Maggie Beer's tips to perfect your baking

IF there's anyone who can answer your curly baking questions, surely it's Maggie Beer, judge on The Great Australian Bake Off, author of multiple cookbooks and all-round Aussie food legend. Here's her tips on how to perfect your pastries, scones and cakes.

CROQUE FULL OF BELLY LAUGHS WITH BAKE OFF HOSTS

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SCONE 

It's important not to overwork the dough and to bring the mix together with something like a fine metal spoon, as over-mixing will result in tough scones.

Classic scones. Picture: Mark Roper
Classic scones. Picture: Mark Roper

Don't flatten the dough too much. Make sure it's at least 3cm high, flour the ring before cutting out each scone and don't twist the ring as that can cause them to rise unevenly.

SPONGE CAKE 

Sometimes it's the simplest things and greasing, dusting with flour and then lining the cake tin with parchment paper saves ever having cake stuck to the bottom of the tin.

Every oven is different so keep notes for yourself to record timing on a recipe for next time.

Generally speaking, you should turn out your cooked sponge onto a wire rack in the tin till it cools completely.

Never cut a cake in half to fill if it is still warm.

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MERINGUE 

Maggie Beer is a judge on The Great Australian Bake Off
Maggie Beer is a judge on The Great Australian Bake Off

When preparing egg whites for a meringue, they actually separate easier when direct from the fridge, but if you do this, make sure they come to room temperature before whipping as this will give greater volume.

Separate with great care so absolutely no speck of yolk is in the whites.

Mix in a very clean bowl at high speed until the whites are at soft peak and only then add the sugar.

Stop whipping as soon as the mixture is at a stiff peak, which means you can invert the bowl without the mix falling out. If you over-beat, the meringue deflates before cooking.

PIE PASTRY 

To make a good pastry make sure the butter is very cold and chopped into small pieces.

If using a food processor to make the pastry only pulse at all times so you are working it as little as possible.

When the butter is added to the flour it should resemble coarse breadcrumbs.

Always add the liquid in stages. For example in the case of sour cream in my pastry, add three quarters to see if that is enough, only adding the rest if needed.

Every brand of flour is different. Every day you make pastry the temperature is different, so any liquid added will always be different.

Always refrigerate a pastry in whatever form you are using it for a good 20 minutes before putting it quickly into a hot oven to "seize" the butter content.

BROWNIE

For the moistest fudgiest brownies of all, try removing the tray from the oven half way through the baking and tap it on the counter to stop the batter rising.

Brownies are wonderful to cook in larger batches.

Wrap a whole tray of brownies well and freeze until needed, defrosting in the refrigerator overnight.

If you take brownies from the fridge they can be too dense and fudgy, but you can microwave them for 30 seconds or so to bring them back to a good fudgy texture. If you use rice flour rather than plain flour, this step isn't necessary.

CHEESECAKE 

Your cheesecake is "done" when it is set around the edges but still a little wobbly in the centre, as it continues to cook out of the oven in the cooling process.

New York cheesecake. Picture: Rob Palmer.
New York cheesecake. Picture: Rob Palmer.

Cheesecake is easier to unmould and slice if it's very cold, or even if it's been frozen.

If you are unmoulding from the freezer leave for 15 minutes or so before serving and by the time you have cut individual portions they will have thawed.

UPSIDE DOWN CAKE 

This is not a cake to keep. It's best of all served warm with the fruit just glistening.

Nothing is better than serving an upside down cake with a vanilla ice cream so you have the juxtaposition of warm with icy cold so this is all about being ready to serve it.

After it comes out of the oven allow to cool just a few minutes, using a knife around the edges to loosen. Leave for a few minutes before inverting onto a plate.

If you want to add more colour, melt a little apricot jam and brush over the fruit while it's hot.


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