Thursday 21 January 2010

Stuff I Know About Baking

I haven't blogged on my two other hobbies, baking and cooking yet. In the absence of amusing or even interesting stuff to say about any other bits of my life (I went to see "The Road" recently; neither 'amusing' nor 'interesting' does it justice, "utterly brilliant and I needed a drink afterwards" gets close), I may as well blog about baking. Mainly because I just made a banana loaf for my Mum and Dad, and now I have to keep myself busy so I don't go down there and "test" a corner of it. It looks a bit like the photo on the left.

Stuff I Know About Baking
  • The fundamentals of baking: make sure you've got enough time, make sure you've got the right ingredients, make sure you follow the recipe exactly.
  • The time thing is crucial. Always read the recipe first and check how long it takes, then allow a little extra. If you haven't got time to make the recipe, make cookies instead, they only take twenty minutes. It's meant to be fun, so why stress yourself about it?
  • Always wear an apron. Anything else is tempting fate.
  • If it gets burnt on top, remember that a) that's why icing was invented, b) everything tastes better with melted chocolate spread on top of it.
  • I sift flour. It distributes more evenly that way. Flour lumps = not good.
  • To avoid a cake being baked in a loaf tin rising more in the middle than at the edges: take a metal spoon, and use it to push a dent into the middle of the cake, so that the edges are higher than the middle. The middle rises a little faster and voila, one nicely-shaped loaf cake.
  • No-one will really care if the loaf cake isn't nicely-shaped, so long as it tastes good.
  • If the cake didn't turn out the shape you wanted it to, trim it with a knife and ice it. If you have a bag of icing sugar and some water, you can make icing.
  • I can't be bothered with fancy sugar decorations. I greatly admire people who can do that, they have their place (the sugar decorations, not the people), but for me it's all about the cake itself. Splitting a cake in half and sandwiching it with icing is as fancy as I get.
  • Regardless of what food snobs may say, I bake with margarine, not butter. Have you ever tried creaming butter with a wooden spoon? It's like trying to beat cheese. No-one has ever said to me that what they've scoffed would have tasted better if I'd used butter.
  • Having said that, you can substitute margarine for butter in cases where the cake is strongly flavoured with something else (i.e. sponge cake, chocolate cake, banana loaf), but if there are very few ingredients in the recipe (if it's basically chocolate, eggs and butter) and it calls for butter, you will be able to taste it if you don't use it.
  • If you have to melt chocolate, then add it to eggs, let the chocolate cool first. Otherwise you get sweet scrambled eggs - yeuch.
  • When you add the flour to the rest of the dough mixture, stir it very gently at first, unless you think having flour exploding all over the worksurface will make the day more interesting.
  • If you have to use whipped eggs or whipped cream in a cake and you don't have an electric whisk or egg beater, then regardless of what the recipe says, put the cream / egg white into a bowl first, then beat it like mad with the whisk until your arm hurts and you can't do it any more. Then carry out the next step in the recipe. Beat the eggs / cream again. Next step in recipe. Beat eggs. Repeat this until the eggs / cream are nice and fluffy (hint: it will take longer than you think). Alternatively, buy an egg beater from Wilkinsons.
  • If the recipe calls for alcohol to be added to the cake, add it first, THEN drink the remainder. Adding it to the baker first just causes more problems than it solves.

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