Clever and useful tips for your kitchen.
There are a number of good reasons why you would preserve your sourdough starter by drying it, including if you can’t (or don’t) want to use and/or feed it for a long period of time; you’d like to put some aside for ‘insurance’ just in case your sourdough starter dies (oops!); or you simply want to send it to someone in the post.
Drying sourdough starter is super simple to do: Start with a well-fed, active starter and use a palette knife to spread it in a thin layer over an oven tray that has been lined with baking paper or a silicone baking mat. Allow it to stand at room temperature (the warmer and less humid it is the quicker it will dry) until it is crisp and completely dried through. Then break the starter into small pieces (you can also coarsely crush it), place in an airtight jar (or seal in plastic bags if you are going to send it in the post) and label. It will store in a cool dry, dark place for up to 1 year.
To activate it, add the same amount of water and unbleached plain flour by weight to the crushed starter (30g is a perfect amount to start with). Stand for 12 hours in a warm place (about 23°C is good). Repeat this two more times. On the fourth feed, first discard half the starter mixture and then add the water and flour and continue to repeat this discarding and feeding every 12 hours until it doubles in size in under 8 hours. Your reactivated starter will then be ready to use!read less
Have you ever noticed a grey-like liquid forming on the top of your sourdough starter but didn't know what it was or if your starter is still OK to use?
This liquid (which also often has a strong aroma) is an indication that an excess of alcohol has been produced as a by-product of the yeast fermentation in your starter. It often appears if the starter is ‘hungry’ because it has been left for long periods of time without feeding or if it just requires more frequent feeding (which is usually because it is fermenting at a faster rate due to being kept at higher temperatures than usual).
If there is only a thin layer, you can either stir this liquid back into the sourdough starter or drain it away before feeding it again. If you stir it through, it will add a more intense flavour to your sourdough starter and, in turn, your sourdough bread. If there is a thick layer, it is best to discard it before feeding.
Your starter will usually be fine to use again (if you haven't left it for too long and it has 'died') but it may need some extra attention and love to get it back on track over the next few days with feeding it as you normally would.read less
Temperature has a big effect on how your cupcakes and cakes will rise during baking. When your oven temperature is too high for the type of batter you are using, your cupcakes or cake will peak/dome and crack during baking. But did you know that foil cupcake cases can have a similar effect?
Foil cases retain more heat than paper ones and this extra heat is then transferred to the batter causing it to peak and crack during baking. You can see here how the cupcake baked in the foil case (left) has risen more dramatically when compared to the cupcake baked in the paper case (right), which has risen evenly and without peaking.
The good news is that foil cases are still fine to use, but if you would prefer a more even, less ‘peaky’ rise, just drop your oven temperature by about 10°C and this will reduced the heat transferred by the foil cases.read less
When rolling biscuit dough into individual portions it is sometimes hard to get them all a similar size, especially if you have to team them up with a ‘partner’ when sandwiching them.
There are two easy ways to do this:
1. Measure the total quantity of dough by weight and divide by the number of biscuits the recipe makes. Then weight each portion before you roll it. It does take a little longer, but your biscuits will be guaranteed to be the same size.
2. Alternatively, use a teaspoon or tablespoon measure or a small ice cream scoop (depending on the size you are making) to scoop the mixture, level the surface with the back of a butter knife and then shape as required.
You will also find the more biscuits you shape, the better you will get at recognising how a particular sized portion feels in the palm of your hands as you roll them. Therefore, once you have made a certain amount you will be able to portion the remaining dough just by feel.read less
There are two main types of commercially available yeast used for making yeasted breads – instant dried yeast and fresh or compressed yeast. Dried yeast is reliable and convenient while I believe that fresh yeast can give a better texture and flavour, especially to rich yeasted breads. Fresh yeast is also great for doughs that require a long, slow proving time as it stays active for longer than dried yeast.
Instant dried yeast can be added directly to the other dough ingredients without the need to activate it first like fresh yeast. It is available in sealed individual sachets, which can be stored at room temperature, or sealed canisters that are best stored in the fridge or freezer once opened. Generally dried yeast will keep for a year or more – just check the used by date on the packaging.
Fresh yeast is generally sold by weight and is available from selected delicatessens, health food stores and bakeries. When using fresh yeast it will first need to be activated by before adding to the dry ingredients. To activate fresh yeast:
1. Crumble the yeast and dissolve it in a small portion of the lukewarm water or milk specified in the recipe’s ingredients list (for 14g fresh yeast add about 2 tablespoons of the water). It’s also a good idea to stir in a small portion of the flour (about 2 teaspoons) and sugar (about 1 teaspoon) to help activate it more quickly.
