What is baking?
Baking is a method of cooking that has been used for centuries to dry out various foods, bread being the most common baked goodie. Being looked at as a household activity in its early stages, baking has climbed incredibly high mountains over the last decade, but it still remains the main activity to do and enjoy at home. Women (and men alike) across the globe gather recipes in their notebooks, try them and spoil their families with baked goodies each and every day.
The very first cakes or donuts were simple mixes of flour, water and various seeds, baked on hot rocks. Many of these products back then had religious purposes and were made only on special days. They were dens and only sweetened with honey sometimes. It was only in the XVth century that pastry chefs and bakers began to be more and more popular and baking became a profession as well. And it was then that the French took this profession to a whole new level! Pastries began to be more and more intricate and complex and even the simpler ones started to be more and more comforting. In addition to this, the XVth century marked the moment the Europeans discovered America and with it, the cocoa beans and chocolate and so it began a new era for the world of desserts and baked goodies.
Modern baking however, developed much later. Layered cakes, chocolate cakes, flaky pastries and buttery cookies are a recent addition to the dessert world, but they soon conquered the heart of every baker around the globe. Modern equipment too contributed to this development, especially after it became more and more accessible to the home cooks as well.
But unlike other professions, baking is both a science and an art. And just like a science, it comes with measurements and recipes which often can only be tweaked slightly, but not completely modified. Cups, tablespoons, teaspoons and ounces are perfect to obtain moist cakes, great cookies, amazing muffins or cupcakes, delicious quick breads or fluffy yeasted doughs.
If you're going to take the time to bake a cake or a few muffins, you should have some information about the ingredients you use and their quality. Since homemade desserts don't have stunning decoration, they need to impress with something and their taste is your best bet towards success! And the only thing that matters in the end!
The natural flavor of butter can't be replaced with just anything so margarine or shortening is rarely a substitute. Softened butter is often used in pound cakes or creams, while cold butter is mostly used when making pie crusts. Many recipes call for unsalted butter since it allows you to easier control the saltiness of each baked goodies, but certain desserts, like chocolate cakes, may take advantage of a bit of extra salt, being well known the fact that salt and chocolate are great friends.
But butter has one major quality that most people neglect – it melts in the mouth so desserts made with good quality butter will be soft and simply flood your palate with great flavor and have an amazing texture as well.
Next to water, milk is the most important liquid used for baking. From cakes to creams, muffins or breads, milk softens up the flour and has the ability to turn any mix of ingredients into delicious desserts. Moreover, milk is the base for other products, from heavy cream, sour cream, buttermilk or cheese.
There's just a bunch of dessert recipes that don't use flour. Whether it is wheat flour, rye flour, almond flour or coconut flour, this powder seems to be the most used ingredient in baking. Wheat flour can be either white – all-purpose flour – or whole wheat. And while these two categories are pretty straight forward, it gets a bit more complicated when we look into the types of white wheat flour found on the market. The most common is all-purpose flour which is just plain white flour – it's the type you prefer for most recipes because it's easy to find, it's fairly cheap and easy to work with. But apart from this, you'll also find cake flour which has a smoother texture and a lighter color – it's suited for cake sponges and other delicate baked goodies. Pastry flour is similar to cake flour, while self-rising flour is all-purpose flour that has been mixed with baking powder, the proportions being 1 teaspoon of baking powder per each cup of flour.
Flour categories continue with rye flour which doesn't form gluten strands, therefore it's not suited for yeasted dough unless combined with other types of flour. On the other hand, rye flour has a high nutritional profile which recommends it for a healthy diet.
Oat flour is made from oats and it is packed with fibers and proteins. This type of flour is mostly used in healthier baked goodies, such as muffins or quick breads and it doesn't form gluten strands either.
Almond flour is made from raw or blanched almonds, while coconut flour is made from coconuts and has a higher absorption power. Tapioca flour made from tapioca pearls has a high absorption power as well and it's often used as a starch in certain dessert recipes.
