10 tips to make you a star baker...

  10 tips for your best baking - no matter what time of year or season, these tips are the building blocks of good baking every time...

Tip 1 use rice flour to help when cutting out soft dough...

If you're working with a soft dough, such as these spiced Scandinavian biscuits, dust your surfaces and cutter with rice flour and not wheat flour - its slightly more granular texture helps to stop sticking...


Tip 2 read the recipe

Read the recipe - all way through!  Baking requires more precision than other kitchen antics; understanding what the recipe requires will help prevent those all-too-familiar oversights such as leaving out the eggs, or baking powder, or forgetting to preheat the oven...


Tip 3 weigh your ingredients

Weigh your ingredients!  Cup measurements vary with brands, weather, cooks and even countries; weights are much more reliable and consistent...


Tip 4 Measure your liquids carefully

Measure your liquids - carefully!  A tablespoon in Australia = 20ml, UK = 15ml, and the USA = 16ml; not necessarily huge differences, but it helps to know...


Tip 5 dip your cutters in flour

Dip your cutters in flour  before each cut (rice flour if you have it), and don't twist the cutter before you lift it!  Twisting will seal the edges of the dough together and prevent even rising...


Tip 6 Use fresh butter for your baking

Use fresh butter for your baking!  And keep it in an airtight container in the fridge until needed - butter will not only pick up odours from other foods, but the exposed edges will turn a darker yellow, begin to spoil, and lose the natural fresh sweetness of good butter...


Tip 7 Use fresh spices


Tip 8 make baking paper your best friend

Make baking paper your best friend!  Recipes for biscuits and pastries instruct us to make the dough, form it into a disc and refrigerate, to make the dough easier to handle.  I've always struggled with that; I take the dough from the fridge, it's a hard lump, and then I have to wait for it to soften to roll it out - no more!  Simply roll your dough between two sheets of baking paper to your desired thickness, slide the baking paper with the dough onto a tray and refrigerate.  Then, all you have to do is peel back the top sheet, cut out your shapes and either lift them onto another tray or gently pull the dough away from the shapes and straight into the oven; or you could of course bake the whole tray as is, which will give you both your desired shapes and a baked version of the negative space...

Tip 9 Check your eggs

Check your eggs!  Try to buy free range, they're better in every way.  Store in the fridge, round end down and remove to room temperature before use (if you forget 10-15 minutes in a bowl of warm water will do it).  Eggs that are a few days old will give your meringues more ooomph; if in doubt, use the float test - sideways is pretty fresh, vertical is older, bobbing on the top makes it an undesirable friend for your baking...

Tip 10 Use a timer

Use a timer!  Phones ring, kids need you, someone pours you another champagne; all manner of things happen to distract you...

Happy baking, if you have any questions or queries, send me an email - see you next week!





Traditional Irish baking...

  Halloween feast

This loaf is traditionally baked for Halloween, but is delicious at any time of year...

Halloween and its equivalent festivities all over the world have their origins centuries before our modern-day interpretations.  This is the night when the boundaries between this world and the next are fluid and thinner...that the souls of the dead are believed to walk the earth, a setting for supernatural encounters...

Ireland's version is based on the Celtic festival of Samhain, derived from the old Irish, meaning Summer's End. 

Traditionally, this loaf was baked under a terracotta dome, rather than a tin, and is still made in a round boule shape.  Barm is the term for the yeast filtered out of beer in the last stages of production; a cheaper form of yeast.

You can use any tea you like to soak the fruit, I used T2's wonderful French Earl Grey, as the floral flavours really complement the dried fruit - I use cranberries and raisins, but you can use any combination of dried fruit you prefer.

A central part of the Irish tradition calls for several things to be included in the dough, a little like the sixpence in a Christmas pudding, but with slightly different meanings...

rings, sticks, thimbles, cloth and coins

Tradition has it that if your piece of barm brack has a ring you will wed within the year; a thimble signifies that your single state will remain unchanged for another year; a stick indicates either an unhappy marriage and/or continual disputes in your life; a piece of cloth unfortunately predicts a year of bad luck and poverty; and a small silver coin, such as a sixpence, foretells good fortune and riches.

a ring for a wedding


dough ready for a second rise


Halloween baking; Ireland's tradition...
Recipe Type: Baking
Cuisine: Irish
Author: Melanie Hall
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
This delicious fruit loaf is traditionally baked in Ireland to celebrate Halloween, but don't just limit yourself to one day a year!
  • 250g mixed dried fruit (I use cranberries and raisins but use whatever combination you prefer)
  • 250ml strong black tea (I prefer T2's delicious French Earl Grey but again, whatever you prefer)
  • 350g white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast (I prefer Fermipan, but use whatever you have to hand)
  • 25g soft unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon rapadura sugar
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 80ml warm milk (I prefer almond milk but dairy milk is fine)
  • approximately 50ml lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mixed spice
  1. The day before you plan to make the bread:
  2. Place the dried fruit into a bowl, cover with the hot tea and leave to steep overnight.
  3. [b]Magimix CE method[/b]:
  4. Add flour to main bowl, then yeast on one side and salt on the other.
  5. Add the softened butter, along with the sugar, egg, milk and 2/3 of the water.
  6. Select Bake Bread/Brioche and run for 2 minutes on speed 10 - add more water if necessary.
  7. Drain the fruit well and add to the bowl, along with the spices.
  8. Run the bread/brioche programme for a further 3 minutes until fruit is incorporated and dough is smooth and fruit well combined.
  9. [b]Using a mixer with the dough hook[/b]:
  10. Add the flour to the main bowl, then add the yeast on one side and salt on the other.
  11. Add the softened butter, along with sugar, egg, milk and 2/3 water.
  12. Begin mixing on slow speed, adding more water only if necessary.
  13. Mix on medium speed for 4-5 minutes, until the dough comes together and is smooth and elastic.
  14. Both methods:
  15. Remove dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film.
  16. Leave in a warm, draught-free place for 2-3 hours or until doubled in size.
  17. Gently scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until the dough is smooth and tender.
  18. Transfer the dough to a baking tray lined with baking paper.
  19. Cover with a lightly floured cloth and leave to rise once again until doubled in size.
  20. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 220c.
  21. When the dough is ready, your finger will leave an indentation when gently pressed.
  22. Bake the loaf for 20-25 minutes until the loaf is deeply golden and sounds hollow when tapped underneath.
  23. Allow to cool before slicing and serving buttered or plain.
Salt may inhibit the action of the yeast, this is the reason for the instruction to keep them separate.[br]This loaf will keep well for several days, wrapped in a breathable cloth.

