We’re a nation of bakers, just look at the viewing figures on The Great British Bake Off last month.
Baking fever once again swept the nation as a fresh batch of budding bakers tried their hand at one of the most ancient methods of cooking. With everything from biscuits and breads, to pastries and cakes, baking is a great skill to have and one that, although relatively simple, is sure to impress and delight guests.
First things first, baking is a labour of love, so make your life as easy as possible and ensure that all the ingredients and equipment you need is ready prior to starting. The French have a saying; ‘Mise en Place’ literally meaning ‘to set everything in place’ and this is the first item on any good bakers to do list. Once you have all that you need and the ingredients are weighed and ready, it’s time to start the process.
It’s likely that you’ve heard the phrase ‘cooking is a science’ and in no area of cooking is this truer than baking. As such, it’s a good idea to invest in a weighing scale and measuring jugs to ensure all measurements are accurate; the difference between 2 and 2 1/4 cups of flour can actually be quite drastic.
It’s also handy to get your hands on an oven thermometer as (unless you have a brand new or regularly calibrated oven) your oven’s temperature is likely inaccurate. It could only be off by a few degrees but can be imprecise by as much as 100 degrees or more. This may have little effect on your Sunday roast, but will have a huge impact on your baker’s dozen. Commit yourself to precision and remember, the closer you stay to the fundamentals of the recipe, the more likely it is to end up the way you expect.
The key principles remain the same for all baked goods, with rules like the protein in egg whites being a binder, and gluten in flour providing structure. However this doesn’t mean the changeable elements can’t be re-imagined to fit in with your own personal tastes and style of cooking. For a twist on the classic Victoria sponge cake, finely sieve cocoa powder in with the flour and swap the cream filling with a tangy orange buttercream frosting and a garnish of fresh orange zest.
Baking has such a wide appeal as its formulaic nature is perfect for people who are very meticulous and like to follow recipes, and yet it doesn’t limit those of us who like to experiment and try their own thing.
As with all cooking, it is essential to give yourself ample time to prepare and execute a dish. Baking, with its exact timings and volatile chemistry, should be given even more attention. Its key that you implement the cooking steps in good time and accurately. For this reason it’s always a good idea to give yourself a little extra time than needed for those unforeseen mishaps; broken eggshells, undercooked bakes, or un-risen dough that needs a little extra time to set.
The key with baking is precision. Avoid the stress that can easily arise by implementing the recipe slowly and steadily. Have fun with it and show your baked goods some much needed TLC, over time you’ll find that baking is a fantastically simple way to both de-stress and be creative. By utilising a few of these key skills you’ll be left with a product you can be proud of and that will wow guests, even if it does take a few attempts to master!
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