Introduction

Introduction

By
Leiths School of Food and Wine
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978 184949 549 3
Photographer
Peter Cassidy

Baking cakes can be so rewarding. Not only are the results fairly swift and sweet, they are perfect for sharing and consequently gathering appreciation and praise. All cooks, from beginner to expert, can follow instructions and achieve a delicious result.

Baking does involve paying close attention to detail and more careful weighing than most other areas of cooking, however this does not spell the end to creativity or mean only those who slavishly follow instruction will succeed. Rather find the recipes that suit your cooking style, and flavours you love, and use these as a basis to experiment.

There are always variables in cooking, and the unpredictable nature of the domestic oven does present a challenge when giving accurate cooking times. Most manufacturers say the actual temperature of the oven may vary up to 20°C from the temperature you have chosen on the dial, and some we have used vary even more. We have also found oven thermometers available for domestic use to be pretty erratic.

However, we cannot all use the technology available in professional patisseries. The important thing is to learn what to look for, so how to tell the cake is ready without simply relying on a kitchen timer.

In this book we aim to give you the confidence to make the decision to remove the cake or cookie at the perfect moment. And of course, how to mix, whisk, beat and stir most effectively so that you can master all the skills in the baker’s repertoire and produce light cakes of pure perfection.

Getting started

The oven

Turn on the oven in good time so that it will have reached the required temperature before you are ready to put the cake in. If the oven temperature is too low, and still heating up, this will have an effect on the rise of the cake.

The correct temperature is calculated to set the mixture without melted fat running out, loss of air bubbles, or sugar burning, depending on the recipe in question.

We use gas ovens at Leiths School of Food and Wine, but our recipes have also been tested in a variety of domestic ovens. When baking in electric fan ovens, you should reduce the temperature by 10–20°C, or cakes tend to emerge a little dry. It is also possible to reduce the temperature for the last quarter of the cooking time, again by 10–20°C to prevent over-browning. However, cakes do need a blast of heat at the beginning of the process to make them rise and set. If it is possible to turn the fan off in your oven then do so, as this will prevent the cake from drying out.

It is generally a good idea to allow a cake to have at least half of its cooking time before disturbing it by opening the oven door. In all honesty a little peep probably won’t hurt, but fully opening the door may do so. Allowing a gust of cooler air in can cause a cake to sink and the oven to lose heat, resulting in a dense cake.

Unless a recipe states otherwise, move the oven shelf to the middle of the oven when you start to heat the oven. Even in fan ovens, the middle is a good place to bake a cake as it is most likely to have an even surrounding heat. Moving the shelf in advance means you can be far swifter when putting the cake into the oven and less likely to cause the oven temperature to drop as it goes in.

The more things you cook in the oven at one time, the longer the cooking time, so if you are baking several trays of cookies, you may need to adjust the cooking times to accommodate this, and to swap their position in the oven halfway through cooking to ensure even cooking.

Ingredients

You will find your baking becomes more proficient when you understand what role each ingredient plays in the process.

Temperature of ingredients

It is best to use ingredients at room temperature for baking. Fat traps air bubbles if it is pliable but not melted and greasy, and so the eggs should be room temperature too or they will cool the butter down and stop it trapping air as effectively. Cold eggs can also cause the butter to curdle the mixture. Also, incorporating air bubbles into eggs is more effective when they are at room temperature.

Fat

The fat in cakes is important for flavour and also for the cake’s keeping properties. Butter gives the best flavour. You can use either unsalted or standard (salted) butter, though many people prefer the flavour of unsalted in cakes. In some recipes unsalted butter is specified to control the salt element of the recipe. Soft baking margarine can help make a very speedy cake with an excellent texture, but do check the packet, as some brands are unsuitable. Both butter and margarine trap air bubbles when they are creamed with sugar, one of the ways in which creamed cakes rise. Oils are sometimes used in cakes, but as they don’t trap any air, the cakes have a dense, almost fudgy texture.

