Wednesday, June 6, 2012

An Introduction To Baking - For New Wanna Be Bakers!

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There are somethings I find tremendously inspiring and I wish I could learn them. Photography and gardening for example. But as I read articles or blogs about them, I end up feeling quite confused. For the very obvious reasons that I don't know the basest of the basics or where to make a start as a complete newbie.

The amazing world of baking beckons so many, but an intimidating thought for most of us as beginners. Do you see lots of people around baking and wish you could bake as well? As you take baby-steps into this world, some of the below things may help make a start. Especially in the absence of any prior exposure to baking. Queries posted on my blog, queries and reactions from wanna be bakers around me and the way I feel about photography and gardening are what inspired me to put up this post.

Baking is a science : In my opinion, cooking is more of an art, we don't need to follow precise measurements or stick to lot of rules to cook or create something tasty. But baking is a science, where different ingredients come together in certain proportions or measures, following certain methods of baking, resulting in chemical reactions in order to get a certain end product.

The product needs to have the right texture along with taste. For example, crunchy cookies are welcome, whereas a rock-hard muffin or cup-cake (I am exaggerating, I know!) may not be highly appreciated. So, even the best of cooks, beginning baking, have to stick to measures and methods recommended to get the best baking results. You may be surprised to know that even the best of pastry chefs measure and bake, may be exceptions I am not aware of though.

Accurate measurements : Accurate measurements among other things, are critical to the success of any recipe in baking. While it may not be completely disastrous to add a wee bit more or less sugar or nuts in a cake, less of baking powder may not give your cake enough rise and the texture you are aiming for. So, no eyeballing here please!

An acquaintance of mine who had never baked before and is incidentally a very good cook, asked me for a recipe for brownies. When I told her that I would email her the recipe, she was amused and asked me to just list out the ingredients and she would put them together herself. This just doesn't work!

Measuring cups and spoons: Cups and spoons, mentioned in baking recipes, always refer to standard measuring cups and spoons. Very certainly, these are not the tea cups we drink from or the spoons we eat out of. One teaspoon is 5 ml, one tablespoon is 15 ml, one cup is 240 ml and so on. It is really, seriously important that you get yourself these before you begin. Use one cup to measure a cup, 1/2 cup to measure half a cup and so on.

Unless otherwise specified  one measure of anything, for example, one teaspoon of baking powder, always means a level teaspoon. A scant teaspoon means a 'little less than' a heaping teaspoon means a 'little more than' of that particular ingredient. Unless otherwise specified in the recipe as warm, hot or cold, all ingredients must be at room temperature.

Measuring methods : The best and the most accurate way to measure ingredients is to weigh them using kitchen scales, I prefer digital ones to analog. Measuring using cups, with special importance to flour could be either by the spoon and level method or dip and scoop method. Scoop and level method refers to stirring the flour (using a large spoon) in the container to incorporate air , taking flour in the spoon and placing it in the measuring cup placed on a level surface, level with a spatula. Here is a video which shows how.

Dip and scoop method is dipping your measuring cup directly into the container of flour lifting it and then leveling it. Flour measured using the scoop and level method weighs less than that measured using dip and scoop method. When following a recipe, make sure to check what method is followed by the author or book.

Appropriate pans : Baking tins meant for baking, in appropriate sizes as recommended in the recipe, are a must. A pan too big and your cake may be overcooked, hard and shorter. A pan too small and your cake may not be well cooked or the batter could over-flow from the pan! If you would be using pans of different sizes, the baking time will vary too, you should be able to tell when the cake is done. Best to stick to whatever the recipe recommends when you start.

Your baking ingredients: Always, use fresh ingredients. Baking powder, baking soda and yeast must always be fresh and properly stored in order to give the best results. The best brands of yeast or leaveners will be of little use if they are old or improperly stored. Buy small boxes of these if you do not bake very often. Buy from larger stores which sell stuff faster.  For more on yeast refer this post. More on getting to know your ingredients, here.

To test the effectiveness of baking powder, mix 1 teaspoon baking powder with 1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water . The mixture should bubble immediately. To test the effectiveness of baking soda, mix 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 2 teaspoons vinegar, the mixture should bubble immediately. If not, discard and get fresh packs.

Baking temperature : This is mentioned in Celsius or Fahrenheit or both. The ovens in India come with temperature readings in Celsius.  Set your oven temperature accordingly. Here is a conversion chart
What gadget do I choose : You could bake in a convection microwave or an OTG, according to me, both work fine. Please refer this post for more details. Wait, I have baked once in a pressure cooker and it was not a total disaster. I would not recommend this as a baking gadget though! :)

Should I always pre-heat the oven?
Yes! Irrespective of whether you bake in an OTG or in a convection microwave, you must always pre-heat the oven. Place the cake or cookie tray in the oven only after is pre-heated ( after it reaches the desired temperature). About 20 minutes for an OTG and till you hear the beep go off if baking in a microwave.

One exception I have come across is a cold oven cream cheese pound cake, which needs the oven to be turned on after placing the batter in the oven. Interesting! When baking in an OTG, place the cake tin on the lower rack, in a convection microwave, place the cake tin or cookie sheet on the lower of the 2 round racks provided. This post tells you how to use your convection microwave. 

