Dish of the Day: Recovering from a bad bake-up in March with Lily Vanilli

Lily Vanilli

On the third Friday of each month, Lily puts her culinary skills at your disposal in her baking agony aunt column. Here are your dilemmas and her answers.

Can you recommend a good gluten-free flour? I have coeliacs and without a decent flour it sort of suppresses my urge to bake.

Try the Doves Farm gluten-free flour range. Although I never find omitting flour to be a compromise on baking a good cake – even to satisfy the most avid cake purist or chocolate fanatic. There are lots of great recipes out there.

My scones are always like biscuits and never rise. I’ve been trying for years, what am I doing wrong?

Hard to say without knowing what recipe you’re using but if you’re repeatedly having troubles try switching to a new one. Make sure you use cold butter to coat evenly mixed dry ingredients in the first stage and always rest the dough in the fridge before rolling out and baking. I use a recipe which includes a little bit of baking powder.

Is there a way of knowing when a cake is cooked without removing it from oven and sticking knife in, as more often than not it then sags in the middle!
Yes, the more you bake the more you will learn to tell instinctively when a cake is done by the smell that fills the kitchen, and you can also lightly press the centre of the cake with your finger, if it springs back without leaving an imprint it is done. You can also look at the edges of the cake. When they start to pull away from the sides of the pan, its done.

However, if you’re an infrequent baker, the toothpick test (I use a toothpick rather than a knife) is still perhaps the most foolproof one. Just make sure you don’t open the oven until you’re three quarters of the way through the total bake time and your cake shouldn’t sag. Also, no need to remove the cake completely, just pull out the oven shelf slightly.

NOTE: There are some cakes for which the toothpick test doesn’t work so well – especially cakes which contain fruit/dried fruit as if you pierce a piece of fruit it will clean the batter from the toothpick and give you a false impression. In these cases use a combination of the methods.

Why is my pastry hard but not crisp? I have tried with butter/ lard but always the same. Does it come down to a difference between making it with your hands and a machine? All my short crust always comes out like shoe leather.

There are several steps involved in making sure your pastry comes out crisp or ‘short’, the first being that you must use very cold butter. Ideally cube your butter into one centimetre pieces or smaller then return to the fridge until it’s very cold again before coating evenly onto the evenly mixed dry ingredients. At this stage using a food processor or even stand mixer is definitely an advantage as the heat, moisture and friction from your hands will all affect the outcome. If you prefer to work with your hands (you can still make great pastry), try and keep them cold, and work quickly and lightly.

See the video below

Once your dough is together make sure you rest it overnight in the fridge before you let it come back to room temperature and roll it, then for another half an hour once its rolled, before you put it in the oven.

Overall, a light touch and keeping moisture and heat away from your dough helps give you a lovely crisp pastry. Practise makes perfect and don’t expect to get it right first time, it takes months to really get a feel for pastry perfection but if you follow these precautions and your recipe carefully there’s no reason you cant get good results.

Send in your baking disaster stories of unexpected failures in the kitchen/recurring problems to

On the third Friday of the month we will feature a Q&A with advice to help you recover.

Lily Vanilli’s Sweet Tooth is available from Cannongate books, 2012

Follow Lily on Twitter @lilyvanillicake

For more information visit

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