Just in case you are fairly new to baking – thought I would share some of the things that I use and love, or have learnt and practise.
Things you should have:
1. A folder – get yourself a dedicated baking folder, like this one – http://www.staples.co.uk/filing-binders-organisation/binders-portfolio-report-covers/display-books/soft-cover-display-book-1 .
Then you can stash recipes torn (or clipped neatly) from Newspapers and Magazines ( so you don’t have to keep the whole magazine) and print things off the Internet, and they will stay clean, dry and grease free – unlike your favourite recipes in cookery books, which no doubt pay homage to your cooking prowess by their grubby dishevelled nature. I have one which I call my Baking Bible – if it is in there, then I know that recipe works, it has earned its stripes.
2. A palette knife – now I have a lovely stainless steel one with a wooden handle, which came with my college knife set, and my dad engraved my name on, BUT it can’t go in the dishwasher, so I also have one from the Pound shop, which not only cost £1.00 (yes, unbelievable I know ;-)) but I can bung it in the dish washer with impunity. The cheap one also has ruler markings engraved in, which is surprisingly useful. When making any sort of large cake, the palette knife spreads jam, icing, cream or buttercream quickly and efficiently. In fact, when making stacked cakes, I actually use two, one for the cream and one for jam.
3. A food mixer – this does not need to be a stand mixer (eg this little fellow – if money is no object!! http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kenwood-KMC010-Chef-Titanium/dp/B006WYVFBQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1358893529&sr=8-2) but a simple hand mixer is sufficient for most bakes, and can be found for under £10 (eg http://www.amazon.co.uk/Essential-Hand-Mixer-in-Red/dp/B0058GO0BG/ref=sr_1_6?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1358893835&sr=1-6 ).Using one ensures that cake mixtures can be easily combined properly, cream and meringues whipped to stiff peaks in moments and truculent sauces knocked into shape. There is some debate amongst the bakers I know, as to whether Kenwood or Kitchen Aid are the better stand mixer brand; as you may have guessed, I am a Kenwood fan. This is probably just a matter of taste, or what you are used to. I would say always read the reviews on Amazon or similar, before you buy, and always buy the best you can afford, if you bake a lot, your mixer will need to stand up to it. One other point is if you plan to make bread and yeast products, you will need (not knead) at least a 800w stand mixer to be powerful enough to work the dough.
4. Decent weighing scales. Some recipes are more dependant than other on having the exact quantities, but make life easy and buy yourself some good scales. I like electronic ones with a digital display, and the ability to reset to zero after each ingredient. I have several sets, include some wall mounted ones, which fold up when not in use; these are all very well, if you have a space on the wall just above worktop height, I don’t and put mine on the side of a wall cupboard, so they are not the most convenient when weighing out large quantities for say a Christmas cake. (In case you are wondering why I haven’t taken them down, there are 2 reasons, one it means I always know where at least one set of scales are – and two, they are near the cupboard near the breakfast cereal – Slimming World followers will now understand)
5. Good quality greaseproof/baking paper – gets used a lot. I line baking tins and sheets with it (unless it’s a loaf tin, and then I use pre-formed loaf liners). I use it when making things from sugarpaste, to let them dry on, and also when folded to double thickness,you can use greaseproof paper to make a durable handle – for a cake lifter, to raise a cake out of a snug fitting storage tin. This is one thing not to scrimp on, in my opinion, cheap baking paper can ruin a bake by sticking.
6. Clean cheap tea-towels – I wash mine on a very hot wash, and then use them to cover cooling baked goods – unlike kitchen roll, the slightest draft does not cause them to waft away, and leave your delicious produce in the path of evil blue bottles who are waiting to lay their eggs (and worse) as soon as your back is turned. I suggest the cheap microfibre ones, because they wash and dry in a matter of hours, and no need to iron!
Things you should know:
7. Not all recipes work – sometimes even if you follow a recipe from a book or online, the end product is not perfect, doesn’t look or taste right or is so bad you simplyhave to give it straight to the dog. This can be due to operator error, ie you have not measured your ingredients, followed the method, got your oven temperature correct or timing right. However if you are convinced that you have done all of these things, then make a note on the recipe, and try it again but differently, for example, I have a recipe leaflet from the 1980s from Kelloggs – I make the All-Bran loaf on it, but I reduce the sugar by a third, as the original is far too sweet for my, and most people’s taste. Also if the recipe is in both Imperial and Metric quantities, always stick to one or the other, as it is the ratios of sugar to fat to flour that should be adhered too; but also sometimes, especially with older cookery books, there are errors when converting from Imperial and the Metric recipes have one wrong quantity. If you think that very, very roughly 1oz is about 25g, then you can sometimes spot the mistake.
8. Go on a course – or ask a baking friend to teach you. People who bake for fun often love to share, and if you have a baking friend, they would almost certainly be happy to show you what they know. Or go to college or cookery school, you can pick up so much, even on a short course. It is so much easier to learn by watching someone else do it first. If a course is out of your price bracket, then look on YouTube, there are loads of amazing free videos about all aspects of baking.
9. All bakers make mistakes – I have made a Victoria Sponge many times, and now do it without concentrating, and to my cost, last weekend, made one, and the eggs curdled, but I thought it would be OK, and it wasn’t. That sponge is now in bags, in the freezer, waiting to become trifle sponge – it was too miserable to make into a decent cake. If you make a mistake, try to decide what went wrong, and don’t let it put you off. Baking should be fun, and rewarding, and a hobby you can enjoy for life.
Go on – bake something soon!