Category Archives: Sweet

The rise of the tenuous celebrity chef

It has seemed of late, that when a celebrity has reached ego satiety from tv, film or tabloid, they will do one of two things. They will either enter Celebrity Masterchef, or they will write a cookbook. If it’s the former, then I will sigh in a slightly superior manner and take the opportunity to loathe Gregg Wallace a little more, but if it’s the latter, there will normally be anything from a slight hiss to a positive spit of rage.

Because who do these people think they are?

Ker-ching…

Take Sophie Dahl. Actually born Sophie Holloway, she opted to take her maternal surname (cannot imagine why), and has so far published two cookbooks with accompanying tv series. She’s a contributing editor for Waitrose Kitchen. I can’t argue with the fact that she can write (given her pedigree it’s hardly surprising), but can she cook? Uhhhm, no. Not really. Oh, you cry, but she went to Ballymaloe! And? Thousands of people have been to Ballymaloe, but that doesn’t make them equipped to teach the nation how to eat. It seemed to me that the main content of her first book was the flouncy introductions to her recipes, urging you to eat them by candlelight, your head resting on your beloved’s chest as soft piano music tinkled in the background. Did she mention she’s married to Jamie Cullum? And once your head is full of romantic notions of eating dimly lit prawn curry on top of a short jazz musician, are you actually going to notice the recipe is only really flavoured with curry powder? Obviously not, as some bright spark commissioned a second book.

And Gwyneth Paltrow. Just because she named her child after a fruit, it doesn’t mean we all want to eat her macrobiotic muffins. Stick to acting Gwynnie, it’s a rare gift for an American to produce a convincing British accent. Fay Ripley attracted my ire when she announced that she wanted to write a book to teach people how to feed their families. Well, that’s a lovely sentiment Fay, but why you? Do you have any authority on cooking? No? Oh, Cold Feet? Well, carry on then.

The latest offering to irritate me afresh is Gok Wan. The simpering lifestyle coach is about to appear in his own Channel 4 tv series about Chinese cookery, with a sparkly book to match. His credentials? Alright, they’re better than some, his father owned a Chinese restaurant. But looking through his book, there are almost as many pictures of him gurning with noodles, gurning with rice, gurning with potstickers as there are recipes. And do I really want someone with such a complex history with food telling me what to cook? I’m not sure I do.

Look good eating that naked and I might be impressed.

Now, you may rubbish me for having extreme professional jealousy, and to a certain extent you’d be right. It’s unbelievably frustrating watching talentless celebrities doing utterly predictable things with chicken, when it’s taken a lot of training and hard work to make me think I have any form of authority about cookery. It seems that because cooking is something that most people do, they feel entitled to share their opinions on it, and if they’re famous, this can mean globally. But it takes real skill to write a successful recipe, which most don’t have, and the upshot is a raft of failed dinners and disappointed consumers who were sucked in by the ‘Look, just look! You too could have my life if only you buy this book!’ of it all.

And before you judge any further, I have absolutely no jealousy towards the truly wonderful food writers and chefs that we’re also fortunate enough to have advising us – Nigel Slater, Diana Henry, Lucas Hollweg, Simon Hopkinson being just a few of my favourites. These people know their stuff, and you can trust their judgement implicitly because they’re not just in it to satisfy some whim for recognition in a different field to their norm.

So the next time Sophie Dahl looks like convincing you to eat something under the boughs of a blossom tree, or Gwyneth makes you think sugar is evil, or Gok Wan so much as opens his mouth, steel yourself, turn away and look to a respectable cookbook. Or, you know, you could always check out one of my recipes

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Why does my food taste average?

I’m sure this has happened to most of us. You’ve eaten something somewhere, you’ve managed to get hold of the recipe, you follow it to the letter, but it just doesn’t taste as good. And why does that starter from the Hawksmoor cookbook not fill you with the joy it did when you ate it at Hawksmoor? What is Ottolenghi doing that you’re not? And HOW does the meringue roulade in the magazine look so wonderfully crispy and light, when yours looks more like a slug?

It's all about the beating

Well, it could be almost anything – different ingredients, wrong season, complete lack of talent, but here are some of the more obvious ones that a trained chef will do without thinking, but you might be surprised to read…

Seasoning

Now I know I harp on and on about this, but there’s a reason I’m writing it first. Seasoning is the building block of cookery – without salt, your food will taste bland. Period. If you’re cooking with meat, you should always season it while it’s still raw, before it’s even seen the heat. It will make a huge difference to the flavour that just can’t be achieved after it’s cooked. And remember to season everything, even down to salad dressing. My idea of a pinch of salt is a four-fingered pinch so be bold, buy some Maldon and throw it about with gusto. And take heart, my blood pressure is absolutely fine.

