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In-Jenius: 10 Things All Master Bakers Know

Posted: 15 October 2015

Today we bring you ten tips that will help win you the approval of those fearsome Bake Off judges (or just your friends and family).

To brush up on your baking skills further, why not sign up to one of our baking classes in London, which range from Classic French Desserts  to a class dedicated to Marvellous Macarons

1 - Take time to get to know your equipment

Ever taken your blender out for dinner to ponder the imponderables and find out what really makes it tick? Of course not, that would be silly. But it is wise to understand your tools properly before putting your trust in them. Let’s face it: some ovens cook quicker than others, some scales are less than precise and not all mixers have the same power. To avoid issues, understand what you are working with and adjust accordingly.

2 - Don’t put blind faith in a recipe

Following on from tip number 1, be aware that although most recipes probably worked in the test kitchen – if indeed they have been tested – they won’t necessarily work out the same in a home kitchen. A few variables can alter things: the skill of the cook, slightly different ingredients and, perhaps most commonly, the equipment being used. So if a bread dough is golden before time, or a cake has not yet risen despite having been in the oven longer than stated, trust your instincts and do whatever you think is best. No pressure…

3 - Overworking will leave you with a heavier dough

If you are new to baking you may have noticed that your creations never turn out as light and airy as you would like. One possible explanation could be that you are overworking your dough. When working with cake batter, ensure the ingredients have come together then step away, your job is done. As for bread doughs and pastry, which you might be working by hand, stop as soon as you are comfortable the dough will roll out without cracking.

4 - Unless stated, ingredients should be at room temperature

Fridge-cold eggs and butter can undermine a successful formula. Make sure you take your chilled ingredients out of the fridge around half an hour before starting. If you need to bring eggs up to room temperature quickly, place in a bowl and cover with warm but not hot water. To bring butter to 20 degrees, increase the surface area by dicing into small chunks.

5 - Be careful with substitutions

Replacing butter for margarine may seem like an obvious choice but the results will not be anything like as good. And the same goes for many other common substitutions. If you are a missing a vital ingredient, put your shoes back on and get back down to the shops! Some less essential ingredients can be replaced, however: master baker David Lebovitz suggests replacing cream with whole milk or coconut milk in some cases, or using two teaspoons of vanilla extract instead of one vanilla bean.

6 - Prepare, prepare and prepare again

Before you’ve got your hands dirty, it pays to have everything organised and laid out ready to use - mise en place as it is called in professional kitchens. Use ramekins to hold the correct measures of flour, butter and eggs - the extra washing up will be worth it! If you are feeling super organised, try lining the ramekins up in the order they will be used - like a production line – to keep fluster levels at a minimum.

7 - The devil is in the detail

Skimming baking recipes instead of properly reading them can lead to disaster. The margins are fine, remember, so even a small oversight could detract from the finished product. If a recipe is vague in a certain area or uses a specialist term that you don’t know, conduct extra research before beginning.

8 - Be creative with flavours, but not measurements

Baking is a scientific pursuit. Unlike other types of cooking, you really do have to follow the measurements provided: an added gram of yeast will ruin a bread dough. But there are creative elements to it, too. Master bakers will generally stick to the rules when it comes to measurements and add their own twists through flavourings. Why not try adding some olives and sun-dried tomatoes to a bread dough to give it a Mediterranean edge, or substitute apples for pineapple and rum to whip up an exotic tarte Tatin.  

Learn to be creative while making macarons at Jenius Social, always a lovely gift to give to friends and family.

9 - No-one likes a soggy bottom

No, we’re not talking about the feeling you get after going on a log flume. Soggy bottoms in the baking sense are far more serious than that. Blind baking should alleviate your fears, simply scatter over a few baking beans and cook the bottom of the tart or pie this way until no longer soggy; at this point the filling can be added. Other methods include sealing the bottom with egg wash to create a buffer between it and the filling.

10 - Practice makes perfect

Enjoy your exploits and make notes on what went right and wrong to help you improve. If you are tasked with making something for a special occasion, a wedding or birthday cake, perhaps, then have a few dry runs before doing it for real. And remember: if baking went right all the time then GBBO would be far less entertaining!

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