In this scarily -now almost normal- sense of underlying anxiety and bewilderment where we all find ourselves in this strangest of autumn/winter seasons, there is sometimes a definite need for the comfort that only a moist slice of cake or a light éclair can provide.
I’m definitely no baking whiz but I do not mind because I truly believe that one is either a cook or a baker, and it is hard, if not impossible, to excel at both. However, as a chef, I do enjoy cooking fabulous food and decadent desserts; there’s something so relaxing about following a recipe, getting your hands on some dough and filling the house with glorious smells.
Nevertheless, over the years I have found that whilst the sense of pride and wonder that comes with the final article is always what we aim for, efforts are often hijacked by not having adequate equipment. Perhaps this is the only practical area I know of were in many cases of failure you can quite genuinely blame the tools. The reverse is also true of course, but assuming you can follow a simple recipe, having the right kind of kit does help!
So there follows a shortlist of what I need to bake successfully, which I hope might be helpful if you just want to make a nice cake or a batch of biscuits, with as little stress as possible!
Must-have baking tools
- Non-stick parchment or baking paper – this is for lining your cake tin, baking tray or biscuit moulds and will make all the difference. Having a cake tear apart as you try to extract it from the tin can be such a sad moment.
- Silicon cake tins – these feel counter-intuitive somehow, but they are very good once you’ve got used to their floppiness – but always lay them on a perfectly flat try before filling and then transferring to the oven.
- An electric cake mixer is only really necessary if you are going to make a lot of cakes – they do take up a lot of room! More useful for those who don’t bake so often is a really good, strong, handheld electric whisk.
- When whisking egg whites to stiff or egg yolks to pale you need to incorporate plenty of air, so as big a bowl as possible is really helpful to allow this to happen – if using a hand whisk, this too needs to be as big and as round as possible for the same reason – it really will make this job quicker and easier.
- Do invest in a set of digital scales – successful baking relies heavily on getting the measurements correct.
- At least one really good quality rubber spatula for scraping out the last little bit of batter without wasting any!
- A big, solid, long-handled metal spoon for folding in successfully.
- A palette knife (or two of them, a large and a small) for the safe lifting and moving of your freshly baked goodies – also helpful for filling a split cake and for spreading icing.
- A couple of steady, well-raised cooling racks, big enough so your precious achievements don’t hang over the edge.
- A roll of disposable piping bags – for filling éclairs or buns and also for more intricate icing if that is your thing.
- A cake stand – nothing makes your masterpiece look quite as special as when displayed on a cake stand – seek them out in charity shops.
- For bread and other bread dough, you must have a dough scraper – this marvellous little tool will become your best friend! It does exactly what it says, but is also so good for scraping ice off your windscreen in deep winter; cleaning between tiles; spreading a filling evenly; scaling a fish or easily scraping off grease or wax from a surface.
Having said that, I will certainly never be asked to participate in the stress that constitutes the dizzy heights of Bake Off, but it does not matter a crumb, and absolutely nobody should ever be beating themselves up if they can’t achieve spectacular, perfect achievements of cakes and bakes that are just so challenging for anyone not trained and working out of an average-sized domestic kitchen. Expert baking requires another discipline altogether. After all, in a professional kitchen, the pastry chef works separately to everyone else, often in a much cooler and quieter area of the kitchen and theirs is a much more solitary existence compared to the hurly-burly of a busy hot kitchen where teamwork and speed are absolutely essential.
So, please enjoy your baking, it is great fun if you don’t overreach yourself and remember that you can always buy a homemade cake or a batch of brownies if you are not in the mood and want to support a small local business!