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Cook's Questions - Baking


Q: Do you have an internet address for me where I can buy the loaf tins Delia recommends for baking bread in?
A: The loaf tins can be bought from, just enter loaf tins into the search on the left hand side of their homepage.

Q: Why do my sponge cakes always sink after I take them out of the oven
and they do not rise very much?

A: There are a number of reasons to why your sponges may be sinking. These are as follows:
The cake may not be cooked for long enough
Your oven may not be the correct temperature so we recommend that you test it with an oven thermometer.
Also the oven door may have been opened before the cake has set causing the cake to collapse.
The mixture also may not have been beaten thoroughly enough or there might have been too little flour or too many eggs. We would recommend that you follow Delia's recipe for All-in-one Sponge Cake with Raspberry and Mascarpone Cream if you are not already doing so. Just click here to view it.

All-in-one sponge cake with raspberries and mascarpone cream

Q: I have to do an essay on multi-cultural breads for school, but I don't know what they are! Could you give me a hand?
A: Multi cultural breads mean different types of bread from around the world. For example naans from India, focaccia from Italy, baguettes from France to mention but a few. If you enter bread into the search box on our home page you will find all of Delia's recipes for bread, and features that she has written about.

Q: I found some Cream of Tartar in my cupboard. May I know which recipes use this natural raising agent as I do not want to have to throw it away?
A: Cream of tartar can be used to give icings for cakes a creamier consistency. Also if you add a pinch when beating egg whites, this will improve the stability and volume of them. You could use it in Delia's recipe for Broccoli Soufflé with Three Cheeses.

Broccoli Souffle with Three Cheeses

Q: My meringues always seem to have a marshmallowy centre. I prefer ones that are crisp throughout and would like to know what changes I should make to the recipe.
There are two schools of thought when making meringues. One: crispy on the outside and soft in the middle; two – crispy and chalky throughout, like the commercially bought variety. I personally like the first variety, and just from the volume of letters I receive, this seems to be the most popular choice. The quantities will be the same for each method, i.e. 1 egg white to 2 oz (50 g) caster sugar (increasing the quantities as required), and so will the method. It is in the actual cooking that the different results are achieved. Cook the meringues on the lowest setting of your oven for about 3-4 hours and then turn off the oven and allow the meringues to cool and dry out completely while inside the oven.

Q: I have tried for two years running now to make my own Christmas cake but it's always disappointing. What am I doing wrong?
A: Here are a few helpful hints: You must always carefully measure and weigh all of the ingredients. You could also try using an independent oven thermometer to check that the oven is registering the correct temperature. If you've not already got a solid cake tin (i.e. not thin with flimsy sides), it's worth investing in one that will last many years. When making a rich fruit cake, preparation of the tin is essential. Lightly grease the tin, line the base with silicone paper (baking parchment) and tie a band of brown paper around the outside of the tin and, once the cake mixture is in the tin, place a double thickness of silicone paper with a hole the size of a 50p piece over the top. This will prevent the sides and the top of the cake becoming too brown before the inside is cooked.

Q: How do I stop Yorkshire Puddings, particularly if I make one large one (say for Toad in the Hole,) sticking to the tin, even though I use non-stick?
A: If you follow Delia's method of How to make Yorkshire pudding you should have no problems at all as this is a tried and tested recipe. Follow the instructions exactly and if it doesn't turn out perfectly we would recommend that you have your oven tested or check it with an oven thermometer to ensure that the temperature is true.

Yorkshire Pudding

Q: Please do you have a recipe for those wonderful little Portuguese Custard tarts? The pastry in the real ones seems so much lighter.
This recipe appeared in Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking and is on the site. We hope you enjoy it!

Portuguese Custard Tarts

Q: In one of my mother’s Delia Smith cookbooks from several years back, there was a lovely recipe for Jean’s Ginger nuts. Is it possible you could send me the recipe please?
A: Jean's Ginger nuts recipe can be found in Delia's Book of Cakes. This recipe is currently not on the site, you can buy this book by visiting the shop area of the site.

