National Baking Week – A guide for beginner bakers
With the rise of TV shows like Great British Bake Off, baking is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. More and more people are picking up their whisks and rolling pins, and turning their hand to creating delicious homemade food in the oven.
At Ulster Weavers, we’ve made it our mission to get as many people to try their hand at baking as possible, whether it’s encouraging people to show us what they’ve cooked at the weekend with one of our competitions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (link to competition), or providing the high-quality kitchenware our fans need to get great results and look good whilst doing it, we’re always looking at new ways to help people to improve their baking skills.
But what about total newcomers? How do you learn to bake? What do you need to know? What baking tips do you need to really help you get ahead in the kitchen? To celebrate #NationalBakingWeek, we’ve aimed to answer some of the key questions for new bakers!
Read on for our five top tips for baking a cake as rookie bakers, from deciphering the difference between some baking essentials, to tricks and hacks to bake better, faster and easier!
What is the difference between light and dark brown sugars?
Granulated, caster, icing, muscovado. Browns and whites. The difference between sugars can be a bit of a minefield for the new baker.
With granulated and caster sugar, you can usually buy it as white or golden. These are almost completely interchangeable. If a recipe calls for golden caster, and you only have white caster, you will get a result that tastes the same, but lacking the rich colour of a golden sugar. When you’re baking your cake, think about the colour you’re aiming for, and pick your sugar accordingly.
The main types:
The three main types of sugar used in baking are granulated, caster and icing. The difference between the three is how finely ground they are, with granulated being the coarsest and icing the finest:
Granulated: If you like sugar in your tea, this is the type you’ll use! Granulated is an excellent all-round sugar for cooking, but it’s too coarse to be used in the majority of cakes.
Caster: This is the most commonly used form of sugar in baking, as the sugar is fine enough to dissolve in mixtures, removing any grittiness from the finished product.
Icing: Also known as ‘confectioner’s sugar’, this is the finest form of sugar available. Icing sugar dissolves on contact with water, and so it is most commonly used to, as the name suggests, create icing for a cake, or dusting a finished product. Icing sugar has a tendency to form powdery clouds, so be prepared to thoroughly clean your kitchen surfaces after use, and whisk carefully!
When you’re baking most cakes, these sugars will suffice. If you decide to turn your hand to something else, be it a chutney or a crumble, you might find yourself needing to use another sugar, such as Demerara. To find out all about them, head to the BBC guide!
Is bicarbonate of soda the same as baking powder?
This is a question we hear quite often! A large range of baked goods; require either baking powder or bicarbonate of soda, but most notably cakes. This is because both bicarb and baking powder are raising agents, and do roughly the same thing; they release carbon dioxide when they come into contact with moisture and warmth.
However, the ways in which the two ingredients work does have an impact on how you use them. Bicarbonate of soda requires an acidic product to mix with in order to produce the gas. This is why you’ll often find it in mixtures that involve lemon, yoghurt, buttermilk or honey. Meanwhile, baking powder has a dried acidic element mixed in, so it is more suitable for cakes without an acidic base, such as a Victoria sponge.
The short answer: Bicarbonate of soda and baking powder do the same thing, but in different ways. You can use baking powder in place of bicarb, but not the other way round. Using baking powder as a substitute could also adversely impact the taste of your cake.
How do I know when my cake is ready?
Every recipe tells you how long your cake will need in the oven, and at what temperature, but many a cake has been burnt/underbaked by taking this information as gospel.
Every oven is different, and even fan ovens have variations in temperature within them, so it might take slightly longer or shorter to bake a cake in your oven, depending on this. We would advise purchasing an oven-safe thermometer, which can give a much more accurate assessment of your oven temperature than the thermostat on the front, and use that to get the perfect temperature.
We would also advise setting the timer for a few minutes shorter than advised by the recipe, this gives you the chance to react if the cake is baking faster than anticipated. Although try to avoid opening the door when possible, however once or twice won’t ruin most cakes.
Finally, an old trick is to insert a knife or skewer into your cake, and if it emerges clean, the cake is baked through. While this does work, we would advise removing the cake when there is still a small amount of residue left on the skewer. The cake will continue to bake for a few minutes after it is removed from the oven, so removing it early will help keep the cake moist.
The short answer: Keep an eye on oven temperatures, don’t take the information on the recipe as undisputable fact. When removed from the oven, push gently down on the middle of the cake. If it doesn’t spring back, it isn’t ready.
How do I ice a cake effectively?
You’ve baked that perfect cake, mixed up your icing, and are now ready to make a masterpiece. While this is more of an artistic skill than the more scientific basis of baking, there are still some steps you can take to get the best result possible.
The most important step is to ensure your cake has thoroughly cooled before applying icing. If the cake is warm, the icing won’t set, and will slowly melt off the cake, wasting the ingredients and leaving a messy result.
One clever tip to help get a cleaner top is by crumb coating a cake. To do this, take a small amount of your icing, and apply a thin layer to the surfaces of the cake you intend to ice. This will act as a ‘crumb coat’, sticking down any crumbs or loose pieces of cake, and preventing them from appearing on the surface of the icing.
Once the crumb coat is set, apply the rest of your icing on top for a clean finish with no crumbs showing.
The short answer: Make sure your cake is cool before doing anything to it, add a thin layer of icing first to stop crumbs from being visible on the iced surfaces.
How do I measure ingredients effectively?
Accurate measurements seem like quite a simple step to take, but something that isn’t often given the appropriate amount of time. The mixture of ingredients in a cake need to be finely balanced, there is a very small margin of error. Too much of one ingredient, or not enough, could leave your cake flat, dry or gritty.
To avoid this, measure your ingredients carefully, and in advance of making the cake. If you take the time before you begin to have everything ready and pre-measured, it’ll remove the chance for mistakes, and will probably take less time than the alternative.
With dry ingredients, such as flower and sugar, make sure you sieve them in, this will stop them from sticking together, preventing lumps in your mixture.
The short answer: Measure in advance, have everything ready to go!
With these tips, as well as our range of cupcake recipes, you should have everything you need to get started this National Baking Week. We’d love to hear about your baking efforts, and of course if you have any tips of your own, please feel free to share them with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (links)!