Onions

Don’t rush your onions. They’re nature’s sloths, they like to do things in their own good time. If a recipe tells you to cook onions until caramelised, it’s safe to say you’re going to be waiting for at least half an hour, maybe longer if you’re doing a big batch. Cook them low and slow, and use plenty of butter. Caramelised onions form the flavour base for so many dishes, and if you rush the beginnings, the finished product will never taste as good.

Garlic

Burnt garlic will taint an entire dish, so treat it with respect. If you’re putting it with an onion base, add it only a couple of minutes before you add the rest of the ingredients – it doesn’t need as long as an onion to cook, just a few minutes to take the raw edge off. Never add it to really hot oil, it will burn instantly and smell of sulphur. For a dish like garlic prawns or mushrooms, add it finely chopped just before you serve – the heat from the food will soften it, and it will taste perfect.

Stock

This one is make or break, the difference between a masterpiece and a finger painting. If you’re cooking anything that lists stock as a main ingredient (a broth, a rich casserole, a gravy), you need to use the proper stuff. Either you can make your own, by roasting bones then cooking them slowly covered in cold water brought up to a gentle simmer with onions, bay, carrots, celery and peppercorns for about 3-4 hours, or you can buy the fresh ones from supermarkets. Heston’s from Waitrose is fantastic, well worth the cash and a gorgeous dark colour. The M&S ones aren’t bad either, and if you’re really stuck, the Touch of Taste bouillon bottles are ok too. But use fresh if you can, if only just to make me happy.

Ingredients

This is basically a common sense issue, but it stands to reason that some asparagus that’s come over from Peru in the dead of winter is not going to taste as good as a freshly picked spear from Kent in May. If you’re confused about what’s in season when, there are tons of websites you can look at (my favourite being this one from River Cottage). Also make sure you’re buying the best you can afford of the everyday stuff. Value Cheddar isn’t going to be a patch on the mature farmhouse stuff. Although this works both ways – for example, cheap mozzarella is better than buffalo for pizzas – the buffalo goes watery – you want the rubbery brands for cooking, save the good stuff for eating raw.

Meat

This needs a whole post to itself really, but please please always buy the best meat you can afford. Battery farmed chickens, grown super quickly with hormones taste bland, slimy and dry. And then there’s all the welfare issues. Anyone who thinks chicken or pork are tasteless has obviously been buying the budget packs, and if you find your cottage pie or lasagne has a slightly rancid taste, it’s probably because you used cheap mince. With meat, you get what you pay for, so find your nearest Q-Guild butcher, and start up a beautiful relationship with him.

Beating

Don’t get too excited, I’m talking about with a whisk. As you know from my cake post, butter and sugar needs a lot of beating to realise its full potential, but beating is equally important for other puddings. For example, your meringues should be beaten to firm peaks before adding any sugar, and even then it should be added a tablespoon at a time, and the mixture beaten well in between each spoonful. It incorporates as much air as possible, and breaks the proteins down in the egg white so your meringue will be more stable while cooking. And if you think that sounds like too much effort, just think of all the good it’s doing your bingo wings…

 

 

 

 

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Cheesecake.

Everyone in our office loves cheesecake. They LOVE it. Like one might love a firstborn child. Alright, not that much, but certain members of the team have been known to yelp when I put a freshly baked cheesecake on the communal table. That’s a pretty strong reaction to a bit of Philly and some egg if you ask me.

Because I don’t really get the obsession with cheesecake. It’s very tasty, it can occasionally, possibly border on delicious, but I would never order it in a restaurant, and I would never make one for a dinner party. And yet, consumer research time and again tells us that people want cheesecake recipes. When we do a gallery of them on our website we get a massive spike in user traffic. Am I just completely unaware that the Holy Grail of puddings is staring me in the face?

The world, it seems, is also against me. Cheesecakes have been around since Ancient Greece, when the Romans nicked the recipe and started making theirs using a cheese similar to ricotta, sweetened with honey and usually shaped into loaves. The addition of flour to the mixture would have produced a heavier, drier style than the smooth confections we’re used to, but the idea was the same.