Flour

Plain flour is the most commonly used flour in cake making, sometimes with measured raising agents added to it. Self-raising flour already has a standard amount of raising agent added and is often used in creamed cakes. Both plain and self-raising flours are lower in gluten than strong bread flour, which helps to keep the crumb tender. If a recipe calls for self-raising flour when you only have plain, you can make your own by adding 2 level tsp baking powder to 225g plain flour. Brown flour can be used, but as it doesn’t trap air bubbles as well as the finer white, the cakes tend to be heavier. Using one quarter brown and three quarters white flour can be a workable compromise between lightness and fibre.

Raising agents

Air is added to a cake mixture by beating, whisking and sifting. However, the most dramatic leavening effect is produced by adding raising agents. This is where the culinary chemistry occurs. An acid and alkali react to produce air bubbles, which are then trapped in the mixture that happens to be the perfect consistency to contain them. The cake sets in the heat of the oven before the bubbles are able to rise up and escape, so the result is a network of bubbles in the cooked sponge.

It is important to sift the raising agents into the other dry ingredients to ensure they are evenly distributed for an even rise. They also have rather a soapy flavour, so you want to avoid lumps. Most raising agents start working as soon as they come into contact with liquid so, without panicking, do make sure you have prepared the oven and all the remaining ingredients so that the mixture can go into the oven as soon as possible after the raising agents are activated.

The most common added raising agent is baking powder, which is a mixture of the alkaline bicarbonate of soda and an acid. Bicarbonate of soda can be used alone, as it will release gas when mixed with water, but works faster when the mixture is made acidic, for example with lemon juice.

Eggs

Medium eggs, weighing approximately 55g in the shell, are used in this book. If using large eggs, leave out a couple of teaspoons of the beaten egg. If you need to bring refrigerated eggs to room temperature quickly, put the whole eggs in a bowl of warm (not hot) water for a few minutes before use.

Sugar

As well as sweetening the mixture, sugar helps to stop gluten in the flour toughening the cake. Creamed and whisked cakes need a fine-grained sugar such as caster or golden caster. Golden caster sugar can be used in place of standard caster sugar in any recipe. It will add a subtle caramel colour and flavour to your cakes.

Darker, more highly flavoured sugars and syrups like muscovado and treacle are used to provide deep flavour that can mask the taste of raising agents in melted cakes such as gingerbread. Molasses is used in this way and, as an alkali, also reacts with the acidity of the raising agent to create air bubbles. If you have no caster sugar, coarser grained sugars such as granulated or demerara can be ground to a finer grain in a blender.

Liquid

Many cakes, particularly creamed cakes, may require a little added liquid to bring them to the perfect consistency. Water can be used to loosen all cake mixtures and milk is suitable for creamed cakes. Whisked cakes sometimes require a little liquid to be added to the eggs and sugar to help the sugar melt and the mixture to trap the necessary amount of air.

Notes

All spoon measures are level unless otherwise stated: 1 tsp = 5ml spoon; 1 tbsp = 15ml spoon.

Use medium eggs unless otherwise suggested. Anyone who is pregnant or in a vulnerable health group should avoid recipes that use raw egg whites or lightly cooked eggs.

Use fresh herbs unless otherwise suggested.

If using the zest of citrus fruit, buy unwaxed fruit.

Timings are guidelines for conventional ovens. If you are using a fan-assisted oven, set your oven temperature approximately 15°C lower. Use an oven thermometer to check the temperature.

Separating eggs

To separate an egg, crack the egg on the edge of a table or use a cutlery knife. Avoid too much pressure or you will break the egg in half. You only want to crack the shell. Carefully ease apart the shell halves over a medium to large bowl. Some white will fall into the bowl; it is important that none of the yolk does.

