocolate may be cheaper, but eating chocolate tastes much better because it is not compound chocolate (think of how horrible those el cheapo Reject shop easter eggs are). Compound chocolate uses less cocoa solids and more sugar.
- I make my own buttermilk by putting one tablespoon of lemon juice (usually bottled) and filling the rest of a cup measurement with normal full cream milk. Leave this to sit at room temperature for around 20 minutes or until you notice the milk thickening slightly.
- Baking powder needs to be fresh or else it will not work. An easy way to tell if your baking powder is too old is to mix 2 teaspoons of baking powder with 1 cup of hot water from the tap. Mixture should immediately foam up. If it doesn’t, or takes a while, it is time to buy new baking powder.
- Try not to overmix your cake batter. This affects the texture of the cake and it might not be as soft or fluffy.
- If your cupcakes or muffins are getting a volcano top, it usually means your oven temperature is too hot. Try reducing the baking temperature by 5-10C.
- Allow cakes to cool completely before icing or putting in a container. Always cool on a wire rack to prevent the cakes getting soggy, unless the recipe states otherwise.
- To split a cake in half evenly, mark around the cake with toothpicks and then use dental floss to pull through the cake just above the toothpicks.
I will continue to add more tips to the list if I think of additional ones. Please leave a comment if you have more tips to add.
Over & Out, Rilsta xx