Clever and useful tips for your kitchen.
When making choux pastry you not only need to be able to scrap and ‘squash’ the thick batter to remove any lumps but also beat it vigorously so the eggs will be absorbed efficiently. Traditionally a wooden spoon is used when making choux pastry but, believe me, a sturdy silicone spatula or spoonula (a spatula with a shallow spoon-like shape), will be the best choice to do all of these tasks well. I promise it will become your best friend when making this type of pastry.read less
Instead of using a round scone cutter when cutting out your scones why not just use a knife?! The results are slightly more rustic, but the technique is less tricky and, as a bonus, there won’t be any leftover dough.
To cut into wedges, first use the palm of your hand to gently flatten the dough on a cutting board into a round, about 2cm thick, and then use a lightly floured, large sharp knife to cut into about 8 wedges. Alternatively, to cut into squares, flatten into a square about 2cm thick and then cut into nine even squares.
When baking, place the scones in the same formation as you cut them with about ½-1cm between each one to allow for spreading.read less
Did you know that dusting choux pastry lightly with icing sugar before baking will help give your éclairs, profiteroles and choux buns a crisper shell as well as helping them rise more evenly so they keep their shape during baking. It’s a great trick to use whenever baking choux pastry!read less
When bulk proving your dough (the first prove), it’s a good idea to choose a bowl that has the capacity of about twice the volume of your dough. This way, if the recipe asks for the dough to be proved until it has doubled in size/volume (like so many bread recipes do), it is easy to tell when it has as it will have risen to reach the top edge of the bowl.read less
When making pastry it is important not to ‘rub’ too much. Let me explain….
To start with, the term ‘rubbing in’, which is used to explain the technique to bring the flour and butter together initially, is not entirely accurate – you don’t want to actually rubbing the butter into the flour, but rather break it into small pieces and coat it with the flour. Why this is important is that these flakes of butter through the pastry dough will melt during baking, releasing steam and pushing apart the structure around them, creating the characteristic flakiness you are looking for.
When ‘rubbing in’ the butter, you want to use your fingertips to pick some of the flour and butter up and then quickly and lightly slide your thumb across the tips of your fingers, breaking the butter pieces into smaller ones and coating them with flour as you do. This action will allow the butter to remain as distinct pieces, while coating them with flour.
As you rub in the butter, the mixture will first appear to be uneven, with large chunks of butter and patches of dry flour. As you continue to rub and break up the butter, the mixture will become finer, more even in texture and darker in colour. Rub JUST until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs with some larger pieces of butter still visible. Don’t continue to rub until the mixture starts to clump together as this is an indication that the butter has started to lose its identity as separate butter pieces and will begin to melt causing your final pastry to be tough and greasy when baked, instead of light and flakey as you would prefer.read less
Have you ever been caught out with the oven preheating but no baking powder in the house (like I did last week!)? When you know how to make your own it's not a problem!
Simply sift together 2 tablespoons cream of tartar, 1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda and 1 tablespoon cornflour then give it a good stir or shake it well in a jar until evenly combined. Store this homemade version in an airtight jar and use it in your recipes in the same quantities as you would commercially made baking powder.
Incidentally, making your own means you can also avoid the aluminium-based acidifying agents (like sodium aluminium sulphate and sodium aluminium phosphate) sometimes used in commercial baking powder.read less
When a tart or pie case needs blind baking (so that the base doesn't absorb the wet filling and become soggy) it's important you fill the pastry case completely with pastry weights (blind baking beads) or raw rice - and I mean right to the top edge of the pastry case.
The weights will support the side and weigh down the base during baking, stopping the side from shrinking and the pastry lifting away from the base of the tin, while giving the case an even shape. Make sure you use enough to fill the case completely (you will need about 3 cups for a standard tart tin which is usually twice the quantity of those sold in packets) – don't just use a scattering!read less
When glazing your bread there are a whole variety of ingredients you can choose depending on the finish you are after once the bread is baked.
Breads brushed with an egg yolk, whole egg, or yolk and milk glaze will have a shiny, deep-golden crust (thanks to the fat in the yolk) which will be slightly soft. Egg white glaze (one that is not commonly used but is well worth considering) also gives a lovely shiny golden finish that is not as dark as those using the yolk. Those brush with water will have a crisp crust, with a matt, light golden colour. And milk and cream glazes will give bread a soft crust with a matt finish – cream will give a slightly darker colour than milk due to its higher fat content.
So next time you are glazing your bread loaves or rolls, first think about the crust finish you would like and then choose your glaze ingredient/s. And for extra impact, double-glaze your bread dough – brush the just-shaped dough with the glaze, leave to prove and then glaze again before baking.read less
Did you know you can buy egg whites in a carton? When making anything egg white-based, like meringue or pavolva, macarons, royal icing, or Swiss meringue buttercream it is a fabulous alternative to fresh eggs especially when using them in large quantities.
