Helvetia is the figure you see on Swiss coins and stamps. Named for the Helvetii, a tribe of Celts who lived on the Swiss Plateau before the Roman conquest, she isn't an actual person, but rather a symbol for the confederation.

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Switzerland, a diverse nation with four official languages and at least as many cultural groups, uses Helvetia to acknowledge a shared past. She also offers a unifying name for the country: Confoederatio Helvetica or CH.

Uniting the many into one is akin to turning a variety of ingredients into a delicious, edible whole.

Her tips can be found below and throughout the recipes.

Overmixing

Toasted Nuts

Whipping Egg Whites

Seriously, how do I know if my cake is done!?

Making Piping Cones

Royal Icing

Cooling your Dough


Do not overmix

For baked goods that rely on leavening agents like baking powder and soda (muffins, brownies, many cakes, quick breads, pancakes) the liquid ingredients and the dry ingredients are mixed in two separate bowls, then carefully folded together. It is imperative not to overmix, as this creates a tough and dense product and the dreaded tunnels...

I first heard about tunnels in an eighth grade home ec class. Our teacher tore open a muffin and pointed to round, gummy holes throughout.

"The morning class didn't manage to avoid the tunnels, let's see if you do." (We didn't.) 

Tunnels, she told us, were created by over-mixing the batter. Basically, the more that flour is mixed and worked in a batter or dough, the more strands of gluten are formed. Hot air travels up through the strands creating tunnels, which create a gummy, dense structure. To avoid this, the batter must be mixed sparingly. It should remain lumpy, with only enough stirring to moisten it and streaks of flour preferable to additional mixing.  

 
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Toasted Nuts

Nuts should always be toasted first to bring out their flavour, however, there is a danger of over-toasting. Inattention can cause one to scorch a tray of expensive ground nuts, and there is no disguising their burnt taste, no matter how many charred spoonfuls you carefully try to scoop out (I speak from experience). To prevent this, trust your nose. Once you can smell them, stay nearby and stir frequently with a wooden spoon.

Pictured below:

300 g ground hazelnuts, before and after toasting.

180 C convection oven, 10 minutes, stirred frequently.

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Cool the nuts before adding them to the batter.

Another ingredient that benefits from toasting is oats. Let them brown a little in the oven before adding them to cookies or porridge. 


Stiff Peaks

Egg whites need time and attention in order to reach perfectly firm, fluffy peaks. Although this isn't strictly necessary for all recipes that ask you to whip your whites, it is good practice for achieving light and airy end results, and it is essential when making baked goods like meringues or macarons. 

 
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  • Eggs should be at room temperature, as this will help them reach full volume when they are whipped. If you have to use them right out of the fridge, let them sit in a small bowl of hot water for a few minutes first before you crack them.
 
 
  • Prepare your bowl by wiping it with an acid. This will remove any fat, which inhibits the whites from whipping fully, and helps form a stable foam. Pour a little clear vinegar or lemon juice into the bowl, then use a paper towel to wipe the inside and then the whisk that you'll be using. Leave a bit of liquid in the bottom of the bowl.
  • Be very careful when separating the yolks from the whites, as even a small bit of egg yolk in the whites will inhibit their foaming ability. 
  • Apart from the acid in the bowl, you don't need to add anything to the whites (no salt). If you are making a sweet meringue, follow the recipe for when to add the sugar, as adding at different times has different end effects. 
  • Start beating the whites slowly, then increase speed once they have turned foamy and white. 
  • Soft peaks are achieved when the mixture is glossy and forms droopy peaks.
  • Still peaks are also glossy, but hold their form.

Seriously, how do I know if my cake is done?!

The most difficult part of baking is knowing when to take things out of the oven.

The aroma of the cake is its siren song.

Upon first scent, have a look through your oven window. Is the top set? If so, investigate further. Has it started to pull away from the sides of the pan? If so, press softly on the top. Does the cake spring back? It should fill the place where your finger was. If it does, your cake is ready. Let it cool fully in the pan. 

Get to know your oven.  

When we lived in England we had an old gas oven that scorched the bottom of all our cookies (and everything else...). To counteract this we would put the tray with cookies on the top shelf, and then put a second, empty tray on the bottom rung to absorb some heat and prevent burnt bottoms. The broiler only covered a small strip of the top rack, so we became adept at arranging the food in a single line on the baking sheet and rotating it throughout.


How to make a piping cone

Making a piping cone can be a fiddly business. If you aren't making a complicated design, you can always just fill a plastic sandwich bag with icing and cut off the tip. However, if you are attempting delicate piping work, a parchment cone is your best bet. 

  1. Cut a triangle out of parchment.
  2. You're aiming for the the tip of the bag to be in the middle of the long side. 
  3. Fold the corners up (short one first, then long).
  4. Gather the cone up in your hand and using your thumb and forefinger and roll the paper around until the tip of the bag is closed.
  5. Finally, tuck the ends into the cone.
  6. When your icing is ready, only fill the cone about two thirds full.
  7. When you close the bag, fold over the top of the cone and then fold away from the seam. 
  8. Sometimes it is easier to just make a new cone than to try and fill a sticky, used piping cone again.

Alternatively, this video from Wilton shows a live action version, which is probably easier to follow. 


Royal Icing

1 egg white

Icing sugar

Start beating the egg white. Once it is foamy and the runny, transparent part is gone, start adding icing sugar, one tablespoon at a time. At first this will dissolve easily in the liquid, then it will start to thicken up. Once you reach the pictured consistency, it is ready to pipe. 

Fill your piping bag about two thirds full. When you close the bag, roll the top down away from the seam. 

 
 
  • Do not overfill your bag! 
  • Often it is easier to just make a new piping bag, rather than trying to re-fill a sticky one.
  • Wet a paper towel and use this to cover the remaining icing in the bowl. 
  • If you don't want to use raw egg whites, you can use meringue powder instead.

Cooling your dough

When it comes time to cool your dough, the best thing to do is to split the dough into manageable pieces (about the size of your hand), wrap in plastic and press down into a disc. This way it will cool faster and be easier to roll out. 


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For more on the chemistry of cooking, as well as invaluable tips and much more detailed information than provided here, consider purchasing Harold McGee's classic text On Food and Cooking.