Food and recipes

Food and recipes

  • Survey: Are traditional cooking skills declining?

    At Ulster Weavers, we love to cook. There’s nothing quite like a home-cooked meal to make you feel better at the end of a long day. However, we’ve started questioning in recent years whether cooking is a skill that’s dying out in the UK.

    To check whether there was any truth to this, we recently worked on a piece of research, asking people from across the UK, from all walks of life, whether they thought traditional cooking skills were dying out. We also showed them all a list of 30 classic cooking skills, including making béchamel sauce and creaming butter and sugar, and asked how many of them they could do. The results were surprising, here are a few of the skills, and what percentage said they could do them:

    While most people surveyed could do most, if not all, of the traditional skills mentioned, only 18.2% could do everything, and some basic skills, such as making a basic béchamel sauce could not be achieved by more than half the people surveyed.

    So why have these skills shown signs of decline? 80% of the people surveyed admitted they don’t have enough time to cook from scratch, with 78% relying on convenience foods such as ready meals and pre-chopped vegetables in order to get by.

    Shifting Tastes:

    Alongside this decline in cooking skill has come a marked shift in what people tend to cook and eat. British classics of the 1970s, such as toad in the hole and Lancashire hot pot have declined in popularity considerably, while global flavours, such as Thai curry, have seen a large growth:

    What could this mean?

    Overall, this survey has raised worrying questions about future generations. As people’s working lives get busier, the less they cook. Which means they won’t be able to pass their skills onto their children, which could lead to these skills dying out.

    If you’d like to read the full survey for yourself, you can download it here.

    Have any thoughts on this survey? How did you learn how to cook? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter.

  • National Baking Week – A guide for beginner bakers

    With the rise of TV shows like Great British Bake Off, baking is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. More and more people are picking up their whisks and rolling pins, and turning their hand to creating delicious homemade food in the oven.

    At Ulster Weavers, we’ve made it our mission to get as many people to try their hand at baking as possible, whether it’s encouraging people to show us what they’ve cooked at the weekend with one of our competitions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (link to competition), or providing the high-quality kitchenware our fans need to get great results and look good whilst doing it, we’re always looking at new ways to help people to improve their baking skills.

    But what about total newcomers? How do you learn to bake? What do you need to know? What baking tips do you need to really help you get ahead in the kitchen? To celebrate #NationalBakingWeek, we’ve aimed to answer some of the key questions for new bakers!

    Read on for our five top tips for baking a cake as rookie bakers, from deciphering the difference between some baking essentials, to tricks and hacks to bake better, faster and easier!

     

    What is the difference between light and dark brown sugars?

    Granulated, caster, icing, muscovado. Browns and whites. The difference between sugars can be a bit of a minefield for the new baker.

    With granulated and caster sugar, you can usually buy it as white or golden. These are almost completely interchangeable. If a recipe calls for golden caster, and you only have white caster, you will get a result that tastes the same, but lacking the rich colour of a golden sugar. When you’re baking your cake, think about the colour you’re aiming for, and pick your sugar accordingly.

    The main types:

    The three main types of sugar used in baking are granulated, caster and icing. The difference between the three is how finely ground they are, with granulated being the coarsest and icing the finest:

    Granulated: If you like sugar in your tea, this is the type you’ll use! Granulated is an excellent all-round sugar for cooking, but it’s too coarse to be used in the majority of cakes.

    Caster: This is the most commonly used form of sugar in baking, as the sugar is fine enough to dissolve in mixtures, removing any grittiness from the finished product.

    Icing: Also known as ‘confectioner’s sugar’, this is the finest form of sugar available. Icing sugar dissolves on contact with water, and so it is most commonly used to, as the name suggests, create icing for a cake, or dusting a finished product. Icing sugar has a tendency to form powdery clouds, so be prepared to thoroughly clean your kitchen surfaces after use, and whisk carefully!

    When you’re baking most cakes, these sugars will suffice. If you decide to turn your hand to something else, be it a chutney or a crumble, you might find yourself needing to use another sugar, such as Demerara. To find out all about them, head to the BBC guide!

