In the past 2 years, I have baked 2 dessert buffets for 120 people each, 300 chocolate chunk cookies for parents and students at an open evening, a commission of 24 cupcakes in 3 different flavours, sweet treats for our school’s leaving barbecue and 50 chocolate chunk cookies and 24 cupcakes for Bubakes’ Depressed Cake Shop event.
Having baked in these large quantities, I have picked up quite a few tips and tricks to make it so much easier. If you are baking (or cooking for that matter) for a party or an event, it can be stressful knowing that you will be working hard in your kitchens and living rooms for hours at a time producing high quality food. Getting yourself prepared and ready for a cooking/baking marathon is not easy but hopefully you will find it a lot easier with some of my best tips!
Stage 1: Choosing what to Bake
- Use reliable recipes
Commissioned bakes are most certainly not the time to out a brand new recipe! Stick to the recipes you know work and have baked multiple times before. But if you do get a request for something you’ve not done before…
- Practise and try out multiple recipes in advance
Spend a day way before the big day practising lots of different recipes for something new so that you get a feel for what the cake batters look like, how long they take to bake and what the flavour is. This can help you to choose the right recipe for your commission!
But even if you have a reliable recipe, it’s always good to bake a practice batch so you can check that your oven bakes them properly. Simply practising your bake can give you a lot of confidence heading into the big day! You can also give yourself a good idea of just how long it takes you to make your recipe, this will help you when it comes to planning what to bake.
Try out different methods of decorating too. The last thing you want is to get on the big day and make up your decoration on the spot and it looks scruffy.
- Keep it simple
In a similar vein to using reliable recipes, you should consider keeping your bakes as simple as possible. Whilst this is not always possible when it comes to dessert buffets or certain commissions, it’s always better to stick with things you know will work. Moreover, by staying in your comfort zone, you are less likely to get in a flap if something goes wrong and you’ll remain calm.
- Pick things that don’t take long to bake
Your kitchen becomes a factory for the day so you don’t want to be baking a fruit cake that takes 4 hours to bake when in the same time, you could bake almost 200 cupcakes!
- Bake crowd pleasers
Flavours such as vanilla, chocolate, coffee and lemon always tend to go down well with guests. Large events aren’t the time to experiment with a basil and beetroot cake and you will also make the guests feel more comfortable if there are things they recognise!
Stage 2: Now that you’ve decided on your menu of different bakes, it’s time to think practically:
- Find out the transport details
If you are transporting your bakes by car, make sure you have enough boxes and containers to store your bakes and always get there early, the worse thing would be to arrive unfashionably late! If you are travelling, consider asking for a space to assemble all of your bakes if you are worried about buttercream swirls being ruined or cakes toppling over!
- Equipment checks
If you are lucky enough to have a kitchen at the location where you will be, check that they have everything you need, whether this is enough baking trays, cupcake trays and electronic scales.
Create a checklist of all the equipment you will need from wooden spoons to palette knifes and piping bags and nozzles and then tick them off once you know they have it! And then you can bring everything else from home!
If you are baking it at home, you know what you have so all you need to do is check that you do indeed have everything
- Set aside a time period for your baking
Get your diaries out and cancel everything you’re doing for the day that you’re baking. Make sure that no one is coming over for dinner and that you don’t have a doctor’s appointment right as you go to bake your 10th tray of cupcakes! The last thing you want is to stop baking at 1:30 to go to the doctors or pick up children from school. It sounds so trivial but it’s all too easy to forget that you promised you were going to visit your mum or make a cake for a friend.
- Create a timetable
Whilst nothing in baking terms ever goes perfectly according to plan, it’s good to set yourself a time plan so you can prioritise jellies that need to set in the fridge, ganaches that need to set or cupcakes that need to cool before you can ice them. Always give yourself more time than you think you will need!
- Scale up your standard recipes
The next thing is to find out the quantity of ingredients you need; start out by writing your standard recipe and find out how many it makes (another reason to practise your bakes!). Use a calculator to calculate how many batches of the recipe you have to make and then scale up the ingredient quantities. I find it easiest to create an Excel spreadsheet which saves the trouble of doing mental arithmetic! It makes it much easier for you to do multiple recipes at once too and find out the total you need.
- Stock up on the ingredients you need – and more!
It’s likely that if you’re someone who does commissions and is prepared to bake for a large event, you will bake pretty soon after the event. So you won’t complain about having an extra bag of flour, a pot of cocoa powder or a bar of chocolate in your cupboard! The worst thing that could happen is that in the middle of mixing your cupcake batter, you realise you are short of 100g of flour and you have to drop everything to drive down to the shops to buy more flour. This can disrupt the time plan you drew up and throw your confidence so always make sure you have more than you need in case of emergency. Eggs are definitely an essential to have more of in case they crack! And you can never have too much chocolate!
- Shop around
You might also want to check where the cheapest place is to buy all the ingredients; unless you have an unlimited budget, I wouldn’t advise you head to Waitrose and buy everything because you will be spending a lot of money. Consider investigating wholesalers like Costco and Makro; they will have big quantities of ingredients that are cheaper than buying it from supermarkets.
- Employ friends and family
If you know anyone who is good at baking or can follow a recipe, ask them if they would willingly set aside time to help you out.
Stage 3: Before the big day, prepare what you can in advance:
The day of cake baking will be hectic enough as it is, what with producing lots of cakes from scratch and decorating them all. To reduce the amount you need to do, make what you can in advance (but if you don’t have this luxury, do consider changing what you will bake).
Chocolate decorations are easy to make ahead of time and can be kept in a airtight container either at room temperature in a cool-ish place or the fridge if it’s hot. Making them ahead also saves on vital fridge space!
Icings and frostings such as buttercreams and cream cheese frostings can often be made in advance as long they are well wrapped in clingfilm and softened before use.
Biscuit doughs and pastry can all be made in advance and again stored in the fridge until it’s needed. Pastry cases can even be baked ahead of time for tarts or tartlets as long as they are stored in an airtight container. This is the same for meringues.
Stage 4: When it comes to the day of baking:
- Clean all of your equipment from your checklist beforehand
You don’t want to waste any time washing up a bowl when you are midway through your baking because you can’t whisk up your meringue mix. Have everything prepared and to hand for when you need it.
- Check your digital scales are working
The essential tool for baking is the digital scale as it is a science. Make sure you have them on hand and make sure they are working!
- Set up tables in your living rooms or dining rooms fit with cooling racks
Setting up a cooling table (by which I mean a table with cooling racks on it) out of your way in another room will prevent overcrowding and means you have enough room to do the rest of your baking. You just have to keep an eye on them to make sure that no one takes something when you aren’t looking!
In a similar vein, remove as much as possible from the kitchen to free up room. Keep the kettle there. You never know when you need a caffeine break.
- Make your cake mixes fresh
A cake batter which has sat in the cases waiting to be baked isn’t going to be as light and fluffy as a freshly baked batch of cupcakes because the raising agents will be exhausted by the time they go into the oven. Making the cake batter when you need it will keep the quality of your bakes high.
- Don’t overload your mixing bowl
Most of the time, this tip shouldn’t apply but most bowls of stand mixers have a certain capacity before everything spills out of the bowl. Not only will you create more mess but it could destroy your stand mixer but it’s likely that the mix will be uneven so make sure you use a spatula to finish off mixing by hand to ensure the sides and base are mixed in well.
- Wash up as you go
Something as trivial as this can keep you organised and on track.
- Stay calm
This is something that you do a lot and it’s your hobby so there’s no real reason to get into a flap. If something does go wrong, set it aside and just do another batch. You should have enough extra ingredients and well as enough time to mix up another batch, you’ve prepared yourself for this.
Some of the tips aren’t just relevant to baking in large quantities, they are also useful for simple home baking and commissions. I wish you good luck with your bulk baking and whether you are doing a dessert buffet for a party, charity event or a wedding, making lots of little bakes for a bake sale or baking for a commission, I hope that you have found these tips helpful.
If you are looking for some reliable recipes that you can use for your bakes, I recommend some of these 16 recipes which have been tried and tested multiple times. There’s a mix of sweet and savoury for you to try and these are some of my favourite recipes too!
And if there’s one recipe that you must try, it’s Jane’s Patisserie’s Terry Chocolate Orange Cookies!