Ask the Chef: Rida Siraj from Sweetest Affair

We caught up with cake artist and dessert lover Rida Siraj. The woman behind of Sweetest Affair had all the answers to our fan’s burning baking questions, from foolproof cream cheese frosting to making a flawless batch of cupcakes.


KEZA: How do you make cream cheese frosting that wont melt in the Dubai heat?

Rida Siraj: I feel cream cheese frosting can get tricky if you don’t get the proportions right. If you use equal amounts of cheese and butter with double the quantity of sugar it works perfectly well. Yes things have to be refrigerated; if you’re going to put it under direct sunlight it is going to melt. In case you still can’t handle something like this, add stabilisers, that’s what they’re for – especially in a region as hot as ours, I think stabilisers help (although they alter the taste a little bit) but I’ve never had issues using my cream cheese without stabilisers, it’s fine.

KEZA: Do you have any tips for handling gelatine powder?

RS: Well I usually use gelatine leaves instead of powder, because I just feel they work better – add them to cold water, make sure the product you’re adding it to is hot so that the gelatine melts, keep whisking it so that lumps are not formed and you should do well with it.

KEZA: How do I make Tiramisu without using raw eggs?

RS: Tiramisu without raw eggs would work well if you’re adding cream to it. I won’t give you the same exact taste but it will give you the texture, and the taste can be altered by the quality of coffee that you use so you give a kick.

KEZA: What can you use instead of alcohol to adhere gold and silver elements to a cake?

RS: You can use olive oil, because liquor is not permitted in this region, so olive oil does the work for me.

KEZA: How do you stop your cakes from sinking in the middle?

RS: You can’t really avoid that by any of the ingredients that you add except the baking soda and baking powder – don’t swap those, make sure you’re adding the right quantity. When you double a recipe it doesn’t mean you double the quantity of baking powder or baking soda, you leverage it and you can test and try that but other than that make sure that the conditions you’re baking in are proper; make sure that your cake is in the centre of the oven, make sure the temperature is right – if it’s too hot or not too hot it’s not going to bake evenly. That’s how you can avoid it sinking in the middle. Alway pat your cakes, make sure that when you put your batter you pat them on a surface so that they level out.

KEZA: How do you make bread without yeast?

RS: So yeast acts as a fermenting agent in bread, it releases carbon dioxide which causes your bread to fluff up and makes it airy and soft. To avoid it, if you don’t have it available or you want to avoid yeast you could swap that with baking powder or baking soda, that should work.

KEZA: How do you make a whole batch of cupcakes look the same?

RS: You weigh them. That’s the trick. So you put your baking pan on a digital weighing scale and then if it’s, say, 15g of batter then you keep adding 15g of batter in each mould and they should cook evenly and the same size.

KEZA: Do you prefer swiss meringue buttercream or Italian meringue buttercream?

RS: I prefer the Sweetest Affair buttercream actually, because I’ve taken years to perfect this recipe and honestly it’s a blend of the two. I have altered the quantities and the proportions and kind of gotten it to that perfect texture where it’s non-crusty, not too sweet, holds up and can be used as a filling, used as a topping or it can be used to dirty ice cakes and it does perfectly well even if I’m not ganaching the cakes.

KEZA: How do you stop a cake drying out once cut?

RS: You have to put it in air-tight containers, the minute your cake gets in contact with air for a long period of time. If you notice, the portion that has been cut out is the one that starts drying first. So if you put it in an air-tight container it should last a couple of days at least.

KEZA: How do you keep fondant from drying out?

RS: Again, you’ve got to keep it wrapped in plastic at all times, make sure there’s no air contact, or as little as possible, and it won’t dry out.


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