Secrets of a Lazy Baker
Quite a few cooks are intimidated by the prospect of baking. The adage that cooking is art and baking is chemistry does nothing to discourage that fear. However, baking doesn’t need to be a headache, even if measurements must be precise. Like the popular sites that offer Life Hacks, or tips and shortcuts to make everyday tasks easier, there are Baking Hacks, which will help even the most timorous cook to achieve stunningly beautiful baked goods. Here are a list of our top ten tricks and tips to ease the process.
Take Its Measure
Dimensions of baking dishes and tins matter because it determines thickness and overall surface area of your baked goods. However, in the heat of the moment, it can be a pain to search for just the right vessel. This is why you should measure across the base and through the middle, to ascertain the precise dimensions. Then, use a permanent marker to write the measurement on the bottom of your baking dishes and tins.
Today, almost all flours are pre-sifted before packaging. Unless you’re going for extra loft, there’s no absolute need to sift your dry ingredients. However, if you are interested in sifting to make your own pre-mixed flours or getting that aforementioned super-loft to your sponge cake, try using a balloon whisk to ease it through the mesh on your sifter. This speeds up the process marvellously and also helps to combine different dry ingredients evenly.
If you do have several types of flour in your arsenal, they can sometimes get lost in the mix of your kitchen. If you didn’t mark your bags clearly and can’t tell which is which, here’s a handy litmus test—taste them. Self-rising flour has a rising agent incorporated, and it will taste salty. Also, self-rising flours don’t clump in the same way that the all-purpose variety does. If you still can’t make out the difference, take a teaspoon full of flour and drop it into a vessel of vinegar. The flour will fizz, because of the chemical reaction with the rising agent.
A Thermometer in the Oven is Worth Two in the Kitchen
Okay, so that was a terrible attempt at levity. However, having a thermometer in your oven will cut your worry immensely. A good tip to remember is to wait until the temperature on the readout is stable. If you’ve got a convection oven, with its own fan, drop your temperature by 20 degrees to ensure perfect baking. As well, because even the most up-to-date oven will have hot or cold spots, rotate your baked goods during baking for the best results. This will also show you where those spots are by observing the rate of rise in your goodies.
Soften the Butter
It’s vital that you use softened butter if you want tender or fluffy baked goods. Butter solids and lipids that are in a cold state impact the chemical reactions that occur during baking in a dramatic way. If you’ve forgotten to take the butter out of the fridge, don’t fret. Also, never microwave it, because that causes uneven melting. Rather, you can cube your cold butter, place it between two sheets of parchment paper and roll over it with a rolling pin or a large bottle. We won’t tell.
Grate for Pastry
Speaking of forgetting to take the butter out of cold storage, if you’re working with pastry, don’t soften it. Simply grate it onto a piece of parchment paper. Then, rub it into your mixture using your finger tips to avoid melting it with your hands.
Cut a Sharp Figure
For biscuits and other shaped dough that you want to keep a sharp edge—like those adorable pastry leaves—refrigerate or freeze the whole lot after preparing and before baking.
An Even Melt
Working with melted chocolate can be lots of fun. To attain perfect, simple results, start with small pieces for an even melt. Use a heat-resistant spoon that isn’t wood, since the fibres retain moisture that can cause your chocolate to seize up on you.
Shortcrust Short Cut
If you aren’t confident in your ability to create a great shortcrust, simply skip the worry. Buy puff pastry and cut it to your desired size. Then, freeze it between two pans. Bake it with a pan weighing it down so it won’t puff and remove the weight a few minutes before it’s finished for a golden, sumptuous crust.
Now that you have our top tips, go forth and bake. Enjoy yourself, and discover short cuts all your own. Baking can be just as simple as cooking—the way to make it easy is in the technique.