Baking tips for begginers

coffee and books - Magda's Cauldron

coffee and books - Magda's Cauldron

I may consider myself lucky. I’ve never been afraid of baking, maybe because everybody in my family can do it. It was never treated as a state of art just rather handicraft. So I’m always surprised when somebody says they can’t bake. Well, I assume that if you have a good recipe and follow it you should bake a cake.

So I thought I will share with you some my baking tips, things I’ve learnt at home, or browsing online.

  • Disasters will happen. It doesn’t matter how long do you bake, how good you are it, it can always happen. Sometimes recipe is no good, sometimes you are not focused and add twice as much baking soda and no sugar at all. It happens. It happened to me, to my mom and to my baking gurus. Don’t blame yourself.
    Some people like to proof to they can do it and bake straight away another cake. As for me I notice the more stressed and angry I am the less chances I have to bake a nice cake, so often I just need to take a break, an hour or a day, until I feel I can enjoy the process.
  • Pick a good recipe. Very often disasters happen because recipes are crap. Even recipes in books are sometimes wrong. So if you look for the first recipe to start baking look for something with a lot of good reviews – I have a few blogs I trust, but I often read comments to see what may go wrong. Try BBC Good Food they have good ratings and reviews.
  • Pick a simple recipe. There are plenty recipes out there, some are easier than others. For beginners I recommend recipes that don’t even call for a mixer. Muffins are perfect – try these peanut butter or easy peach ones. Sophie’s Banana Bread is another great example, or this orange syrup cake I made lately. There is nothing wrong with recipes using a mixture, but they may be a tad more complicated. So look for a recipe with as little steps as possible and then pick a recipe a little bit more complicated. You may need to know when to stop beating eggs and that’s not always easy.
  • Read the recipe first – you should do it to make sure you understand all the steps, you have all the ingredients and you understand all the steps. Some recipes may ask to rest the dough in the fridge for 2 hours when you don’t have time for that. They may call for ingredients that you thought you had, but you don’t. Running to the shop in the middle of baking is a good way to a disaster.
  • Start with measuring all the ingredients. I’m guilty of not following this rule often, but when I do follow it, baking is easier and calmer and I don’t need to run to a shop when I notice I’m one egg short.
  • Follow the recipe. If you are not great at baking just follow the recipe. If you picked one that many people praise about, it’s probably good one, so don’t change the steps, don’t swap ingredients.
  • I always grease and flour my pans or cover them with parchment paper, unless I use silicon ones.
  • Ingredients temperature
    • When recipe calls for a room-temperature butter or eggs, it really means that butter should be as soft as it would be sitting on the counter for a few hours. Usually it’s because you are asked to cream the butter with sugar. It doesn’t work the same with cold butter. Remember baking is about chemistry, temperature may have a big difference. As for eggs I usually get away with adding eggs out of fridge, but if you can avoid it.
    • How to soften the butter: If you are like me, you will often have only cold butter. I have a trick, but be careful.
      Cube your butter and spread on a chop board. In meantime fill the glass bowl with hot water and let it sit for a few minutes. Pour out the water, dry it with a towel and invert it over the cubed butter. Leave it until butter will get soft. Be careful, as you may get the butter too warm.
    • When recipe calls for cold butter, it often means it’s a shortbread recipe and butter should be straight from the fridge, otherwise the cake won’t be short. If there is no indication if butter should be room temperature or cold one, it’s better to look for other recipe. If you read a recipe and see it mentioned creaming the butter, it means we are talking about room temperature butter.
    • Sometimes you need to add melted chocolate or melted butter, read instruction carefully, because if the next step is adding eggs to the mixture, they may scramble, so this is why recipes often ask you to cool the mixture down.  So don’t hurry yourself and always read the recipe.
    • Rather than trust the recipe entirely you need to use your common sense. If recipe says “bake for 35 minutes in 170°C” that may be true, but your oven may not be precise, or you use different tin, so the best practice is to check how your cake is doing every 15-20 minutes.
      • Luckily many cakes can be checked if they are ready with a skewer. You just prick the cake with a skewer and if you see sticky, raw batter on it means that cake needs more time.
      • If the cake is browning very quickly on the top, but it’s still raw inside you may need to cover it with parchment paper.
      • Use your common sense, does the cake look and smell as if it was baked? If you are making muffins you often can take one out and cut it in half to see if they are done.
      • Conventional oven and fans oven use different temperatures. I burnt quite a few cakes before I got this message. You should decrease your temperature around 20°C if you use fan oven (for example for conventional oven baking temperature would be 180°C, for fan oven 160°C) or refer to your user manual.
  • Substations – at the beginning try to avoid them.
    • Don’t play with flours, plain flour and wholesome will give you very different results. 
    • It’s OK to replace lemon zest with orange or lime zest. Yes, the taste will be slightly different, but you are replacing similar things. The same comes to nuts, if I don’t have walnuts, I will use cashew nuts, or hazelnuts. Again, result will be different, but the cake should taste nice. I often replace nuts with raisins, or other dry fruits.
    • Don’t reduce the amounts of sugar or butter, unless you tried the cake before. Well, probably you can reduce sugar if you see it’s totally too sweet, but be careful, sugar is responsible for cake structure, not only sweetness.
    • If the recipe doesn’t state otherwise always assume the butter should be unsalted. You can only substitute unsalted with salted butter if recipe mentions salt. Bakers use unsalted butter, because the salt quantity in salted butter depends on manufacturer. A pack of salted butter (227g) may have around 5-10g of salt.

And the last one. If I don’t know something I call my mom, ask Twitter, or Google.

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