Introduction

Introduction

By
Lucy Cufflin
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742709376
Photographer
Jacqui Melville

When my publishers asked me to write a second cook book, this time all about baking, I asked myself ‘What can I tell people about baking that hasn’t already been said?’ Well, here’s the thing… I have planned, created, collated and coordinated menus and recipes for ski chalets for 14 years. In each of the 110 Skiworld chalets I work with, afternoon tea is served every single day and that’s a lot of teas – something like a quarter of a million in the season! All of the traybakes, cookies and treats have to work every time for all the staff, whatever their baking know-how. They always tell me that if the recipe only uses one bowl then that’s an added bonus so that is what I have always tried to do – hone, trim and simplify so there is less to go wrong and usually less washing up at the end! This has meant that I believe I can understand what makes the difference between a good recipe and a fabulous foolproof recipe. It’s not about quick fixes or time saving for the sake of it, it’s about testing 100 tips to find the three that really make the difference. About removing unnecessary cooking steps but holding onto the ones that make sure the result is still perfect. It is about uncomplicating cooking while hopefully adding a little magic along the way.

I always think of baking as the friendly side of cooking. It is not something we often do to sustain life or just to feed ourselves, it is about enjoyment and is often quite a social form of cooking. So this was not a book to write by myself; instead I teamed up with my oldest cooking chum, ‘the other Lucy’ (or, to avoid confusion, Lucy LT as she signs her e-mails). We pooled recipes and we baked liked we’d never baked before – and we loved every waist-busting minute of it! But there really is only so much cake you can eat and, as baking is all about sharing, that is exactly what we did. We roped in friends, family and colleagues to road-test the recipes and as an added bonus, our team of road-testers came back with additions and variations we had not imagined. So, a really big ‘thank you’ to everyone who donned an apron and flourished a wooden spoon in aid of this book.

But don’t think that our baking is all doilies and cake stands. There is something deeply fulfilling about being elbow-deep in bread flour or making a wonderful mess in the kitchen cooking with the children. So from dainty afternoon tea to the slab of fruitcake when out on a hike, it’s all here – simple, achievable and enjoyable. Get your bowl at the ready and start baking – share the love and feed the soul.

Before you start cooking - Tips and tricks for successful baking

–If you only read one tip this is it: read the whole recipe before you start, top to bottom. It sounds so simple but hardly anyone does it and most mistakes are made because they didn’t – so do!

–There are tips and notes on each recipe from the testers so read what they have to say. There are some inspirational variations on the recipes too.

–Invest in a set of digital scales (or get them on your birthday list) so you can weigh everything more easily. Put the mixing bowl on the scales and zero it between adding different ingredients – less fuss, less mess.

–Invest in a set of proper measuring spoons. Your teaspoon may be a world away from a technical teaspoon.

–I measure liquid in grams not millilitres so I can weigh them on my digital scales (easier and less washing up). However, if you don’t have digital scales, you can use millilitres instead – they are interchangeable (so if I say 250 g water, you can use 250 ml).

Getting to know your oven

In 30 years of cooking in many different kitchens I have yet to find an oven that behaves perfectly. So take a bit of time to get to know your oven, follow the tips below and it will save you heartache on a day when you just need your baking to be right first time.

If you have a gas oven, the temperature will be hotter at the top than the bottom. The set temperature is for cooking food on the shelf just above the centre so if you need to put several trays of bakes in the oven at the same time on shelves one above the other, you may need to swap them around halfway through cooking to get even baking. I prefer to cook in batches so I get perfect results and don’t have to keep opening the oven door but that, of course, uses more fuel, so the choice is yours.

Troubleshooting

Here are some common baking problems.

–All my baking takes longer than the suggested recipe time: Buy an oven thermometer and it will probably show you that your oven is not quite coming to the temperature you set. So test what temperature you need to set the dial to get the internal temperature you want and follow that in all recipes.

–Cakes are browning before they are cooked: Then the oven is probably getting hotter than the dial indicates, so do the same as above and reduce the dial temperature for future baking.

–My cakes brown on the top before they are cooked: Put the cake on a lower shelf and place a baking sheet on the wire shelf above the cake.

–My cakes burn underneath: Put the cake on a higher shelf and place a baking sheet on the shelf below to shield the cake from the fierce bottom element.