2. Then set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 5-10 minutes or until bubbles form on the top and the mixture is foamy.
3. Add the yeast mixture to the remaining lukewarm liquid before continuing with the recipe.
These two types of yeast are interchangeable in recipes, but remember that you need to use twice as much fresh yeast (by weight) than dry. Therefore, if a recipe asks for 7g dried yeast you will need to use 14g of fresh or compressed yeast and vice versa.
Melt-and-mix cakes (those that are simply made by combining heated, melted ingredients with the dry ingredients) are one of the easiest types of cakes to bake, but there is one main thing that you need to keep in mind when making them – cool the liquid ingredients to room temperature before adding the self-raising flour!
The main reason for this is because the baking powder, a chemical leavener contained in the self-raising flour, can be prematurely activated by the heat of the liquid ingredients as soon as they come into contact with each other. This also applies if the recipe contains extra bicarbonate of soda or baking powder added separately to the flour.
If triggered by the heat of the melted ingredients before the cake goes into the oven, the chemical leavener can ‘run out’ of leavening ability before the structure of the cake is set, causing the cake to sink in the centre before it has finished baking.
This is often the reason for melt-and-mix cakes to sink badly, especially if the recipe doesn't specify to cool the mixture to room temperature before combining it will the dry ingredients containing the chemical leavener.read less
Christmas-time often has us creating gorgeous baked treats and confectionery, like panforte and nougat, as festive gifts. And when making them, confectionery rice paper, also known as edible wafer paper, can become your best friend when lining the tins as it seals the sticky surface and gives a lovely finish to your treats, while also being edible.
Confectionery rice paper isn’t the same as the rice paper rounds found in the Asian section of your supermarket and used to make traditional fresh rice paper rolls or spring rolls. It is actually made from potato starch, water and oil and is a paper-like, see-through, flexible sheet that has no flavour and can be easily cut to size (as we did here to line these small tart tins to make individual panforte). It usually comes in packs with 10 sheets or more and you will find it at specialty food, cake decorating and Asian food stores.read less
Tinting buttercream so that it becomes a ‘true’ black colour can be a little difficult but here are a few tricks to make it not only achievable, but also easy:
- Use a gel colour. Gel colours are more concentrated than liquid colours and therefore you don’t need to use as much to achieve the same intensity of colour – too much added liquid (in the form of food colouring) can make your buttercream curdled in appearance and sloppy in consistency, making it hard to pipe and spread.
- I have found that American buttercream (the type based on beating butter and icing sugar) takes on a black colour more quickly than a meringue-based buttercream (like a Swiss meringue buttercream) and therefore you don’t have to use as much gel colour to achieve the same colour intensity. So American buttercream, like the one in this recipe, is my pick when wanting a black buttercream.
- Start with a chocolate buttercream. This will give you a head start with the tinting and will mean you won’t need to use as much gel colour.
- Tint the buttercream the day before you want to use it. When first tinted your buttercream will likely have a murky dark grey colour but will deepen and intensify on standing.
In your baking, sugar plays many roles including helping cupcakes and cakes rise to their full potential by raising the coagulation temperature of the eggs in the batter and hence giving the mixture more time to rise and expand before the structure sets.
However, if too much sugar is added (these simple vanilla cupcakes had twice as much as they should have), then not only do they rise to the extreme but the structure takes so long to set (these were baked for 15 minutes longer than a normal batch) that they then collapse dramatically towards the end of baking. The outside was lovely and crunchy, but the inside crumb was still wet, dense and had little volume – certainly not the ideal type of cupcake!read less
The key to the classic light-as-air texture of an angel food or chiffon cake is to suspend the baked cake in an inverted tin until it cools completely so that the crumb texture doesn’t compress as it cools. For this you need to do two things:
1. Use a specialty cake tin called an Angel Food Cake tin. Essentially it is a deep ring tin with slightly sloped sides, a loose base and small 'feet' around the top rim that elevates the tin off the bench top when inverted.
2. Don’t grease the tin… Yep this is the one time when you can get away with not greasing or lining your tin – you want the cake to stick to it so that it is suspended when inverted which will prevent it from deflating until the crumb structure is cool and set.
