If you’ve been watching the Great British Bake Off, you’ll know that things can go wrong even for the most experienced bakers. Combining your ingredients too quickly, using the wrong oven temperature – even the weather can cause havoc for your creations.
Whether you’re making your first Victoria sponge or attempting an ambitious biscuit chandelier, having the wrong equipment – or using it incorrectly – can ruin your best efforts.
We’ve uncovered 10 useful tips that will help you to make better cakes, desserts and more, by delving through the instruction manuals of popular stand mixers from Kenwood, KitchenAid, Sage and more besides.
We’ve also found a couple of surprises along the way, which could be why your bakes just aren’t coming out the way you want them.
Find out how to avoid some common baking mistakes below, and the unexpected reasons your cakes might fall flat.
10 top baking tips hidden in your mixer’s manual
1. Add your ingredients in the right order
Even with the best stand mixer, the order in which you add ingredients can make a difference to how well they mix.
For cake mixes and batters, mix your dry ingredients together first (you can do this by hand), unless otherwise specified by the recipe. This helps to distribute the dry ingredients evenly, including raising agents such as baking soda.
Bread dough works best if you add the water to the mixing bowl first, before the other ingredients. The water prevents flour from sticking and clumping at the bottom of the bowl, which will give you a more consistent dough.
2. Use the right tool for the job
Most stand mixers come with three attachments as standard: a flat beater, a balloon whisk, and a dough hook.
Make sure you use the right one to get the best results. Here’s a quick guide to what they do:
For more advice on the different attachments, read the full guide to stand mixer attachments.
3. Adjust the height of the mixing tool
Most mixers should be set up so that the mixing accessory is almost, but not quite, touching the bottom of the bowl. If ingredients aren’t thoroughly mixed at the bottom, you may need to adjust the height slightly.
You can usually do this by tweaking a bolt above where the accessory clicks in, using a spanner. Check your manual or online for instructions on how to do this. Make sure the attachment still runs clear of the bowl so you don’t damage it.
Brands such as KitchenAid and Kenwood sometimes throw in an additional flex-edge beater attachment (see tip 2, above). This is the exception: it should be lightly touching the bowl so it can wipe the sides with its soft edge while mixing.
4. Clean the bowl for meringues
A spotlessly clean mixing bowl is essential for perfect meringues. Even small traces of grease or fat on the bowl will stop your egg whites from whisking properly. The same goes for the whisk – make sure it’s completely clean before it comes into contact with your egg whites.
To be extra sure, rub half a lemon around the bowl to get it squeaky clean, and then dry thoroughly.
5. Keep eggs and butter at room temperature
For cakes and buttercream, room-temperature eggs and butter will give you the most even and voluminous results. If possible, take them out of the fridge an hour beforehand and cut the butter into cubes so it’s ready to go.
Avoid softening butter in the microwave, as it can turn greasy and stop your cakes from rising properly.
6. Cool things down for pastry and cream
Butter for pastry making should be kept refrigerated so it can be moulded into sheets without melting. Keep hands, surfaces and ingredients as cool as possible when making, handling or rolling out pastry.
When whipping cream, use cold cream from the fridge for a thicker, more stable mixture. If you have time, or the spare accessories, chill the bowl and beater attachment in the fridge beforehand.
7. Mix at the right speed
The speed you mix at is a vital and often overlooked detail. It determines the amount of air incorporated into the mix and affects how your bake rises, how smooth your cream is and how stiff your egg whites are.
As a general rule, use the slowest speeds for kneading and folding in ingredients such as flour, slightly faster for light mixing, such as making batters, even faster for creaming and beating, and the very fastest speeds for whipping cream and whisking.
8. Adjust your oven temperature
Our oven and cooker tests show that a surprising number of ovens don’t heat at the temperature you set them to, with the worst missing their target by 40°C.
Get to know your oven, and adjust the stated times or temperatures in the recipe accordingly. If you’re using a fan-assisted oven, you can generally reduce the temperatures in the recipes by around 10°C (unless of course the temperature stated is for a fan-assisted oven).
If you’re not sure how accurate your oven is, buy an oven thermometer to check. These are only around £10 and should help you to establish whether your oven tends to run hotter or colder than intended.
- How oven temperature affects your baking – see how an oven that is too hot affects results
- Built-in oven reviews – find out which models are most accurate for baking
9. Rotate batch bakes
Consider rotating your goodies halfway through baking, especially if you know your oven is temperamental or prone to heat more on one side. But don’t keep the oven door open too long, as this will affect the rise on your bake.
It is possible to get an oven that will bake beautifully even batches, if you’re keen on perfection and don’t want to spend your time peering anxiously through the oven door, but sadly there are plenty of ovens around that fail to get this basic job right.
10. Check the weather forecast, yes really!
The Bake Off tent has had its fair share of weather-related baking disasters this year, causing the icing to melt off showstoppers, and chocolate globe surprises to collapse. But the weather might be affecting your bakes in more ways than you think.
How hot weather affects your bakes
Dough rises more quickly in hot weather, so try reducing the amount of yeast to avoid the dough over-rising and consider proving it for a shorter time. The heat can also make dough stickier to work with – using greaseproof paper on your counter as well as flour can help.
Using butter that has softened too much can cause flat bakes. Melted butter doesn’t hold air bubbles as well when mixed or whisked. If it’s a hot day, take it out of the fridge later than usual and check how squidgy it is before you use it. If it’s gone too far, pop it back in the fridge for five minutes first.
Why humidity is the enemy of meringues
If possible, avoid making meringues or meringue-based treats, such as macarons, when it’s humid. The high sugar content means they absorb moisture from the air more easily, making them softer and more difficult to whip into stiff peaks or hold their shape.
Once made, keep them in an airtight container so they don’t crumble. If making pavlova, assemble at the last minute before serving, to avoid the cream and fruit saturating the meringue with moisture.
And finally, watch out for altitude
While it’s relatively unlikely to trouble you in your everyday baking, if you decide to whip up a comforting treat on an Alpine holiday, your signature bake might be scuppered by the high altitude.
The boiling point of water is lower at higher altitudes, meaning that it can evaporate more quickly. This can dry out your bakes. It will also leave a more concentrated amount of sugar behind, which can weaken the overall structure.
While you’re likely to have issues from 3,000 feet and above, even at 1,000 feet the boiling point drops by 1°C, so bakers in higher parts of the UK such as Cumbria or Northumberland might need to tweak their recipes to avoid dry sponges.
How to avoid altitude problems with your baking
Bake at a higher oven temperature than usual to set the structure before too much of the water evaporates. Insert some extra moisture into your mixes by increasing the amount of liquid or choosing larger eggs, and use less sugar to avoid the structure going flat.
Lower air pressure also means that dough will rise more quickly. To avoid an over-risen loaf, use less yeast to allow it to rise more gradually and reduce the proving time.
Get the best baking appliances
Avoiding disaster is a whole lot easier if you have the right equipment. A good stand mixer can take your baking to the next level, taking the hard work out of perfectly kneaded doughs and light and fluffy buttercreams.
You don’t need to spend a lot to get a decent model either – we’ve found some great options for less than £150. See our round-up of the best stand mixers for our top picks.