Clever and useful tips for your kitchen.
If you have ever prepared quinces for baking or poaching before you’ll understand how horribly difficult they are to peel, core and cut neatly due to their rock-hard nature. I spent years struggling with them until I discovered if you place them on a lined baking tray (still whole and washed) and roast them in an oven preheated to 180°C (160°C fan-forced) for about 20 minutes they soften enough to make peeling and cutting so much easier... and then you can get on with your recipe!
They will lose their gorgeous yellow hue and turn a mid-brown colour, but this won’t affect the inside flesh at all. So, before the short quince season comes to an end, make sure you give this hack a try!read less
Have you ever had fresh or dried fruit sink to the bottom of a cake or loaf? Don’t worry, it’s a common problem and generally happens when the cake batter isn’t heavy or thick enough to hold the weight of the fruit as it bakes.
The best way to avoid sinking fruit is to toss the fruit in a couple of tablespoons of the flour (just use some from the measured amount for the recipe) to coat it lightly. Once added to the cake mixture the flour coating will thicken the batter immediately surrounding the fruit and help suspend the fruit.
Keep in mind though, large pieces of fruit like whole raisins will be far too heavy even if coated with flour and you will need to cut these into smaller portions to have success. This will be the same with large chunks of chocolate and are also best cut into smaller pieces.read less
There are three main types of pastry: crumbly, flaky and laminated (or puff). The texture of each (which is indicated by their names) is mainly determined by two things – the consistency of the fat used and how it is incorporated into the pastry dough.
Flaky pastry, like the one pictured here, is made by incorporating small chunks of solid butter or fat through flour (either but 'rubbing in' using your fingertips or 'cutting through' using the cutting blade of a food processor) then binding the dough with moisture from other ingredients such as water and/or eggs. Shortcrust pastry is a great example of this type of pastry.
I always say that a good flaky pastry dough is ugly – the chunks of fat should remain identifiable, and the dough will be uneven in texture and have a streaky appearance. It shouldn't be smooth or even if you want a lovely flaky texture when it is baked. It's these pockets of fat that melt during baking, releasing steam and pushing apart the structure around them, creating the flakiness.
It is important to use well chilled butter, so it not only remains in distinct pieces during mixing and rolling, but also doesn’t begin to melt during baking until the dough structure around the butter pieces has started to set so that crisp flaky texture can form.
It is good to note that a high temperature is required during baking for the steam created by the melting butter to be effectively evaporated – if not, the pastry won't form a crust, and you will be left with a soggy pastry. read less
There are endless ways to decorate pastry tops for pies and this one, for fruit mince pies, is dead-easy, effective and festive!
Simply press the end of a #11 (11mm) star piping tube into the pastry lids to imprint a star pattern before placing over the pies and baking.
Chilling the pastry lids for 20-30 minutes before stamping them will mean that the pattern will be more defined once baked.read less
Bundt cakes benefit greatly from tapping the tin on the bench top a few times before baking. This will settle the cake batter into the tin (especially when they have intricate designs), removing any large air pockets and/or gaps between the tin and the batter which can appear as small holes on the surface of the cake once baked.
This Bundt cake wasn’t tapped before baking and you can clearly see the holes the air pockets have left.read less
When making pastry for a pie or tart think about the shape of your dish or tin before you shaping it ready to be rested in the fridge ready for rolling.
For example, if you’re going to make a round pie, shape your pastry it into a disc. But if your tart tin is rectangular, like this one, it’s a good idea to shape you pastry into a flat rectangle. This way you’re not trying to roll your pastry into a different shape than you have started with and you’ve given yourself a bit of a head start ) – the pastry not only will be easier to roll but you also won’t have to handle the pastry as much to get it to the right shape for your dish or tin, resulting in better pastry (because, as we all know, pastry isn’t great when you handle it too much!)read less
Jam swirls can make a very easy, effective, and of course yummy decoration that gives an almost 'painted' look for your cakes, cupcakes and pavlovas. First warm 1-2 tablespoons jam of your choice (here I have used raspberry for its vibrant colour and slight tartness to contrast with the sweetness of the white chocolate buttercream on this cake), pass it through a sieve to remove any seeds and then let it cool. Use the back of a tablespoon or teaspoon to give a swirl texture to your buttercream, ganache or cream. Use a clean teaspoon or tablespoon to dot the cooled jam (sparingly) into the hollows and then use the spoon again to gently spread the jam, following the swirls.
Less is more with this technique – always use less jam than you think you will need and don’t overdo the swirling as the more you ‘play’ with it the more likely the pattern will become less striking and somewhat messy.read less
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