- Always turn the oven on before getting started, and make sure it is up to temperature before you put your baking in the oven. On all the ovens I know, the light will switch off once it has got to temperature (it will continue to go on and off from then on, as it is on a thermostat).
- Temperatures in ovens are not perfectly accurate, so get to know your oven. Some will take a little longer to cook than the recipe suggests, and others will be quicker.
- Cakes, muffins and cakey puddings are ready when you put a skewer (or small knife) in to the centre and it comes out clean. Biscuits and pastries can be judged by their golden glow.
- Put your tray in the middle shelf of the oven unless instructed to do otherwise. If you have more than one tray's worth of baking, don't attempt to cook them at the same time. I suggest shaving a minute or two off the cooking time for the second batch as, like it or not, your oven will be a bit hotter.
- Creaming butter and sugar together means you need to soften the butter first (on low in the microwave is easiest). Beat it hard with the sugar in the mixer until you get a light mixture or, if doing it by hand, you'll have to give your arm a really good workout.
- Once you start adding the dry ingredients to the wet when making muffins, you need to mix very lightly and gently so you don't get tough muffins. This doesn't apply to cakes or puddings.
- I never sift my flour and very rarely use my sieve at all. Don't bother I say, unless you have something you really think needs it - like cocoa that has clumped a bit. I also very rarely bother with caster sugar as opposed to standard sugar, unless perhaps I'm making something more delicate such as a meringue. Even then, if I don't have any available I wouldn't worry.
- If you have to rub butter in to flour (often required for scone mixtures and crumbles), chop the butter up small and beat it hard and long in the mixer with the flour. I have tried everything and this is by far the easiest way.
- Taste the mixture! This will be my Mum's number one tip. She visited a neighbour decades ago who had done some baking and left out a key ingredient. "But didn't you lick the mixture?" Mum said. No, she hadn't. This has always served my Mum as a great excuse to have a taste, though you're not likely to notice if you've left out the baking powder, so checking the recipe is probably a good idea too. (I once made a chocolate moussey something when my brother was coming for dinner. I didn't taste the mixture as it was too eggy I suspect, but as it turned out I had put salt in instead of sugar. Everyone has to do that once in their life).
These are the tips that come to mind for me. No doubt many of you have some great ideas. What are your top tips? And fledgling bakers, do you have any questions? I can't guarantee I can answer them, but I bet my readers can.
Oh and one more thing:
- When blogging about top baking tips, don't ever, ever leave your 16 month old in the kitchen near a rack of cooling biscuits. Not ever. All I can say is I'm glad I had a second tray cooling in a different spot, and a good vacuum cleaner.
|The little RASCAL demonstrating Nana's Number One Tip.|