Learn To Bake
You may have heard that baking is a science, not an art. Learning to bake means that you are learning the science of baking, which can sound intimidating. Don’t let it throw you, it’s not as daunting as it may sound. Learning to bake simply means that you are learning the various ways foods react when baked. What happens to butter in your recipe? Why does it need to be at room temperature (as the recipe stated)? Are there different types of flour and why would that be important in your recipe?
Baking is a specific style of cooking. It’s usually done with dry heat in an oven and it is one of the oldest types of cooking in recorded history. Baking is used for a wide variety of preparations ranging from baking desserts to grain-based recipes. Many people feel that baking can be more difficult because it forces you to follow a recipe while cooking can be a more free style activity. In truth, both require you to follow some sort of recipe but baking usually requires you to be more exact with quantities and the length of temperature of cooking. Basic cooking allows you to watch and add ingredients during the process while baking forces you to wait and see what your results are with no chance to add or embellish while your dish is baking.
Learn To Bake
Most of us can remember someone baking something when we were children and many of us have fond memories of baking with our mom or grandma when we were kids. Others remember being someplace where a wonderful meal was baked and served. Baking is a science that is passed down generation to generation with tips and suggestions added along the way. There are a few basic tips that you should follow when you are looking to learn to bake. An overall master tip is to start small. Everyone is impressed by a four layer cake with tiers of cream and fruit but you don’t want to start with that recipe.
Start small and easy and be prepared for a few failures along the way. The late, great Julia Child was quite open about some of her more spectacular food disasters while she was learning to bake and mastering cooking. Watching a well done cooking show can be good and bad if you are just starting out in the kitchen. The good will be the tips you can pick up from TV bakers. The bad will be a sense that everything is easy and can be completed in 30 minutes with no mess.
TV cooking shows are staged with many people doing prep work before the meal or dish is prepared, the show’s host simply mixes all of the ingredients together will talking to you. The finished item is not always the one that went into the oven. Enjoy the shows, make use of the tips that seem reasonable to you but be realistic. It is TV, times may not be what they seem.
Tip Number One: Good Recipes
Baking requires recipes. You can’t really change that reality, baking is based on recipes. To really enjoy baking and creating exciting and interesting foods you will want to collect a lot of recipes.
Finding recipes is easy, finding the best recipes and the recipes that are good for you is a little more difficult. As you are reading this online we will mention the Internet. There are literally millions of recipes available on the web, you will quickly become overwhelmed. Start out by concentrating on a few dishes that you would like to prepare.
Let’s use chocolate chip cookies as an example. It’s one of America’s favorite cookies and they are fairly easy to make. Punch chocolate chip cookies into your search bar. You will get roughly 150 million results. You should ignore all but 3. You pick the 3 that you want to keep but dump the rest.
Choosing The Best Recipe
The classic cookie most of us know is the Toll House cookie. Toll House is now owned by Nestle but there was an actually business called Toll House and this recipe dates from the heyday of Toll House. Download the Toll House recipe and find 2 others that sound fun. Maybe you like white chocolate and want to try a recipe with white chocolate chips. Ignore the word “best” in the title, every baker (and marketer) uses best. We used it for our website name but we had to, it is the truth! Look for a recipe description that sounds interesting like chewy, crisp, jumbo, monster or some other fun sounding style of chocolate chip cookie. Congratulations, you just collected your first three recipes.
Check Out The Latest Cookbooks
There are plenty of other great sources for recipes that are easy to access and may hold hidden treasures that will become family favorites. If you want to check out cookbooks you can browse Amazon. Again there will be an overwhelming selection but you can quickly narrow your search to a type of baking you want to try. Local bookstores are fabulous recipe resources. They tend to specialize in local-oriented items, you may find a cookbook from your favorite restaurant. Church cookbooks are great and many non-profits will print cookbooks as fund raising tools. There can be some wonderful recipes in these types of cookbooks.
It may sound old fashioned but you should look at keeping recipe cards. Sometimes you will find a recipe in the newspaper but keeping old newspaper clippings is inconvenient. Some ingredient packaging will have a recipe that looks good but keeping that scrap of a label just doesn’t work. Recipes on your computer or tablet are great and easy to access. I would recommend using recipes with pictures as you get started baking. It always helps to know what a dish should look like before you start.
Tip Number Two: Good Equipment
There is one consistent theme in every baking show on TV: good equipment. That doesn’t necessarily mean expensive equipment but you will need some basic kitchen appliances and tools to enjoy baking. It’s expensive to outfit your kitchen with every tool that you might want but if you want to bake you will need some basics.
Start with your oven. Make sure it is clean and test to see that the temperature stays steady and at the setting required. Ovens are like people, they work harder and have parts fail as they get older. If space is an issue look at a convection oven. These are small counter top ovens that can bake, roast and broil. They are usually under $100 and work very well for small baking projects.
Find A Good Stand Mixer
You will need a mixer. You can use a hand mixer but if your budget allows you should invest in a good stand mixer. Find one with a strong motor (over 300 watts) and various mixing speeds. A useful mixer will have assorted attachments for whisking eggs or kneading dough. In your journey to learn to bake you will find that most bakers will talk lovingly about their stand mixer. Have at least 1 good quality cookie sheet, 1 good loaf pan, 1 non-stick cake pan and 1 9″ x 9″ pan in your kitchen. You will also want a good quality scraping spatula (silicone is great), a flat spatula for cookies, a wooden spoon, a set of dry measuring cups and a set of liquid measuring cups. Measuring spoons are a must as is a sifter. You can find good quality baking items at your local hardware store as well as discount stores and online.
Tip Number 3: Quality Ingredients
Remember that everything that you put into your recipe is going to go into someone’s mouth. That’s a somewhat rude way of stating the obvious: what goes in is what is going to come out. Use quality ingredients and use them as the recipe states. Let’s look at butter. Most bakers use butter only, never margarine or any other oleo substitutes. Dietary issues may determine butter usage but generally speaking butter is a staple in baking
Dairy-Make Sure It’s Fresh
Butter is a dairy product with a high butterfat content, made from milk. It’s a solid when kept cool and a liquid when heated and melted. Recipes will usually give you specific directions when using butter. Some will call for chilled butter, some for melted and some for room temperature. These descriptions are not interchangeable. Chilled butter can be swapped out for melted butter successfully, your recipe will suffer. Always use fresh butter that has not dried out.
Vanilla can be bought as vanilla extract or vanilla substitute. Substitute is cheaper but many people can tell the difference in taste. Same with sugar. Again, dietary issues may require a sugar substitute but if you can use sugar, use real sugar. The taste and texture change with substitutes. As with butter you want your eggs to be fresh. Eggs react differently in recipes if they are cold versus room temperature.
Follow your recipe, the temperature of the egg does matter. Other key staple ingredients such as flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt need to kept fresh. Store them in airtight containers and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for shelf life. There isn’t much difference in the quality of these ingredients, it almost always comes down to freshness. Learning to bake is a fun part of cooking. It’s great fun to bring out a dish that is perfectly prepared and tastes great, people remember good food.