Today I'm going to run through 5 common baking problems I get asked about that have pretty simple solutions. If there are any baking issues you want advice on, feel free to post them in the comments and I'll do my best, although I'm by no means a Mary Berry!
1) Cakes that rise unevenly/don't rise
Ever looked in the oven and seen your Victoria sponge with a huge dome exploding out of the top, and sides that are about 1cm tall? Me too. Or got your cake tin out only to see a dip in the middle that makes your heart sink just as much as your bake? My top tip on this one is to a) make sure your ingredients are all at room temp and b) give your tins a good rap before you put them in the oven. Butter or margarine that's come out of the fridge should be warmed up gently in the microwave so it's no longer cold and beat it really well before adding your other ingredients. Eggs in the UK can be kept on the worktop rather than in the fridge.
2) Egg whites won't whip up
First, if you have the choice, use a stainless steel bowl. Fat is the enemy of whipped egg whites, so give your bowl a wipe with a cloth that has some lemon juice or white vinegar on it first to make sure there's no fat residue in the bowl. Also, yolk contains fat, so make sure none gets in - crack the eggs into a mug first and then transfer to your mixing bowl, so if any yolk gets in it won't contaminate the whole mixture. NB: meringue cannot really be achieved by hand mixing, so either use an electric whisk or stand mixer with a whisk attachment.
3) Scones are hard and dense
The temptation with scones is to add extra flour after you've added the milk. A good scone recipe should result in your mixture being pretty sticky but avoid adding extra flour. Just gently squash the dough on a very lightly floured surface rather than rolling out, or roll out between two pieces of greaseproof paper.
4) Buttercream won't pipe properly
If your buttercream is too stiff to pipe easily, add teaspoons of boiling water to it while beating it until it's the right consistency. To achieve the 'rose' effect, use a 2d piping tip.
5) How to make ganache that always works, every time
I use a ratio of 3:1 chocolate to cream. 600g chocolate to 200g cream should be enough to cover an 8-inch 2-layer cake. Break the chocolate up into small pieces and mix together with the cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute and stir. Microwave for 40 seconds and stir. Microwave for 20 seconds and stir. Repeat until fully melted (it should be nearly done by this point!). When it only has small lumps in it, let it sit for a minute or two and stir vigorously and see if the lumps melt that way so as to avoid overheating it which can cause it to split.
I'd love to hear about your baking tips too! Drop me a comment to tell me your never-fail tricks.