Our widely accepted version using Philadelphia was born when an American accidentally invented cream cheese while trying to re-create French Neufchatel. Later, James Kraft (recognise the surname?) invented pasteurised cream cheese, somebody decided to bake it with eggs and sugar, and the modern cheesecake was born. Latterly, people have gone a bit nuts with the flavourings, as the fashion for one-thing-that-tastes-like another has gained popularity. If you fancy whiling away half an hour in contemplative gluttony, check out The Cheesecake Factory’s menu to see what I’m talking about. My favourites so far are ‘Adam’s peanut butter cup fudge ripple’ (what?!), and their Low Carb selection. AS IF you’re worrying about your carbohydrate intake if you’re supping at The Cheesecake Factory…

But what is it about the cheesecake that is so irresistible? Is it the (buttery) biscuit base? That unspeakable trougher Gregg Wallace seems to enjoy it. Is it the sometimes smooth, sometimes curdy main bit that fills your mouth with sweetness at the same time as setting your teeth slightly on edge with an alkaline tang? Is it the topping – the melted chocolate, toasted nuts, fruit compote or (God forbid) peanut butter cups? Or is it simply the knowledge that you’re eating not one, not two, but up to six or seven fattening ingredients in one, sinful, ecstatic mouthful and you feel like a kid in a candy shop?! I suspect the latter has more to do with it than most of you would care to let on…

Alright, so maybe I'm pretty proud of this one...

And while I can’t claim to be whisked away on a cloud of cheesey dreaminess at the mere mention of the C-word, I can see why people love them. All the elements of taste are there. I just have little joy in making them – there’s not the same feeling of alchemy that comes from making cakes, not the sharp intake of breath at the spectacular finished article. I’m mainly worried about whether the damn thing’s going to crack or not. (By the way, I can find no reliable cure for this – sometimes it works if you put it straight in the fridge, sometimes it cracks anyway. I think it’s the cheesecake’s revenge on me for not giving it its proper respect.) But people love them, so I suppose that is enough of a reward for making them on a fairly regular basis. Cooking is all about selfless giving to others and all that. But I’d still rather have cake.

NB. Check out this video of Louis Armstrong extolling the virtues of cheesecake, courtesy of our lovely photographer Myles New. It’s hilarious.

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Any questions answered

During what seemed like an entire lifetime spent on a rickety old bus yesterday with some friends, I found the conversation turning, as it often does, to food – and the inevitable ‘how do you…’ questions started coming out.  As my doctor friend finds she’s constantly asked ‘what’s this on my arm?’, ‘Is that normal?’, ‘does it always look like that?!’, so I find people ask me about all sorts of cooking problems. And since I too have been known to text Dr Davey the odd query or two, rather than queue up for the GP, I feel it’s my duty to answer them as best I can. But in order to save time in the future, I thought I would write a few of the most common ones down here, so that hopefully next time something cocks up in the kitchen, you’ll know where to come.  So…

I’ve made something too salty

First of all, well done for seasoning – so many people don’t nowadays and it makes their food taste so unpalatable. But if you really have overdone it, apart from the old tricks like adding a raw potato (NB. This only works with liquid based dishes like casseroles and soups) to suck up the salt (remove before serving), try adding some acidity. Salt and acidity cancel each other out – so some lemon or lime juice, or a splash of vinegar should help the problem. If  you don’t want to add it directly to your dish, serve a salad with a strong vinaigrette on the side, and hope people have the good sense to eat them both at the same time. And if all else fails, supply lots of water and keep quiet. Most people need to drink more of it anyway.

I’ve burnt the bottom of my casserole

We’ve all done this – maybe you got sidetracked by the telly, or maybe you were trying to fit too much in one pan and couldn’t stir it properly, but the telltale scrape of the wooden spoon on the bottom of the pan is always a moment of panic. Don’t. Stop scraping, remove as much of the food as you can to a different pan, and bin anything that looks burnt. Hopefully you noticed before the situation turned drastic, and it will all be ok.

I don’t know if my fish is cooked

If you’re cooking a whole fish, ask the fishmonger to leave the dorsal fin on. When a whole fish is cooked you’ll be able to pull it out easily. If you have to tug, it needs a bit longer.  If you’re using fillets, you should stop cooking as soon as the fish turns from translucent to opaque and when it just begins to flake. If you notice white gunk seeping out you’ve gone too far – the proteins start to break down when it overcooks, and that’s the white stuff.