Use aluminum free baking powder because it doesn't have a bitter after taste. Any brand of baking powder will do the trick, but keep in mind that baking powder can't be stored for more than 6 months without losing part of its properties.
Baking powder is basically baking soda mixed with an acidic component, usually cream of tartar – and cornstarch. This prevents lumping and brings the leavening power down slightly. Unlike baking soda, baking powder doesn't depend on the addition of an acidic element in order to react, therefore it is more versatile.
Baking soda is usually included in recipes that have an acidic element, such as lemon juice, vinegar or even cocoa powder, molasses, brown sugar, buttermilk, yogurt and chocolate which are acidic. Baking soda can be stored for years without losing its properties and has been proven by scientists to be effective not only in baking, but also for cleaning around the house or certain medical conditions. However, since heat is not needed for the baking soda to react, it is recommend that the batters using it as leavening agent to be baked right away or the soda's power wears off.
Found mostly in bread, dinner rolls and similar pastries, yeast is a natural leavening agent which acts by fermenting in the batter or dough, thus raising its volume and incorporating air.
Sugars has been blamed for many health problems over the years, starting with obesity, but recent scientific research show that as long as you have a balanced diet and include a variety of foods in your daily eating habits, sugar is the last culprit for your health problems. you too support a balanced diet and having a dessert once in a while shouldn't be looked at as guilty pleasure, but a normal thing to do. That being said, let's see why sugar is so important in baking:
It adds sweetness to baked goodies.
It adds texture to desserts, making them tenderer and finer.
It turns the curst into a nice golden color.
It retains moisture.
It helps yeasts grow in certain recipes.
Sugar is a very general term to use in baking. The most common type is white granulated sugar which has a mild taste and it's easy to incorporate in most desserts. Powdered sugar or confectioners' sugar is a very fine ground sugar useful mostly in creams or buttercreams because it melts faster and it helps ingredients bind together better. Brown sugar also contains molasses which gives it an intense caramel-like taste. Basically, brown sugar is white sugar that hasn't been completely refined and it is said to be slightly healthier than regular sugar, but not as easy to incorporate in desserts due to its intense taste.
Dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate are the three main types of chocolate available on the market. you recommend dark chocolate because it has the least amount of sugar added, it has an intense taste and a better texture. A chocolate that has a cocoa content higher than 70% is a proof of quality and can be used in pretty much any recipe that calls for dark chocolate. In addition to this, chocolate of any kind stores well for up to a few weeks, even more if it's good quality and it well wrapped before storing. A special mention goes to chocolate chips which can easily be replaced with chopped chocolate.
Labeled as either natural cocoa powder or Dutch processed cocoa powder, this dark, intense, chocolatey powder is nature's wonder. What would we do without cocoa beans, cocoa powder and chocolate?! The world wouldn't be as cheerful, definitely.
The two types of cocoa powder mentioned above are similar and yet so different. Natural cocoa powder has a lighter color and a higher acidity so it reacts better with baking soda. Dutch cocoa powder has a darker color and a much more intense taste.
Eggs come in various sizes and qualities, but when it comes to desserts, never make any compromise! Always choose fresh eggs, preferably free ranch and opt for medium size eggs as a general rule, unless stated otherwise in the recipe.
Eggs should be understood by bakers well because they are used in large quantities and are crucial for many baked goodies. First of all, eggs ensure the texture of your cakes or cookies by coagulating and supporting the gluten structure. Moreover, they allow air to be incorporated into the batter in order to obtain a fluffy, airy cake, cupcake or muffin. In addition to this, eggs keep the desserts moist, but also add flavor and nutritional value, as well as color which can be important for yeasted dough for instance.
Gelatin is a water soluble protein extracted from animal tissue. Gelatin is used to stabilize creams or jellies and it requires to be bloomed before use. Also, gelatin shouldn't be boiled as it tends to lose its strength.
Gelatin comes in two variations: powder or granules and leaves. Generally you use powder or granulated gelatin, but leaf gelatin can be used as well.
