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Defying the Rules of Baking
From a young age we are taught to bake with impeccable accuracy and I'm sure we have all spent countless minutes obsessing over getting just the right amount of flour on the weighing scales, convinced that the smallest fluctuation will have disastrous effects on our end product.
Coming from a a family where baking was not our most frequent use of the kitchen, I had to rely on a bit of maths ( I'm sure we can all do ) to stop my meringues from turning into scrambled eggs. I had to find my own way around the kitchen by using the grand old method of trial and error. That's how the masters learn their trade.
Baking without rules can be very interesting and rewarding as long as you get the basics right. After that, everything just spirals into controlled chaos.
Knowing the Basic Ingredients
Sticking to a strict recipe will keep your sponges nice and level, but not knowing why we put individual ingredients into our mixing bowls can leave us puzzled when our final product doesn't turn out how we'd like it. Knowing why we put things into our bakes can help us to understand what we've made and how to tweak things to make it better. Once you know the basics of what goes into a Victoria Sponge or a chocolate cookie you can adapt the recipes to suit your taste buds.
- Flour is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you gather your ingredients. Flour is the structure of the bake and basically what gives it substance. It contains proteins called gluten which gets stretched out by the baking powder or yeast to give the final products a light and fluffy texture.
- Eggs also add structure an texture to a cake but can be substituted out if needed.
- Sugar as well as sweetening the product it caramelises in the heat of the oven giving it that golden brown colour that we always look for.
- Butter and oil add moisture to the cake which makes it melt in your mouth.
- Milk as well as liquidising the mixture to make it the required consistency, also adds structure to the bake.
- Yeast and baking powder are rising agents which make the flour rise in different ways.
These are the basics once you have mastered your way around these, baking simply becomes an experiment from which you will get disasters and wonders.
Scales and Proportion
A good baker always tells you to measure each ingredient out to the gram, however this isn't always available to all of us and some of us might just be lazy. There is a way to make quality bakes without loosing your mind over a small fault in the scales.
I did this by my use of proportions. It's pretty simple really, start with just one ingredient (butter's a good example) and just put a good share of it into the mixing bowl. You can add more later if you need to. Then use proportions to add in your next ingredient. So for example if you had 50g of butter and you needed to add 20g of sugar, you would need to try and measure out 2/5s of the butter you already have. To help you do this, you can put the butter in a tall jar and mark on where you need to fill the sugar to. This is a good rough tuner, but to fine tune, you will need experience in knowing what a mixture is supposed to feel like when you have added the right amount of each ingredient.
Another method you can use for finer measurements is the use of tablespoons. A quick Google will tell you how many grams are in a tablespoon of whatever substance you need.
Even with good accuracy, it is very helpful to know when a mixture is ready and to know the consistency of the batter you are trying to make. If you don't get there first try, just add some more milk or flour to achieve the desired consistency.
With perseverance and a bit of trial and error, you'll be making perfect sponges.
The Kitchen is your Lab
Personally, I think the most important thing to remember when you're baking without rules is to remember that your kitchen is a lab, a place to experiment and discover new concepts. Experiment with different flavours and don't be afraid of failure. Some of the best things we make are mistakes.
“Baking and love go hand in hand, for as one bakes a tasty treat and fills the room with its sweet aroma, the true joy is to take what has been made and share it with another.”
― Heather Wolf,
© 2017 Neha Abraham