My Ten Baking Commandments

Nobody asked, but in case this helps someone some day, here are my baking commandments.

  1. Never ice a warm cake or cookie. It’s just physics. If there’s an ingredient that can convert from a solid to a liquid at a particular heat, it will.
  2. Many recipes don’t require a stand mixer. I baked for 15+ years without one. An electric hand-held whisk or a food processor can be subbed in for many stand mixer recipes. If you’re making a large volume of cake/ cookies or a tricky bread, though, I’d recommend using a stand mixer unless you have unlimited patience and upper body strength.
  3. A small electric weighing scale (costing around £10/$15/12E) is a very good investment. They’re arguably more accurate, but more importantly more convenient than volume measures. It prevents you from dirtying loads of volume measurements or worrying about how packed your sugar or flour is. Measuring butter, even if soft, in tablespoons, seems preposterous and time consuming, at least to someone like me who’s always used grams. The one exception is small amounts of things, such as baking powder or salt, where a teaspoon is actually MORE accurate than a domestic scale, which can be out by a gram or two.
  4. Large and/or deep things take longer to bake than small things, and usually need to be baked lower and slower. They also take longer to cool. You can’t really argue with physics or expect it to behave differently just because you’re in a rush.
  5. Many ingredients have several functions: for example binding and rising (eggs), moistening, keeping properties and enhancing flavour (sugar), adding richness and texture (butter), providing structure and rising (flour). You CAN change quantities or ingredients sometimes but it’s advisable to change one thing at a time or make very small changes, rather than substituting half the ingredients.
  6. Yeast can be slowed down or sped up using heat and vitamin C (ascorbic acid), but it still takes time. You can slow it right down in the fridge – where you have to be more careful is getting it too hot, which just kills it.
  7. Recipes using baking soda/ bicarbonate of soda usually require baking straight after mixing for a full rise. Also, I have learnt the hard way that baking soda is strong stuff, so stick to the suggested amount or alter very slightly. It’s easier to change the amount of baking powder.
  8. Recipes using solely baking powder can often be rested, even overnight in some cases, because it is partially activated by heat.
  9. Resting a batter or dough is usually for one or more of these reasons: to hydrate the flour fully for an even rise; to relax the gluten (most commonly in rolling out pastry or shaping bread); or (in the case of autolyse in bread) to allow the gluten to start forming bonds.
  10. Last but not least: mistakes are a learning experience, not proof you “can’t bake”. Baking is a learned and acquired skill that isn’t solely (or even mostly!) based on natural talent or ability. If it goes wrong, it isn’t personal, it’s just science. Food molecules and single-cell organisms don’t usually hold vendettas.
%d bloggers like this: