I've always believed home baking should be gratifying and it should be delicious, but above all good things, it should be enjoyable! In the case that you're feeling the pressure and 'heat' of the kitchen, simple missteps will probably compound into an even bigger and not-so-pleasant baking experience. So take a breather and pour yourself some tea, because here are my top ten tips for no-fuss, enjoyable home baking!
1. Be prepared
To ensure your baking endeavours are stress-free, make a list of what you need before you start to guarantee everything is on hand and you won't need to make a last minute dash to the supermarket (in your pyjamas). And if your recipe involves multiple steps such as baking, frosting and decorating, a timeline can be a really useful tool to ensure you’ve given yourself enough time to do each part and that more importantly, it’s ready for when your buddies arrive!
2. Have all your ingredients at room temperature
For best baking results, avoid putting cold ingredients into your mixture (unless specified otherwise). Eggs, butter, milk and other ingredients will all perform better if they’re at room temperature helping to activate raising agents for more even baking!
3. Measure your ingredients
This is the tip I probably disregard most often...And most often to my own baking peril! Nowadays I use a measuring jug to accurately measure wet ingredients and a trusty set of kitchen scales for dry ingredients. Baking is often considered a science in its own right and whilst not exact all of the time, the closer you are to a recipe the better.
4. Taste as you go & clean as you go
This shouldn’t be a hard one to follow, but a good home baker always tastes their food! I mean, "It's not home baked unless you've stuck your finger in it"...Am I right?
Even if you are following a recipe, someone else’s taste might not be exactly to your liking. A little taste here and there to ensure the cake isn’t too sweet or too bland, will guarantee you get a tasty result every time.
As well as tasting my creations throughout the baking process, I clean throughout the baking process! This makes a huge difference to both your state of mind and quality of working space, particularly in little kitchens (such as the one I've baked in for the past two years!).
5. Rotate your cake
Not all ovens are created equal and this can sometimes result in lopsided, domed and uneven cakes. Placing your cake in the centre of the oven will allow for even airflow and ultimately more even cooking. For an even more level bake, it’s also worthwhile to fully rotate your cake two thirds of the way through the cooking time.
6. Invest in the best tools for the job
A trusty offset metal spatula and a smooth-spinning, cake turntable will save both your time and your sanity when it comes to frosting a cake – I don’t know how I ever lived without them! Let the motion of the turntable frost the cake for you by simply holding your spatula against the cake and rotating the turntable. It's quick and easily makes for a more even finish as well.
A bit of a no-brainer, but it's true! Like any skill, practice makes perfect. The more you bake (and the more mistakes you make) the more opportunities you have to learn. Every baker has had their fair share of kitchen disasters (I plead horribly guilty to all charges), but once you’ve picked yourself up and wiped up the mess, you're not likely to make the same mistake again.
8. Take inspiration from what’s around you
I think some of my most interesting cakes have been inspired by favourite things around me, such as those inspired by the Great Barrier Reef, art, architecture and the exciting bits and bobs I find in lolly aisle of my local supermarket. Feel free to use whatever you have in the cupboard to create your next masterpiece, whether it’s left over sprinkles, chunks of honeycomb, chopped up jersey caramels or colourful meringues (these look awesome when crushed!). Grouping decorations in interesting colour combinations is also a really striking way to style a cake.
9. Don’t be ashamed to take short cuts
Kitchen appliances are there to help you, so there's definitely no shame in letting them do most of the labour! I find the microwave is a great tool for gently melting butter, chocolate and re-heating ganache. When making simple buttercreams, I use a hand-held electric mixer for extra fluffiness and for meringue-based buttercreams, I use my stand kitchen mixer to ensure everything is whipped REAL GOOD.
10. Now, freeze!
I think the freezer is definitely an under-utilised baking tool in most home kitchens! Properly wrapped, pre-baked cakes (particularly mud cakes) can be stored for up to 6 months in the freezer and simply defrosted when needed. I like to avoid waste and also save myself time by storing Swiss meringue buttercream and chocolate ganache in the freezer for later use.