The biggest name in British baking, Mary Berry shares her top 10 tips for cake success with BBC Good Food...
1. Weigh the ingredients carefully.
You wouldn’t believe how much can go wrong just because ingredients have been weighed incorrectly. If you’re just a little bit out it can have a catastrophic effect on flavour and consistency, yet it’s one of the easiest things to get right. Just concentrate at the start because any errors will only be amplified going forward!
2. Take the recipe as a pretty full guide, but not an absolute blueprint.
Sure, in terms of measuring out ingredients it should be uniform, but the way you knead cake dough, the instruments you use and particularly the strength of your oven will all have slightly differing effects on what you make. With that in mind, make your own comments on recipes so that you’ll know for next time how your process and equipment affects the final product.
3. Embrace any equipment that makes baking easier.
It sounds so obvious, but some people turn their noses up at the use of a gadget. Why? If a processor creates a better finished product than doing things by hand and saves you time and effort in the process, then I say ‘go for it’! There are enough parts of the process that will require manual skill, so you may as well save time where possible. And when people judge what you’ve made, they’re judging the flavour and texture, not what they see in the washing up bowl.
4. Keep a close eye on how much baking powder you add.
Particularly, when adding too much, you’ll find yourself with something that rises and falls quickly, and will end up drying out the cake. It’s a fantastic ingredient, but it needs to be treated with respect!
5. Don’t rush the process of cake baking.
If you’ve an hour to do a job that should take 70 minutes, don’t attempt it. Do it another day when you have more time. If I’m racing against the clock, I always try to allow 25% extra time to any bake, because you never know when something may need to be redone. Like most things in life, rushing the process only leads to disappointment.
6. Ensure you’re using the right type of tin.
Different cakes require different tins depending on the ingredients and how quickly you want the heat to get to the mix. Don’t assume that just because you’ve got an expensive tin it will be the right one for what you’re baking. Read the recipe properly and don’t start something until you know you have the right equipment.
7. Don’t put yourself under pressure by worrying about onlookers.
If you’re baking in a busy environment, or have friends to stay who are watching over your every move, ask them for a few minutes where you can concentrate on what you’re doing. Baking can be tricky enough as it is, without the need for multitasking!
8. Don’t let the ‘toothpick trick’ be your only guide.
Although I do like this test, if the cake is not a golden colour, it’s not cooked. It would be better to combine this test, with a check of the colour, and even by placing a hand on top of the cake. If it pushes down and springs back, then the cake is ready. If not, you’ll need to put it back in the oven for longer.
9. To create a thick and uninterrupted layer of icing, brush the cake mixture with a jam coating first.
This seals the cake and acts as a base for icing to be added, meaning a constant top level that doesn’t have bits of cake or crumbs lurking within.
10. A high fat content is essential in the butter or margarine you choose to use.
I always aim at over 75%. The problem with lower fat spreads and butters is they have a higher water content. When it evaporates it causes layers bind together in your mix. In the UK we tend to always have high fat content so it’s not usually a problem, but it’s always worth checking your ingredients.