Because the cake does stick to the tin, once cool you will need to carefully release it by running a small palette knife between the cake and the tin. You won’t get a perfect finish, but this will be overlooked as the result will be a beautifully airy crumb texture that can’t be achieved without this technique.read less
Are your hands feeling a little tired and rough due to excessive hand washing?
To make your own food-friendly all-in-one hand conditioner, simply combine butter or olive oil (coconut oil also works well) with a little sugar or fine sea salt to form a paste. The fat acts as the moisturiser to replenish while the sugar or salt exfoliates to remove any dry rough skin. Spend a couple of minutes rubbing a small spoonful of this paste all over your hands, then remove any excess into the bin and rinse with warm water. You’ll be surprised how soft and revitalised your hands will feel!
I either make it up as I need it, spooning a little of each into the palm of my hand before scrubbing, or I make up a small batch and keep it in an airtight container at room temperature in my kitchen so it is ready whenever my hands are feeling like they need a little TLC. You can also blend in a few drops of essential oil like lavender or peppermint if you want.read less
There are many things that can affect how crisp a bread crust will turn out, but the most influential of them all is what is known as 'steamy heat'. Steamy heat is created by adding water to a hot oven, which of course turns to steam. Why it is so effective in helping to create a crisp, crackling crust is because the moisture that sits on the surface of bread dough helps the enzymes break down the carbohydrates into sugar, and with the help of intense heat from the oven gives the crust a deep golden colour and crisp texture.
Also, sprinkling water directly onto the surface of the bread dough, if the oven temperature is high enough, will also create small crisp bubbles on the surface (as it has on this loaf) adding to the crunch!read less
Have you ever noticed that a chocolate icing (either glace or buttercream) made with cocoa powder sometimes needs a different amount of liquid to reach the same consistency as last time you made it? It seems strange, but there is a very simple explanation…
Different brands of cocoa powder, and even different batches of the same brand, can have a different thickening ability. So, when making your icing, start with a little less liquid than recommended just in case it doesn’t need as much, but also don’t be surprised if it needs a little extra to reach the right consistency (¼ teaspoon is often enough to do the trick).read less
Wafer-thin dried pear slices make a gorgeous edible decoration for cakes and desserts (they are also great to add to your muesli) and now is the time to make them while pears are in season.
To oven-dry pear slices, first use a mandolin to slice the pears very thinly—firm ripe beurre bosc and josephine pears work best because of their lower moisture content. Brush the slices lightly, but thoroughly, on both sides with a little fresh lemon juice and then place on a wire rack over an oven tray. Place in an oven preheated to 80°C (or 60°C fan-forced) and leave to dry for 1½-4 hours (the time will depend on the thickness of the slices and the juiciness of your pears), turning every hour or so, until dry and crisp (you can also just dry them until they are still a little pliable). Cool them on the rack and then store in an airtight jar or container at room temperature (or in the fridge if still a little pliable) for up to 2 weeks. If they soften on storing, you can refresh them in an oven preheated to 80°C (60°C fan-forced) for 20-30 minutes or until they regain their original crispness before using.read less
Even though rice malt syrup (also known as rice syrup or brown rice syrup) has been the long-time traditional sweetener used in China and Japan, it has found wide popularity more recently becoming the trendy 'healthier' alternative to sugar in baking and sweet treats.
Whilst it is a good vegan substitute for honey and alternative if you are avoiding fructose, unfortunately, when you look at it a little more closely it’s not necessarily the healthier sugar alternative we are led to believe it is.
Rice malt syrup is made, as its name suggests, from brown rice but it is still a sugar. It is essentially a glucose which means it has an extremely high Glycaemic Index (GI) – 98 in fact. To put this into perspective, regular white sugar has a GI of 65. Why this is important when you are looking for 'healthier' alternatives is that the GI is the measure of how quickly a food will your raise blood sugar. A high GI food will cause a rapid spike and then a dramatic fall which will lead to cravings and feeling hungry – essentially what rice malt syrup will do.
So how does it fair when it comes to taste? Rice malt syrup is bland and often has an unpleasant aftertaste. It doesn’t have any of the intrinsic aroma or flavour of other natural syrups such as honey or maple syrup. It is also about half as sweet as honey and therefore more is required to achieve a similar level of sweetness.
You can use it successfully as a substitute for honey, other syrups and granulated sugars keeping in mind the consistency of it and the lack of flavour. However, I would recommend using it only if you are looking for a vegan alternative to honey, or trying to avoid fructose.read less