Lessons Learned #1

I am by no means an expert baker. There was a time, only a few years ago, when if I walked into a kitchen the likelihood of me burning it down was far greater than of me producing anything edible. A lot of what I bake is experimentation, and quite a few of those experiments fail, but it is through these failures (and sometimes they aren’t entirely failures, just not brilliant successes) that I learn how to improve for next time.

I’ve had a lot of people say to me that they can’t cook or that they can’t bake. I know that it can be really disheartening when something you’ve made, and spent time and effort producing, doesn’t work out. But sometimes all you might have needed was a little bit of extra information, some hints or tips on what to do (or not to do!), and your result would have been so much better.

So here I thought I’d share, for all my fellow amateur bakers out there at home, a few of the things I’ve learnt so far in my cake adventures. Hopefully I can help others to not make some of the same mistakes I’ve made!

  • First up – follow the instructions! Baking requires as much accuracy as possible; it’s like science. I’m very random when it comes to any savoury dish, but I’ve learned that’s not such a good idea with baking.
  • Creaming the butter. Make sure it’s at room temperature first, and then cream it before you add sugar. It should become paler, smoother, and fluffier. THEN add the sugar. Which leads me to my next point…
  • Creaming the butter AND the sugar. Use caster sugar unless the recipe states otherwise, never substitute for white sugar – caster sugar granules are much finer. The point of this is to get the sugar really well incorporated and partially dissolved into the butter. So don’t skimp on this step. I’m lucky enough to have a KitchenAid mixer which I use for these 2 steps, but a hand electric beater should give similar results – it’ll just take a bit longer.
  • Adding the eggs. Often recipes will say to add eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. This is where you DON’T want to beat the mixture too much. Beating too much at this point will make the mixture separate. And definitely make sure you add the eggs after the sugar has been beaten in – I’ve accidentally done it the other way around and it’s a disaster. The cakes don’t rise and they go all crunchy and crystallised on the the outside.

If you’re really only just starting out, I’d recommend something like biscuits and cookies to begin with – they are usually much simpler and don’t tend to require any special instructions. I think one of the easiest recipes, but one that provides the best value in terms of deliciousness and quantity vs effort, is this jam drop recipe. Give it a go!

Mostly I’d just like to say: if it didn’t work out, don’t give up!! Have another go, or try something different next time.

I thought this could be the first in a series of ‘lessons learned’ posts, so please let me know if you find any of these things helpful at all, or if you have any tips or tricks of your own, I’d love to hear what you think 🙂

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