• Foolproof baking, is it possible?

    Not long after I wrote my blog entry entitled ‘Good Food’ I was asked to make the bitter orange and poppy seed loaf cake for a friend.  If you remember, I was going on in my blog about how great the BBC Good Food recipes were and that they almost always resulted in delicious cakes with a delightful texture.

    Although my second attempt at the bitter orange and poppy seed cake tasted delicious (confirmed by my friend who shared it with three of his friends – their verdict was that it was delicious with Yorkshire tea, but not Early Grey tea, which one of his friends was having), the texture was not as good as the first one I made.  The crumb was more dense than the first time around.  As I had not recorded what ingredients I used the first time around, I had no way of knowing if the change in texture was the result of using different ingredients or with the preparation or bake.  On the ingredients side, the only thing that I could think of was that I may have used a different self-raising flour.  On the preparation and bake side, the only thing that may have different was that I was in a bit of a hurry and I may have rushed the bake.

    Not put off entirely (albeit a little disappointed), I started to scour the internet for tips on the best self-raising flour to use in baking.  Not surprisingly, rather than finding a recommendation for a good self-raising flour, I was informed that I should not use self-raising flour at all but rather add baking powder to plain flour as in this way you can control how much baking powder you add to your bake.  The next step was to google the ratio of baking powder to flour.  Well that is a completely different story as every site I visited had a slightly different ratio.  Nigella suggests two teaspoons of baking powder for every 150g of flour, whereas Delia suggests 1 teaspoon for 110g plain flour.  BBC Good Food recommends the same as Delia.

    During my scouring of the Internet, I came across some baking tips from the trusty Mary Berry and her previous sidekick, Paul Hollywood, which I thought I would share with you (Source: Woman & Home and the Telegraph).

    Baking Tips

    • Use a tried and tested recipe and follow it accurately.
    • Use the right fat.  If you use margarine or butter, it must be soft and ready to be beaten straight away.  Do not use a low-fat one.
    • Use plain flour with the right amount of baking powder rather than self-raising flour.  If you add the baking powder yourself you will know exactly how much you’ve put in.  This will give you better control over your bake.
    • Don’t add extra baking powder.  It will rise up and then fall down.
    • Use caster sugar in cakes rather than granulated sugar.  Speckled tops on cakes are usually caused by granulated sugar that has not properly dissolved in the mixture.
    • Don’t over beat the batter or you will knock all the air out of it.
    • Use the right type of tin.  Using the wrong tin will affect the bake and the texture of the end product.
    • To avoid cakes cracking don’t bake them too high in the oven.  If you do then the crust forms too soon and cracks as the cake continues to rise.
    • Don’t over bake or under bake or open the oven door too soon.  Over-baking gives a dry result. Watch the cake in the oven during the final stage of cooking.   The cake should be shrinking away from the side of the tin. When you press your finger in the middle, the mixture should spring back.  Under-baking will cause the cake to sink.  Only open the oven once the minimum cooking time has been reached.
    • Know the quirks of your oven and be aware that you can get ‘hot spots’ which can throw a bake out.  Use an oven thermometer to check the temperature of your oven.
    • Make notes about the bake i.e. cooking time if different to the recipe; whether the cake freezes well, ingredients used etc.
    • Most cakes are best iced after freezing, except if filling with buttercream.
    • When icing a cake, seal the top with apricot jam first to prevent crumb contamination.  Add liquid gradually to icing.  You can always add more and a thicker icing works better than one that runs off the sponge.
    • Use the right chocolate stipulated in the recipe.  As the cocoa solids in the chocolate will affect the desired outcome.