Do you ever wonder how some people just seem to have it? That magical baking touch and everything they try just seems to work!
So many people ask me what my secrets are. How can they become better at baking and achieve better results. How can they learn to bake like me.
Well today I hope to inspire you to make a few changes to your baking ways that will hopefully help your baking days seem that much easier to handle. And no matter how large or small your bake is, whether you bake one or two cakes a year or run a baking business making multiple cakes a week, I hope the following tips help you to achieve those consistent results while you reply 'oh I just whipped this up' !
Tip #1 BE AS ORGANISED AS POSSIBLE
Remember the old adage "fail to prepare, prepare to fail"? Well it's one of the first principles of baking for a reason. The more organised and prepared you can be for your bake days, the easier and quicker everything will come together and you will find you actually make less mistakes.
In fact the industry professionals have a word for it 'mise en place' and it refers to the preparation of ingredients and dishes before the beginning of service. Can you imagine a chef not being organised before the restaurant opens? Can you imagine them running around looking for the sugar, butter, eggs right as the customer has ordered their meal (cake!)? No. It would be chaos and result in a hot mess! The chef has everything in it's place and ready to go before service starts so that when they are called, they are ready to go.
So why do we do this in the kitchen and expect different results?
The longer I work in the industry and the more busy my own life becomes (more kids!) the more organised I need to be to be able to indulge in my absolute favourite thing, baking. If I know I will be baking on any particular day and I know my time will be limited I get as much organised as I can ahead of time. Dry ingredients can be weighed out into containers, covered & labelled days in advance. As can wet ingredients and kept in the fridge. When the time comes to bake take everything out including all the utensils you will need. Get the oven preheating right at the beginning. You can even line tins / trays or prepare sheets of baking paper the night before so that is one less task to do on the day. The more organised you can be in the kitchen, the easier and faster everything will come together for you.
Tip #2 BE PRECISE, INVEST IN DIGITAL SCALES & WEIGH RECIPES IN GRAMS
Baking really is equal amounts of science and art, combined. Some people just seem to have the 'knack' or the 'feel' for the mixtures and batters and get perfect results every time. But in reality that only comes from experience. The less experience you have baking any particular product the more attention is required to keeping to the exact recipe. For this reason I recommend investing in digital scales right from the get go and finding recipes or creating your own recipes where all of the ingredients are weighed in grams, including both dry and wet ingredients.
It's been proven that one cup of flour, depending on the way it is measured, can vary between 20 and 50 grams in weight. In some recipes that might not make too much of a difference. But, when it comes to recipes like macarons or sugar cookies, light fluffy sponge cakes and mousses, those discrepancies in weight can be the difference between a perfect bake and a perfect flop. The way to consistent results and consistent bakes is to use the exact same measurements, every time and that can only be done when every ingredient is weighed precisely.
Tip #3 BRING ALL INGREDIENTS TO ROOM TEMPERATURE
One of the biggest tips I give to everyone who comes to my classes is your ingredients will combine together better when they are of the same temperature and same consistency. This small detail can give some outstanding results in softer cookies, fluffier sponges and perfect, more stable meringues.
This is actually a golden rule in baking and patisserie. You will notice in your own baking that the addition of cold eggs to soft butter will cause that 'curdled' look in your mixing bowl. In essence that is the water separating from the fat when the cold egg is added to the butter. A common piece of advice given is to add a tablespoon of flour to the butter to stop that separation occurring (as the flour will absorb the moisture) but in essence doesn't stop the issue, it hides it. A better technique is to either remove some of the batter and heat gently in the microwave and re-add into the bowl to increase the temperature or to have an appliance like a hair dryer or small kitchen blow torch on hand to gently heat the mixing bowl from the outside, gently increasing the temperature of the butter and egg and bringing everything together. This method will result in a much lighter product than simply adding in additional flour.
The term 'room temperature' can actually be a little ambiguous I find, so in reality what we mean is to have butter at a soft, spreadable, not melting, consistency. Eggs out of the fridge for approximately 1 hour (depending on the heat of the day) and milk / liquid ingredients at approx. 35-36 degrees (body temperature) this can be done by gently heating in the microwave.
Tip #4 LINING BAKING TRAYS & TINS
This is a boring one but super important! Like I mentioned above I love being super organised so I line my baking trays in advance or at a minimum have the baking paper cut and ready to use as required. This one can also be done so far in advance and stored for much later use.
My favourite thing to have on hand is cake tin circles making lining cake tins super fast, simply outline one of your regularly used cakes tins (my favourite to use is 7 inch) and cut out circles. I store the circles in a zip lock bag and they are all there, ready to go when I am ready to bake, saving so much time!
TIP #5 PATIENCE
I love this one. So many people who attend my classes laugh or nod their heads when I mention this. How many of us are impatient bakers - we just want that cake or those cookies to be baked so we can get on with the rest of the decorating? So many! I've seen friends do the exact same, constantly checking the oven, checking on that cake, not giving their cookies enough time to rest, getting annoyed that it's still. not. ready.
In my experience, a great bake takes time. Something I tell everyone who asks me is, that the longer it takes to achieve the product, the better your end results are likely to be. Great results take time and patience.
It doesn't mean that you can't be efficient in other things whilst that cake or cookies are baking but it does mean that while they are chilling, baking in the oven or cooling they do need to be left alone and given the appropriate amount of time to do their thing. There really is no point in opening that oven door to check on the cake, this just drops the temperature of the oven cavity and can actually increase the baking time. Or baking cookies without a proper chill in the fridge. Not giving the butter enough time to firm up before baking results in spread and your cookies will more than likely be lopsided or uneven. This doesn't just apply to baking, but to almost every aspect of baking & decorating. A rushed icing is more likely to split and a rushed caramel is more likely to over-crystalise or burn.
Next time you're getting your bake on try to slow down and see if that makes any difference and make sure to be busy with other things so your mind is focused on something other than that cake being baked (be sure to set a timer though so you don't forget to check it!).
BONUS TIP #6 PRACTICE
Honestly, the only way to become a better baker is practice. Having held over 100 classes and meeting hundreds of bakers over the years my biggest piece of advice will always be that everyone starts somewhere and the only way to improve is to practice.
There are six years between these two photographs. SIX years of practice, trail and error, varying levels of success and failure, before I felt that I had gained enough knowledge and experience to actually be able to sell that product... And another year before I felt that I could actually teach the method. So anytime you're feeling defeated, try not to despair, it happens to all of us and try to reflect on what might have gone wrong and try again!
You can read all about some of my own cake fails in THIS blog post
I'd love to know if these tips have helped you in any way!