Q: Are the quantities given in the recipe for Irish Oatmeal Soda Bread correct, as the mixture was very wet indeed - far too wet to form a smooth dough! Is it satisfactory to use 'Strong' flour in this recipe?
A: This is the nature of the recipe - the dough should be wet and if you dust your hands with flour it will be easier to create a smooth dough. It is better to stick to using plain flour. We hope you enjoy eating it. Crème fraîche can be substituted by mixing equal quantities of lightly whipped double cream with Greek yoghurt (or a thick style yoghurt) but if it's being heated you have to be careful not to let it boil. Alternatively add a drop or two of lemon juice to some lightly whipped cream, or you could try mixing equal quantities of lightly whipped cream with soured cream, then leave at room temperature for about 8 hours before refrigerating.
Please bear in mind that we have not tried any of these substitutions in Delia's recipes but they hopefully should work.

Q: When baking blind I find that the pastry case shrinks. What am I doing wrong?
A: It is essential to allow pastry to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes after making and again after rolling out. When you're lining the flan tin, try not to overwork and stretch the pastry. Push down from the rim into the tin and make sure that you press the pastry firmly into the fluted edges. As long as the base measurement and depth are the same as stated in the recipe, it should be fine. Lining the pastry case with foil and baking beans should also help prevent shrinkage.

Q: I don't like marzipan – can I ice my Christmas cake without it?
A: You can put icing directly on to a Christmas cake, but after a time the moisture from the cake will seep through and discolour the icing. To get over this, I suggest that you do not put the icing on until a couple of days before Christmas, perhaps using a slightly thicker covering unevenly applied for a 'rough snow' scene. 

Q: When baking a sponge cake for the first time, the mixture curdled and I had to throw the mixture away. How can I prevent this?
A: The butter and eggs should be at room temperature before starting. Very slowly add the eggs to the thoroughly creamed butter and sugar, completely mixing in before adding any more. The cake will not be spoilt if the mixture does curdle but it will not be as light. I personally prefer to mix cakes using a hand-held electric mixer which I find helps to eliminate the problem.

Q: How can I make my own self-raising flour?
A: A guideline for something approaching self-raising flour would be 1 oz (25 g) baking powder sifted into 16 oz (450 g) plain flour

Q: The trouble with making good mince pies is that they are gone in a matter of minutes. Any suggestions on how to increase my productivity?
A: If your friends and family love mince pies it's a good idea to invest in at least four tins, which make a dozen tarts each, so you can bake two dozen, a dozen on each shelf, changing over at half-time, and prepare another two dozen while they're cooking

Q: Why does my bread always turn out like a brick? I think I'm following the instructions exactly!
A: I'm sure you followed the instructions precisely, but experienced bread and pastry cooks know that it's all in the hands and the kneading techniques used. I'm sure you're not the first or the last to have your bread described as 'rock'. First, ensure that the liquid is lukewarm and neither too hot, nor too cold. Hot liquid will kill the yeast and cold will slow down the proving process. Adding the right quantity of liquid could also affect the dough – all flours vary slightly in absorbency and only through practice will you learn how the dough should feel. Allowing the dough to rise and prove for the correct length of time is most essential, and this will vary depending on the room temperature. Frustrating as it may be, the road to success in this instance is perseverance.

Q: What is the best way to serve crumbly, difficult-to-slice cakes?
A: If a cake is too crumbly to slice immediately after cooking and cooling, wrap it in foil and leave it for a couple of days to moisten up a little. When you want to slice it, use a sharp knife or serrated edged knife, such as a bread knife, to cut it.

Q: Why does the fruit always sink to the bottom when I make fruit cake?
A: If the fruit in your cake sinks to the bottom it's usually because the mixture is too wet. Do make sure that you follow the recipe exactly and weigh the ingredients accurately to prevent this. Try coating the fruit in 1 tbsp of the flour before mixing into the batter.

Q: I much prefer fresh unsliced bread and often bake my own. But I can't get the hang of cutting it evenly!
A: The key to slicing bread is to use gentle, sawing movements with a bread knife with a fine serrated blade, and not to push down too hard on the loaf.

Q: Whenever I bake fruit pies the pastry tends to go all soggy. How can I prevent this?
To prevent the pastry getting soggy from any excess juice, paint the base with egg yolk, and then sprinkle semolina lightly over this before filling with the fruit. The semolina is there to absorb the juices and the egg provides a waterproof coating.

