Many of you already know the basic principles of successful baking. However, I would like to mention those again as not everyone is following… I wonder why is that?
First of all, read your recipe through and make sure you have got everything it calls for! A very important step, I must admit! Make sure you understand the process and there are no gaps in your understanding, otherwise contact me for explanations.
Second, always use ingredients that are of the same temperature or not very much different from room temperature. Yes, that means you may want to take those eggs and milk out of the fridge an hour earlier. Ignore this rule if you are making flaky dough like pie crust, scones, biscuits, or mousses that require cold or even frozen butter. Usually, the recipe tells you exactly what temperature ingredient you need. When it comes to mousses, crémeux, or ganache the temperature does not really matter because you will cook them anyway.
Third but not the least – make sure you prepare your baking pan and your oven will be ready to embrace the deliciousness you are making when the right time comes. Many of us forget to set the right temperature and turn on the oven 5 minutes earlier before baking and it ruins all the magical work we put so much effort into. Happens to everyone… It is so much easier to go through the checklist and make sure you are all set and ready, don’t you think?
Now let’s talk ingredients!
Butter is often the most essential and misunderstood ingredient! Yes, it can be frustrating but it is better to use unsalted butter and add salt at the end of the mixing process comparing to using salted butter from the very beginning. We love butter! Not only it gives the flavor of heaven but also the texture, delicacy, creaminess, and that tenderness we all crave for! Read your recipe carefully as every good recipe tells you what butter and which consistency to use. And what I would recommend is not to use any type of substitutes as margarine if you want the end result to be not only delicious but a little bit healthier for you as well. If the recipe requires you to beat butter (room temperature, remember?) with sugar, do not try to speed up the process by setting your mixer on maximum. Instead, work on medium speed as long as it takes to make the sugar dissolve and there are just a couple of granules in the butter. That is the exact creaminess you need at this stage!
Eggs are the binding ingredient and it is important to know exactly how much “glue” you need in your dessert to make sure the texture is right and the construction is stable. Do I sound like an architect? Pastry art is much like architecture, actually, they used egg whites to stabilize constructions in the early days (did you know that?!?). These days recipes call for eggs of different sizes and it is important to use eggzactly the right size, that is why I personally prefer to weigh the egg mass instead. Maybe it’s time to invest in a kitchen scale? If a recipe requires you to whip egg whites to stiff peaks, use them cold, and add some acid (3 drops of lemon juice, apple cider, vinegar, or a pinch of salt!) to make the whipping process faster. To check if they are ready, flip the bowl upside down when finished. If you are a good whipper you won’t have to clean the kitchen floor.
Sugar can make your dessert stand out or turn into a total disaster. Do not “oversugar” your masterpiece even if you think the sweeter the better! Some sugars are sweeter than others and you always want to make sure you use the right amount specified in the recipe. If the recipe calls for a sugar thermometer, you better use it! You will understand the timing and the right consistency with practice but it is always better to know what temperatures you are working with. Same rule applies to the oven thermometer. No matter how good your oven is, always use that small and not very expensive friend of yours to make sure your masterpiece is safe there!
Oh, that magical powder we so often find in every corner of our kitchen! Unfortunately, the quality of this ingredient is not the same on this planet and oftentimes I have to think about mixing different types of flour in order to make a decent sponge cake somewhere in the eastern part of the Earth. Who doesn’t love challenges like that? First of all, always sift the flour, no matter what type, no matter what kind! We are thinking not only about the volume here, treat any batter or dough as a living, breathing being that requires oxygen (just like you) in order to stay alive! Again I would like to remind you to read your recipes carefully as there are all the clues you need in order to get the result of your dreams and of course make sure you use quality ingredients and measure your flour carefully. (That scales again! Ugh!)
Heavy cream can be easily whipped when and if it is really cold! Use a cold mixing bowl to make the process faster. Also if it is hot outside (or indoors) and there is no way you can control that temperature, put your mixing bowl on ice and whip your cream with grace!
Baking Soda / Baking Powder
Baking Soda (Bicarbonate) and/or Baking Powder might seem like a tricky choice. Whatever your recipe calls for, use that! However, if you want to experiment and do your own thing remember one rule – baking soda always goes with acid! Baking powder though already contains acid and cream of tartar so it can be used without any additives and make a great leavening agent. Nonetheless, always add baking soda or baking powder to your dry mixtures before mixing it into the batter! Do not add too much of these powders into your batters as it may cause that weird bitter (baking powder) or soapy (baking soda) taste in the end product. Also, make sure you bake that batter immediately if you are using baking soda as it doesn’t like being left to its own chemistry for too long.
Milk is usually used when you don’t want your dessert to be as fatty as heavy cream makes it. However, you want to use it with a little fat as well (at least 2-3%) to bring up the flavors and make the consistency smoother. We do not use skimmed milk as with the same result we could use plain water. Why bother at all?
Gelatin is the ingredient that confuses many. It helps a dessert to keep its shape longer even in a bit warmer conditions than your fridge. Some like it, some ask for a substitute. In the recipes we provide, usually, we use a so-called Platinum (or 250 bloom) granulated gelatin and the right amount of water for it to bloom properly. If you are using gelatin sheets keep in mind that the liquid is needed to acquire the right texture! When melting gelatin always check for any lingering crystals on the bottom of the vessel used or a spoon. NO crystals should be left in the melted gelatin! Keep bloomed gelatin in a warm water bath until needed and add it when the recipe calls for it. In case you don’t want any gelatin in your dessert – you can always substitute it for the same amount of agar-agar powder.
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