In the first edition of our new baking series, let us introduce you to Rosanne, food blogger extraordinaire. Her tasty blog, Like Mam Used To Bake, is a mecca for all things yummy and wholesome. We're giving you the first installment as a Tuesday Treat and over the next few Sundays, Roseanne is going to bring us back to baking basics so that you will never be shamed at the office bake-sale / by your mean but perfect sister-in-law / into buying a Dunnes Stores meringue pie to a dinner party - ever again!
Take it away, Rosanne!
I must have started baking in one of my 'sure that's easy and anyone can do it' phases. I don't have these phases often. I usually over analyse and over research new endeavours before I undertake them. But the cakes came out of the oven all grand like and so I presumed my 'sure that's easy and anyone can do it' theory to be correct. But the more I baked for family and friends, and the more they were (genuinely) amazed by the results, the more I came to realise that baking is perceived as rather tricky.
As we sat around the table, them busy stuffing their faces, they would grill me. What ingredients had I used? How had I mixed the eggs through? What temperature was the oven set too? How many attempts had I fed to the bin while weeping silent salty tears of failure? I'm pretty sure a few of them checked the bin for hastily disposed of M&S boxes. Even those very confident and adventurous in the kitchen drew the line at baking, declaring it to be too difficult.
I have explained to them numerous times that baking is not difficult. They took some convincing but they are all on board now, most of them putting me to shame with their weekly efforts. So let's put this 'difficult' and 'tricky' misconception to bed. If you can cook, you can bake. The only difference between the two is that baking requires precision, and sometimes a little patience.
Cooking is fairly forgiving. You can add in bits, and leave others out and you're still guaranteed something delicious and edible at the end of it. With baking however it is best to stick to exact measurements when mixing up a batter or dough. Think of it like building a house, if you don't follow the blueprint for the foundations the whole structure will fall apart.
Once you become accustomed with basic ratios you will then find the confidence to experiment. With a few recipes mastered you can expand your repertoire easily by swapping out caster sugar for brown, adding some zest, maybe a little cocoa powder or even some seasonal fruit. The simplest of changes can transform a cake or cookie. Below are some of my tips to get you started on your baking journey. You'll be voted star baker by Queen Mary and the Silver Fox in no time!
One of the most important factors in producing good results when baking is oven temperature. This seems fairly straightforward, right? You read the recipe and you set your oven accordingly. But here's the thing, ovens have minds of their own, they don't follow the rules. Even if you have the very same make and model as your next door neighbour it is very likely that they will run at a slightly different temperature.
You can invest in an oven thermometer to accurately gauge your ovens temperature but it is also important to get to know your oven, and the easiest way to do this is to make the same thing a few times. By doing this you will become aware of any hotspots or other little quirks unique to your appliance and you can adjust baking temperatures and times accordingly.
Sticking with the temperature theme, it is vital that you preheat your oven before baking. If you start with a cold oven it will alter the timing of the reaction of the ingredients to heat. As a result you may end up with a cake that doesn't rise, has a heavy and dense texture or that is still raw in places. For cakes, cookies and biscuits I generally preheat my oven for a minimum of 15 minutes, for certain breads and pizza dough I stretch that out to a minimum of 30 minutes so that they hit a nice hot oven.
Before you begin read the recipe from start to finish. And then read it again. This will hopefully help you to avoid a dash to the supermarket mid mix when you realise that you don't have a vital ingredient/piece of equipment. It also helps to know in advance what techniques are required to mix up the batter/dough. If it's a new one that you haven't encountered before you can do a quick Google to bring you up to speed, and avoid a meltdown when you are enveloped in a cloud of flour. Oh, and now is probably a good time to warn you about clouds of flour. They are unavoidable so it's best to embrace them. I seem to live my life in a haze of floury clouds.
Invest in a digital scales, they are not all that expensive and their accuracy will vastly improve your results. No more squinting at the lines on the measuring jug trying to figure out if it's just below or just above 100ml. Sure it's close enough you'll say to yourself, but sometimes that 5ml or 10ml can make or break a cake. And you. You'll weep at your squinty eyed failure. Likewise, measure your tins. Using the wrong size tin will alter the baking time, so until you are confident in adjusting times accordingly use the tin size specified.
Gather together all of your ingredients and utensils/equipment before you begin. You can then read through the recipe and do a quick mental check list to ensure that you have everything you need. If you weigh all of your ingredients before you start mixing you are also less likely to forgot to add something. It would be an awful shame to pull that chocolate cake from the oven only to realise you forgot to add the chocolate, right? No that I would ever do that...
Buy the best quality ingredients that you can afford. This doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive on the market, just the best quality that fall within your budget. As the old saying goes, you can't make a silk purse with a sow's ear, so it stands to reason that the better the quality of your ingredients the better the end result. Play the field a little in the supermarket and you'll soon find your favourite flour, butter and sugar brands.
You might think that they are all the same, and the nice man in the supermarket will snort and laugh as he tells you that they are all the same when you request an order for a specific brand. He'll only do that once though, after your five minute explanation as to the subtle differences between exhibit A and exhibit not on the shelf so can you order it in for me please?
Don't rush things. You have 5 minutes to make a dessert for tonight's dinner party so you think you'll try that opera cake that caught your eye on the Great British Bake Off. Stop right there. If you simply don't have the time it will end in disaster. True fact. Instead make something that you can easily achieve in the time that you have available to you. You can always dickie up a simple bake with a cream filling, a drizzle of chocolate or with a mountain of fresh berries piled high on top. It's also OK to cheat every now and then. So you have the time to make your own pastry but not the crème Anglais to go with it, buy some custard. The world won't end and your sanity will remain intact.
Have fun! If you don't enjoy making it you probably won't enjoy eating it. Part of having fun is experimenting. Once you have mastered a recipe try it with new flavour combinations. Decorate it with buttercream or ganache. Add sprinkles. I love sprinkles. Bake miniature versions. Just have fun.
Trust your instincts. The book says bake it for 35 minutes, it looks like it could do with another 5, well leave it there and see how it turns out. As you become familiar with your oven your instincts will become your best baking buddy. You will second guess yourself at first, but you know best, so trust yourself.
So there you have it, baking is not rocket science, and before long you will be churning out cakes and bakes to rival Queen Mary of the Berry. Have fun. And maybe invest in some elasticated waist bands.
So tell us, are you a baker? Will you be back here next Sunday for Beaut.ie's very own virtually baking class? And if you want to hear more from Rosanne, you can check out her links below!