Carefully pass the yolk between the half shells, encouraging the white to fall into the bowl. Once all or most of the white is in the bowl, all that may be left on the yolk is the ‘chalaza’, or thread. Carefully prise this away from the yolk, with the edge of a shell so it falls into the bowl. Put the yolk into a small bowl.

Whisking egg whites

Egg whites should be whisked just as they are needed. If whisked in advance, the air bubbles will burst and the whites will lose volume. To achieve more stable whisked whites, start whisking slowly to create small bubbles of air, then gradually increase the speed of whisking. As more air is incorporated, the consistency of the egg whites will change. Egg whites are used at different stages of whisking for different purposes, so it helps to be able to recognise the consistency at different stages.

Egg whites should be whisked in scrupulously clean bowls, free from any fat, which can impede whisking. A copper bowl is ideal. Otherwise, choose stainless steel or glass, but avoid plastic bowls which tend to trap grease.

Generally, unless otherwise specified, egg whites should be whisked to the same consistency as the mixture to which they are being added. Like consistencies will combine more easily and efficiently with minimal loss of volume.

Using a large, fine balloon whisk, start to whisk the egg whites. As air is incorporated they will become slightly foamy, opaque and very thin. They will increase in volume as you continue to whisk, becoming white and foamy. If you lift the whisk vertically up and turn it upside down, the whites will fall from the whisk.

MEDIUM PEAK Whisk for a little longer then test again by lifting the whisk; the whites will cling to the whisk and, as it is pulled up vertically and turned upside down, they will start to fall over onto themselves, then stop halfway. This is the medium peak stage, used for soufflés and mousses.

SOFT PEAK Continue whisking and the whites will become paler and stiffer. Test them again by lifting the balloon whisk vertically, then turning the whisk upside down. If the whites cling to the whisk and start to create a ‘peak’, but the peak falls over on itself, the egg whites are at the soft peak stage.

STIFF PEAK Continue to whisk again; the whites will become very stiff and when tested the peak will hold its vertical position and not fall over on itself. This is known as the stiff peak stage. At this stage there is still some elasticity in the whites.

Preparing cake tins

Cake tins need to be lightly oiled or lined with a non-stick paper to stop the cake sticking to the tin and to give the outside of the cake a delicious thin crust.

A flavourless cooking oil such as sunflower can be used, or butter, and even lard, but a very fine layer is essential or the outside of the cake will seem to be ‘fried’ and greasy round the edges. Wiping a butter paper around the inside of a tin or over the lining paper is effective, or you could apply melted butter thinly with a pastry brush to ensure a fine layer.

Greaseproof paper or baking parchment are specified for lining tins in the recipes that follow, and they can be used interchangeably. Baking parchment has superior non-stick qualities, but it is sometimes easier to line a cake tin with greaseproof paper, as it is a little absorbent and so sticks better to the tin. Be aware that greaseproof paper, if not oiled, can stick to the cake and prove tricky to peel off.

Tins for different types of cakes are traditionally prepared in differing ways, as some cakes need more protection from the oven heat, are more prone to sticking, or require a sweeter crust than others.

It is important to use the tin size specified in the recipe, as it does make a difference how deep the mixture is when it is baked. However, if you do not have a tin of the right size, try to use a tin where the mixture comes at least half to two thirds of the way up the sides.

To base-line a round tin

For 2 tins, fold a piece of greaseproof paper in half and place a tin on top. Use a pencil to trace around the outside of the tin, then cut inside the line of the circle and trim to size if necessary.

Brush the paper with melted butter. Lightly brush the tins with melted butter and lay a disc of greaseproof paper in the bottom of each tin. The disc should be cut to size; if it comes up the side of the tin it will prevent the cake having a clean, neat edge.

For a whisked sponge

Grease the tin and place a disc of greaseproof paper on the base, then grease it again. Dust with caster sugar, shaking it around the tin to coat it evenly, tap out the excess, then dust it with flour and tap out the excess.

