Saint Honoré is the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs. Maybe you’ve built an altar and prayed to Saint Honoré to save you from your baking disasters, or maybe you’ve never stepped into the kitchen but want to bake a cake for that special someone. Here’s good news! Follow these 8 simple tips (I threw in one bonus tip!) and you’ll probably increase your odds at success!
1. Scale to greater heights
Every mountain conquered begins with a single step. The first must-have equipment every baker needs is a weighing scale. As far as possible, scale everything by weight because it is the most accurate method. If you have to use measuring cups, do not try to pack as much dry ingredients (eg. flour, sugar, cocoa powder etc) as you can into the cups. Instead, overfill the cups and use your finger or knife to push off the excess!
2. It’s getting HOT in here!
No, you do not have to take off all your clothes to determine how hot your oven really is. The most accurate way to determine your oven’s temperature is to use an oven thermometer. That way, you can adjust the controls up or down to achieve the desired temperature and never be left guessing.
Remember how that suave P.E. (Physical Ed.) teacher from school used to drill into us the importance of warming up before exercise? Take his advice, and bring your eggs, milk and other chilled ingredients up to room temperature before starting to bake. This will prevent your cake batter from curdling.
4. Easy as 1-2-3
When separating eggs, try not to think of cute fluffy chicks. Now that we’ve cleared the mental hurdle, let’s discuss techniques. Use three bowls to ensure no broken yolks end up in your whites, which is crucial for stuff like meringues and sponge cakes. Crack one egg at a time on the table and use one bowl to catch the separated egg white, another to contain separated yolks and a third bowl to consolidate all your clean egg whites.
5. Sensitive New Age Chocolate
There is reason why chocolate is one of the best comfort foods. It is, after all, more sensitive than the jerk who broke your heart. Chocolate is especially sensitive to heat and water, so when melting chocolate, do it over a gently simmering bain-marie (heat-proof bowl set over a pot of some water). And take care not to get a single drop of water into your chocolate or it will seize.
6. Butter + milk = buttermilk?
Attempting to make your favorite red velvet cupcake recipe but stumped by one of it’s essential ingredients? Just as throwing a block of butter out the window doesn’t make a butterfly, you won’t get buttermilk by adding milk to butter. A simple way to make your own buttermilk is to add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to every cup (240ml) of milk. Stir and let it stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes and voila, you have homemade buttermilk.
7. Half-time break
Just as no one leaves the couch till half time, never open the oven door during the first half of the estimated baking time to prevent your bread and cakes from collapsing. And always rotate your trays 180o when you’re two-third of the way into baking to ensure even baking.
The best way to tell if a cake is done is to insert a skewer/knife all the way through the middle. Pause for 1 second just so the cake elves can do a little jig around the pole. Remove the skewer and if it is clean, the cake is done. If there are dough elves and batter fairies still clinging onto the skewer, the party is not over so carry on baking.
If you’re still stumped or are encountering a difficulty in the kitchen you can’t explain, feel free to ask a question in the comment field below. I’ll try my best to answer it, or I’ll point you to someone/somewhere that can! Looking forward to hearing from you all!