National Baking Week is back and we couldn’t be happier. Inevitably, thousands of amateur bakers will be dusting off their weighing scales and getting ready to be inspired – we know we are. We all know from bitter experience that home baking is fraught with hurdles. Therefore, bearing a few fundamentals in mind can be the difference between a pert and soggy bottom. With that in mind, here are our 7 IDEAL tips to take your baking to the next level.
Baking is a science, and an exact one at that. Be precise with your weighing. Use grams and digital weighing scales (those pesky cups would never be used in a professional kitchen). Leave nothing to chance and you’ll be rewarded accordingly.
PREPARATION IS KING
The chef’s term ‘mis en place’, and having it all in order before you begin, is key to successful baking. Have everything out and ready – you shouldn’t be scrambling around for plain flour when chemical reactions have already begun. Have everything weighed and make sure temperatures are correct (as a general rule, all ingredients should be at room temperature to avoid ingredients splitting when they meet).
KNOW YOUR OVEN INSIDE OUT
Ovens are temperamental beasts, and need to be understood as individuals. One man’s 200°C is another’s 180°C, and like we said, the small details count. Invest in an oven thermometer to get a true reading and avoid burning your labour of love. Also, be aware that different sections of the oven hold vastly different temperatures, so rotate cakes, trays and the rest so everyone gets fair exposure to the heat. Opening your oven door for even a short time can dramatically drop the temperature, wreaking havoc on your creation, so avoid doing this at all costs.
ENTRY INTO THE OVEN IS NOT THE FINAL STEP
There is a tendency to view the closing of the oven door, cake safe and warm inside, as the conclusion to a day’s cooking. It isn’t. Do NOT crack open a celebratory glass of something until that cake/tart/loaf is out of the oven, removed from its tin and allowed to cool as per the recipe. Don’t get complacent.
PROFESSIONAL EQUIPMENT CAN LEAD TO PROFESSIONAL RESULTS
The pastry section of a professional kitchen utilises a whole host of gadgets, some more affordable than others. At the very least, a microplane for zesting, a pastry scraper for gathering and some silicone mats to prevent sticking will all enhance the efficiency of your baking.
EVERYTHING SHOULD BE UNSCRUPULOUSLY CLEAN
In the pastry world, cleanliness is so vital. Mixing bowls with residual food debris will lead to failed meringues every time. Water splashing your melted chocolate will lead to splitting and clumping. You get the picture – keep it clean.
GOOD QUALITY INGREDIENTS GO A LONG AWAY
Vanilla essence just doesn’t compare to fresh pods. Dark, high percentage cocoa chocolate will raise the bar. Even a good quality, unrefined muscovado sugar will give real body to a dish. As the pastry game is all in the detail, don’t substitute key ingredients for inferior products.