Right now, it’s likely that most of us will be putting off the cooking classes and focusing instead on honing our skills at home. When it comes to delivering domestic perfection, the Good Housekeeping Institute has had Britain’s back for the best part of a century. Home cooking has been a major focus of both the magazine and the Institute since they launched in the 1920s, and today its state-of-the-art cookery school is the beating, whisking heart of its Central London HQ. As you’d expect from one of the UK’s leading consumer organisations, quality and reliability are the watchwords, which is why every recipe taught by Good Housekeeping’s teaching team is triple-tested to ensure it passes muster. If there’s anyone who knows how to avoid the pitfalls and turn out flawless cakes, breads and pastries time after time, it’s Head Tutor Cher Loh – here are his five commandments for baking up perfection…
Baking is a science, and getting the correct measurements is essential, so reliable measuring tools are key. Whether your recipe is requesting grams, ounces or cups, ensure you use the use dependable scales and the right measuring tools. For the most precise results, use electronic scales and accurate size cups and measuring spoons. Definitely don’t guesstimate.
- Oven temperature
Preheating your oven plays a fundamental role in how your cake turns out. If you don’t preheat, you create the risk of it not rising, or finishing with a cracked, uneven top. Do not open the oven door during the cooking process. A regularly encountered mistake, opening the door will result in a bad or uneven rise. Typically, we recommend not opening the door to check your bake until the last 5 or 10 minutes of cooking time.
Substituting ingredients is a risky business. A common mistake is swapping essential items such as using medium eggs when the recipe calls for large ones, or using butter alternatives in place of butter. By messing around with the ingredients you are gambling with the way the recipe works. Flour is a very important ingredient to stick to closely. Our supermarket shelves are packed with a huge range of different flours, and they all have differing absorbencies and gluten levels. Use plain flour with lower gluten levels to achieve a crumbly shortcrust pastry; and strong white flour for a bread with elastic texture and robust crust.
This may sound obvious, but recipes are usually tested many times before publication to ensure they work, so if you want guaranteed results, stick to them. Ingredients should be added in the required order and treated in the instructed manner. Does the recipe require whisking or beating? Ensure you know the difference and do as you’re told. Good recipes should always clarify the desired consistency of a cake batter. Keep an eye on it, ensuring not to overmix. Pastry and biscuit recipes will often include chilling time in the fridge – do not skip this step! Chilling will relax the gluten and firm up the butter, which stops the pastry from becoming greasy.
- Cake tins
You’ve diligently stuck to the recipe ingredients and instructions this far so don’t fall at the final hurdle. Ensure you use the required tin size and don’t forget to prepare it as instructed (ie does it need lining, greasing etc?) Using a different tin size will affect the depth of your cake and thus influence the cooking time. If you play fast and loose with your cake tin, you risk a burnt or raw cake. And if you don’t prep the tin before the mix goes in, it may not come out again – a perfectly cooked cake is no use to anyone if it’s wedged in the tin!