From the type of flour you choose to the emotion poured into each bake, Maggie Beer shares her top five baking tips.
Types of flour
For me, the types of flour take up a lot of space in my cupboards. I like to have everything from the norm of plain and self-raising white flours to wholemeal, wholewheat, rye, spelt and chickpea flour as a minimum. It’s not very glamorous but once the bags are opened I put the balance in takeaway containers with a well-sealed lid that stack on top of each other with the end showing clearly marked what type of flour it is. I can get so much more in the pantry by doing this and they are easily recognised… I also substitute many flours on a whim as a change from white flour.
Cook by feel
Everyone says baking is such an exact art and though I would never profess to be a ‘baker’, there are so many things you can bake where your ‘feel’ is as important as exactness. For instance, I find so many bakes are far too sweet and though sometimes the volume of sugar has an issue of being necessary for crispness as in a biscuit, I think you can absolutely challenge it so often. Use your instinct always!
Room temperature ingredients
This is so important when making a meringue; it’s the small detail that counts here. Have your eggs at room temperature, making sure the bowl is clean and dry and taking the egg whites to a peak before adding the sugar at several stages and making sure the sugar is totally dissolved by rubbing between your fingers.
Good quality bakeware
The difference that good quality bakeware makes to the ease of baking can be underestimated. And, if you’re a serious baker you need a mixture of high-quality heavy materials to bake in as well as lighter ones to allow for the quickest cook with your pastry; particularly important when baking a pie, a quiche or tart. Soggy bottoms are the bane of such delights and though the process of par-baking will help enormously, so does the material of your pie tin have an impact so that you have the best and quickest conduction of heat.
A good pantry
Part of making baking easy is to keep the basic must-haves on hand; baking can be a last moment idea that can turn from inspiration into frustration if you find you’ve used the last of the baking powder but forgotten to replace it; there is no yeast in the cupboard that’s within date; you’ve run out of gelatine leaves and any number of small things that can stop you seizing the moment. Of course, this goes without saying that it extends way beyond the ingredients you need in the pantry for baking. Cooking needs organisation of the basics being available for creativity to flow.