Things you'll need...
Most of the ingredients in my recipes are store cupboard basics – things I hope you’ll have in your house, hiding away on the top shelf or forgotten at the back of the fridge.
But when it comes to equipment – and I’m talking baking trays, lolly moulds and crumble dishes – it’s useful to know what you might need before you get halfway through a recipe and realise you don’t have the right sized-tin.
So, to help you out, here's my list of the essentials:
1. Small round cake tin: 20cm across
2. Standard loaf tin: 22cm x 12cm x 7cm
3. Square baking tray: 25cm x 25cm x 5cm
4. Rectangular lasagne/crumble dish: 38cm x 25cm x 5cm
5. Several large flat metal baking sheets
6. 12-hole muffin tray
7. Mixing bowls, varying sizes
8. Lots and lots of airtight storage tins
9. Plastic lolly moulds – set of 6 and 8
11. Palette knife
12. Set of 6 matching ramekins, martini glasses or tumblers
13. Muffin cases
14. Wooden skewers
15. Greaseproof paper or baking parchment – TONNES of the stuff
A few handy hints...
A few bits of general housekeeping to read if you're new to baking.
If you have any questions, queries or moments of panic mid-recipe, chances are the answer’s on this page:
My oven’s a funny old beast. It only has three settings – fan, grill or off – which makes it just about impossible to bake things in, unless you’ve spent several years getting to know its weird ways. Thankfully, I have. But it means that the temperatures in my recipes are technically on a fan setting, so if you’re using a normal person oven, add 20C to the temperatures here.
All chefs have different interpretations of the word ‘teaspoon’ or ‘tablespoon’. Some like them heaped; others level; others still use confusing words like ‘generous’ or ‘rounded’. When one of my recipes calls for a spoonful, it means just that: stick the spoon in the jar, take out a measure of whatever it is, and don’t worry too much about the exact size.
Eggs, bananas, etc
Nature doesn’t make things to order, which can be a pain when a recipe calls for a ‘large’ egg or ‘small’ banana. So don’t worry. I’ve used medium eggs throughout and the fruit and veg are just average, normal-sized pieces of food – it won’t ruin the recipe if yours is a few centimetres out.
I’ve designed these recipes to be as quick and easy as possible. But do have a quick scan of the method before you start to check how long each one is going to take.
Some of the ice creams, breads and even the biscuits have freezing, resting or setting stages before they’re ready to eat – many of them overnight – and I don’t want you getting hangry.
Nobody likes a name-dropper, and I’ve tried to avoid mentioning brands where possible. But if I say ‘chocolate spread’ when everybody knows I mean ‘Nutella’, it can all get a bit silly. So please excuse the mention of Mars bars, Terry’s chocolate orange, Oreo cookies, etc – and feel free to use alternative brands. They’re just suggestions; you can use whichever variety you prefer.
There are two methods: in a glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, or in 20-second bursts in the microwave. Whichever one you choose, my advice is to do it slowly. Overheating chocolate will make it burn or ‘seize’, which is when it balls up into a solid mass and becomes useless. Try not to stir it, either: this can make the chocolate go grainy. Swirl the bowl instead.
In the world of baking, size does matter. I’ve divided my various trays and tins into different sizes and listed them above. But there are plenty of ways to get around it if you don’t have the right one. Lakeland sells a snazzy ‘multisize’ cake pan, which you can split into different shapes and sizes using removable dividers – or you can do it the old-fashioned way and make a fake ‘edge’ out of folded tin foil.
Like my oven, my ‘category D’ microwave is a little bit special (read: temperamental and unpredictable). If you’re cooking something in the microwave, don’t stick rigidly to the time in the recipe: watch it through the little microwave window and heat it in short bursts.
Bakers tend to go for unsalted butter, as it doesn’t add flavour or take away the sweetness with a big punch of salt. But if your house is anything like mine, you’ll tend to have salted butter in the fridge – as it’s the one that tastes best lathered on a big hunk of crusty bread. So unless a recipe specifically calls for salted or unsalted butter, use whichever you have to hand.
My go-to is Kerrygold Irish butter, as it’s the saltiest of the lot – but you might prefer a different brand.
Lining your tin
Most recipes start with the words: ‘Grease and line the tin’. All this means is swab the insides with a layer of butter or neutral oil (olive oil has quite a strong flavour so if you don’t have any butter, use vegetable or sunflower oil), cut some greaseproof paper to fit and stick this on the base and sides so the cake/loaf/pie is easy to remove from the tin once it’s cooked.
If you’re making fudge or something that doesn’t need to be baked, I sometimes use tin foil as it’s easier to squash into the corners. But if the recipe calls for greaseproof paper, wet your fingers and lightly dampen it to make it more pliable.
Sugar’s a tricksy little ingredient, especially when it’s being caramelised in a pan. You’ve got to get it to just the right stage so it doesn’t crystallise or burn, and this means standing over the pan, waiting and watching it like a hawk.
A sugar thermometer comes in handy, but if you don’t have one you can measure it by time or colour. Each recipe that calls for sugar to be heated has detailed instructions on what to do – ignore them at your peril!
My style of baking is all about experimenting. So my final words of advice are just that: experiment.
If a recipe calls for a particular ingredient and you don’t have any, improvise. If you don’t like the flavour I’ve suggested but want to try baking something anyway, swap it. Some of the recipes have suggestions at the end for alternative bakes.