–One side bakes darker than the other: Your oven is not circulating the heat evenly and you can remedy this in any cooking by turning the cake tray or tin halfway through cooking. BUT beware with cakes as if you open the oven too early you run the risk of the cake sinking. So my advice is wait until three-quarters of the way through cooking then turn the cake on the shelf without removing it – if that is possible – so you reduce the drop in temperature and don’t disturb the cake too much.

Baking for allergy sufferers

–Lactose intolerant: This is an easy allergy to cater for when baking because there are many lactose-free products around. We love the lactofree range by Arla who produce everything from butter, cream cheese and hard cheese to milk and cream substitutes. The flavours are wonderful and the fats seem to work really well in cakes and cookies alike. There are other makes of fats and cheeses but take a look at this range.

–Coeliac (celiac) or gluten intolerant/wheat intolerant: Wheat, barley and rye flours all contain gluten – a protein which can cause an allergic reaction. Most supermarkets and health food shops now do good gluten-free flour blends for baking. They are intended to substitute measure for measure with ordinary baking flours. We love the Doves Farm flour blends for baking but try other brands and experiment. What I would say, though, is that most gluten-free flour blends need a little extra liquid in the recipe so I tend to add a couple of tablespoons of water to whatever I am baking – experimentation is the key, find a make you like and stick to it. Most of the recipes here will work if you tweak them this way a little. Doves Farm also does a range of bread flours and a very good fast-action dried yeast.

There is some controversy about oats and gluten. Oats themselves do not contain gluten but a similar protein and some sufferers still get a reaction from it. Also, not all oats are gluten-free because they have been milled in a factory with gluten products and therefore have residual wheat in them. So always check the label that they are certified gluten-free if necessary. You also need to check your baking powder as not all are gluten-free.

People with a wheat intolerance can eat rye, barley and oats. However, read the labels if buying rye bread as it is often combined with wheat flour to give a lighter texture.

–Nut allergies: Nuts fall into two categories: ground nuts and tree nuts. Ground nuts include peanuts, which are the most common nut for nut allergies. However, some people who are allergic to peanuts can happily eat tree nuts, such as almonds, walnuts and pecans. Some people are also allergic to seeds. In this book, nuts and seeds, for the most part, are an extra to the recipe so can be omitted. So, for instance, if you want to make florentine bars and you cannot use nuts, simply load the top with dried fruit (and seeds if you can tolerate them). All recipes in the book with no added nuts or seeds are marked as nut-free. Also check the labels of any ready-made product you may use for nut content – mayonnaise, packaged sweets etc.

Tips on buying equipment

–The tins I use the most are a 20 cm round, deep cake tin with a loose bottom, a 20 cm square cake tin for traybakes and cakes and a larger 20 x 30 cm shallow traybake tin. I occasionally use a 25 cm diameter shallower cake tin and I have two favourite baking sheets that I use all the time. I love enamel-coated baking tins – they are almost invincible and good baking tins can last a lifetime. So whichever finish you prefer, it is well worth spending a bit on them as they can stay with you for a while.

–If you choose to buy digital scales then make sure you buy scales that can weigh up to 5 kg top weight; this will allow you to use a large mixing bowl and still weigh successfully. A medium-priced scale will also measure very small amounts successfully.

–If you buy one piece of equipment only I would buy an electric hand whisk. There are many on the market and you do not need to spend a fortune, but an electric whisk will save you a lot of arm-ache. I have a hand blender for blending and grinding nuts and I have an electric whisk for beating cake mixture and whisking egg whites. The electric whisk would be my first purchase and a hand blender would be my second.

–If you are hooked on baking then get a fixed-head mixer on your Christmas list. Don’t be tempted by inexpensive models as they tend not to be very robust – save up and buy something solid. I have had my KitchenAid for 25 years and it is as good as the day I bought it. My mother had her Kenwood Chef for over 30 years. There are other makes on the market but I would search out one with a steel body.

–Measuring spoons come in all shapes and materials. My favourite set I own are magnetic and sit inside each other then magnetise to my knife rack. You can choose a set that suits you but look for a ¼ teaspoon to tablespoon measurement range.

