Hints and Tips

Conversion tables for Metric/imperial measurements

Conversions are approximate and have been rounded up and down. You will get good results using either metric or imperial measurements, provided you use the same unit throughout.

Diameter for cake tins, flan rings, pie plates Capacity for pudding basins, pie dishes and saucepans Diameter for cutters for scones and biscuits
Metric Imperial Metric Imperial Metric Imperial
15cm 6 inch 450ml ¾ pint 2.5cm 1 inch
18cm 7 inch 900ml 1½ pint 5cm 2 inch
20cm 8 inch 1.2 litre 2 pint 6.5cm 2½ inch
23cm 9 inch 1.5 litre 2½ pint 7.5cm 3 inch
25.5cm 10 inch 1.8 litre 3 pint    
28cm 11 inch 3 litre 5 pint    
30cm 12 inch 4.2 litre 7 pint    
Choosing the right flour

These days there are many different flours available. Each type of flour is suited to specific recipes, or cooking methods and using the recommended flour for each dish can improve the results of your baking - as well as making it more interesting and adventurous. It can, however, sometimes be difficult to decide which to use, so here are a few guidelines.

White Self Raising Flour

Self raising flour has the addition of raising agents which are thoroughly mixed into the flour so that a consistent end result is obtained. Self raising flour is ideal for cakes, scones, suet pastry, tea, breads and some biscuits.

White Plain Flour

White plain flour is ideal for making pastries, batters, sauces, gravies and some cakes. It is a very versatile flour as raising agents can be added if necessary. Alternatively, it can be used without a raising agent in recipes where air is incorporated by other means, e.g. whisking eggs and sugar to create a Swiss roll.

McDougalls Supreme Sponge Flour

Supreme Sponge Flour is milled from specially selected soft wheats producing extremely fine flour ideal for sponge making. It can absorb more moisture and sugar than standard flour and will produce a very light, soft, even textured sponge. It is ideal for sponges and other light cakes.

McDougalls 00 Plain Flour

'00' Grade Premium Plain Flour uses the purest, whitest, central part of the wheat. The resulting flour is incredibly silky and white and blends more easily with fats and liquid than other flours. Sauces are dramatically whiter, smoother and glossier, with less effort. When making shortcrust pastry this flour is easier to handle and will give you deliciously crisp, light pastries. It is the recommended flour for use in pasta making.

Handy tips

Lining a cake tin

Use baking parchment to line your tins. This is a non-stick paper which prevents mixtures sticking to the tin when baking. This should not be confused with greaseproof paper, which doesn't have non-stick properties.

  • Place the tin on baking parchment and draw round it with a pencil.
  • Cut just inside the pencil mark with scissors.
  • Cut a strip of parchment long enough to go round the tin plus an overlap of about 2.5cm (1 inch) and about 5cm (2 inches) deeper than the tin. Lay the strip flat on the table and turn up the overlap and crease. Snip diagonally to the fold.
  • Brush inside the tin with oil, using a pastry brush.
  • Insert strip so that the snipped part lies flat on the base.
  • Put the circle in place and lightly brush over the parchment on the base and sides with oil.

To test if cakes are baked

Properly baked cakes should be evenly brown, shrinking slightly away from the sides of the tin and firm when touched with fingers. A fine hot skewer inserted into the centre of a non-fruited cake should come out clean.

Fruit cakes - A slight bubbling sound indicates that further baking is required.

Sponges - These should shrink slightly from the tin. When pressed with a finger a sponge should spring back leaving no impression.

Cooling

Always leave cakes in their tins for 3-5 minutes to 'set', then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool. Fruit cakes should be left to cool completely in their tins.

Methods of making cakes

Creaming

The creaming method gives a light textured cake with good keeping qualities.

Cut up the fat (softened but not melted). Beat until soft with a wooden spoon, spatula or electric hand mixer.

Add the sugar and syrup (if using) then beat until light and fluffy.

Sieve or mix together the flour and any salt or spices which are used.

