I love to bake, and since embarking upon my Baking Bible Challenge (a personal challenge I set for myself to bake all 219 recipes in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible) I feel like I’ve picked up some new skills, learnt a few things about what not to do, and definitely baked some recipes that I would otherwise have flicked past in the cookery book.
I am not purporting to be an expert, but I wanted to share a few tips with you guys on how to achieve a successful bake. I know not everyone is confident in the kitchen but you might still want to be able to cook tasty treats, especially with the kids as baking is such a great activity to do together.
Simply using a recipe doesn’t necessarily yield good results; but don’t let it put you off, try again, taking note of these tips and you should have greater success!
So here goes:
1. Use the correct ingredients
Perhaps this sounds silly, or obvious, but before undertaking the Baking Bible Challenge, I would often skim read a recipe and just use what I had; caster sugar instead of golden caster, baking margarine instead of real butter, for example. Or I would miss an ingredient out if it didn’t seem important! But sometimes these small details in the specifics of the ingredients list can be the difference between a baking success and a baking failure.
2. Read the recipe
Read the recipe through before you start cooking so that you know roughly what you’re doing, and then read each step carefully to make sure you don’t add the wrong ingredients or use the wrong combining method. Most importantly, don’t ignore specific instructions! Usually if a recipe is very specific about something that’s because it’s crucial you do or don’t do it.
3. Pay attention to consistency
The consistency of cake batter can vary considerably between recipes, depending on what type of cake you’re making, so it’s important to note what consistency your recipe requires, and try to make sure your batter fits the description. Some cake batters really are very runny, and if this is what the recipe asks for, don’t panic and add more flour, have faith in the recipe.
4. Check and double check the oven temperature
Most recipes ask you to preheat the oven as the very first step, so make sure you do this, checking that you’ve got the correct temperature for your type of oven (fan ovens will require a lower temperature). I’ve got an oven thermometer, and although I don’t check it all the time when preheating my oven, when I first got it I found it really useful for learning where on the oven dial 170c actually was (surprisingly far from where I thought!).
5. Use the correct size tin
I am terrible for just saying “I’m sure it’ll fit”, about anything in the kitchen – bowls, saucepans, baking tins – usually stuff does fit, exactly, then overflows when I try and stir it or when it rises up! So, I’ve been trying to make sure when it says a certain diameter tin that I actually measure my tin, and so far I’ve had no cake overflow onto the bottom of my oven. Win!
6. Set the timer
Again, pretty obvious, but sometimes we forget. If a recipe says 35-40 minutes, I usually plump for 37 minutes then have a look and see if it seems done by giving it a prod then sticking a knife or skewer into the middle and seeing if it comes out clean. My best advice is to set the timer and walk away, as it might be tempting to open the oven to ‘have a look’, but with cakes this is not a good idea as the oven will cool and take time to get back up to temperature and may cause your cake to sink. So stick the cake in the oven, put the timer on and go do something else whilst it cooks (within earshot of your timer of course!).
7. What is it meant to look like?
There isn’t always a picture in the recipe book, which I find frustrating. Sometimes it can be hard to interpret instructions on how to assemble or decorate a cake, and it’s nice as an amateur to be able to see what you’re aiming for. So, my tip, if there isn’t a picture in the recipe book, get online and look through Google images to see what your bake is meant to look like.
8. Cool before icing
Something I’m sure anyone who watches Bake Off will know about, but you can’t ice a hot or even warm cake. So make sure your cake is cool before trying to decorate it. And on the subject of cooling, some recipes give specific instructions about how a cake should be cooled, i.e. in or out of the tin, so pay attention to this too. I once made a cheesecake that was meant to be left in the oven (off) to cool, but neglected to read that bit, so took it out and it cracked really badly.
9. Don’t rush
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare, make, bake, cool and decorate your cake, we’ve all seen what happens on Bake Off when the contestants are rushed and in a flap… don’t let that be you!
10. Practice makes perfect
As with many things in life, practice really does make perfect when it comes to baking. The more you do it, the better you’ll become. And the more variety of recipes you try the broader your baking skills will become too. For me, I really need to up my game in the decorating and piping department.
Most importantly, have fun!
Of course, once you become more confident it’s good to stray from the recipe and freestyle with different flavour combinations, but if you’re still finding your feet with baking then following the recipe alongside these tips should help you achieve Star Baker* and that elusive Bake Off-worthy cake!
*Disclaimer: following these tips won’t necessarily make you Star Baker. I am in no way suggesting that I am a Bake Off-worthy baker and I definitely do still have baking fails, particularly with sinking fruit.
P.S. How sad is it that Bake Off has left the BBC? Who’s planning to watch it when it’s on Channel 4?