Oh no! In less than 12 hours we’ll see the finale of Great British Bake Off for yet another season. If you’re anything like me, GBBO gives me this feeling that I can conquer the baking world, whip up a confectionary concoction fit for a king and dazzle my friends with complex desserts. Alas, this never happens. I end up with runny in the middle cakes, parfaits that look more like sick than stupendous and pie crusts that look nothing like they should.
In honour of the end of one of my favourite programs I thought why not whip up something delicious, but then remembered I have a proverbial black thumb in baking. So on to the interwebs I go, in search of baking hints, tips and tricks and maybe a fantastic recipe or two!
1. The Dreaded Sunk in Cake
Ok so I’m horrible about this. I am constantly opening the oven to check the cake isn’t burning on the top or running over the edge onto the bottom of my oven. Despite having a lovely window to look through into my oven and a light, I still feel the need to open the door. Call me crazy. This is where I’ve been going wrong the whole time. To avoid the sunken cake catastrophe it is essential that you leave your oven door closed for as long as possible. Stick to the guide times for cooking in your recipe and only open at the end of that cooking period. Voila! No more dip.
Image Credit: Hairy Farmer Family
2. Uncooked Gooey Middles
This is my baking sin. I’m so excited that I’ve actually baked something that when it “looks” done I pull it out, let it rest and want to put the frosting as soon as possible. Then when we’re all gathered round the table and I’m ready to serve up this masterpiece, it comes out like this. My guests faces in different levels of shock and amazement. How could Kat undercook the cake…..again!? Not to mention the anger that they won’t be eating a delicious chocolate cake but maybe “here’s some cheese”.
To avoid the dreaded gooey middle there are a few ways to tell if your cake is cooked properly. First, the knife check. Insert a knife into the centre of the cake, if it comes out clean it is fully cooked, if it isn’t put it back in the oven. Second, cakes that are fully cooked should be pulling away from the edges of the pan that they are in and springy to the touch. Now these rules only count if you are making a sponge cake. If you are making a cake with fruit in it, it will not pull away from the side of the tin like a sponge cake would. If you insert a toothpick or skewer into the centre of your fruit cake it should come out clean when completely cooked.
3. Melted Icing Madness
Now here in Britain we tend not to use frosting or icing on the outside of a sponge cake unless it’s called for in the recipe. Coming from the US I love frosting my cakes and using special pastry tips to make fun designs. The key to your icing not melting off the top of your cake is to leave your cake to completely cool before starting the icing process.
Allow your cake to cool in its pan for 10 minutes before removing from the pan onto a rack to cool. Leaving it any longer than 10 minutes will make the cake difficult to remove from the pan and may end up in a mess. Once on the rack allow the cake to cool completely to room temperature. I leave mine for 30 minutes just to be sure that it is fully cooled before covering in frosting. This will ensure that the frosting doesn’t melt off the cake and there are no cake crumbs in your frosting.
4. Preparation = Perfection
All of a sudden you’ve got a hankering for some cake. It’s essential before you begin the quest of creating a delectable treat that you are properly prepared. Your recipe is calling for cake flour, but all you have is bread flour. This is definitely a no-go. Your cake will come out stodgy and thick instead of light and springy. Using the correct type of sugar is also essential. Only have demerara sugar or granulated sugar but your recipe calls for caster? Using the wrong type of sugar will also effect the outcome of your cake consistency possibly making it grainy.
Preparation isn’t all about having the right ingredients but also making sure everything is ready before you get down to cooking. Eggs should be at room temperature before they are added to the wet ingredients. If you are like me and put your eggs in the fridge they will need to warm up before being added. Sifting the flour isn’t optional before adding it to other dry ingredients, it’s essential. Finally, preparing your pan will keep you from being utterly disappointed when your delicious cake is stuck firmly in the pan. For the record, icing it in the pan because it’s stuck won’t fix it either! So grease or use your parchment paper to ensure a beautifully presented cake.
5. Parfait Presentation Tips
My parfait presentation used to be abysmal. I couldn’t get all the layers in without them dripping down the sides and conglomerating into one huge mess. The trick to getting a perfect parfait presentation is to use a spoon smaller than the smallest width of the parfait container. Having patience will ensure that you get layers with precision edges that your guests will drool over.
Image Credit (and Recipe): Community Table
6. Foolproof Pie Crust
Pie season is nearly upon us. Cooler weather means ovens are on and savoury and sweet pies are fresh, hot and ready. My pie crusts happen to look like the one above, a little weird around the edges. My issue is I don’t roll out the dough properly or large enough for my pie plate so I’m left sticking bits here and there to bring it above the line. So before my family is begging for homemade steak pie or Christmas comes around and I’m asked to make a caramel apple pie I thought I would step up my pie crust game with some help from the internet.
The best advice I came upon comes from our friends at Fine Cooking. Their secret to the ultimate pie crust is simple, butter and lots of it. It’s not the usage of butter but how you use it. A little pearl of wisdom, use your hands to mix the dough, not any mixers. Yes, it may be a bit more time consuming but in the end you’ll have a beautiful, flaky pie crust.
Baking doesn’t have to be left for the experts. With a little prior planning, research and a great recipe you just might be on the next Great British Bakeoff!