Clever and useful tips for your kitchen.
Over-whisked egg whites are easy to recognise – they become a lumpy, curdled-looking mess and ooze excess liquid. Yep, not pretty, and unfortunately once they reach this stage there is no way to fix them. Over-whisking egg whites are common, but if you know what is going on they are easy to avoid.
When you start to whisk, the protein bonds in the egg whites are pulled apart and uncoil, breaking up the original thick viscose liquid structure. As whisking continues, the proteins then loosely re-link and re-bond around tiny air bubbles and moisture to create a foam. If you continue to whisk, these protein bonds will eventually tighten so much that they are no longer able to hold moisture, forcing the moisture out, breaking down the foam and turning it into a curdled mess.
The best way to avoid this is to whisk your egg whites by hand with a balloon whisk or, if using an electric mixture, on medium (or at least no higher than medium-high). Keep a really close eye on it, stopping frequently and checking when you are close to the point you want to reach (usually soft or firm peaks) and only whisking for brief portions of time after this. Whisking by hand, because it is naturally slower, will give you far more control over your foam than whisking with an electric mixer and hence there will be less chance of over-whisking.read less
In baking, eggs are generally best used at room temperature when they are easier to incorporate into mixtures. If whisking, you can incorporate greater quantities of air if the eggs aren’t chilled – important when making sponge cakes or meringue mixtures. So take the eggs from the fridge at least one hour before you start baking or pop them in a warm (not hot) bowl of water for 5-10 minutes to bring them to room temperature quickly.read less
In Australia, the standard tablespoon measure holds 20ml or 4 teaspoons. However, in the US, UK and New Zealand a tablespoon holds 15mls or 3 teaspoons. More often than not it is the 15ml tablespoon sold in our local stores while our recipes are written using the 20ml tablespoon! Check the size of your spoon and adjust the quantities if necessary - it won't make a big difference when you are measuring ingredients such as flour and sugar, but if measuring concentrated ingredients such as baking powder or yeast, it can cause real imbalances in your baking.read less
The difference between a well puffed choux pastry and one that falls flat on its face is often due to how quickly you add the eggs to your butter and flour mixture and the quantity of egg actually added. The puff at the bottom of this picture was made with choux pastry that was too wet. The eggs were added too quickly, and as a result too much was incorporated. When baked, it ended up spreading and being like a ‘biscuit’ on the tray. The other choux puff was made with choux pastry that had the eggs added very gradually. As a result the correct amount was added and the final choux puff rose beautifully and held its shape. Choux pastry can be tricky but once you’ve mastered it you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about!read less
A small selection of cutters are always good to have on hand to cut out cookies / biscuits, scones and pastry shapes. Choose those with a sharp edge to make cutting easy without dragging through your dough. Stainless steel ones will last longer than plastic ones and won’t rust over time. Make sure you give them a good clean after every use in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher and dry them thoroughly before storing – metal ones can be dried in oven on a low setting.read less
The word ‘natural’ is the key when buying vanilla. Avoid ‘imitation’ essence or extracts, which aren’t made from real vanilla and don’t have the quality or intensity of flavour that the natural ones do. A quick look at the ingredient list will soon tell you if it is the real deal.read less
Candied citrus zest or rind makes the perfect finishing touch to any cake. Firstly, use a vegetable peeler to remove the rind in wide strips from your citrus fruit (1 lemon/orange or 2 limes is usually a good amount for a cake). Then use a small sharp knife to remove any white pith from the rind and then cut the rind into thin strips. Put equal quantities of sugar and water (1 cup of each works well) in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the citrus rind strips, bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes or until the rind is translucent. Use a fork to transfer the rind from the syrup to a plate/wire rack, separating the strands, to drain.read less
When making small individual tarts it is best to roll your pastry into a log (rather than a disc) before chilling and resting. When you come to rolling out the pastry, cut the log into slices and then roll out each portion into a round before pressing into the tins. This no-fuss method means there is no need to re-roll scraps (which often causes the pastry to shrink when baking), ultimately giving you more even tart shell sides.read less
Simple super to create, chocolate curls make an effective decoration for your cakes, cupcakes and tarts.
A wide block of good-quality milk chocolate works best when making chocolate curls (milk chocolate is less brittle than dark chocolate and is more suited to making curls).
1 Wrap the block in baking paper or foil to protect it from the warmth of your hands while you hold it so it doesn’t melt.
2 Run a vegetable peeler firmly along the length of the block to form curls - the softer the chocolate, the wider the blade and the firmer you press, the larger the curls will be.
3 Have a plate or a piece of baking paper below to catch the curls. Keep in a cool spot or, if it is warm, in the fridge until needed.read less
So when you are next creaming, remember that the look and consistency of your mixture will directly reflect the proportions of butter and sugar used. read less
Glass, ceramic and stainless steel are always my preference in the kitchen (they don’t hold grease or ordors like plastic ones do). But when it comes to using them as the top of a bain marie (or double boiler) over a saucepan of simmering water, for melting chocolate or whisking a sabayon, make sure it is heatproof if you are using glass. Some lesser-quality glass bowls can’t withstand the heat of the steam after a period of time and will eventually crack… which won’t do much for your smooth, silky mixture!read less
Sifting flour or other ingredients such as cocoa or cornflour will be so much quicker and easier if you use a balloon whisk to 'stir' it through the sieve.read less
Make sure you always have the right size tin - measure them across the base and through the middle. Then use a permanent marker to note the size on the base so you can see at a glance what size they are every time you go to use them.
If you don't have buttermilk on hand when a recipe asks for it simply make your own version by adding 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice to a cup of full-cream milk. Perfect to use in scones, banana bread and muffins!
The only thing to be aware of is that this mixture will be thinner in consistency than buttermilk itself so when using a reasonable amount (more than 125ml/½ cup) I use about 1 tablespoon less per 125ml/½ cup so that the consistency of the batter isn't affected.read less
When choosing sprinkles to decorate cupcakes, biscuits and party cakes keep in mind that many of them contain wheat-based ingredients such as glucose syrup. If you need to use gluten-free sprinkles take a quick look at the ingredient list on the packet before buying to make sure you are choosing the right ones.read less
More a BakeGiftTip than a BakeTip…There’s no better gift than one baked by you and inexpensive jars from the supermarket or two dollar shop make great airtight containers for your biscuits, biscotti and shortbread. An effective but simple way to decorate them is with a small doily attached with twine and a gift tag. This is the perfect gift for Christmas – thoughtful and delicious!read less