Where to begin: Simple cakes and brownies are the best to start with.  Choose cakes which need simple mixing of ingredients rather than creaming of butter, or whipping and folding in eggs or egg whites, heating eggs using indirect heat etc. Try recipes which use simple methods rather than those which need more technique, you can try these later! Some simple cakes here are Orange Yogurt Cake, Butter Sponge CakeOne Bowl Chocolate CakeOlive Oil Citrus Syrup Cakes,  and Easiest Nutella Brownies. I would not suggest making a start with yeast breads.

Reading recipes: I know we can't wait to get to the fun part of baking, but  please do read recipes fully, notes if any, not once but twice before you start. Plan ahead, gather your ingredients, paraphernalia and then bake.

Following recipes: Please choose recipes from well known, reliable sources, be it books or websites. And yes, please do follow the recipe! Try not to knock off ingredients or substitute too many unless of course you know what you are doing! Baking at home gives you innumerable options to customize your baked goods, but within limits. You can have fun and play around later.

Mise en place : Its most important to weigh or measure all your ingredients, line them up before you begin.

Noting down. As you bake and measure out ingredients, note down any changes you have made, the time you baked them for, your observations about the taste or texture. This will help you create the same result again or improvise to your taste the next time you bake.

Practice, practice! Learning baking requires some amount of patience, perseverance and practice! No amount of watching videos or reading up equals hands-on experience. You will get the hang of it if you practice enough with your heart in it. So where are your guinea pigs? :)

Is baking unhealthy? Egg less baking and Savory baking
: Contrary to popular belief, baking is not always unhealthy as there are loads of healthy stuff you can bake. In fact, home baked 'junk' is far healthier than store-bought 'healthy' bake! There is plenty of healthy, lower fat and whole grain baking you could do.

Baking is not always about cakes, cookies and brownies.  If savory is your thing, you could bake a whole lot of breads, crackers, tarts, puffs,  muffins, appetizers etc to tickle your taste buds.

If you do not consume eggs, check Eggless CookingVersatile Kitchen and Divine Taste for some egg less recipes you could try. What you can bake at home, can't be bought at any store ( most of the times at least!). Most importantly, bake for the high you will get out of it.

Home-baking allows you to bake to your taste and need, tastes much fresher than store bought and is infinitely rewarding and satisfying. So get your paraphernalia, don your aprons and have fun!


Rajani said...

Such comprehensive, well thought out content!
You are amazing, Suma! Am ever so glad to have found your blog and ever so helpful instructions.
After reading through this, every cook, good or otherwise, will feel inspired and equipped to attempt baking.

Shweta in the Kitchen said...

What an amazing post!!! Really helpful & great advise. Thanks for posting it

Inviting you to visit & follow my space

Divya Shankar said...

You are one awesome teacher ... close all the baking institutes I say, your blog does all the magic :) Awesome post and thanks a lot for making baking super exciting to me ! Have a great day !!

Sharmilee! :) said...

Nice post....very informative!

Priya said...

Apart from you none can this kind of detailed post for new beginners,definitely helpful for many.

Arch said...

Great post Suma ! You have a lot of patience, this is so detailed and perfect for beginners...

shubha said...

Hi Suma.Love your blog.I just wanted to know about measuring cups.The ones i get in mumbai are for 200ml.Ihave always been using them.But then thebk pwd amt will vary.Please helpme Thanks.

Priya Kumar said...

This is a well written post, Suma! Immensely helpful for those who are apprehensive about how to start baking.

Srimathi said...

Good and informative post Suma. I think there are lots of people who need help with baking and this post will be helpful.

Kanchan said...

one more of your post - bookmarked ! whole loaded of information here :)

zareena said...

Lovely post and very helpful.

Avika J Chawla said...

Informative Post and very well written, new to ur space but loving it ..m ur new happy follower nw.

Sum said...

Very nice post, Suma!

Unknown said...

Such a nice timing ! I was just planning to start baking from scratch that means even researching on the convection oven model and i came across your post.Thanks for such detailed post.
I also loved the links that you have given for each category.

Unknown said...

Great timing! I was just beginning to research baking (right from which convection oven brand) and i have found this at the right time.
I also looked into the baking paraphernalia post and loved it.
There is so much of info posted here, thanks for that.

Sunayana said...

Am an amateur baker and I think you've shelled out awesome tips here... Thanks:) will definitely come back for more:) said...

Very detailed,explained post; especially for those who want to start baking. Thanks for sharing :)) said...

Very detailed and easy to follow post especially for all those who wish to start baking:))

R said...

Love, love, love your blog!! Awesomeness!

R said...

Love, love, love your blog! Aswesomeness!!

Shweta Hiremath said...

The post is very helpful for beginners like me... next time I wil perfectly bake as I have burnt my cake today before reading your post. I really appreciate u.

Harika Bose said...

Are u an angel or what? u took lot of time to post all these for us. as a beginner i struggled a lot learning the basics. when i started baking,people in many forums or facebook groups dint even care to reply many doubts that we had. all they did was showing off their cakes. ur posts surely are going to guide a lot of beginners. Thank u so much for these posts. no more diaster bakes from me . im sure that ill be visiting ur blog everyday thanks!!

Lija said...

wow , good post for beginners, thank u