Bake it better
As any good baker will tell you (and as you’ll know if you’ve ever watched an episode of The Great British Bake-off), baking is a science. Whereas savoury cooking allows you to play a bit free and loose with quantities and recipes, substituting, adding or omitting ingredients here and there, success in baking comes down to following the rules and using the right equipment. With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide to the essential pieces you need in your kitchen to help you become a better baker.
Think your standard coffee stirring teaspoon will suffice when it comes to adding a teaspoon of an ingredient to a recipe? Think again. A teaspoon is exactly 5ml (a tablespoon is 15ml), and using the right amount is critical to achieving the results you want. When the sodium bicarbonate in baking soda or baking powder reacts with a liquid and is exposed to heat, it releases carbon dioxide, causing bubbles to form and your baked goods to rise. Add too much or too little and your cake, muffins or loaf might fall or not rise at all. Also, bear in mind that in Australia a tablespoon is 20ml, so adjust ingredients accordingly if you’re using Australian recipes. We like this wooden-handled Momento Congo spoon set, $29.99.
Cups runneth over
Precision is again key with cups. If a cup of something is specified in a recipe, it means exactly 250ml, so you don’t want to fill up just any old cup or mug. The ratios of ingredients also impact on how they react with each other, so if a cup or two is required of several different ingredients in a recipe, you need to ensure you’re using the same measure for all of them. We like this simple Capital Kitchen set, $19.99, which also comes with half, quarter and third cup measures. With dry or wet ingredients, fill the cup measure to the top, using a knife to flatten out dry ingredients, scraping away any excess.
Weigh to go
Not all amounts can be easily measured in a cup or measuring spoons, which is when the baker’s best friend, the electronic scales, come into their own. Ingredients such as butter (those markings on the packs are a guide at best), chocolate, dried fruit and so on are best weighed rather than trying to cram them into cups or spoons. And even slightly unusual amounts of flour, sugar and other dry ingredients that you might usually measure in a cup are sometimes best weighed to ensure precision, particularly if you’re making something like a sponge cake, where you need exactly the same amounts of all the ingredients. Electronic scales make life easy for the home baker; simply put your mixing bowl on the scale and reset the display each time you want to add a new ingredient. We’re fans of the sleek and stylish Salter disc scales, $79.99, which will see you through years of baking.
Ever wondered why cake tins (along with muffin and loaf tins) can vary so widely in price? Basically it comes down to what they’re made from. The heavier and sturdier the metal, the more it’s going to retain and distribute heat evenly in the oven. A thin pan might cause your cakes or muffins to brown on the base too much, as well as allowing the outside to cook before the centre is ready. And the same applies for baking trays, when baking biscuits. For longevity and great performance, you can’t beat the Tala non-stick range, which has been manufactured in Britain since 1899. The 23cm cake tin, $44.99, is a good all-purpose option.
Yes, it’s time-consuming, but lining your cake tins with baking paper really will make a difference to the finished product — no stray bits of cake being left behind in the tin! Baking paper is also great if you want to freeze biscuits or muffins; just put baking paper in between each layer so they won’t stick to each other. We love the If You Care parchment baking paper, $17.99, because not only does it perform well, it’s also made from FSC certified paper which is chlorine-free and fully compostable.
Rack ’em up
Baked a great looking cake and want to keep it that way? Again, make sure to follow your recipe instructions when it comes to cooling. Generally you should cool cakes in their tins, resting on a cooling rack, for 10 minutes at room temperature, then turn them out onto the cooling rack. Allowing the cake to stand for this initial 10 minutes allows it to settle, making it more likely to turn out in one piece, while sitting it on the rack means air is circulating around the tin, preventing the residual heat from cooking the cake further. You should then turn it out before it’s fully cooled so that it doesn’t stick to the tin. Allowing it to cool completely (if you want to ice it; otherwise feel free to get stuck into the warm cake) on a cooling rack allows the air to circulate around it, preventing condensation from collecting in the tin and making the edges of the cake, loaf or muffin a bit mushy. We like the Soffritto steel cooling rack, $34.99.