–A spatula is a baker’s friend, making sure all your lovely cake mixture ends up in the tin. There are fabulous ones that are heat resistant, moulded in a single piece (so no joins) and available in colours to match your kitchen – whichever type you choose this is a tool I could not live without.

–I inherited my mother’s palette knife that she had when she married. It is over 50 years old. It’s one of the best tools I have. A palette knife is really useful for spreading icing (frosting) or cake mix or 100 other jobs. Buy a good one as it may outlive you.

–Piping can make your topping look really professional. Disposable piping bags are in most supermarkets but you can also buy them online. In many shops they only sell very small piping nozzles so buy one large fluted-end nozzle from either a specialist baking shop or online. I prefer disposable bags to washable piping bags because I find that the flavours linger in the cloth over time. One of my least favourite jobs in the kitchen is washing the piping bag. I rarely use one to be honest so I keep a store of disposable ones to hand.

–A heavy-based saucepan is good for heating sugar to prevent burning. I have stainless steel pans from a well-known Swedish shop that have bases that are quite adequate, so no need to search out a specialist pan.

–Dishwasher-safe silicone spoons, spatulas and tools are a great asset as they do not warp or trap bits of food in joins.

Glossary of ingredients and buying tips

BAKING POWDER – a mix of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and cream of tartar. This is an ideal mix of ingredients to make a cake rise, but use bicarbonate on its own where called for in some cookie recipes, as it is this that gives them that crinkly top.

BALSAMIC VINEGAR – required for the fast balsamic syrup, this can be any brand as you are adding the flavours and sugar so no need to spend heavily on the basic commodity.

BANANAS – when using bananas for cake-baking, buy ripe ones or let yours ripen before using. Underripe bananas will give a chewy texture and not much flavour. You can use them even if the skins have gone black.

CARDAMOM PODS – available in most supermarkets but online you can buy the seeds already removed from the husk.

CHESTNUT PURÉE – readily available in cans in most supermarkets.

CHILLI FLAKES – not the same as chilli powder, these are little flakes of dried chilli as the name suggests. Gram for gram these are less hot than chilli powder as they are less condensed. They are available in most supermarkets and Asian grocery stores.

CHOCOLATE – the ideal dark chocolate for baking would be anything around the 50 per cent cocoa solids and there are many brands that offer this. I find that 70 per cent cocoa solids is sometimes too bitter for some recipes so not necessarily a treat. Milk chocolate is much sweeter and there are recipes that ask for it particularly – mostly you can use dark if you prefer or blend the two for a medium cocoa taste. White chocolate is not really chocolate and contain no cocoa solids but contains cocoa butter.

It melts differently so be careful if you melt it in the microwave as it burns easily. It is best to do this in a bowl over a pan of boiling water but don’t let the bowl touch the water, don’t overheat and don’t stir or it will solidify!

CHOCOLATE SPREAD – for baking and icing cakes. Buy your favourite brand with or without hazelnuts.

COCOA POWDER – do not confuse this with hot chocolate powder. Hot chocolate powder is cocoa powder with added sugar and sometimes milk powder. This will make you recipe very sweet and not chocolatey enough. Pure cocoa powder is the best – many brands are pure, just check the ingredients label.

CONDENSED MILK – do not confuse this with evaporated milk. Condensed milk is a sweet, thick-textured liquid of concentrated sweetened milk. We caramelise in the tin in some recipes or you can buy it ready caramelised – it simply says ‘caramel’ on the milk tin.

COLOURED GLACÉ CHERRIES – available from some good supermarkets, online or from specialist baking shops.

CORNMEAL – cornmeal is very fine. Some of the bread recipes will work with coarser meal like polenta but the cakes really need fine cornmeal. You can buy it online or find it in the Caribbean section of a supermarket – you many need to buy a large bag but it is very inexpensive and it keeps well in a cool, dark place.

CRYSTALLISED GINGER – can be found in the baking section of most supermarkets. It is cut into about 1 cm chunks and coated in sugar. Usually you will need to chop this a bit smaller to use in baking.

DATES – can be bought in many ways but we avoid the ready chopped dates as they are often sugarcoated and can be dry. Ready-stoned dates are a bonus as stoning can take a while. Having said that, some of the natural dates with stones are some of the most succulent I have eaten. If I am making the high-energy date bars then I prefer to stone my own as they are a big part of the flavour.

