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Secrets of the rising flour

From simple sponge cakes, tarts and macaroons to the more challenging kransekaka and croquembouche, Roger Pizey’s World’s Best Cakes has recipes that will thrill an amateur and a professional baker alike. What sets the book apart is that the recipes featured are not only from Europe (there is a useful guide on the bakeries to visit in major European cities), but also include a selection of Thai, Japanese, Chinese, and West-Asian bakes. The author, executive head chef of Marco restaurant, London, was in Delhi recently for the CSSG 2013 Gastronomy Summit-Food & Art Edition and talked to us about common baking mistakes that amateur bakers make and how he chose recipes for the book. Edited excerpts:

How did you draw up a list of 250 cakes?

I wanted to put together a massive collection of easy to very, very difficult recipes. It’s a challenge: you can start with very easy, with cakes that need few ingredients, and then move on to cakes that are made especially for specific occasions.

Roger Pizey
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Roger Pizey

Something like the Lemon Drizzle, which is really easy or the Singing Hinnies. The Scotch Pancakes are easy too; you just have to get the batter right and then put them on the griddle.

What are the common mistakes that amateur bakers make?

When people cook tarts at home, they don’t cook the bases enough. You have to make sure it’s cooked properly through before you put the filling in it. That’s a big mistake. Home bakers also tend to try too hard. They expect too much from what they can do. For a dinner party at home, it is better to cook something that you can make happily than something that is stressing you out. People also tend to over-mix the batter and don’t know how to fold it. The more air you take out by over mixing the batter, the lesser the cake will rise. I don’t think people scrape the ingredients down enough in the mixing bowl. You know when you add a few eggs, stop the machine. Scrape down the mixture, and you will get everything from the bottom of the bowl. If you don’t do this you are likely to get a mixture that is liquid on the top but stodgy at the bottom.

How are West-Asian and Asian recipes different from European/Western cakes?

The book is about cakes from around the world and so I included these recipes. Because of the climate, these cakes are a lot more sugar-based. They store more easily and have longevity—the baklavas, the basbousas. They use a lot more pistachio and are scented. I love that about them, the fact that they use flower waters, rose water.

The process of making kasutera, the Japanese cake, is almost religious. You have to stir it every 3 or 5 minutes and take the air out of it. You have to steam it, put another cake tin on the top, it’s all interesting. I like doing the pandan paya, which uses coconut milk and beautiful green that comes with the pandan leaves. It looks out of this world.

Have Indian ingredients interested you?

I am learning how to make malpuas, but to be honest I have not really seen a unique baking culture in India yet.

Is it alright to substitute ingredients in baking recipes?

It’s a recipe, not a rule. As long you have the basic stuff—the fats and the proteins that is the butter and the eggs and a rising agent, it is alright to go with the raisins or chocolate variety that you can find.

A whole chapter on muffins?

They are big in America, aren’t they? But I think Americans use too much baking powder in theirs to make them bigger and lighter. My muffins are a bit on the heavier side. I like savoury muffins. My goat’s cheese and spinach ones are really popular. When making muffins don’t over-mix. That is important because there are so many ingredients that go in there and you should not turn it more than 2-3 times, otherwise your muffin will be really heavy.

While baking with fruit…

Make sure the fruit is in season. Use the natural sugar of the fruit. Don’t use too much of fresh fruit, it will make your cake too wet or too heavy. If you are using dried fruits like for traditional Christmas cakes, make sure you are using good quality of dried fruits. Also, soak them in alcohol or syrup for a while so that there is moisture in them.

Self-rising flour—can we do a home version?

Totally. Take a kilo of flour (maida) and add a teaspoon of baking powder. Mix well.

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