Can I do anything to stop onions from making me cry?

I’m afraid the answer to this is not really – although many people will come up with old wives’ tales about spoons in your mouth and running water. I’ve never found the running water trick works, the only thing that gives me any slight relief is putting them in the fridge for a few hours before cooking – I think it’s something to do with slowing down the enzyme that reacts with your tears, but the scientists out there may shout me down. Whatever, it works for me, sort of. Or there’s always the old ski goggles, but apart from looking ridiculous you might find that the lenses confuse your depth perception and you end up chopping your finger off. Then you really will cry.

Why didn’t my ice cream freeze?

Done a batch of homemade ice cream? Got a bit liberal with the rum for the raisins? Rounded up the sugar volume? That’s probably why. Sugar and alcohol don’t freeze (think of that syrupy bottle of vodka in your freezer). Ice cream recipes have to balance out the ratio of liquid to sugar and booze (if it’s in there), so you get the correct consistency, so try not to go all Michel Roux on it. If you think the recipe needs something else, then add it as a topping or a syrup – you’ll get the same effect when its eaten. And remember that the cold kills a lot of flavour, so your raw ice cream mix should taste very strong before you freeze it.

Of course, drizzling extra syrup on is never a bad thing

My meringues always crack/weep

Both of these problems are generally because you’ve cooked them on too high a temperature. They crack because a crust forms before the inside is cooked so you get an air pocket between the shell and the inside, and when you remove them from the oven the shell collapses with nothing to hold it up. If they weep (they will have brown bubbles of syrup around the base), it can also be because you cooked them on too high a temperature – melting the sugar and making it seep out, or that you cooked them for too long, which splits the mixture. If you’re worried about your oven, buy an oven thermometer to check it’s running correctly.

So that’s a few of the basics covered, and you can click on the links for cake problems or pastry tips. If anyone has any more, please email them to me – it would be nice to have this as a regular thing – a cookery 101, if you will. Plus it makes me feel like all my mistakes were not made in vain, which is always a nice feeling…

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Cooking with nuts

If you were to go looking through my hopelessly overcrowded freezer at home, you might be surprised by the number of packets of nuts in there. First, if you didn’t know that nuts could be frozen, they can, and second, I have so many of them because they’re so incredibly versatile. Think of any dish, and I could probably find a way of working nuts into it. Toasted macadamias tossed through a salad. Ground-up walnuts to thicken a Persian chicken stew. Chopped hazelnuts stirred through pasta with fried courgettes, or whole almonds coarsely ground in a fragrant orange blossom cake.

Nuts provide protein, natural fat, flavour and texture – they’re nature’s powerhouses that, unlike many superfoods, taste fantastic. I don’t think I’d be sprinkling goji berries liberally all over my supper. Alright, they’re not the cheapest adornment to your cookery, but they make such a difference, I really think it’s worth forking out for them. A Vietnamese salad loses a large part of its charm without its scattering of toasted peanuts, and I just don’t see the point of fruit cake if it’s not blanketed in sweet, sticky marzipan.

Of course, you’ve got to treat them properly. As a general rule nuts always taste better when toasted – it brings out the natural oils and gives them a rounded, less raw flavour. There are several ways to achieve this – you could place them in a dry pan and roll them around to stop them catching. This is the easiest option, but there’s a pretty large chance they’ll burn on one side. You could put them in a roasting tin in a medium oven for 10 minutes, which will toast them more evenly all over. If you’re going down this route, set a timer as I guarantee you’ll forget about them and they’ll end up black. Or, if you’re using them as a garnish and not an ingredient, you could heat a little oil in a frying pan and toast them in that – the oil distributes the heat so you get an even toasting, and also adds flavour.

If a recipe calls for them to be ground in a food processor, take care not to get carried away – whiz them too finely and you’ll push all the oil out which will leave you with a sticky lump instead of beautiful, fine crumbs. And always let them cool after toasting before grinding, to avoid the same thing happening.

Recipes using ground almonds, will be more delicious if you grind your own, rather than buying pre-ground. Doing it yourself means you can toast them first, and  control how far you take them  – leaving them mainly ground but still with a bit of texture will give you a cake with more bite and texture, and adding a couple of drops of almond extract will really enhance the flavour. As a general rule, you can substitute between half to 2/3 of a cake’s flour content for ground almonds, but add half a tsp of baking powder to the mix to counterbalance the heaviness.

