I knew that food was always going to be a huge part of my life, and before smak was even a concept I had graduated from Prue Leith Cooking School and furthered my studies at ENSP pastry school in Yssingeaux, France. It was here that I had some of my biggest baking disasters and learned the lessons I want to share with you below.
Baking and pastry are tricky and a quick Google search should give you most of the answers you need. However, there are some tips and tricks that I simply couldn’t find simple answers to online. If you’ve ever found yourself stuck wondering why your sponge cake collapsed or your chocolate mousse didn’t set properly, hopefully, my tips below will help you.
Keep fat away from your egg whites
Egg whites do not like fat. If you need to whisk egg whites and want them to peak well, you have to ensure that there’s absolutely no fat in the mix. The yolk is a fat so when separating your eggs be very careful not to leave any behind. Keep your bowl and whisk clean and dry too, simply using a slightly soiled dishcloth to dry your bowl could leave an oily residue and you might wonder what went wrong. Use a new, clean dishcloth or paper towel, it works well.
Keep your liquid mix cool
If you are required to mix a liquid into whisked egg whites or cream, ensure that it’s cooled down completely before attempting this step. Heat can easily deflate your mixture and the time you spent getting perfect peaks will be wasted. If you’re making a chocolate cake that calls for a cocoa mixture or whipped cream that needs melted chocolate added for a mousse, be patient and wait for it to cool down, trust me on this one.
Take the time to whisk
Egg whites and cream react better to being whisked at a moderate speed. You might think that getting the job done quicker is in your favour but whisking too fast results in a product that has large air bubbles. Large air bubbles result in an unstable product that you can be sure will flop. So whisk at a lower speed for a longer period of time, this will allow small stable air molecules to form, making your product more stable.
Always sift your flour
Make sure you always sift your flour and raising agent (i.e.: baking powder and bicarbonate of soda). This is essential because it ensures your raising agent is distributed evenly through your flour and will help avoid a cake rising unevenly and coming out the oven slanted. Sifting these ingredients also allows more air to incorporate into the mix, resulting in a lighter product.
Stay away from salted butter
Always use unsalted butter when baking. Salt isn’t necessarily a bad thing to use when baking sweet goods (it is a natural flavour enhancer), however, most recipes call for a small amount to be added. If you add salt and use salted butter, you lose control over the amount of salt in your mix and it can make your baking too salty to enjoy. Simply omit the call to add salt in the recipe if you do use salted butter. But I definitely recommend sticking to unsalted butter, you always have more control.
Hold back on over-mixing
Never overmix your cake batter. Flour contains gluten, a protein that when mixed with water and overworked will create a stronger molecule, resulting in a ‘bread-like’ doughy/chewy and elastic texture. This is not something you want in a cake or pastry like shortbread!
Use the right flour for the right product
You may have wondered why you are able to buy different types of flours, such as cake flour and bread flour. As the names suggest, they are there to guide you with what product they should be used for. Bread flour has a higher protein content (more gluten as I mention) and this is why you should never use it in cake making as it will create a glutinous and chewy cake. My idea of a terrible cake is a glutinous and chewy one, so stay away from the wrong flour.
I really hope these tips help you decipher where you may have gone wrong with your baking. If you haven’t yet made any errors, hopefully, these tips will help you avoid any in future!
I would love to hear about your failsafe methods and tips for avoiding baking mishaps. They don’t have to be inevitable!
Co-founder and chef at smak delicatessen and restaurant