Add the eggs to the creamed mixture, one at a time, with a little of the flour. Stir, and then beat thoroughly.

Stir in the milk, and a little of the flour. Beat again. Add fruit, flavourings, etc, and the rest of the flour. Fold in gently but thoroughly, and bake as directed.

All in one

The quickest and easiest method of all. Remember to use soft tub margarine. Place soft margarine, sugar, eggs, flour and salt (if using) in a bowl together with any other ingredients. Stir, then beat well for about 2 minutes. Baking powder may also be added.

Whisking

The whisking method is used for very light sponges and Swiss rolls. Occasionally, melted butter is added to give special flavour and texture.

Using an electric hand mixer, whisk eggs and sugar together for approximately 10 minutes until the mixture leaves a trail.

Using a metal spoon gradually and gently fold in sieved flour and any other dry ingredients.

Lightly cut and fold the flour into the mixture. Do this thoroughly but lightly so the air incorporated from whisking is not expelled.

Melting

Cakes made by this method have a lovely moist, sticky texture and good keeping qualities. The gingerbread type of recipe and some biscuits are made by the melting methods. These can be left for a day to mature and soften.

Sieve flour, spices, any raising agent and salt into a bowl.

Place fat, sugar and syrup (if using) in a saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and fat melted. Cool slightly.

Gradually stir the syrupy mixture into the flour with milk and any eggs. Beat until smooth, pour into greased tin and bake as directed.

Rubbed in method

An open texture is achieved as the fat is lightly worked into the flour between the fingertips and thumbs, trapping air as it falls. Block margarine or butter may be used for these cakes. Soft margarine will not give the correct texture or support the fruit used. Cakes prepared by this method are easy to make and ideal for the less experienced cook.

Sieve or mix together flour, salt and spice (if using) in a mixing bowl.

Add the fat and cut into small pieces. Rub fat and flour between fingertips until mixture resembles fine bread crumbs, then stir in the sugar, fruit and any flavourings.

Make a well in the centre; add beaten egg and any milk, water or syrup that may be included in the recipe. Mix well then bake as directed.

Helpful hints

If your cake has sunk in the centre

This means the cake is undercooked. Check the oven is preheated to the right temperature and only check whether the cake is cooked during the last few minutes of cooking time. Close the oven door gently. Measure the liquid used carefully.

If your cake is heavy

The mixture may have been too dry or over mixed. Add the amount of liquid recommended in the recipe, and fold the flour in gently. Under baking will also cause a close texture.

If your cake is peaked and cracked

The oven may have been too hot, or the cake placed too high in the oven. Using too small a tin will also cause the cake to crack.

If the fruit sinks in your fruit cake

The cake mixture may have been too thin to support the fruit, or the pieces of fruit may have been too big or wet and syrupy. Follow the recipe carefully and dry fruit well, having washed off the syrup. Ensure the oven temperature is correct.

A word on ingredients

Sugar

Caster sugar dissolves easily and is most suitable for cake-making. Being finer it is more easily creamed than granulated sugar, which is better used in rubbed-in cakes and scones.

Icing sugar should always be sieved.

Demerara and other brown sugars are often used in cakes and biscuits to improve the flavour and colour.

Golden syrup, treacle or honey often replace some, or all of the sugar in a recipe, giving a rich flavour and colour.

Eggs

These are better used at room temperature, rather than cold from the fridge, but this is not essential. Eggs add richness to the recipe. Break eggs separately into a cup before use. All eggs used are medium, unless otherwise stated. Free range eggs will give a richer, more golden colour to your cooking than standard eggs.

Liquids

Milk adds richness to a mixture and gives a closer, heavier texture. Water gives a lighter, shorter texture. Very cold water is necessary for certain pastries.

Fats

Use the type stated in the recipe. Butter is used for its flavour and keeping qualities, but can be replaced by margarine. Hard block margarine is most suitable for baking pastry, whilst soft margarine, used straight from the fridge, is better for giving volume in creamed cakes and one-stage recipes.

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