    Is bicarbonate of soda the same as baking powder?

    This is a question we hear quite often! A large range of baked goods; require either baking powder or bicarbonate of soda, but most notably cakes. This is because both bicarb and baking powder are raising agents, and do roughly the same thing; they release carbon dioxide when they come into contact with moisture and warmth.

    However, the ways in which the two ingredients work does have an impact on how you use them. Bicarbonate of soda requires an acidic product to mix with in order to produce the gas. This is why you’ll often find it in mixtures that involve lemon, yoghurt, buttermilk or honey. Meanwhile, baking powder has a dried acidic element mixed in, so it is more suitable for cakes without an acidic base, such as a Victoria sponge.

    The short answer: Bicarbonate of soda and baking powder do the same thing, but in different ways. You can use baking powder in place of bicarb, but not the other way round. Using baking powder as a substitute could also adversely impact the taste of your cake.

    How do I know when my cake is ready?

    Every recipe tells you how long your cake will need in the oven, and at what temperature, but many a cake has been burnt/underbaked by taking this information as gospel.

    Every oven is different, and even fan ovens have variations in temperature within them, so it might take slightly longer or shorter to bake a cake in your oven, depending on this. We would advise purchasing an oven-safe thermometer, which can give a much more accurate assessment of your oven temperature than the thermostat on the front, and use that to get the perfect temperature.

    We would also advise setting the timer for a few minutes shorter than advised by the recipe, this gives you the chance to react if the cake is baking faster than anticipated. Although try to avoid opening the door when possible, however once or twice won’t ruin most cakes.

    Finally, an old trick is to insert a knife or skewer into your cake, and if it emerges clean, the cake is baked through. While this does work, we would advise removing the cake when there is still a small amount of residue left on the skewer. The cake will continue to bake for a few minutes after it is removed from the oven, so removing it early will help keep the cake moist.

    The short answer: Keep an eye on oven temperatures, don’t take the information on the recipe as undisputable fact. When removed from the oven, push gently down on the middle of the cake. If it doesn’t spring back, it isn’t ready.

    How do I ice a cake effectively?

    You’ve baked that perfect cake, mixed up your icing, and are now ready to make a masterpiece. While this is more of an artistic skill than the more scientific basis of baking, there are still some steps you can take to get the best result possible.

    The most important step is to ensure your cake has thoroughly cooled before applying icing. If the cake is warm, the icing won’t set, and will slowly melt off the cake, wasting the ingredients and leaving a messy result.

    One clever tip to help get a cleaner top is by crumb coating a cake. To do this, take a small amount of your icing, and apply a thin layer to the surfaces of the cake you intend to ice. This will act as a ‘crumb coat’, sticking down any crumbs or loose pieces of cake, and preventing them from appearing on the surface of the icing.

    Once the crumb coat is set, apply the rest of your icing on top for a clean finish with no crumbs showing.

    The short answer: Make sure your cake is cool before doing anything to it, add a thin layer of icing first to stop crumbs from being visible on the iced surfaces.

    How do I measure ingredients effectively?

    Accurate measurements seem like quite a simple step to take, but something that isn’t often given the appropriate amount of time. The mixture of ingredients in a cake need to be finely balanced, there is a very small margin of error. Too much of one ingredient, or not enough, could leave your cake flat, dry or gritty.

    To avoid this, measure your ingredients carefully, and in advance of making the cake. If you take the time before you begin to have everything ready and pre-measured, it’ll remove the chance for mistakes, and will probably take less time than the alternative.

    With dry ingredients, such as flower and sugar, make sure you sieve them in, this will stop them from sticking together, preventing lumps in your mixture.

    The short answer: Measure in advance, have everything ready to go!

