As a lot of you will no doubt be cooking or baking over the Easter holidays, I thought I would write a list of tips. Yes, they seem ridiculously obvious, but as someone who cooks and bakes a lot, I have to admit that I still forget to do even the most basic of things that would seem so obvious. So here goes…
Read the recipe before you start cooking/baking. This is SO important! I recently made a cheesecake without reading the recipe through to the end first. Right before the end it stated that it needed to be chilled overnight. Luckily, I was making it in advance but if I was making it on the day, I’d have been screwed.
Make sure you have all the ingredients. I know this seems like an obvious one but even though I cook and bake a lot, I sometimes still just scan over ingredients, thinking I have them. Then a recipe calls for pecans, and I look into my nut tin and remember that I used my last pecans the week before when I was making brownies. Aaaargh!
…and the right measurements of them. I have often thought “Oh yes, I have cocoa powder” because I’ve seen it in my cupboard. Then when I go to measure it in the middle of the recipe, I realise there is only 21g left in the tin when I need 50g. Cue me running to the local shop which of course, doesn’t stock Green & Blacks. Grrrr…
Play it safe and lay out everything, all weighed out, before you start. It just makes the whole process much simpler and quicker when you’re actually making it. Don’t just throw things in like Nigella or Jamie. Guessing is fine when you do it all the time and you can pour in 150ml of cream or 230g caster sugar quite accurately, but most of us need to measure or weigh properly.
Double check your measurements. Is it a teaspoon or a tablespoon? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a rush and glanced at a recipe and added a tablespoon of an ingredient when it should have been a teaspoon. Maybe I need glasses….
Follow the recipe precisely the first time you make it. Then you can change it as much as you like the next time. I tried Jamie Oliver’s recipe for brownies and found them WAY too greasy. Next time I made them I reduced the butter by 70g and the sugar by 60g and they were a lot better. It’s all down to personal taste, but its definitely best to follow the instructions to the letter on the first try.
Test your ingredients. Break eggs into a bowl or a teacup before adding to your mixture. You don’t want a surprise double-yolker falling directly into your mixture, or some of the egg shell.
In fact, its best to do this for lots of things. I was adding vanilla bean paste to a recipe a while ago and thought I’d add it straight into the bowl. It came out so slowly that I got impatient and turned the bottle upside down then of course, loads fell into the mixture and I had to scoop it out. Vanilla bean paste is very concentrated so the whole thing just tasted a bit too vanilla-y.
Make sure that your baking powder and bicarbonate of soda have not passed their best before date (they will last for 6 months to a year in the cupboard) Your cakes and other baking will rise poorly, giving a dense and chewy crumb.
It is also important when baking to make sure that ingredients such as butter and eggs are at the correct temperature for the recipe (usually room temperature or ‘softened’). It can totally change the outcome. Unless of course you’re making butter-based crusts and doughs, which require ice-cold butter for flaky results. The recipe will usually state how the butter should be. If I know I’m baking on a Saturday, I’ll take some butter out of the fridge on the Friday night so I’m ready for the next morning. I generally never put eggs in the fridge so they’re always at room temperature.
Always taste as you’re cooking to check the levels of seasoning needed. And remember, everything needs seasoning! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a friend’s house and been given mashed potato that hasn’t been seasoned. It drives me mad. If a recipe includes pancetta, or parmesan or blue cheese, it will obviously be naturally salted so there is no need to add to that, but check it anyway.
NEVER look away when you’re making caramel. Yet again, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve burnt caramel because I’ve looked away for a couple of seconds. It turns from perfect to burnt in about 2 seconds and if you look away you’ll miss it. While I’m at it, don’t ever be tempted to ‘test’ the caramel by dipping your finger in. It is hot like lava and you can seriously injure yourself. Leave it to cool before trying it.
Finally, if your recipe doesn’t come out looking exactly like the pictures in the book, don’t panic! These photos are professionally styled by a team of experts. As long as your cake/dish tastes good and your friends and family enjoy them, then you’ve succeeded!
Best of luck!