Clever and useful tips for your kitchen.
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.
When dipping profiteroles or choux puffs in toffee (when making desserts like a Gateau St Honore) they often end up with flat tops due to being turned toffee-side-down on baking paper for it to set... unfortunately, to some, this can look a little unrefined for such an impressive dessert. So, if you would like to retain the rounded tops of the profiteroles the best way of doing this to place them, straight after dipping, into (very) lightly oiled, half-dome silicone moulds and then leave them to set. There will be no flat tops here!read less
Some recipes will ask you to grease and dust your tin with flour if you are baking a cake that is a delicate cake that is prone to sticking to the tin (like sponge cakes) or when the tin is one that you can’t line (like a fluted ring tin, or one with an intricate design, such as a Bundt tin). The flour adds an extra barrier between the mixture and the tin to help stop the mixture from sticking. This butter and flour combination will give a cake a nice crust if done with restraint. You need to coat the pan thoroughly but not thickly - too much butter/oil or flour will leave a patchy coating on the crust of your cake. With ring and Bundt tins, just make sure you also coat the centre tube and pay special attention to any elaborate designs.
The traditional way to do this is to first grease the tin with melted butter or oil. Then add a tablespoon or two of flour to the tin and turn the tin, tapping it as you go, until the whole surface has a light, even coating of flour. Any excess flour should then be removed by sharply tapping the tin on a surface.
Alternately, you can combine both the butter or oil and flour and then apply it. For an average sized tin, combine 15g butter, melted, or 3 teaspoons oil and 1 teaspoon of plain flour and then brush the tin with this mixture. This method is particularly good for Bundt tins with intricate designs that can be tricky to coat.read less
When making a multi-layered cake from one quantity of batter its often hard to make sure the layers will be even. To ensure the batter is divided equally between the tins, weigh the tins with the mixture in them and then compare to make sure they are the same weight.read less
Toffee is often used to embellish or complement bakes (think praline, spun toffee and toffee shards). But there is nothing more frustrating than when it crystalises and becomes a horrid grainy mass making it unusable.
The crystalisation of toffee starts when it contains a ‘seed’ which can be either an undissolved sugar crystal (like those that form as the syrup splatters on the side of the pan during boiling) or something foreign in the mixture like a small crumb. As the toffee cools and the molten sugar crystals become solid again, they are attracted to the ‘seed’ forming new lumps of tiny crystals – hence the grainy texture.
This can also happen if the toffee is stirred, or agitated, after it has begun to boil or on cooling (as happened with this pink-tinted toffee). This agitation not only helps in the formation of the ‘seed’ crystals but also encourages the cooling syrup to be attracted to them and hence the development of crystal clusters and a grainy mass.
So how do you stop crystalisation? There are three main rules to follow for smooth, glass-like toffee:
- Stir the combined sugar and water over a low or medium heat until the sugar dissolves completely before it comes to the boil.
- Once the syrup begins to boil, don’t stir it again while it cooks (although gently tilting the pan from side to side occasionally will be fine) or while it is coolsing.
- Use a pastry brush that has been dipped in clean water to brush down the sides of the pan occasionally during cooking. This will dissolve any sugar crystals that have formed from splattered syrup.
When making bread dough or biscuit mixtures, an easy way to ensure that your rolls or biscuits are all a similar size, so that they not only look even but will bake in the same amount of time, is to use your scales. Firstly, weight the total amount, divide this by the number of rolls or biscuits you are making and then weigh individual portions before shaping and placing on the tray. It will take a little longer but I promise your uniformity will be admired!read less
One way to separate egg yolks from their whites is to use the halved egg shells. But when your eggs are super fresh (and the yolks are nice and plump) you can separate them by simply breaking the eggs into your hand with your fingers slightly apart. The whites will slip between your fingers into the bowl below while the yolk will stay sitting in your hand. Don’t try this with older eggs as the yolks will be too weak to hold their shape using this method and are more likely to break into the whites.read less
Tweezers are not your typical baking utensil, but you’ll find them incredibly useful for delicate and intricate decorating work. Keep a dedicated pair of tweezers in your top drawer for all those times when your fingers are feeling a little awkward!read less
Icing cupcakes while they are still warm will lead to an inevitable #bakefail – think sliding icing! It’s important to make sure you give enough time for them to cool completely before icing, but sometimes you just don’t have the time… if this happens, pop your cupcakes on a wire rack and place it the in the freezer. To make the cooling even faster, you’ll notice that the wire rack becomes icy cold quickly and therefore the base/s will cool down faster as than the top/s. After 5-10 minutes, turn them upside down to cool the tops quickly as well.read less
It is sometimes hard to flatten a biscuit or pastry base of a slice. Fingertips often create an uneven surface and a roll pin is completely impractical once the mixture is in the tin. A straight-sided glass, however, is the perfect size and can be easily rolled over the surface to make it not only smooth but also very even.read less
When folding two mixtures together it’s important to always add the lighter mixture (like whisked egg whites) to the heavier mixture (like a chocolate cake base) rather than the other way around. This will not only make the folding action more efficient it will also minimising the air lost when combining. Also, remember that if the heavier mixture is also thick, it’s always a good idea to fold a large spoonful of the lighter mixture through it first to ‘loosen’ to make it easier to incorporate the remaining mixture.read less
When whisking egg whites and sugar to make meringue mixtures it is best to whisk on medium or medium-high speed, NOT high. It will take a couple of minutes extra for you to create your meringue but the final mixture will be made up of tiny, even air bubbles – which is exactly what you are after! It will be smooth, thick, and glossy and have a shaving cream-like consistency which will give you a crisp meringue that won’t crack when baked. Meanwhile, a meringue whisked on high speed will end up with large, uneven air bubbles and a frothy consistency which will often rise and crack when baked. So, remember to whisk on medium, or if you are a little impatient, no higher than medium-high when making meringue.read less
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.
- Place dough in a covered bowl or container in your microwave and sit a jug of boiling water beside it (not touching the bowl though). Shut the door and leave to prove. You can also use a sealed styrofoam box with this method too.
- 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, making sure the temperature doesn't reach over 28-30°C.
- 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