Clever and useful tips for your kitchen.
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, and usually again after shaping. 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 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:
- 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 the dough in a covered bowl in the microwave oven with the door closed (or in a sealed Styrofoam box) with a small jug of boiling water. Replace the water when 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.
Your cakes and biscuits will have a slightly finer texture when using caster sugar while if you use white sugar, your cakes will have a slightly coarser texture and your biscuits more crunch. It’s also good to note that icing sugar is just a finer version of caster sugar, with the crystals being ground to a fine powder.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
The amount of egg needed for a successful Choux pastry is determined by how much can be absorbed by the flour (which can vary slightly from batch to batch) and the ratio between the water, flour and eggs in a particular recipe, and it is important to get the balance right. If too much egg is added or if it is added too quickly, the Choux's ability to rise when baked will be affected. Similarly, if not enough egg is incorporated, it won’t puff, causing it to be dense inside. But how can you tell if you have added the right amount of egg? The clue is in the consistency of the final Choux pastry.
When adding the egg, incorporate three-quarters of the quantity specified in the recipe first (in a number of batches). Then add the remaining egg just a teaspoonful at a time, beating vigorously after each addition. When enough egg has been added the mixture will be glossy and thin enough that a large spoonful will fall heavily from the spoon in one lump (without shaking or tapping the spoon on the side of the saucepan), but thick enough that it doesn't slide off easily. If you get this consistency right, it will make all the difference to how light, airy and well risen your Choux will be for your éclairs, gougères, profiteroles, Paris-Brest and croquembouche!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