 If you’re keeping open packets of nuts for longer than a few days, be aware they’ll go stale pretty quickly, and as anyone who’s delved into the bowls on the tables of an All Bar One will testify, stale nuts taste VILE. This is where the freezer comes in handy. Frozen nuts can be toasted straight from the freezer, but you probably won’t want to eat them untoasted once they’ve been defrosted.

And what’s my favourite nut? I really couldn’t pick. Almonds seem made for baking, whereas peanuts achieve their life’s purpose in peanut butter. A box of chocolates would be meaningless without hazelnut praline, and I can’t even imagine ice cream without pistachio. All of them work in salads, on yogurt, in muesli, and roasting a mix of them with honey, sea salt and thyme will give you one of the most moreish snacks on the planet. Just ask my father.

So my Ode to the Noble Nut is complete, and I’ll sign off by saying that if you don’t cook with them very often, this weekend please give it a go – there’s a very good chance you’ll become addicted. And since it’s Friday, and my mind is devoid of nut puns, I’m now going to invite your entries, with a mystery prize for the best one.

GO.

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Butter.

The mere mention of it strikes fear into the hearts of Daily Mail readers. Never in the history of faddy eating advice has one innocent substance been so persecuted, and yet, never in the history of cookery has one substance been so vitally important. Imagine a dry, rasping slice of toast with no smear of melting gold; the springy chewiness of a plain sponge cake without a crown of sugared buttercream. Butter is the base of your sauces, the building block of bakery – it’s in every French dish you can think of. It commands respect.

Butter is made from churning cream until the fat globules separate from the buttermilk and form solid lumps. The lumps are then brought together, washed, squeezed to remove all remaining buttermilk, and shaped into pats. It’s actually incredibly easy to make your own butter – you basically just overwhip cream (and I think we can say we’ve all done that). Darina Allen did an excellent guide for the Guardian here.

A lot of snobbery persists about whether salted or unsalted butter is best – at Leiths we were told that those in the know would always choose unsalted. Well, for eating raw, I’m firmly in the salty camp…how frightfully non-u of me. I don’t think there are many tastes better than properly salted butter, particularly the stuff from Brittany that’s flecked with whole sea salt crystals. Unsalted butter is too much like raw fat for me – the salt lifts it, and enhances at the same time as curbing, its creaminess.

That said, I always have unsalted to hand for cooking – when it comes to seasoning I’m a bit of a control freak, and starting a dish using salted butter makes for an uneven flavour. Salted butter is meant to be used as the French intended it – on proper bread, and in generous amounts. Add a bunch of radishes and a crisp glass of white and we’re good to go.

Funnily enough, considering the French love affaire with butter, it was actually a Frenchman who invented the first margarine. In the 1860s Napoleon III offered a prize for the first person to invent a suitable butter substitute to feed to his troops fighting the Franco-Prussian war. The fabulously named Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès responded by blending beef fat with milk and working the texture like butter. He wasn’t terribly successful though, and sold the patent to Jurgens (now Unilever) in 1871. After French and German scientists discovered how to hydrogenate vegetable oils (altering them so they behave like butter), the product we now know and loathe was born.

Thanks to sad cases like this chap, margarine now outsells butter in America (and is pretty close here), and many people mistakenly think that the saturated fat in butter is much more dangerous to your health than the hydrogenated fat in margarine. Sham science aside, I just don’t see how anyone with common sense can think that a natural product made entirely from cream can be more harmful than a laboratory product, stuffed full of chemicals, injected with air and artificially coloured. And despite loudly declaimed marketing slogans, it only resembles butter in the way that meat substitutes resemble a dry-hung steak. Not one bit.

Just imagine this with deliciously melting hydrogenated fat...

When flicking through other people’s recipes I will automatically discard any that give you the option of using margarine instead of butter. Anybody who thinks that’s acceptable has no right calling themselves a cook, let alone telling other people how to do it. You can spot a cake made with marge a mile off – it leaves a greasy film on the inside of your mouth and has an insubstantial feel when you bite into it. Butter is the real deal – the only thing that will give you that moist, golden crumb and rounded flavour. And yes it is high in fat, but I’m not advocating you eat the whole block – or the whole cake. As with all things in life, it’s all about treating yourself. Have a scraping on your toast in the mornings, and save the heavily buttered croissants (which by the way, are almost all butter to begin with) for the weekend.

