November 30, 2020 9:00:57 AM
There are few better people to learn cake-making skills from, than a former Great British Bake Off winner.
John Whaite, winner of the 2012 series, set up his quaint cookery school in Lancashire in 2016. A small group of us gather (in pre-Covid times) in the delectable converted barn, whipping up chocolate silk pies with pear and caramel, cherry crumble blondies and the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted. Here are some of the things I learned on the way…
1. If your cake batter curdles – or any mixture splits when using fat, pop it over a bain-marie (pan of hot water) and whisk vigorously. If you’re using a KitchenAid, warm the bowl with a blow torch, and then whisk. Do this quickly though – you don’t want your mixture lurking over the hot water for too long.
2. When putting pastry in the fridge, flatten it into a disk, rather than balling it into a boulder, so you don’t have to turn a big ball into a flat disk later.
3. If your pastry shrinks in the oven, it means you’ve overworked it. Start again!
4. Use a toothbrush to create pretty splashes when you’re icing a cake.
5. Roast damsons in the oven and use them to make jam. The stones squeeze out easily after being roasted, and you can use the juice in your cake frosting (or in a gin and tonic).
6. Use a hot knife to slice your cakes up – this works especially well for fridge-cooled gooey brownies. Warm your knife up by dipping it in hot water.
7. To stop an icing-sugar dust cloud, mix the butter and icing sugar with the paddle by hand, pressing it down, before turning your mixer on.
8. Use egg yolk, a tiny splash of water and a pinch of salt for the perfect egg wash.
9. Use acrylic rods when rolling out pastry to ensure it’s the perfect thickness all the way through.
10. Always leave scone dough to rest – it takes 20 mins for the baking powder to get to work, to relax the gluten and give you soft, pillowy scones.
11. Weigh your liquid ingredients – jug measurements aren’t always right.
12. When you make pastry or dough, mix it in your mixer to start with, but bring it together by hand for a perfectly smooth consistency.
13. When making sweet pastry, use sugar not icing sugar. Icing sugar can make the pastry rubbery.
14. Use white sugar when making caramel, not golden, because it’s more refined, so there are fewer bits in it that might crystallise.
15. Use rice for blind baking, not baking beans – it’s cheaper!
16. When making carrot cake (or coleslaw), grate your carrots into a clean tea towel and squeeze out any excess water. Sprinkle a bit of sugar on the grated carrot to help absorb even more.
17. Use paperclips to secure your baking paper to the pans – this stops it blowing around in a fan oven.
18. If your pastry breaks when you roll it out, simply give it a very quick knead, then put plenty of flour down and roll it out again. Have a pastry brush on hand to dust off any excess flour.
19. Life is too short to make your own puff pastry. Use ready-rolled, so long as it’s all-butter.
For more information on John Whaite’s Kitchen, or to book a cookery course, visit johnwhaiteskitchen.com.