To line a loaf tin

Grease the tin, then line the base and short sides with a long strip of greaseproof paper that extends up over the sides. This makes it easier to remove the cake from the tin, by lifting the greaseproof paper ends.

To line a shallow rectangular or square tin

To fully line a tin (for brownies, etc.), take a piece of baking parchment about 5cm bigger on all sides than the tin. Cut diagonally through the corners, about 5cm deep and lay the parchment in the roasting tin, pushing it into the corners. The cuts made through the corners will allow the paper to overlap neatly and line the tin.

To line a deep round tin

Cut 2 discs of greaseproof paper to fit the bottom of the tin. For the sides, fold a sheet of greaseproof paper in half lengthways, long enough to fit snugly inside the tin all the way round the inside. On the folded edge, fold up about 3cm again. Then, using scissors, make diagonal cuts across the 3cm depth of the folded border all the way along the paper.

Lightly grease the inside of the tin, lay a disc of greaseproof paper on the base, then fit the long sheet around the inside of the tin, with the border folded in, towards the middle of the tin. The cuts will overlap to allow you to line the sides of the tin neatly. Make sure the paper fits well into the bottom edge of the tin and trim the top if it protrudes too much over the rim. Place the second greaseproof paper disc on top. Lightly grease the paper base and sides.

A note on lining a tin for a rich fruit cake...

As fruit cakes are dense and take a long time to cook, it is a good idea to wrap 2 or 3 layers of newspaper around the outside of the cake tin and tie them securely with kitchen string. This will help prevent the outside of the cake from overcooking during the lengthy cooking time.

Equipment

It is worth investing in the correct sized tin when you make a cake for the first time, as it will make a difference to the final result. Before long you will have built up a collection of the most useful tin sizes.

Equipment

Trays and tins for baking do not need to be non-stick, but should be solid enough not to warp when they are heated.

Scales A set of good scales is imperative – electronic scales are more accurate when measuring smaller quantities

Chopping boards Use separate boards for raw and cooked foods

Bowls A selection of various sizes, glass or stainless steel

Measuring jug

Juicer

Cake tins 20cm, 22cm sandwich tins; 20cm, 22cm, 23cm and 24cm springform tins; 18cm, 23cm and 25cm deep round cake tins; 22–23cm square tin; 30 x 20cm, 42 x 30cm Swiss roll tins

Silicone moulds Such as Madeleine and barquette moulds

Moule a manqué Tin with sloping sides

Baking sheets Some flat, some lipped

Shallow baking tins Selection of sizes

Roasting tins Selection of sizes

Wire cooling racks

Muffin tins

Mini-muffin tins

Loaf tin 450–500g, 900g–1kg

Flan ring 15cm (baseless)

Oven gloves

Utensils

Good kitchen tools make work in the kitchen easier and more efficient. The following are particularly useful:

Measuring spoons

Wooden spoons

Rolling pin

Kitchen scissors (a sturdy pair)

Swivel vegetable peeler

Apple corer

Pastry cutters

Palette knife

Spatula (heat resistant)

Fine grater

Zester

Pans

Saucepans At least 3 in a range of sizes from 18–28cm

Frying pans At least 2 in different sizes, from 16–28cm

Knives

Large cook’s knife Important for fine slicing, fine chopping and many other food preparation tasks

Paring knife For controlled cutting of small ingredients

Pastry knife A long serrated knife is used for cutting cakes (also pastries and breads) without crumbling or tearing

Small serrated knife This is very useful for preparing fruit

Small electrical equipment

Electric mixer A free-standing mixer is perfect for mixing creamed cakes or whisking meringues

Hand-held electric whisk Creams together butter and sugar very swiftly. Also good for making meringues

Blender, hand-held stick blender, food processor Useful for purées and fruit coulis

Paper/lining products

Greaseproof paper

Baking parchment/silicone paper

Aluminium foil

Cling film

Non-stick baking mats (re-usable)

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