For many years, I had a phobia about baking. You see, I love to cook and have a passion for creating quick and easy new dishes from old traditional recipes. However, every cake or muffin I ever baked was either dry or simply lacked flavor. At the onset of the holidays, my phobia forced panicky check in calls to the “family bakers” ensuring home baked goods would be on hand for family holiday meals.
One day I asked my sister, who is the family Christmas cookie provider every year, what I was doing wrong. She replied with a chuckle, “Kath, you can bake, it’s easy. The difference between baking and cooking is to follow the recipe EXACTLY when baking. Once you master a baking recipe then put your own spin on it.”
Those words stuck in my head and in 2009, I overcame my baking phobia. I started out baking simple recipes followed by a whole lot of reading. In hindsight, those steps were totally out of sequence and resulted in quite a few “just okay” baked goods early on. Cakes, muffins, and sweet breads have been my primary baking focus since that time.
My Top Five Baking Tips for Novice Bakers:
- Baking Ingredients – Baking is a science and, unlike cooking, requires following the directions specifically. Adding a little of this or a bit of that without understanding the roll of baking ingredients is grounds for baking failure. Culinate.com offers helpful insight and reliable information specific to the science of baking. AP flour and cake flour are not the same. Gain knowledge of flours, leavening agents, and fats before experimenting. Trust me on this fact.
- Baking Pans – Baking cakes in dark colored pans and glass baking dishes produce darker sides and sometimes even a crusty edge. Shiny metal pans produce a better cake and bake more evenly. One remedy for dark and glass baking pans is to set the oven at a lower temperature. I had success with muffins at a lower temperate but not cakes. To resolve this, I purchased these inexpensive shiny cake pans.
- Baking Mixes – Start with simple recipes that call for mixes. Using cake, cookie, and brownie mixes in now way constitutes cheating according to my baking friends. In fact, some of the most delicious and beautiful desserts I baked began with a mix.
- Prepare to Bake – Read the recipe completely, including the ingredient list and the method before starting. Research all necessary substitutions and/or unfamiliar baking terms before you begin. Gather all of the necessary ingredients and baking tools prior to beginning.
- Budget Baking – Butter is expensive and I, like many other women on a tight budget, substitute butter with margarine often. Many baking sites and cookbooks note butter, margarine, oils, and shortenings are interchangeable. Margarine seemed to substitute well for butter regarding texture. However, I found where taste is concerned the flavor of the margarine matters a lot. In order to obtain a buttery flavor the margarine used must taste buttery. Shortening was not one of my choice substitutions, and oils worked well for muffin recipes. Generally, I prefer to substitute margarine rather than oil in cake recipes that call for butter.
This list of baking tips is the basic knowledge that facilitated overcoming that baking phobia of mine. My hope is that you find these lessons useful as well. Admittedly, now that I’m feeling confident about baking cakes, muffins, and sweetbreads, I’m ready to conquer the pie and pastry arena. With a little luck, perhaps the future will meet the increased expense and inspiration required for my next baking journey.
What’s your baking experience; have a secret baking tip or a story to share?
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