Category Archives: Hints and Tips

How to Shrink a Recipe

Have you ever had a hankering for a specific type of food but been short on one specific but vital ingredient? I don’t know how many times I’ve been sure I had enough plain flour only to find that I only had about 100g in the cupboard without knowing how to shrink a recipe. Vexing. Anyway, my recipe alteration skills were seriously put to the test just the other day as we had some buttermilk in the fridge leftover from making my father-in-law’s birthday cake (to our chocolatiest chocolate cake recipe) and I was determined it should be used for soda bread to give our new oven a try. As a side note, our new kitchen is now pretty much up and running and we’ve been taking every opportunity to test out both the double oven and gas hob. I promised Charles that the first thing I’d bake in that oven would be bread so it just simply had to work out! Anyway, the recipe I found (courtesy of BBC Good Food) called for 290ml of buttermilk, and sadly our remaining stock measured only 220ml. Fiddlesticks.

shrinking a recipe
As you will likely know, baking is much more accurate a science than cooking, meaning the balance of ingredients has to be relatively spot on, so whilst it might be easy to shrink or substitute ingredients in a stir fry on the hoof, altering a recipe needs a little more head scratching, but it’s really just a case of applying some simple arithmetic. As long as the proportions are correct, you’ll get a  smaller but just as successful piece of baking. So here’s how you do it:

can you shrink down a recipe
1. If your recipe is online, write or print it out onto a piece of paper. If it’s in a book, set it in front of you.

calculations to shrink a recipe
2. Weigh out the ingredient you’re short on, and then work out how much you have as a proportion of the quantity the recipe calls for. If your arithmetic is anything like mine, this will be easiest with a calculator! Do this by dividing the amount you have by the amount you need and multiplying by 100, to get a percentage. In my case, it was 76%, so I was going to aim for a soda loaf 76% of the size the recipe called for. At just over three quarters I figured it was with going for, especially as soda bread is best eaten on the first day in any event.

3. Get yourself another piece of paper and work out how much of each ingredient you ought to use for the reduced recipe by multiplying the full amount called for by the percentage you reached in step 2.

4. Write out the reduced recipe to keep things neat and avoid confusion (although I would have been much less confused if I had written “buttermilk” instead of ‘milk’).

recipes using buttermilk
5. Get baking!

soda bread
As an aside, I also had the wrong type of flour. I had plain wholemeal flour rather than self-raising so I used the plain wholemeal and white self-raising flour and it worked out just fine. I also added some oats to the top to add a little more taste and texture and it turned out rather well.

Let us know about any shrinking, growing or substitution successes of disasters you’ve had.

Duck Eggs: What’s the Big Deal?

I’ve been (half) joking with Charles for some time now that I’d quite like to have a gaggle of chickens in the garden, because us bakers go through an awfully large number of eggs, but with a prevalence of local foxes and Charles’ declaration that “if you get chickens, you’re looking after them yourself”. Knowing how much I hate getting up early in the morning, the crafty blighter knew that’s all it would take to put me off.

Should we get chickens?
“Ducks are much cooler”was the next word in a discussion I thought had been put to bed, and I admitted that it would be pretty awesome to have a gaggle of ducks in the garden, especially as there’s a little bit of river passing the end of the Brooker land, near where our forever house is likely to be. We agreed that it was just as possible to eat duck eggs as chicken eggs, and in fact many bakers applaud their fluffiness in cakes and pastries. One problem here, though: neither of us had ever tried a duck egg.

Duck Eggs: What's the big deal?
When we were at the local fruit and veg man in Kelso, Charles’ beady eye happened upon a couple of boxes of duck eggs, priced at £2.50 per half dozen (so far so expensive) and suggested that we ought to try them at long last. As we were both feeling particularly giddy and handsy when presented with all this glorious fresh fruit and veg, they made it into the basket.

How to boil duck eggs
Lunch the very next day was, therefore, salad and a boiled duck egg, after some frantic Googling as to how one cooks such a beast. Apparently their shells are thicker and their yolks larger and more calorific, and all in all they need almost twice as much time in the boiling water than a hen’s egg, at a recommended 6 to 7 minutes of boiling.

What do duck eggs taste like?

As I had heard all sorts of horror stories about duck eggs being poisonous, I was keen to follow the guidance on cooking the eggs long enough to ensure the whites didn’t end up at all runny, so went for the 6 minute attack, although they were so filled with residual hear that by the time they got to the table and had their tops lopped off, they were erring on the side of soft boiled rather than gooey and drippy. Still, at least they weren’t hard boiled.

How to cook duck eggs
Our collective conclusion was that they tasted very much like hen’s eggs, only slightly more rubbery as whites go and slightly more generous on yolk size. Personally I’m still pretty taken by the gorgeous blue colour they can appear as, although they are mostly plain old white. After another couple of eggy lunches with adjusted cooking times and removing the tops as soon as they came out of the pot, we almost nailed it at 5 1/2 minutes, but the yolk still solidified relatively quickly.

What's the big deal with duck eggs?
Conclusion? Very expensive hens’ eggs but perhaps worth it in baking. A little research suggests these may have been milder tasting duck eggs as a lot of their flavour supposedly depends on what the bird eats. Either way, they’re not disgusting so ducks are definitely a possibility.

Next up? Guinea fowl eggs…if only we can get hold of some….

How to Line Cake Pans

This isn’t an exciting recipe, I’m afraid, but if we dedicate some time to learn how to do the essentials well, we can save a lot of time for baking lovely cakes. 

how to bake

I tend to use two 9 inch round cake pans  when I’m baking a cake, letting each sponge cook more evenly and for less time than a single deeper round cake, plus you can sandwich them together with something delicious. Although there is of course a time and place for a single deep cake (Christmas cake, for example, or a bundt) but this will make you a Victoria sponge, a chocolate cake, a carrot cake…all of those good ones.
 uses for greaseproof paper 

So you will need, your cake pans, grease proof paper, a pencil, a pair of scissors, some butter and either the paper the butter comes in, a pastry brush or a piece of kitchen roll.  Or you can buy a packet of these (at huge expense) but you’ll still need the butter. how do you line cake tins 
  Roll out a little of the greaseproof paper, set one of the cake pans on top. how do you line cake pans 
 Draw around the base. baking hints and tips 
  To give you this circle guide. how to prepaee cake tins 
Cut out the circle. Try to keep inside the line to stop you leaving any ink or pencil on the paper which will be cooked up against sponge. how to make cake pan liners
 And this is what you’ll be left with. Repeat with the other to grease bakeware
 Rub a butter paper, piece of kitchen roll or pastry brush against some to grease cake pans 
 Use it to rub butter all over the bottom and sides of each cake pan. how to grease cake tins 
 Not too much, not too little, just enough to make sure the sponges will turn out if the pans easily. how to line cane tins  Set the paper circles into the pans, then grease them too. And there you have it: all ready to fill with delicious cake batter!