All Souls’ Night

Midnight has come and the great Christ Church bell And many a lesser bell sound through the room; And it is All Souls’ Night. And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel 5 Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come; For it is a ghost’s right... WB Yeats

finished loaf in dappled light




Scones just like your Nana's...simple and delicious

finished-scones liquid-mixture

Scones - who doesn't love them?  Despite the endless quibbling about how to pronounce the name, whether you put the jam on first or the cream, serve them with coffee, tea or champagne, the fact remains that this small soft cross between a cake and a biscuit has a special place in our hearts.

My nana was a woman before her time; she was one of the first women in England to qualify as a schoolteacher, and continued to defy the conventions of her age by raising her children alone.  Such a life didn't leave much time or money for entertaining; enter the scone.

Quick and inexpensive to make with ingredients to hand, scones have made us happy for hundreds of years, and no afternoon tea is complete without them.  Different recipes abound - with fruit or without, made with lemonade, flavoured with pumpkin, enriched with cheese...the list is endless.

This recipe is the starting point, light, buttery and full of flavour.  Begin here, and the world of scones is at your feet...

The trick to success with scones is to keep everything cool, and to work the dough only as much as necessary to combine ingredients, but no more.  Incorporating as much air as possible into the mix will also make for a light and fluffy result; it's for this reason that I choose to sift my dry ingredients.  Whipping some air into the buttermilk and egg mixture further supports this aeration.

Once your scones come out of the oven, tall and golden, you can wrap them in a clean cloth to keep them warm, the steam this generates will prevent them from drying out.  Should you need to re-heat them, just a few minutes in the oven will bring them back.  But they're so easy and so quick, they really deserve to be made and eaten on the day, with whatever combination of jam and cream is your particular fancy...enjoy!





Nana's scones...simply delicious
Recipe Type: Baking
Author: Kitchen Diva
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 12
Afternoon tea is incomplete without them - once you have this basic recipe in your repertoire you can play around with any number of variations...
  • 450g self raising flour
  • 175g cold unsalted butter (cut into 2cm cubes)
  • 2 large pinches salt
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon custard powder
  • 2 large free range eggs
  • 6 tablespoons buttermilk plus extra for glazing
  1. Preheat oven to 175c fan forced/190 non fan forced
  2. [b]Magimix Cook Expert method[/b]:
  3. Place eggs and buttermilk in main bowl fitted with whisk attachment and set Whisk programme for 1 minute Speed 7. Pour mixture into a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Sift flour, salt and custard powder and place in main bowl with the cold butter.
  5. Process mixture on Expert programme Speed 18, using the pulse button to create a breadcrumb-like mixture with no large lumps of butter visible. Tip mixture into a large bowl , add sugar, stir through and proceed with general instructions.
  6. [b]Food processor/hand method[/b]:
  7. Whisk eggs and buttermilk together until light and frothy.
  8. Sift flour, salt, and custard powder into a bowl and either cut in the butter using the pulse function of a processor, or by hand by rubbing in or using a pastry blender. The aim is to achieve a breadcrumb-like mixture without melting the butter, so work/process quickly. Add sugar and stir through. Tip into a large bowl and proceed with general instructions.
  9. [b]General instructions[/b]:
  10. Add the buttermilk and egg mixture to the flour and bring together quickly and lightly using a spatula. It will be a fairly wet, sticky dough.
  11. Generously flour your work surface and gently turn the dough out. Flour your hands well.
  12. To bring the dough together, use a technique called 'chaffing' - push the heel of your hand into the dough one or two times, tuck the edges of the dough underneath, and flip the ball over. Repeat this process 3-5 times, but remember this is not bread dough and you are not kneading, just looking to bring it together in a manageable ball.
  13. Flour your rolling pin and rolling the dough gently from the middle outwards until it is 3cm/1 1/4" deep (resist the urge to roll it any thinner, you want to keep as much height as possible).
  14. Use the cutter of your choice to form the shape - cut straight down, don't twist as you push or remove.
  15. Release gently from the cutter and place onto the tray; it is not necessary to have the scones touching. Continue until all the dough is used, re-rolling the remainder until you have approx 12 pieces.
  16. Glaze the scones gently with the remaining buttermilk and egg mixture and bake on the top shelf of the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and tall.
Remember to keep everything cold, especially the butter.[br]When cutting the scones, dip the cutter in flour prior to each cut.[br]Don't twist the cutter as you press down and remove it from the dough, this will cause the layers to stick together and the scones won't rise so much.[br]For the same reason, when glazing the scones, glaze only the top, not the sides, to allow for rising.[br]Keep the scones warm by wrapping them in a clean tea towel.