Spatulas to the ready, everyone. It’s time to stop prevaricating if you want well-matured cakes and Christmas goodies ready for the big event.
If you’re a novice at plum pudding and cake-making, and you’ve been spurred into action by the glut of television baking programmes, before you complete your shopping list, have a crawl into the back of your kitchen cupboards to locate mixing bowls, pudding basins, cooling racks, and electric gizmos which will speed up the mixing, beating and whipping processes.
Pay particular attention to your baking tins and make sure they are the right size for your recipe. Many an enthusiastic beginner, after measuring and mixing with diligence, has flopped into tears of exhaustion on finding all they had was an 8” square tin for a recipe that needed a 7” round.
When it comes to loading your precious mix into tins, can I say as an amateur but enthusiastic baker, to avoid those bits of silicone nonsense masquerading as a modern alternative to tin. Many a simple Victoria sponge has cracked when being lovingly cradled from the oven as the wobble factor of silicone is just too high. Don’t risk this happening with costly ingredients and the afternoon of hard labour that went into your Christmas baking. Flat silicone sheets are great for your gingerbread men and pastry but not for anything requiring stability.
Invest in a good weighing scales, or measuring cups for following American recipes. Even confident cooks who are happy to improvise their way around a few ingredients, will tell you that baking is the one area where correct measurements are essential.
If you have a stand mixer, they really do take the hard work out of stirring plum pudding mixture, but they’re also pricey. A more wallet-friendly option is a hand mixer which attaches to a stand and leaves your hands free for weighing and clearing up, and will save on sore arm muscles. If a regular hand mixer is all you have, invest in a pair of dough hooks for contending with dense pudding mixture.
At all costs, avoid getting burns when trying to haul your lovely but weighty cakes out of the oven. Double gloves offer little flexibility and won’t protect your arms as you delve deeply between the shelves. A gauntlet which stretches above the elbow is ideal, but for some unfathomable reason, manufacturers sell these individually. You do need two, not just for cake-lifting but also for the much heavier turkey you’ll have to negotiate from the oven in a few weeks.
It really won’t matter how much careful time and appropriate methods you’ve devoted to the preparation of your goodies if your oven suffers from a broken door seal it will allow heat to seep out. Older ovens also have a tendency to be hotter on one side than the other, which is less critical with the Sunday roast as you can move your dish around for even cooking.
Cakes, however, will not respond well to the oven door being opened and the tin handled, so plans to replace your oven in the New Year might best be brought forward to ensure even bakes and salmonella-free turkey.
*Next week, we’re visiting Christmas craft fairs.
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