Q: How do I prevent soggy pastry when baking quiche?
There are several ways to largely eliminate this problem with quiches or tarts:
1. Pre-bake the pastry case
2. Always use a baking sheet underneath the tin
3. Paint the inside of the baked pastry shell with beaten egg, then pop it back into the oven for five minutes before the filling goes in
4. And – most importantly – the container must be metal rather than porcelain or glass.

Q: I'm baking in advance for a party. How should I store the cakes and biscuits?
A: Cake tins are preferable to plastic boxes as metal is non-porous and taint-free – however carefully you wash plastic, smells linger on. Also, never store cakes and biscuits in the same tin, as moisture from the cake will make the biscuits soggy. Aluminium foil wrapping is fine for short-term storage but if you are storing a rich fruit cake for longer, use a double layer of greaseproof paper next to the cake, then wrap with foil – acid in the fruit can corrode the foil if it comes into contact with it, and mould will develop.

Q: What is the easiest way to make dried fruit and nuts stick to the top of a fruit cake?
A: Making a glaze from apricot jam is the easiest way to stick fruit and nuts on top of a fruit cake. However, it's essential not to add too much liquid (either brandy or lemon juice) to the jam. If your jam is quite runny to begin with, add slightly less liquid and more jam. Press the topping gently but firmly on to the cake and allow to set completely before cutting

Q: When I remove the Deep Lemon Tart (Winter Collection) from the oven, it always cracks when it cools down. What can I do to prevent this?
Delia suggests two possible reasons why your Deep Lemon Tart cracks when it cools down:
1. The eggs and sugar were over-whisked.
2. The tart could have been overcooked. The centre should be soft and springy when removed from the oven; however ovens do vary so it may be a good idea to check the tart after 25 minutes of cooking .

Q: I lost a treasured recipe for Black Treacle Gingerbread or Sticky Black Gingerbread and called for treacle. Can you help me find it?
A: Although we cannot provide you with the exact recipe that you lost, we can point you in the direction of Delia's recipe for Preserved Ginger Cake with Lemon Icing. Also, there are two ginger cake recipes in Delia's Book of Cakes.

Q: Can you recommend a good recipe for walnut bread?
A: Delia does have a recipe for Walnut and Raisin Bread from her Christmas book, and we can also suggest some alternative recipe ideas: Banana and Walnut Loaf or Cornmeal and Mixed-Seed Bread.

Q: I am terrible at making pastry; it always cracks and tastes awful. Do you have a foolproof pastry recipe (shortcrust) and what flan tin do you use (for quiches)?
A: To help you make foolproof pastry, see the link below - the How to Cook section of the site covers all types of pastry, with step-by-step techniques. The recipe for Basic Shortcrust Pastry gives flan tin sizes.

How to make shortcrust pastry

Q: How do you stop meringues from cracking? Despite searching your Qs and As and I can't find the question or the answer!
You will be pleased to hear that Delia covers the making of meringues in great detail on the website: see How to Make Meringues.

How to make meringues

Q: Could you tell me how to get a crisp pastry case when making lemon meringue pie? I always add more lemon juice and reduce the water. Is this why the pastry is sticky and wet? Other than that, it is delicious (thanks to you).
A: There is a recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie on the website that you have obviously already tried. Lemon Meringue Pie has a well-known tendency to 'weep' – there are two solutions: one is to add the meringue top at the last moment (please see Joan's similar question), the other is to eat it all up immediately! In order to try to keep the pastry crisp, we suggest that you click on How to Bake a Pastry Case, where Delia shows you how to go some way towards solving this problem by painting the inside of the pastry case with beaten egg. Baking the pie on a good solid metal baking sheet should also help, as the metal will conduct the heat evenly and efficiently. You also mention that you increase the quantity of lemon juice in the recipe but, in fact, this extra acidity might exacerbate the 'weeping'. Why not try the recipe exactly as Delia specifies and report back to us. However, as we said before, Lemon Meringue Pie does go a bit watery if it is left standing around.

How to bake a pastry case

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