Used is many recipes as the healthy element, nuts are available whole, chopped, halved or ground. They have a high healthy fat content and can easily be incorporated in many recipes. The list of available nuts includes: almonds, coconut, hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts, walnuts, pistachio and macadamia nuts, as well as cashew nuts. The only downside to having them in your pantry all the time is the fact that they change their taste and texture after a few weeks, especially if not kept in a dry and chilled place.
Salt is the most important ingredient found in any recipe across the globe. Salt is the one ingredient that intensifies the flavor of the other ingredients and manages to bring them together into a dessert that tastes amazing. But beyond this, salt also strengthens the gluten structure and interacts with yeast, therefore the quantity of salt in a recipe is not to be looked at as something lacking importance.
Spices are are fun, interesting, tantalizing and fairly cheap, therefore you like to keep a wide selection of spices in your cupboards. The most common spice is definitely vanilla. you recommend using a natural extract which has a far better taste than the industrial kind. As an alternative to this, you can also use fresh vanilla pods – their seeds are the source of the amazing vanilla flavor we all know. But apart from vanilla, you also use cinnamon, ginger (fresh or ground), nutmeg, cardamom, lemon zest, orange zest, lime zest, whole cloves, star anise, lavender buds and the list can go on!
While it's nice to have an arsenal of equipment, the truth is that home bakers can easily get by with a few basic pieces of equipment which you decided to list below. It's nothing fancy, just cheap, easy to source things to make your baker life easier.
Whether we're talking about large cookie trays or smaller baking pans, nothing can be done in the kitchen without having a few of these pans.
Round cake pans are suited for cakes or cheesecakes and they come in many sizes. The most common size is 8 or 9 inch diameter and you recommend having two of either size for those cases when you have to bake two sponge cakes at a time.
Bundt cake pans come in various sizes as well and their shape or pattern can be different too. A 10-cup Bundt cake pan will cover any of your needs in terms of size. But when it comes to shape and pattern, it's your choice. However, you recommend avoiding intricate designs as these pans tend to be harder to clean.
Muffin tins usually come in 2 standard sizes – either with 6 cups or 12 cups. Most muffin or cupcake recipes yield 12 muffins so keep this in mind when buying muffin tins.
Pie and tart pans are similar and one of each is more than enough for your home kitchen.
You don't need a powerful, large, fancy mixer to bake. In fact, a mixer should be the last of your concerns as baking can be done with a whisk as well.
At least 2 should exist in any kitchen and they should be well made and strong, fitted for your hand size and easy to grab.
Spatulas and wooden spoons
Sometimes a whisk or a mixer can be tricky to use because gluten can form easier under the speed of a mixer. That's when spatulas or wooden spoons step in. They allow bakers to incorporate ingredients at a much slower pace, thus preventing those gluten strands from forming and yielding a better texture for your cake, cookie or bread.
Although not compulsory, a food processor comes in handy when grinding certain ingredients or even making pie crust dough. Luckily, they're fairly cheap nowadays so investing in one for your kitchen is never a bad thing.
Measuring spoons and cups
They come in sets, ranging from ¼ cup to 1 cup and ¼ teaspoon to 1 tablespoon accordingly and you can measure basically anything with them, from flour to sugar and various liquids.
Needless to say that mixing bowls are compulsory in any kitchen. you recommend either steel or glass bowls because they don't retain odors or grease.
Baking paper or parchment paper
Before the invention of baking paper, home bakers used to grease their pans and flour them. Sometimes baked goodies would burn or become greasy. It all ended when parchment paper came along. Not only that this kind of paper ease the cleaning after baking, but it also protects the baked products from browning too quickly. It can also be used for chocolate decorations or even storing the baked products. It's cheap and easy to find in most supermarkets.
You do not need vast quantities of cake-making equipment, but it is worth buying the best quality you can afford as it will last longer and give better results. The following list gives you the basics that you will need:
Scales, measuring jug and spoons.
Wooden and metal spoons and spatula.
Food processor and mixer (if possible).
Greaseproof (waxed) paper or non-stick baking parchment.
