So, it’s been a while. No, it hasn’t been a while it’s been a million years! I have been so swamped lately and sadly I have neglected my blog. I absolutely love blogging and sharing with those who love to read along so to those few who do love this blog I apologise. But here I am with another blog, so get your cup of tea ready and enjoy!
Baking is definitely a science, one that takes time to master and perfect but if you have a few simple tricks that you pick up along the way it can help you keep consistent, organised and most importantly improve your baking skills. I know what your thinking, Nelle, how can baking hacks and simple tricks IMPROVE your baking?! Well coming from a self-taught cake artist/baker I can safely say that practice, learning and developing new techniques, tips an tricks has literally saved me loads of time, improved my own cakes and made me a much better and smarter baker.
When I started my baking journey, I didn’t know very much about making cakes or what was really involved. I always thought it was “a piece of cake” but it really wasn’t, no pun intended. The first cake I ever baked from scratch on my own was an orange cake. The first thing I ever learnt about baking was during high school during food tech classes. I learnt the method of “creaming” (combining butter and sugar until creamy). This technique is pretty important because it creates a fluffy cake. If my recipe calls for creaming, I always cream for roughly 8-10 minutes until the butter is whipped and pale.
I received a few questions, most were of a similar nature so I’ve tried to answer as best as I can.
Q: How do I avoid wonky edges? This will ultimately depend on your definition of wonky edges. If after your cake is baked you end up with the top of the cake caved inwards/uneven top layer/sinking this could mean your oven temp is too high or too low. For example if I am baking my chocolate mud cakes and it ends up sinking I am either baking too high or I have opened the door too soon into baking. My best advice is to bake at 150 degrees C and not open the door until its been 50-60% baked (usually an hour and half into bake time). This is obviously dependent on your recipe too.
Q: Butter cakes vs mud cakes? My cakes are mostly mud cakes, I personally don’t offer traditional sponge cakes because they don’t hold up well with Ganache an fondant because they’re both quite heavy. I personally like my butter cakes/sponge cakes as “naked” cakes, paired with jam, cream and light fillings. I don’t make sponge type cakes for decorating but I do love a slice at home with family.
Q: Simple syrup vs no simple syrup? Yes! I use simple syrup on all my cakes, it just adds an extra little layer of moisture. If I’m making my coconut mud cake sometimes I use coconut water and sugar (boiled of course)
NOTE: Simple syrup is just equal parts sugar and water 1:1 ratio (1 cup water: 1 cup sugar)
Q: Why does my cake sink in the middle? Sometimes the oven can be on the wrong setting or temperature. If you’re trying to bake a mud cake and you’re finding it’s sinking in the middle it could be that the oven is too hot! There could also be ingredient issues like too much rising agent or over worked eggs.
Q: How do I come up with new recipes and flavours? Short version PRACTICE. If you’re like me you probably love variety so it’s awesome to have at least 5-10 cake flavours on offer. I have 9 and all of these are tried and tested recipes and flavours that combine classics and personal favourites. My tips for coming up with new recipes are to start with the foundation. Learn about your ingredients and what flavours work best together. For example a classic flavour I offer on my menu is vanilla and raspberry. This is actually my most popular flavour. Slowly I started incorporating lemon and now I’ve got a lemon raspberry cake. It sounds simple and easy but coming u with a solid cake menu is tough.
I would say to keep it simple, don’t over thick it and try to have 20+ flavours on offer because then it becomes a little overwhelming. Find your signature flavours, ones that you can remember on the top of your head and bake consistently. Go for flavours you love and you notice people mostly lean towards.
In summary, here are my 5 top tips to achieving perfect bakes! (Maybe not perfect, but pretty damn good!)
1. All your ingredients should be room temperature. If your ingredients are inconsistent in temperature it will either be really hard to combine (butter), slosh around in the bowl and not combine properly, curdle or sometimes split. Having everything at an even temperature makes everything consistent from the start and having a consistent foundation always makes for a consistent bake, and with consistent baking comes consistent decorating.
2. Lumps of flour in your mud cakes? When making a mud cake whether it’s a chocolate mud, white chocolate mud, or caramel mud sometimes you get these nasty little lumps of flour in it, that you cant whisk or sift out! Its so heart breaking when you cut into your cake and all you see are LITTLE WHITE DOTS IN A DARK CHOCOLATE MUD ARGH! Here is a method I worked out and it has saved my muds! So this will obviously depend on your method, I personally use the stovetop method when I make my mud cakes. If you are also using the same method then keep reading! When incorporating the flour I always tip all my flour into a separate bowl, about a ¼ of the mixture from the stove and mix until all the flour and chocolate mix are combined and it becomes like a thick paste. Once that is incorporated well I add the rest of the stovetop mixture a little at a time until all incorporated. Some may already do this but for those who still have the clumpy flour issue this will definitely help!
3. Getting cracks and sinks in your cake after it has come out of the oven? Either your temperature is too low or too high ORRRRRR your cake is UNDERBAKED! I learnt this the hard way…. I had a beautiful chocolate mud come out of the oven only to find a massive sink in the middle 20 minutes later. When I cut it, it had a large gloopy unbaked section. Safe to say it was discarded and the safe areas were turned into cake pops (sigh). To ensure this doesn’t happen, always make sure your oven temp is on the correct temperature, consistent the whole bake. If you have a cheeky oven like I used to then some areas might be hotter than others. To check the temperature I sometimes used a thermometer. I usually bake my mud cakes on 140-150 degrees C fan forced, low and slow.
4. Beat your butter and sugar for a LONG TIME. When I fIrst started baking I would be so impatient and skip this step. Since then I have now seen such a difference in my bakes just by beating my butter and sugar for 8-10 minutes until it is a creamier, fluffier and much more paler consistency. It should look like a gritty buttercream. TOP TIP: In winter when butter just wont come to room temp, I pop mine in the microwave in 10 second bursts until it becomes a little softer and easier to work with (especially for my stand mixer). If it starts to firm up in the bowl I use a blowtorch on a low flame and just heat the bowl, this usually helps with melting the butter slightly so it’s easier to achieve the creamed stage.
5. Add flavourings to the CREAMING stage. I always add my vanilla, lemon, cinnamon to the butter and sugar mixture. Never at the end of the mix. Why? Because butter is a fatty ingredient and fat carries flavour, which ensures you’ll get maximum flavour out of your ingredients in comparison to added during later stages.
And a bonus one…
6. Don’t add SF (self raising flour) when it asks for plain. For example, I few weeks ago I had to make a bunch of caramel mud cakes. My recipe calls for half plain flour and half self-raising flour and silly me thought why don’t I just use all SF because I’m a cheater and I want to try out smart my own recipe. Well yeah, sinking in the middle. Too much raising agent in this recipe causes it to implode? It was a total mess. It still tasted delicious haha!
And lucky last. ALWAYS, always and yep I mean always add at least a teaspoon of salt to your mud cakes, especially caramel. Trust me. To wrap this up, I’m not a professionally trained baker, I didn’t go to a school but I’ve made a few cakes, so hopefully these will be helpful to the home baker who just needs a few tried and tested tips and tricks.
Here’s one reason why i’ve been so delayed with my blogging!
Love, Nelle xox