Written by Charmaine Tan
If you haven’t noticed by now, many Read@School librarians thrive on SUGAR. (It’s the only way we get enough energy to keep up with you little monsters. I’m not as young as I used to be, okay?!)
Year 1 of Read@School…
Year 5. My hair looks better though…
Some find their sugar in coffee or tea. Others get their share from candy, chocolate or ice cream. (guess which option I prefer).
Why, hello there, Delicious…
I have a special weakness for baked goods. Possibly because they are easier to recreate at home, and no one else in my family eats them. MINE! ALL MINE!
They are also a vehicle to get more sugar into my mouth, via frosting, sprinkles, chocolate chips… you get the idea.
If you’re the sharing type, I’ve put together a list of baking tips to help your sweet goodies turn out perfect – okay, close enough to perfect – every time. That way, next Mother’s Day, you can forgo the expensive flowers and crowded restaurants, and just use up all her sugar and butter, and mess up her kitchen! J
Most of these tips are applicable to a luscious Blueberry Pound Cake which I stole from Alton Brown’s EveryDayCook (Call No.: 641.5 BRO-[COO]). Not everything in there is easy, but I like his chicken parm meatball recipe. (I mean, I’ve served it to people, and they’re still alive!)
1) Chocolate NEVER goes bad.
Or at least, it’s not supposed to, if you store it right. Buy good quality dark chocolate when it’s on sale at the supermarket, and set it aside for baking or emergency snacking. You will thank me later when chocolate prices spike due to an increase in demand and dip in supply, and the whole world is banging on your door in desperation.
Plus, you won’t have to rely on anyone for your candy fix. Remember the plot to turn all the candy-loving kids into mice in Roald Dahl’s The Witches?
2) Butter your cake tin with butter paper
Most cookbooks will tell you to use a silly pastry brush to butter your tins and trays. I learned from my mother – who loves butter and will never waste a scrap – to just use paper.
All you need to do is save the paper that comes wrapped around your butter when you finish a block (this happens very often in my house). Pop them in a ziplock bag so that they don’t absorb the “other flavours” in your refrigerator – like fish, durian, cheese, you get the idea – and when you next need to butter something, whip out a piece of paper and slick it across the surface you need to grease. Then throw away the paper and give yourself a greasy pat on the back for not having to wash up ANOTHER piece of equipment.
3) Line your cake tin with butter and sugar
Traditionally, you’re supposed to do this with butter and flour, on top of a layer of baking paper. But baking paper is expensive, and I’m a stingy and lazy. For sweet cakes, the sugar and butter combo gives a lovely glaze to the cake, without having to do the actual glaze-making. Lazy…
4) Always let butter come to room temperature, unless specified in the recipe
Or if you have an industrial-strength mixer with a lockable cover. I don’t – I grew up with a free mixer – so more often than not, the kitchen would be covered with bits of sugar-butter that whipped out of the mixer at high speed, gouging holes in the countertop and my face. Delicious, but messy.
“You’re supposed to wipe it off the countertops, not LICK it off!”
So, I always try to make time to fish the butter out of the fridge early – preferably at least half an hour before baking, if not more – to let it heat up to room temperature (I also cut it up, so that it warms up faster).
Then, because my laziness knows no bounds, I cream the butter and sugar together BY HAND.
Please note that I’m not the Hulk – this only works for small-batch baking. Don’t try it if you’re making 300 cupcakes for your entire cohort.
It does mean, however, that I don’t have to wipe down the mixer, or wash the blades (and my face, clothes, rice cooker, pots and pans, coasters, microwave, etc.). I have a big spatula – which is totally worth the investment, by the way, but make sure it’s heatproof so you can use it to make salted caramel sauce as well – that I simply whack around in the bowl, and in about 15 minutes, I have silky creamed butter and sugar. It takes practice, but will help you win arm-wrestling matches.
5) Add flour in batches. ALWAYS.
Yeah, we never listen, do we? Always one big, impatient smack on the bottom of the bowl, all the flour goes flying in, and in the next second, POOF! This always happens when I use an electric mixer, and I hate it (I would hate it less if this happened to sugar, instead of flour).
Wow. That’s a lot of flour.
So be patient, and always add your flour in batches. Mix in whatever you’ve added COMPLETELY, before adding the next batch. I do it in threes, because… three little pigs, three wishes, three billy goats gruff, three bears, yadda yadda yadda.
6) Flour any fruit you’re adding before mixing it into the batter.
So this is quite cool, and it’s something I learned from two different cookbooks. If you’ve ever made fruit cakes or muffins before, you’ll know that the fruit has this annoying habit of sinking to the bottom of the tin, and in extreme cases, burning and sticking.
Which is why this is so cool! Before you add your fruit and mix it in, toss it in some flour so that the fruit pieces are completely coated.
This forms a little layer of protective armour around the fruit, and helps it stick to wherever it ends up in the batter, and STOPS IT SINKING. Magical.
For telling you so much, I expect a slice of cake. Or at least a box of chocolate.