Thursday, 19 June 2014

DIY: Baking for your wedding

Stamped biscuit wedding favours - by Emma Jane's Bakery
Having started my own business as a cake decorator in 2013 - moving into cookie stamp product design and development this year, I've had a fair bit of practice getting organised when it comes to baking for a deadline. Home-baking seems to have resurfaced as a common hobby in recent years, a lot of big supermarkets now stock an impressive range of baking ingredients and accessories as standard, making this a more accessible past-time than ever before. To me, this seems to go hand-in-hand with our economy-friendly love of the DIY wedding. I'm not married and I have no plans to imminently tie the knot, but I'm obsessed with DIY wedding ideas - favours, decorations and bakes. I love them all - and I'm constantly impressed by the huge range of creative wedding projects out there. So when Owen and I launched Emma Jane's Bakery earlier this year, I secretly jumped for joy when our personalised wedding cookie stamp became our immediate best seller - clearly, there are a lot of brides and grooms out there who share my love of the home-made.

Excitingly, we're now developing a whole range of wedding-friendly cookie stamps - I can't wait to launch the full collection :)

In light of the great response we've had to our wedding cookie stamp, I thought I'd share a few of my tips for baking stamped cookies for your big day:

  • Test the temperature of your oven (or the oven which will be used for the actual bake). Having lived in many different flats and houses throughout my twenties - leading to the use of many-a-different oven, I can tell you, they all have their idiosyncrasies. You can buy an oven thermometer for around £3 from a good cook shop - test the temperature on the middle shelf before popping your biscuits in to bake. Be aware that not all fan ovens circulate air evenly, you may need to turn your tray half-way through to ensure even colouring
  • Choose and test your recipe as far in advance as possible, make note of any tweaks you’ve made to the ingredients, timings or temperatures and keep detailed instructions safe
  • Follow your recipe verbatim. I cannot stress this enough - if a recipe requires butter, bear in mind that margarine may not produce the same results - and that eggs are sized because this can be a useful measure for cooking. There's a reason that baking is often equated to science. On your first test of a recipe follow the instructions exactly, observe each stage of the recipe as you go and do a visual and taste-test on the final result - and then tweak away to improve the instructions, measurements and ingredients for your own bakes. Adding your own touch to an untested recipe is often, well, a recipe for disaster! 
  • Stamp the dough, then cut the cookies to keep shapes uniform and prevent un-necessary spreading
  • Chill your dough (or even better, your stamped cookies). Chilling the un-baked biscuits for 30+ minutes before baking helps them to keep their shape as they bake - this is an essential stage for beautiful embossed biscuits and must not be overlooked
  • Choose your recipe carefully - avoid recipes with too much butter (or your biscuits will have trouble holding their shape). As a general rule, I try to avoid recipes with raising agents too (so be cautious with bicarbonate of soda). Remember that egg whites will cause your biscuits to rise a little as well - so you may be better off just using the yolks as a binder
  • Avoid re-rolling your dough too many times. The biscuits just get less impressive the more the dough has been re-rolled and cut (I feel this may be the result of something wonderfully sciency, like the binding of gluten chains). I usually split my dough in half before rolling out to optimise this process
  • When testing your recipe, watch the oven like a hawk. As oven temperature and air circulation can vary, so can cooking times - keep a close eye on the biscuits as they bake, as they may bake a little faster, or need a few more minutes bake-time than the recipe specifies
  • Package up your ‘test’ cookies as you intend to for the big day – photograph the results and add the image to your mood board, so you have something to reference as you continue your wedding planning
  • Test if the cookies freeze well. Most recipes will freeze nicely in a well-sealed container for up to three months - just make sure no ice or moisture gets in. This way, you can completely avoid any last-minute DIY panic
  • If you’re not keen on freezing the biscuits, you can test their kitchen shelf life – most recipes will stay fresh in a well-sealed container for up to one month
  • Recruit help! The last few years have seen home-baking transform into (almost) everyone’s favourite hobby. If your aunt, mum, dad, brother, friends or colleagues are keen on baking, why not recruit them to do the hard work for you? It’s a big honour to be asked to help out with wedding prep – have a ‘baking party’, with a production line of bakers, icers and packers. If you need to make hundreds of cookies, share the load between all of the bakers in your life – many hands make light work
  • Bake a few extras, working a few contingency cookies into your plan means you won't be caught short on your big day (especially if you end up with unexpected or greedy guests) - and allows for a few breakages on the morning of the wedding without the need to panic
I've developed a couple of recipes for use with my cookie stamps - and will be adding more to the collection (publishing most, if not all of them on this blog). A good starting point is my basic sugar cookie recipe - an excellent base that you can add different flavours to, these biscuits really hold their shape (and they taste good too!).

If you're baking for your own big day or a special event, good luck - and happy baking!

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