You'll find them in the refrigerated section of your supermarket (often near the vegetarian and vegan options), and they can be used as a direct replacement for fresh egg whites and completely solves the problem of what to do with all those leftover egg yolks!
Here are a few useful things to note when using pasteurised egg whites:
- Use 30g/2oz to replace a fresh egg white from a 60g/2oz egg.
- Pasteurised egg whites are thinner in consistency than fresh egg whites (almost water-like when poured from the carton) but don’t let this put you off using them – they will still whisk up well.
- They take longer to whisk than fresh eggs so you will need to extend the whisking time if it is stated in the recipe – use your patience and you will get the same results.
- Any leftovers can be frozen for later use, either in weighed-out portions (which is what I prefer to do so they are pre-measured and ready to go) or as a whole portion left in the carton. Freeze them for up to 3 months, thaw overnight in the fridge and then use as you would fresh egg whites.
- Because they are pasteurised, they are a safer option if serving to people with a compromised immune system when using them in recipes that won’t be cooked through (like Swiss meringue buttercream or a lemon meringue pie topping) or not cooked at all (like royal icing).
One of my favourite things to do with plums at this time of year (late Summer and early Autumn) is to roast them. It's really simple and quick to cook them this way but, best of all, it not only preserves their full flavour but actually enhances it. Along with plums, any sort of stone fruit will work (think peaches, nectarines, cherries, apricots etc.) but I also love rhubarb and strawberries prepared this way.
For every 750g fruit (halved and stones removed) toss with 110g/½ cup caster sugar (raw, demerara and brown are also delicious, adding a slight caramel flavour and making the syrup a little darker) and 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste. Spread in an ovenproof dish, just large enough to hold the fruit in a single layer, and then cover with foil. Roast in an oven preheated to 200°C/180°C fan-forced for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, or until the fruit is just tender when pierced with a skewer or sharp knife, but is still holding its shape. The time will depend on the size of the fruit pieces and their ripeness. Remember the fruit will continue to soften slightly on cooling so be careful not to overcook or it will collapse and lose its shape.
Once done just serve warm, or cool in the dish and then keep it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days to be served chilled or at room temperature. It’s wonderful served simply over generous scoops of vanilla ice cream (possibly with a side of almond cake), on granola with thick natural yoghurt for breakfast, or even to top waffles or pancakes…oh and any of the leftover syrup is perfect to add to soda water as a cordial or even used to flavour a cheeky cocktail! Enjoy!read less
Getting the right consistency for your glacé icing so that it coats your cake, biscuits or slice with a elegant, yet substantial, coating without it being heavy or so thin it can't be fully appreciated, can be tricky!
Glacé icings can go from super thick to almost water-like very quickly so the trick is that once you have a thick pouring consistency only add extra water, juice or other liquid in very small amounts (no more than a quarter of a teaspoon at a time), and test the thickness regularly, until you've reached the desired consistency. An easy way to test how it will coat the surface of your bake is to spoon a little onto the rim of a bowl and see how quickly it flows down and how thickly it coats it. You can then adjust it accordingly before you drizzle or spread it.
Remember, if you want your icing to set you should use pure icing sugar as glacé icing made with icing sugar mixture (or soft icing sugar) won't set as firmly. Also, spooning your icing over a warm bake will form a thinner glaze that will soak in slightly and help to infuse your cake, biscuits or slice with the flavour of the icing.
Puff pastry, also known as mille feuilles (which translates to 'a thousand leaves'), is a classic French pastry belonging to the laminated (roll-and-fold) pastry family along with leavened puff pastry (also known as croissant dough), flaky pastry and rough puff pastry. The characteristic 'lamination' of alternate layers of butter and pastry dough (as you can see here in this raw pastry) is what gives puff pastry its many light, crisp layers when baked and it is the consistency of both these elements that will help determine how even these layers will form and how successful your pastry will be. The butter needs to be firm but pliable and a similar consistency to the dough. It shouldn’t look oily or be too soft and you should always be able to feel a little 'chill' in it while still being able to roll it out without too much pressure.
It does take practise to recognise, by feel, what the 'right' consistency is for your butter, but if you use the dough to compare it to, you will soon be well on your way to a successful pastry.read less
Bundt cakes, and those made in ring tins, are often prone to doming slightly, causing them to look a little like flying saucers, slightly elevated off the serving plate once you turn them out. To help prevent this, once you’ve put the batter into the tin and smoothed the surface with the back of a spoon, use the spoon to then make a shallow indent in the middle (kind of like a moat or ditch). This will mean there is slightly less batter in this area and will counter-balance the extra rising that the cake will naturally do here and will help the final cake have a flat bottom!read less
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