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Everything you need to start baking, according to Great British Bake Off's Martha Collison

The baker and food writer shares her tips on the tools you need and the recipes to follow

Louise Whitbread@LouiseWhitbread
Friday 22 May 2020 14:06
Instagram feeds are full of banana bread bakes and people trying to make sourdough for the first time
Instagram feeds are full of banana bread bakes and people trying to make sourdough for the first time

A little over three weeks in and we’ve finally reached the baking point of self-isolation. If you haven’t already made banana bread or sourdough, then you’ll definitely know someone that has.

If you’re a baking novice though, you may well have been flicking through the posts on Instagram and made it your Bank Holiday mission to feast on cake and G&T’s in the garden, instead of your now cancelled plans.

So, how to start? Expert baker and Great British Bake Off fifth series star Martha Collison told The Independent the tools you will need, her favourite equipment and the recipes to whip up.

Seeing as flour is getting harder to find in shops, thanks to a nation now more invested in baking than usual, we’ve even sourced the best flourless bakes to make so you can still indulge.

For all our expert reviews on baking, from cookbooks to palette knives, go to our IndyBest baking section.

You can trust our independent roundups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

The tools you need

Collison reveals that you don’t need a lot of fancy kit and you can go a long way with next to no equipment. But there are a handful of necessary tools worth having to get the best out of your bakes.

“Digital electronic scales are essential, you’ll be destined to fail before you begin if your scales are inaccurate,” says Collison, who recommends the Salter evo kitchen scales, £20. They come with a 15-year guarantee and the slimline stainless steel set can measure up to 6kg, perfect if you’re limited on space in your kitchen cupboards.

A large stoneware mixing bowl, like this one from Tala £30.99, and Salt evo digital scales, £20, are two baking essentials

Next up you’ll need a large mixing bowl. “I would recommend a large stoneware one from Tala, £30.99 – I love the indigo collection, and also a set of pyrex glass bowls as these can be microwaved safely,” she says, adding that for a sturdy spatula that gets the job done, opt for a KitchenCraft colourworks silicone spatula, £5.99.

“Once you have a large mixing bowl, balloon whisk and sturdy spatula, you are good to go. If budget allows, an electric hand whisk will help take your baking up to the next level.”

If you’re a beginner baker then Collinson advocates using a cheaper one, such as this 5 speed hand mixer from Wayfair, but if your skills are more advanced than she recommends Dualit 89303 hand mixer, £69.99.

It has four-speed settings; blend, knead, stir and whip and it comes with dishwasher safe accessories, so keeping it clean is easy.

“If you’re a very regular baker, a free-standing mixer will be your best friend,” says Collison, who loves her Smeg stand mixer, £449.95, but also highly recommends a Kitchenaid stand mixer, £449 if you have a bigger budget.

As shops are running out of flour, look to bakes without it like flapjack or cheesecake 

Cooking without flour

If you’re struggling to get hold of flour from shop shelves, don’t let it stop you dusting off your baking skills.

“Flapjacks and granola bars are great flourless bakes, as are cornflake flapjacks and rocky roads is another favourite,” says Collison, adding, “or try mastering desserts like cheesecake during the flour drought!”

On her blog you’ll find recipes that are easy to follow, her cornflake flapjack recipe can be found here and made with ingredients you probably already have in your cupboards.

The books to read

There’s no shortage of books to bake your way through, from classic recipes to ones to suit every dietary requirement in your household.

Series three GBBO winner John Whaite remains a firm favourite with the IndyBest team, coming top in our review of the best baking books on the market.

John Whaite Bakes at Home is a hearty mix of homely food that will provide a little bit of comfort during trying times, with sweet and savoury recipes to enjoy. We’ve got our eye on the marmite and cheddar cheese loaf.

If you’re looking to get into sourdough, a seemingly popular choice for self-isolators, then Super Sourdough: The foolproof guide to making world-class bread at home by James Morton is ideal. Covering everything from proofing, rising, crust and crumb, it includes 40 recipes of loaves, baguette, rolls and bagels to try yourself.

Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh is a must-have if you’re a sweet tooth. With plenty of rich, indulgent recipes such as baked ricotta and hazelnut cheesecake and pistachio roulade with raspberries and white chocolate, the pictures alone will have you drooling.

The finishing touches

Decorating is the best part of baking, aside from licking the spoon, and it’s when you can personalise your creation with as much colour as you like.

Pour coloured icing over a loaf-style cake such as a lemon drizzle loaf for a foolproof way of adding a finishing touch.

The Magic colours pro gel colourings from The Cake Decorating Company, from £1.99, came out on top in our IndyBest review of food colourings thanks to their neat squeezy bottles available in 28 colours, that mix evenly into fondant, marzipan, macaron batters and buttercream without disrupting the consistency. They’re vegan friendly too, so everyone will be able to enjoy your new culinary skills.

Sprinkles might be a little messy, but are fun nonetheless, especially if you want to get kids involved. Our favourite is a tube of Fancy sprinkles cotton candy kiss, from £6.20, for its colourful mix of pastel blues, pinks and whites which will make a great addition to any birthday cake.

If you’re seeking a utensil to take your baking to the next level, a palette knife will be indispensable. The Tala angled palette knife, £2.99, was our top rated product in our IndyBest on palette knives. It's ideal for perfecting icing decorations on cupcakes and smoothing out edges on larger cakes, and the non-slip handle will ensure mistakes are kept to a minimum.

The best cake stands

Once you’ve perfected your whipped coffee buttercream, banana bread or victoria sponge, give it the stage it deserves with a cake stand to show off your hard work.

Whether it’s a statement stand to compliment a simple loaf cake or a minimal porcelain style to let your cooking skills for all the talking, at IndyBest we tested 10 cake stands for their durability, style and size.

The winner was John Lewis & Partners porcelain cake stand, an affordable, 26.5cm option that can display standard-sized cakes just as well as smaller items such as macarons and cookies.

Or, for a vintage feel, try the Berylune melamine cake stand, which comes in six different colours, from deep green to plum pink. The milk glass stand with a glossy finish will make a beautiful centrepiece in the middle of your table to enjoy while you sip your afternoon tea.

'John Whaite Bakes at Home', by John Whaite, published by Headline Home: £7.79, Amazon – Buy now

We've raved about this book here before, but five years on and it’s still a firm favourite. From series three (Bake Off’s pinnacle, in our opinion) winner John Whaite, this book covers both humble, homely food, such as Marmite and cheddar loaf, and the more complex – try the orange and cardamom opera cake – with a sense of humour and warmth that makes it all feel achievable.

Read our guides on how to clean your home and how to start yoga from home here

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.