Top Tips for perfect baking
For perfect sponges:-
- Try to use good quality ingredients as it really makes a difference to the flavour. Some people like to use margarine for sponges as it can give a lighter result; I prefer to use butter as I think it gives a better flavour.
- Weigh the eggs – if the recipe states 250g butter, 250g sugar, 250g flour, it should also have 250g (250ml) eggs. The recipe will be a guide to how many eggs you need but for a good sponge it should be an exact weight (Note: you can add a little milk to get the correct weight).
- Make sure all the ingredients are weighed accurately – baking is a science, excess liquid can cause collapsed sides; excess baking powder can cause a collapsed centre, dark crust and dry cake; excess fat can cause a very tender, greasy crumb. If adding cocoa powder for a chocolate sponge the flour will need to be reduced accordingly.
- Check the oven temperature – it’s not adequate to use the oven’s setting alone as these are often inaccurate. Always check your oven temperature on the shelf you want to use (usually the middle shelf). Too cool an oven can cause fruit to sink. Too hot an oven will cause the cake to peak and crack, it could become dark at the top and not cooked inside, causing sinking, or the cake could be too dry.
- Flour is best whisked lightly but not sifted as it needs to retain some air. If using ‘cup’ measurements check the amount carefully – flour is better weighed for accuracy.
- Make sure the ingredients are all at room temperature before using – butter needs to be really soft so that and the eggs need to be taken out of the fridge well in advance. Slightly warm ingredients will stop the mixture from curdling – warm eggs by placing them in their shells in a bowl of warm water.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until light and creamy (about 3 minutes), beat the eggs well, then add all the ingredients together and mix lightly for no more than one minute. Ensure that the ingredients are combined but over beating can cause a heavy dense cake.
- Don’t open the oven door till near the end of the baking time, opening it early can cause the sponge to collapse. It will need checking near the end of the baking time however, with a clean skewer to test if it’s baked inside. The skewer will be clean if the cake is baked inside, the cake should also look golden brown and spring back to the touch, and it will also be starting to shrink away from the sides of the cake tin. It’s important to take the cake out of the oven as soon as it’s baked rather than just leaving it till the end of the recipe’s stated cooking time as over baking can dry it out.
- To retain moisture add a teaspoon of glycerine – useful when making a cake ahead to decorate.
When making pastry:-
- use very cold butter straight from the fridge.
- keep your hands cold by running cold water over your wrists.
- work the mixture gently and lightly – don’t overwork.
- divide the mixture into pieces, wrap and keep in the fridge – using one piece at a time to roll out lightly so you don’t have to keep re-rolling.