As a complete amateur in the baking department, I can only dream of whipping up the delights we see in Bake-Off style programmes. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in the last year or so since I dipped a tentative wooden spoon in batter, it’s to avoid improvisation with ingredients and stick tenaciously to the recipe.
Unfortunately for me, I have not inherited my mother’s method of measuring flour by the fistful, something of which I was recently reminded of when I found her recipe for soda bread which she had hastily scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet.
I do, however, have access to an audience of several of her descendants who are always at the ready to snaffle up my experimental output.
Organisation is the key to whether or not baking is an enjoyable experience, although I’ve often been foiled by the lack of a correctly sized cake tin at the critical moment of being ready to pour my batter.
Cue blind panic and a dash to the shops, which has now resulted in a collection of tins worthy of a small bakery.
Admittedly, I won’t be winning Bake-Off any time soon, but as a progressing amateur, I’ve devised a list of equipment essentials that work for me, which I think will get a timid amateur with dreams of squishy cream filled sponges and unctuous chocolate fondants, off to a start.
Am I alone in my ignorance or did you also think baking parchment and greaseproof paper were the same thing?
I’ve been enlightened in the knowledge that baking parchment with its non-stick properties is for lining cake tins and baking trays, while greaseproof paper, being moisture-proof, is for wrapping baked goods for storage and freezing. I had no idea, and cynically put the name difference down to manipulative marketing.
Tin vs silicone
Good, old-fashioned, and very affordable cake tins can’t be beaten for conducting heat evenly. They’re also suitably rigid and free of the silicone-inducing wobble that can cause your cake to crack as you take it out of the oven.
On the rack
Many a bake has developed soggy bottom syndrome by being left in the tin (unless the recipe says otherwise), so a cooling rack is essential.
Don’t improvise with an oven shelf as your warm, fragile cake might sink between the bars, something I’ve learned the hard way.
Although it’s not absolutely essential, a freestanding food mixer will work on your batter while you get on with other tasks. As an added bonus, weak arm muscles will thank you.
Light and moist
Christmas baking requires some degree of fluids for which I favour plastic measuring jugs, not only for durability but for easier lifting, as glass is heavy and can be difficult to negotiate when full.
My collection is a mix of plastic and metal rather than ceramic, as the latter can be extremely heavy when full. In the main, I use my metal ones, but if you are a microwave user and want to melt butter quickly or heat up some milk, opt for plastic or ceramic.
Ideally, choose a model offering both imperial and metric measurements as often our Christmas baking is based on old family recipes which use pounds and ounces, while a modern cookbook or television programme will use grammes.
Sieves and dredgers
Honestly, I think dredgers are a waste of kitchen cupboard space, when a tea strainer or a good, old-fashioned sieve does the job perfectly well.
But do ensure your sieve is a good size as many cake recipes call for sieving which is worth the bother, as it results in a lighter cake.
Brushes, spoons, and spatulas
One of the banes of my baking life has been natural bristle pasty brushes. While they’re rather lovely with their wooden handles, they’re impossible to wash clean, leaving a greasy residue that turns bristles hard. This is one area where silicone comes into its own as it’s easy to wash by hand or in the dishwasher.
Silicone spatulas are more flexible than plastic as they scrape off every last morsel of batter from the bowl. But for stirring, the wooden spoon is my implement of choice, thanks to its multi-functionality which sees it universally used in sweet and savoury cooking — though less so nowadays — as the antidote to naughty behaviour.
At a recommended retail price of €749, the Kenwood Chef Titanium isn’t something you throw into your supermarket trolley alongside the weekly shop.
However, if you ask sweetly, the bearded man in the red suit might persuaded to deliver it in advance to help with this year’s Christmas baking.
Featuring a 4.6 litre, unbreakable but lightweight bowl, the machine kneads and whisks and also tackles heavy, fruit laden Christmas pudding and cake mixture, with a new load sensing control so it automatically adjusts its speed and vigor to suit the recipe.
Available at Soundstore, it comes in a choice of dark grey and aluminium.