Lets face it, cakes are just awesome! I love a great carrot cake and I was lucky enough to get one made for me for my birthday earlier this year. Homemade cakes just taste so good that I’m still salivating over my birthday cake.
But cooking cakes at home can be a bit intimidating if you’re new to cooking. When you cook dinner you can throw anything in and you usually get something okay to eat. But cakes and other baked goods don’t work the same way.
Baking is a bit like science. You have to get the right chemical reactions to get the cake to rise. By chemical reaction I don’t mean the use of chemicals like preservatives – I mean like vinegar reacting with bicarb soda and yeast reacting with sugar. These are important processes that cant be skipped so you need to have a good idea of which ingredients to switch in and out.
But I don’t want to scare you away from baking, because baking your own breads and cakes, muffins, tarts and slices is better for you than buying them. Read on so that you’ll know about some of the common baking pitfalls and how to fix them.
Ovens and oven temperatures
Some recipes give you oven temperatures for convection ovens and some for conventional ovens. These are not the same thing. You’ll also see recipes for fan forced ovens. What does all this mean? Conventional ovens radiate heat onto the food, so you’ll probably have a few elements that heat up. Convection ovens have elements too, but they have a fan that pushes the warm air around. Therefore fan forced and convection oven are the same thing, but a conventional oven is different because it has no fan. A conventional oven is usually set at 10-20 degrees higher than a fan forced/convection oven so you’ll need to adjust your temperatures depending on your oven and the type of oven temperature stated in the recipe.
Changing the recipe
Some parts of a recipe are really important to keep as they are whereas other ingredients can be changed without a change to the recipe. The ingredients not to change are the ones that make up the base of the recipe – so for cakes/muffins/slices this usually means the flour, eggs, butter, sugar or milk, but for bread making this means the flour, yeast, salt, sugar and water. If your recipe calls for add-ins like fruit, choc chips or other flavours then its okay to change these around. If you want a pear cake instead of apple, keep the base mix as is and swap in pears for the apples. Spices and herbs can be added too, like nutmeg and cinnamon or ground ginger would work nicely with the pear and can be thrown in without changing the way the recipe cooks.
Not using the oven properly
Once you’ve got the type of oven sorted you need to remember 2 things: preheat the oven before you add the cake to it, and keep the oven shut while it cooks. Make sure your oven is hot so preheat for a good 10 minutes or more before you put the cake/bread in the oven. Cakes/bread don’t rise if the oven is cold. And that goes for keeping the oven door closed as well. Resist the temptation to look at how it’s going by opening the door – look through the glass instead. Some cakes wont rise, or will deflate if you open the door and the temperature changes.
Swapping full fat ingredients for low fat
If you’re keen on making a cake/muffin/slice but want to use lower fat ingredients, you can do that but its better to find a lower fat recipe to start with rather than adjust the recipe you always use. Mainly this is because changes to the ingredients can change the chemistry if the cake (see point 2 above). Stick to the recipe and find a recipe that uses low fat ingredients instead. In most cases, the fat is there for a purpose and most cooking should be done with full fat products.
Not measuring ingredients properly
When baking you should never eyeball the ingredients! Baking requires specific amounts so always use a measuring cup or measuring jug. And use measuring cups for dry amounts, and measuring jugs for liquids. Basically, use the right tool for the right purpose and there won’t be any disasters.
Cooling your cakes/bread in the tin
Everyone knows that you need to cook your baked goods, but don’t cook them in the tin. If you cook them in the tin the warmth creates moisture so you’ll get a soggy bottom on your cake/muffin/bread. Instead put your baked goods on a cooling rack so the air can circulate under your cake/muffin/bread, allowing the bottom to dry off and firm up.
Baking can be tricky, but if you follow these rules you wont be making any more baking mistakes. If you’d like some more advanced baking fixes see the Cooking Light website.
If you’re an avid baker, or just trying out share your pics with me on twitter @SpicedAnecdotes. Or leave me a comment and tell me your favourite type of cake (I might just know of a good recipe you could try).