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May 30, 2014

Baking has never been more popular. Over nine million viewers tuned into the final of BBC Show the Great British Bake Off and cupcake cafes seem to have cropped up everywhere in recent years.

Judging by the number of baking photos which have been appearing on Facebook and Instagram feeds, it appears there’s a lot of wannabe Mary Berry’s having a bash at home. With this in mind, we asked Kirsty Fitzgerald, owner of Finnieston’s Hidden Lane Tea Room to share her best baking tips.

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1. Don’t bother with fancy equipment (or a fancy training background)

“Opening The Hidden Lane Tearoom really came about by chance. I came down to the lane as I heard there were loads of studios for artists and at the time I was trying to launch a jewelry business. This place was up for grabs and it seemed like a really good opportunity. I had loads of tea sets and stuff and home and I knew I wanted a vintage style tearoom. My mum and I used to bake loads so I roughly knew what I was doing. But other than that, I went in a bit blind and had to learn on the job.”

“I don’t use fancy equipment. For the first three years I was open I didn’t even have a food mixer. Everything was done by a handheld whisk and everything was just delicious as it is now. Now it’s just much easier and takes less time.”

2. Don’t worry about following a recipe


“When I first opened up I was quite meticulous about following recipes. I’ve since discovered you don’t need to be quite so to the tee; if you run out of one type of sugar, such as caster sugar or golden sugar, you can substitute either one. We don’t bulk buy which means if we run out of something we just use what’s available. It doesn’t always go right but we have discovered some amazing cakes because we made them our own.”

3. Disregard traditional methods

“When I make my Victoria sponge I weigh the eggs in their shells and match all the other ingredients to the weight of those eggs. For example, for a standard Victoria sponge I usually use four eggs and if those four eggs weigh 250 grams, I would match it with 250 grams of sugar, 250 grams of butter and 250 grams of flour. They are the only four ingredients you need. I beat together the butter and sugar until it super thick, really, really creamy, whisk together those four eggs, add to the butter and sugar and add a tiny bit of vanilla. Pour them in very slowly with a tablespoon of self raising flour in between each addition of eggs. Finally fold in the remaining flour. The main oomph to the cake is the beating of the butter and sugar. The thicker you get the butter and sugar the least likely it is to curdle.”


“I do the same for meringues. If I’m making seven or eight massive meringues I would maybe do eight egg whites and weight them and match that weight to the amount of sugar to use. I put the sugar on a massive baking tray on some parchment paper, heat it up for five minutes on a really high heat, like 200 or so, till it almost caramelises at the corners, take it out and whisk with your egg whites with a teaspoon of tartar. Whisk on really high speed until the eggs are stiff then add the sugar, a spoonful at a time, while it’s whisking. Whisk for another two or three minutes on high spoon, get a massive big spoon, chuck it on a tray and heat in the oven at 100 for around 90 minutes then leave overnight to cool.”

“The great thing about weighing the eggs is you can still make the cakes even if you only have, say, three eggs left. It will just be a little smaller.”

4. Use your imagination

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“Yes, I use tartar in meringues. I think that’s the key. It makes it nice and soft in the middle and you can’t taste it all. I have done pesto and sun dried tomato scones which are really really nice. I added glace cherries to scones which turns the scone pink and tastes delicious. With a bit of almond flavour and flaked almonds on top it’s almost like marzipan but not to strong for those who don’t like marzipan.  I try to mix it up as much as possible and do unusual things I’ve never seen before.”

5. Don’t be scared of disasters


“My oven broke on Mother’s Day. At 8 o’clock in the morning when I was halfway through my scones. They were all half baked, like horrible little floppy pancakes. I could not believe it. I was properly crying, saying “all the mums are going to be so disappointed.” But thankfully I had managed to get a lot done the night before and I went to a few other places I knew did good scones like Kember & Jones and asked them to help me. I sorted it in the end but it was a disaster.

“For the first month or two I was quite hard on myself if I got things wrong; I thought everything depended on getting that Victoria sponge out on the shelf. But people appreciate honesty; if someone came in expecting to see two cakes out there and there was only one I would just be like “Ooh I had a total disaster this morning.” People appreciated that as the whole idea of this place is that it’s meant to be homely, so our kitchen reflects that. In a way I wish we had a massive catering kitchen but we work with what we have got. We make mistakes and sometimes it makes for a funny story.”

For offers at The Hidden Lane Tearoom check out their 5pm Dining page.