So this weekend, throw away the marge, invest in some proper Brittany butter and just go crazy. Life shouldn’t be about consistent self-denial. I mean, look at Gillian McKeith…

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What’s wrong with my cake?!

Enjoy those rice cakes, won't you.

At this time of restraint and edamame beans it might seem cruel of me to be bringing up cake, but I’ve been making a lot of them recently (plus ça change…) so I thought I would write down a guide to what can go wrong, and the reasons behind it. Because from long experience, I know there is absolutely nothing more irritating than watching your beautiful cake rise, become fragrant and golden…then sink into a big flat pancake before your eyes. There have occasionally been tantrums…

The Leiths Bible, which, for baking and patisserie is still my Good Book has a very useful section entitled, somewhat primly, ‘Reasons for failure in cake making.’ Unfortunately, a lot of their reasons are to do with cakes that you or I will almost never think about making (Genoise Commune, anyone?!), so I’m going to aim for a more practical guide here. And then, just because I like to share my enthusiasm with you, I’m going to give you some hints on how to avoid them…

Your cake has sunk

This is probably the most common problem and is so easily avoidable!

  • Did you open the oven door too early? Tut tut tut. Leave the oven door alone! Blasting cold air into a warm oven will automatically cause your cake to sink if it isn’t set enough. If you must open the oven – if you need to cover the top to stop it burning for instance, try and wait until the cake has been in for at least 30-40 minutes – it will usually have risen enough that it won’t be a problem. Don’t throw it open and bang it shut either – opening and closing gently and smoothly will stop the rush of air and keep the oven temperature more accurate. Gordon Ramsay might kick them shut, but that doesn’t mean that you should.
  • Was your oven too hot? An over-heated oven will cause a thick crust to form on your cake before the middle is set, making you think that it’s cooked before it is, so you bring it out and two minutes later you have a cracked top crust and a load of dough on the inside. Buy an oven thermometer to be sure your oven is running at the correct heat – you’ll be surprised by how much they vary. Our testing ovens run 10 degrees low, but our photographer’s oven is high, and my oven just does its own thing most of the time. We can never be completely accurate in our timings for recipes as everyone’s ovens are different, so it’s worth checking that yours runs to temperature. Another neat trick if you’re making a big cake (over 10”) and you’re worried about it rising is to start it 10C higher than you need and after 10-15 minutes turn it down to the correct temperature. The high heat will kickstart the rise and form a crust (which stabilises the cake), and the correct temperature will make sure it stays moist.

Your cake has dried out

We’ve all done it – you’ve forgotten about the cake in the oven and now it’s burned/dry/crusty. It’s still salvageable! Try one of these…

  • If it’s burnt – Dark edges are easy to deal with – wait until it cools then shave off the burnt bits with either a sharp veg peeler or (more preferably) a sharp grater or microplane. Stop when you get to lighter sponge, and no one will ever know..
  • If it’s dry – If you’re worried it’s going to be dry in the middle, prick holes all over it while still hot, then either pour over some appropriate booze (I once used a whole bottle of PX sherry for a friend’s chocolate wedding cake), or a fruit syrup made with fresh orange/lemon juice, and a couple of tbsp sugar. There’s an orange drizzle cake recipe here with an excellent syrup. Abracadabra, problem solved and everyone will be saying ‘ooh, isn’t it moist, isn’t it just so moist!
  • If it’s crusty – A bit of crispiness is delicious, but if it’s a little too crunchy, either leave it in the tin to cool (it will somewhat unappetisingly, sweat, but it will soften the crust a bit), or turn it out and cover it with a damp tea towel to cool. This works a treat with bread too.

 Your cake is too dense

I’m afraid this one’s just down to laziness and heavy-handedness. When we say to beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy we really do mean it. And that bit about gently folding in the flour isn’t just to fill our word count. Your cake’s fate is sealed the minute you mix butter and sugar together – part of the rise is formed by steam coming from these two melting, so the more you beat it, the more you break it down and increase the surface area, so the more steam you get which means…a lighter cake. And you fold in the flour rather than beating it so you don’t knock all the air out and ruin your hard work. Most recipes will tell you to use a metal spoon – we prefer a balloon whisk – it’s more efficient and has a smaller surface area to bash the mix with.

 Of course, there are hundreds of other things that can go wrong, but I think these are the Big Three. And remember baking really isn’t scary, you just have to follow the recipe, and use a little bit of intuition. God, I sound like Mary Poppins. Oh well, very happy baking to everyone and a jolly marvellous weekend…

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