Baking doesn’t have to be intimidating at all. By following a few basic steps, and knowing about the basic ingredients needed for baking, you can bake like a pro! If you have had a messy or bad baking experience in that past, that is okay – we all have.
Make sure to read the recipe in its entirety before going ahead and baking. Read slowly, and pull out off of the ingredients that you need ahead of time (mise in place). Make sure to pull out all of the required tools to cook with too, to ensure that neither tools nor ingredients are missed.
When reading recipes, you’ll come across some basic cooking and baking terms. Learning these, and learning what they mean will help make it much easier to understand a recipe, and helps make sure that the recipe is perfect every time.
To cook by dry heat in the oven. This method is most often used for cookies, cakes, pie and bread.
To quickly mix with a fork, spoon, whisk, hand blender or stand mixer.
To mix two or more ingredients together more gently than to beat.
To cook a liquid to a temperature of 212 degrees.
To place an ingredient/dish in the fridge or freezer to speed up the cooling process.
To beat an ingredient (like eggs and sugar, or butter and sugar) until smooth, soft and creamy.
To stir a liquid ingredient and dry ingredient together until the dry ingredient disappears.
To pour off liquid.
To lightly sprinkle a dry ingredient, like powdered sugar or flour over a food or work area.
When a liquid is beaten until small bubbles appear.
To mix in very gently going down, across and then up over the top
For extra decoration and adding flavor, color or texture to a dish
To coat a pan or dish with butter, or Pam so that food won’t stick
To push your hands (or using a hook on a stand mixer) to fold dough onto itself
To turn a solid ingredient into a liquid
To remove the outer skin of a food
To bring an oven, or a pot upto a desired temperature before baking
To put dry ingredients through a sifter or sieve or mesh strainer to remove lumps and clumps
To cook a liquid to just under the boiling point
To put air into an ingredient by stirring with a whisk, hand blender or stand mixer.
Now that you understand basic terms, you can understand the basic ingredients used in almost all baked dishes.
Flour comes in a variety of choices from bread, all-purpose, and pastry. All purpose flour is great for a wide array of dishes from cake to break to cookies and comes in two forms; bleaches and unbleached. Whole wheat flour is heavier and if you substitute it in your baking, only substitute half the flour for whole wheat, or your dishes will be heavy and dense. Always measure flour by placing a dry measuring cup on a flat surface, and scoop flour into it using a spoon. Level off with a flat surface, like the back of a butter knife. Do not pack down flour.
NEVER substitute margarine for butter in a recipe. It is processed, and made of water, so your baking will not turn out as desired. Butter comes in salted and unsalted varieties. Use whatever you prefer. Personally, I like salted butter, but many chefs prefer unsalted. If using salted butter, reduce salt in most recipes by half.
Baking Soda and Baking Powder
To make sure that your baking powder, and baking soda are active follow this procedure:
For baking soda, place 1tsp in a bowl and add 1 tbsp of vinegar. If it fizzes, it is active. For baking powder, place 1 tsp in warm water. If it foams and bubbles, it is active. Baking powder and baking soda cannot be substituted for each other in recipes. Baking soda in generally used with the recipe contains a sour ingredient like buttermilk, vinegar or sourcream.
Eggs range in size from small to jumbo. As a general rule, a recipe usually calls for a large egg. To check eggs for freshness, place it in a bowl of water. If it sinks to the bottom of the bowl, the egg is fresh. If it floats to the top, it is old. When cracking eggs, always crack on a flat surface by gently taping the egg. Hold over a separate small bowl and pull shells apart, letting the egg fall into the bowl. Always crack into a separate bowl to ensure that there are no shells going into your recipe, and to make sure that it is fresh.
Granulated sugar is measured by scooping it into a dry measuring cup, and leveling it off with a straight edge, like the back of a butter knife. Icing sugar is generally sifted, and then measured like granulated sugar. Brown sugar is the only sugar that is packed into a dry measuring cup with a spoon, using a little pressure.
Some other tips to follow are:
- Bring all ingredients to room temperature – they will incorporate into your recipes better.
- Properly prepare sheets or pans with butter and flour to ensure that your baked goods don’t stick. To prepare properly, rub the inside with butter and sprinkle in flour. Shake until coated and turn dish upside down to tap out extra flour.
- Preheat your oven, and keep an eye on the temperature with a thermometer to ensure accuracy.
- Use liquid measuring cups for liquids (milk, water, oil)
- Use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients (flour, sugar, etc)
- Use proper measuring spoons for small measures.
- Dry ingredients should be leveled off with a straight edge like the back of a butter knife.
- Set a timer
- Crack eggs into a separate bowl
- Test for doneness by poking a toothpick into the center and straight out. If goopy, it needs to bake longer, if no crumbs, it is finished.
- Buy the best quality bakeware you can afford. Aluminum pans conduct heat better than pans made from silicone.
- Allow baked goods to cool completely before frosting or decorating.
- When beating butter and sugar, combine in a large bowl. Butter should be at room temperature for best results. Beat on medium speed until cream – about 3 minutes.
- When melting chocolate, NEVER ADD WATER. Put the chocolate into a heat proof bowl, and place the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Allow water to simmer, but make sure it doesn’t touch the bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until chocolate softens and melts.
- When whipping cream, start on low speed, and increase speed. Whipping cream takes about three minutes once on full speed. When finished, the cream stands in medium-firm perks. Make sure not to overbeat your cream, or you’ll have butter.
When baking some of the best tools you will use are:
- Liquid measuring cup
- Dry measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Aluminum baking sheets
- Cooling rack
- Pie weights
- Rolling pin
- Piping bag and tips
- Cookie scoop
- Spring form pan
- Bundt pan
Enjoy your baking, and try these recipes!
Pate a Choux
What are your successes or mishaps in the kitchen while baking?