EDIBLE ROSE PETALS – the easiest way to buy these is online. They are light, so cost little to post, and you can purchase other floral ingredients at the same time.

EGGS – a normal size egg in a cake recipe will weigh approximately 60 g including shell. If your eggs are a great deal larger then adjust the other ingredients accordingly. It can make a real difference to the end result. Eggs with really yellow yolks will give your baking a healthy yellowy colour which can be really beautiful.

ESSENCES AND EXTRACTS – it is well worth buying the natural extracts, as there is a world of difference in flavour between the natural extract and the chemical essence. We love vanilla pastes and extracts that contain the seeds.

FENNEL SEEDS – available in most good supermarkets with the herbs and spices, or in larger quantities in the Asian or foreign food sections, or from Asian grocery stores or online.

FLOUR – you can choose own brand, organic stone milled and anything in between, but use the flour asked for by the recipe. Use strong bread flour for the breads as cake flour simply does not work and use what we might refer to as ordinary flour for cakes and biscuits. Self-raising flour is plain flour with baking powder added. Rye and spelt flour is widely available these days and you can make your own oat flour/meal by blending porridge oats to a flour consistency.

GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR BLENDS – many flour brands now offer a gluten-free flour blend that is excellent for baking. It is a blend of many pulses and grains that are gluten-free but offer a good texture for cakes and biscuits. We like the Doves Farm brand.

GOLDEN SYRUP – I use Lyle’s golden syrup because it is made from sugar cane. Many own brands are made from sugar beet and they lack the flavour sugar cane syrup has.

GROUND GINGER – look in the Asian cooking aisle of the supermarket or any Asian grocery store for this as it is cheaper and often a much hotter ginger than the one found in small jars on the herbs/spice aisle in most supermarkets.

HONEY – as huge fans we can recommend local honey but it may be that your local honey does not have the flavour you are after. If the main source of pollen for the bees is rape flower then the honey flavour can be very mild, so it’s worth searching out specific ones for baking such as lavender honeys, floral honeys or even some branded honeys which can have rich, earthy flavours.

LAVENDER – pick from your garden at the end of summer, tie in a bunch and allow to dry, then take the flowers off the stalks and store in a screw-topped jar. Alternatively you can buy ready-dried washed lavender online (try www.justingredients.co.uk for a large selection of spices and dried flowers). You can add them to many recipes, but try the Honey Lavender Flapjack.

MARZIPAN – available in white or yellow in most supermarkets or speciality food stores. Some dedicated cake decorating shops will sell it in various other colours.

MAYONNAISE – for baking where we have asked for mayonnaise we have used Hellmann’s. This has 8 per cent egg content. If your brand has less than this, add an extra tablespoon to the recipe.

ONION SEEDS – sometimes called nigella or kalonji seeds, these are available from most supermarkets, online or from any Asian grocer.

PASSION FRUIT – can be found in most supermarkets or greengrocers. The outside does not give away the brightly coloured yellow seedy pulp inside. All the recipes that call for passion fruit use the seeds and pulp together.

POPPY SEEDS – available in most supermarkets in the baking section.

STEM GINGER – available from some supermarkets and speciality food stores. It is whole glacé root ginger in syrup. The ginger is fabulously strong-flavoured but sweet and the syrup is great for drizzling over cakes and muffins.

SUGAR – I use caster sugar for most recipes and golden caster has a better flavour than pure white, refined caster but the choice is yours. Occasionally I use soft brown or demerara sugar for flavour or texture. Granulated is good for jams and syrups. I like white icing sugar for my toppings – you can buy golden icing sugar but I think this gives all toppings a sort of beige hue.

WHOLE ALMONDS – come blanched (no skin) or unblanched, with a brown skin. Use either but if you want a more refined look, buy the blanched ones. I think the unblanched almonds have a better flavour.

YEAST – fresh yeast is available in a few supermarkets in the chilled section near fresh pastry and butter. As my bread recipes are intended to be store cupboard bakes, I use fast-action dried yeast. This is different from ordinary dried yeast as it needs no presoaking or mixing. It can be stirred into the dry ingredients and you can get straight on with the kneading and shaping of the dough. I have sometimes given you the option for fresh yeast, if you prefer.

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