Clever and useful tips for your kitchen.
Yeast doughs need to be left in a warm, draught-free place to prove after kneading (known as the bulk prove), and usually again after shaping (known as the final prove). Proving is important as it ‘exercises’ the strands of gluten, making them stronger and helping to develop the structure of the bread. It also develops flavour. Yeast is active between 0.5°C–54.5°C but is at its happiest between 25°C–28°C.
This means, depending on the weather and the temperature of your kitchen, you may need to create a warm micro-environment to prove your dough, particularly on very cold days. There are a number of ways you can do this for the bulk and / or final prove stage:
- Pour some hot tap water into a saucepan and place the dough in a covered heatproof bowl over it, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bowl and replacing the hot water as it cools.
- Turn just your pilot light on in your oven to heat your oven very gently. Place the dough in a covered heatproof bowl on the middle rack, close the door and leave to prove.
- Place the dough in a covered heatproof bowl on a wooden board on top of a preheated oven.
- Place the dough in a covered heatproof bowl in a sunny windowsill or a spot outside in dappled sunlight (as long there is no draught).
To make sure you get equal amounts of different ingredients in each frittata when making individual ones it's a good idea to keep your ‘wet’ ingredients separate from the other ingredients. Firstly, combine all your vegetables, cheese, herbs and other ‘solid’ ingredients and then divide this mixture evenly among muffin holes. Then whisk together your ‘wet’ ingredients such as eggs and milk and pour this into the muffin holes, dividing evenly. This way you won’t have a frittata that is all egg or all vegetables – basically they will be a more ‘balanced’ frittatas.read less
When baking individual tarts place them on an oven tray before putting them in the oven, especially when using tins with a removable base. It will make it a whole lot easier and more efficient (and far less fiddly) when you need to take them from the oven to remove the blind baking beads and to add the filling.read less
It’s important to stand a cake or loaf in it’s tin for about 5 minutes after you take it from the oven. The cake will ‘settle’ in this time which will not only make it less likely to stick to the tin but it will also be less fragile and easier to remove without it breaking up.read less
I often get asked about the difference between granulated sugar and caster sugar and which is best used for when baking…so here’s the low-down:
The main difference between granulated (also know as white table sugar) and caster (also know as super-fine in North America) sugar is the size of the grain. Granulated is larger and more coarse (I once read that granulated is about 0.5mm in diameter while caster is about 0.35mm in diameter, although I’m not really sure who would measure them!). Because of this caster sugar is generally the most versatile and preferred of the two when baking – its small granules mixes more easily and dissolve more readily when combined with other ingredients giving biscuits, cakes, pastries etc. a more even, less coarse texture. You may have noticed if you have made a cake with granulated sugar that it sometimes can have a ‘speckled’ appearance – this is the undissolved sugar in the batter. Caster sugar is also best to use when making meringues and pavlova because of its ability to dissolve more quickly. Granulated sugar however is great when making toffee (it is less likely to crystalize), in general cooking and in baking when your want a slightly coarser texture (for example, I often make a traditional Scottish shortbread that has a better, more suitable texture when made with granulated sugar). My advise is to use whichever sugar is specified in the recipe and if you don’t have caster sugar in your cupboard you can always make it by processing granulated sugar in a food processor using the pulse button until finely ground.read less
Don't throw really ripe bananas in the bin if you aren't going to use them straight away - throw them in the freezer instead, skin and all, so they are ready to use when you next want to make a banana cake or banana bread. Remove the skin with a knife while still frozen, slice and then mash. If you are a little more organised you can of course mash them and pop into an airtight container before you freeze them.read less
Don’t fuss when lining the base of a springform tin with baking paper. Grease the tin then tear off a square of non-stick baking paper about 8cm larger than the tin. Release the outside of the tin and turn the base upside-down (this will create a base without a lip, which makes removing the cake or cheesecake from the tin so much easier.) Place the paper over the base of the tin and then clamp the side of the tin around the base, to hold the paper in place. The paper will stick out the sides but this won’t matter and the extra paper hanging out the sides will not only give you something to help lift the cake off the base once it is baked but will also make removing of the paper from the base of the cake so much easier.read less
Bread and butter pudding is such a wonderfully comforting dessert, perfect for cooler weather. When making yours don't forget to let it stand before baking. This will allow the bread to soak up as much of the custard as possible giving your final dessert a luscious texture and ensuring that a separate layer of custard doesn't form below the bread. Depending on the bread you use, this can take from 30 minutes to a couple of hours – the longer the better!read less
It can be tricky to create an even crust made from a biscuit crumb mixture for a cheesecake or slice. An easy way to ensure you get the most even crust is to first sprinkle the crumb mixture as evenly as possible over the entire base of the pan and then use the flat base of a glass to press firmly, and evenly, down to compress it. To finish slide the glass across the base in a circular motion to even the surface.read less
When making a flourless roulade (such as a chocolate one) it is a good idea to cover it with a damp tea towel straight as soon as it comes out of the oven. The tea towel will help stop the cake loosing valuable steam and therefor keeping it nice and moist. The benefit of this is that moist cake is less likely to crack when you roll it.read less
I often get asked how long should you beat butter and sugar when creaming it. There is no actual time that you need to aim for as there are a few variables that can affect how long it will take, including how soft your butter is, the proportion of butter to sugar, and the type of sugar you are using.
The best thing to watch out for is for how the mixture transforms as it is beaten. The more you beat it the paler in colour and lighter in texture it will become, but it will get to a point that it won’t change any more and this is the stage that you will know you have creamed it ‘enough’. If you are unsure of what you are looking for it is a good idea to take a small sample of the mixture at intervals as you beat and it will soon become clear.
This pic shows a butter and sugar mixture at three stages (from left to right): just combined, beaten for a few minutes and once it has been creamed enough. So remember, when creaming, it isn’t a matter of time, just a matter of transformation.read less
When using eggs always break each one into a separate small bowl or ramekin before adding to a mixture so if there is a problem with a single egg, the whole mixture won't be ruined. It's also easier to remove any broken egg shell this way.read less
When making pastry, such as a shortcrust, by hand make sure you only use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour.read more
When making pastry, such as a shortcrust, by hand make sure you only use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour. Avoid using the whole of your hands as the palm is the warmest part and can melt the butter which, in turn, may cause your finished pastry to be heavy and tough. Rub the butter chunks briefly between your fingertips, breaking it into smaller pieces while coating with the flour rather than rubbing them together. Also, keep the palms of your hands facing upwards, as this will help with the action of breaking up the butter chunks, and lift the mixture high out of the bowl as this will aerate the mixture and help give it a light texture when baked. This is a great technique to keep in mind when making scones and pastry.
When using frozen berries in your baking add them to the mixture straight from the freezer. Frozen berries won't 'bleed' their colour (like thawed berries do, streaking your cakes and muffin mixtures) and will stay as nice whole berries once baked.read less
Using your food processor when making shortcrust pastry is dead easy and super quick. Follow these three simple steps:
- Put the flour, salt, chilled butter and sugar (if the pastry is sweet) in the bowl of your food processor. Use the pulse button to process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
- Sprinkle over the water/whisked egg yolk (you’ll generally find that you need a little less than if making the pastry by hand) and then use the pulse button to process briefly until the mixture just starts to cling together. Don’t let it get to the stage that it forms a ball as you may overwork the pastry and make it ‘tough’ when baked.
- Turn the pastry out onto a lightly floured, cool bench top and bring it together with your hands. Lightly knead the pastry with your fingertips for about 10 seconds or until comes together but isn’t completely smooth. Shape the pastry into a disc, wrap well in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes or as directed in the recipe.