    With these tips, as well as our range of cupcake recipes, you should have everything you need to get started this National Baking Week. We’d love to hear about your baking efforts, and of course if you have any tips of your own, please feel free to share them with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

  • The Best Cupcake Recipes

    Cupcakes are a wonderful thing, that’s something we can all agree on. In the hands of a passionate baker, they can be remarkably beautiful things, and thanks to their size they’ll stay beautiful and don’t need cutting into like a full-size cake!

    At Ulster Weavers, as well as supplying some of the best kitchenware around, we also love learning and sharing baking hints, tips and recipes. So, to celebrate amazing cupcakes, we’d like to share our five favourite recipes ever! We have also included downloadable recipes, to help you produce them yourself. So, don your Ulster Weavers aprons, grab your oven gloves and your kitchen utensils, and try these amazing cupcakes out for yourself!

     

    Chocolate Orange Cupcakes:

    If you’ve ever visited a Hummingbird Bakery, you’ll have seen some delectable cupcakes and other sweet treats on display. Specialising in sinfully decadent treats, Hummingbird are kind enough to share their recipes with the world through their range of cookbooks. Our recipe of choice comes from the Cake Days cookbook, and it produces a wonderfully moist classic choc-orange treat.

    This recipe is a fantastic one to bake with children, it’s remarkably simple and produces results that everyone will love! And just like the cakes, the icing is remarkably simple and packs quite a chocolatey, zesty punch!

    Interested in making these? Download the recipe here!

    Tried this yourself? We’d love to see it! And if you’re after more information on Hummingbird Bakery, be sure to check out their website and blog!

    Raspberry Rosé Cupcakes:

    This recipe, from American blogger Completely Delicious is of her own design, and we can vouch for the quality of cupcake produced. Combining sweet treats with wine is always a good idea in our book, and this combination of hard-hitting raspberry with delicate rosé produces some of the best cupcakes we’ve tried. To give it a go, check out the recipe!

    The icing for these cupcakes is where the real punch lies, but to produce them takes time and effort. These are not cupcakes that can be made quickly! However, we think you’ll agree the results are totally worth it.

    These cupcakes are perfect for a dinner party, or as a sweet treat for a more mature palate, and require a higher skill level than other cupcakes, but if you are confident in the kitchen, the results will be worth it.

    Download the recipe here!

    Honeybee Cupcakes:

    Cupcakes are always quite a fun treat, and the best are decorated in a way that raises a smile before they’ve even been eaten. One of the best cakes for this is this Honeybee design, created by Lisa Roukin.

    Combining the flavours of cinnamon, ginger, red wine and, of course, honey, these cupcakes are extremely soft and gooey, while remaining simple to make and beautiful to look at. The icing makes these cakes perfect for experts on their own, or baking with children, who can produce the decorative bees that proudly adorn the cake.

    Interested in trying this for yourself? Download the recipe here!

    Avocado, Coconut and Chocolate:

    These incredible cupcakes are perfect for a range of diets and tastes, retaining incredible taste and a creamy texture whilst reducing the amount of sugar compared to other recipes. They’re also gluten and dairy free!

    These cupcakes are the work of Christine Bailey, and can be produced very quickly, although they are difficult to master! The icing, although looking predominantly chocolatey, has a surprise kick of ginger along with the creaminess of avocado and the texture of coconut.

    Sound divine to you? Try the recipe out!

    Pumpkin S’mores Cupcakes:

    We finish with the most complicated, but most technically impressive of our cupcakes! These cupcakes might look relatively simple on the outside, but don’t let the appearance deceive you. There is some serious technique required to produce these, with a beautiful chocolatey secret hiding in the heart of them, and a crumbly biscuit base to get that authentic autumnal pumpkin s’more feeling.

    This recipe is the work of Jessica Merchant, so be sure to check her out if you like the recipe, however, we’ve modified it slightly, replacing the Graham crackers with digestives, adding a more British twist to the flavour!

    Fancy giving them a go? Download the recipe here!

    Have you tried any of these recipes? Have any other great recipes to share? We’re always interested to hear about them, and would love to try them ourselves. Let us know on Facebook and Instagram to get involved with our #WeekendBakingProject!

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