As I’m writing and testing recipes so often with loads of variations and, to be honest, failures, I have to have some things that never let me down. A fridge that always works, an oven that’s dependable (ok, the door is a bit iffy), and I aim to make sure the things I bake never, ever stick to the tins.
When I work in bakeries we use all sorts of expensive tricks: lecithin aerosol sprays, plastic film for blind-baking pastry cases, silicone baking mats or endless sheets of silicone-coated non-stick paper.
But at home, these high-end options are often not worth the expense if you’re only baking occasionally. So gleaming there in the shops temptingly, typically with a celebrity chef endorsement, is non-stick bakeware, coated with chemicals that stop some mixtures sticking to it.
But before these coatings were invented, cooks tackled this sticky problem using other techniques. I spoke with food historian Ivan Day, who has looked into the history in detail.
“The Victorian chef Jules Gouffé is quite specific on how to prepare ornate baking tins,” said Ivan, “and insisted on using calves’ suet as the flavour was very neutral. Beef dripping wasn’t recommended for preparing tins for sweet cakes and pastry as it had a pronounced meatiness, though it might be mixed half-and-half with clarified butter.”
To use it, Gouffé recommends warming the tin first, spooning the melted suet in and swirling it around to coat the inside evenly before placing it on an angle to drain and allow any steam to escape. This last step is important, says Ivan, as moisture in this fat “lining” could cause the cake to stick.
Cake mould depicting the Pieta from the Alsatian museum in Strasbourg, France. Image credit: Ji-elle, Wikimedia, under a creative commons license.
Then a cupful of caster sugar would be rolled around the tin so it stuck evenly to the fat, and any excess tapped out - forming a fine layer on the fat that would seal the surface of the cake as it baked. A half-and-half mix of sifted flour and sugar was very effective, or potato starch and sugar. Then, after baking, the cakes would be left for 10 minutes before being turned out. “I know it sounds very elaborate today,” says Ivan, “but the results were often fantastic, especially if a very intricately detailed baking tin was used.”
You can still use this method today, with any fat that sets hard at room temperature, like clarified butter, lard, dripping, palm oil, coconut oil, or other vegetable fats. I prefer to use only flour as the next coating on the fat, though sugar is still useful for the inside of a soufflé dish.
Pros: this method allows you to use very complicated tin shapes and is easy to do with home ingredients.
Cons: Loads of washing up to do afterwards, and adds time to the recipe as you have to prepare the tin carefully.
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