Cake tins (pans). The best are sturdy, black to conduct the heat, and those with loose bases make it easier to remove the cake. Remember to use a deep cake tin for sponge cakes otherwise the mixture will rise above the top of the tin and the cake will spoil.
Bun tin (patty pan), muffin tin, loaf tins.
Wire cooling rack.
Sharp serrated knife and palette knife.
Use your discretion in substituting ingredients and personalising the recipes. Make notes of particular successes as you go along.
Eggs are generally medium unless otherwise specified in a recipe.
Always wash fresh produce before preparing it. Peel and scrub ingredients as appropriate to the recipe. For example, carrots can be washed, scrubbed or peeled, depending on whether they are young or old.
The use of spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, is a matter of personal taste. Taste the food, where appropriate, as you cook and adjust the seasoning to suit your taste.
You can use fresh or dried herbs in most recipes, but where fresh herbs are specified only use half the amount of dried. Do not use dried herbs for garnishing or adding at the end of a recipe.
Two leaves of gelatine are equivalent to 5 ml/1 tsp of powdered gelatine.
Use whichever type of butter or margarine you prefer. Some margarines state on the packet the uses for which they are most suitable. If the recipe indicates that the butter or margarine should be softened, make sure you have butter at room temperature; soft margarines can be used straight from the fridge.
You can use fresh, dried or easy-blend dried yeast for bread and yeast-cake recipes. 15 g/¬Ω oz of fresh yeast is equivalent to 20 ml/4 tsp of dried yeast. Dried yeast will take slightly longer to dissolve than fresh yeast. If you are using fresh yeast, you can mix it into the flour once dissolved without waiting for the recommended 20 or so minutes. If you are using easy-blend yeast, simply mix it with the dry ingredients, then add the warm liquid and knead to a dough. The ideal temperature for water to be added to yeast or dough is hand-hot or 38 degrees C/100 degrees F.
Preparation and Cooking
Use either metric, imperial or American measures; never swap from one to another.
Spoon measurements are level: 1 tsp = 5 ml; 1 tbsp = 15 ml.
Use whatever kitchen gadgets you like to speed up the preparation times: mixers for whisking, food processors for grating, slicing, mixing or kneading, blenders for liquidising.
Use your discretion in selecting the right one for a particular recipe. For example, if a 23 cm/9 in square tin is recommended, you can successfully use a 30 x 18 cm/12 x 7 in tin instead. In general, a square measurement has been given in most recipes as it is much easier to assess a suitable size.
Lining cake tins makes it easier to remove the cake from the tin without it breaking. You can use re-usable silicon sheets or greaseproof (waxed) paper.
To line a circular tin, draw round the base of the tin on to the paper and cut out to fit the base. Cut a strip long enough to fit round the inside of the tin and about 2.5 cm/1 in taller than the tin. Fold up 1 cm/ in along the bottom edge of the strip and snip up to the fold at regular intervals. Press into the greased tin so that the fold is on the base of the tin and the snipped strip is on the base. Place the base circle on top.
To line a loaf tin (pan), or a square or rectangular tin, cut a rectangle of paper large enough to fit the tin and stand the tin on top. Fold up the edges so that it fits the tin. Cut away four rectangles from the corners of the paper, then shape the cross-shaped piece of paper into the greased tin.
All ovens vary so cooking times have to be approximate. If you are using a fan oven, refer to the manufacturers‚ Instructions on recommended cooking times and temperatures as both are likely to be reduced.
There are several ways to test whether a cake is done, depending on the type of cake: the top will be golden brown; the cake will start shrinking from the sides of the tin; a sponge-type cake should spring back if pressed gently with a fingertip; a thin skewer inserted in the centre of a fruit cake will come out clean.
Cakes and biscuits should generally be removed from the baking tin once cooked. Gently peel off any lining paper and cool on a wire rack.
Leave dough to rise in a warm, but not hot, place for best results. If you want the dough to rise more slowly, leave it in a cooler place.
When bread is cooked, it should be firm and golden brown. Using oven gloves, take it carefully out of the tin and tap it on the base. It will sound hollow if it is cooked. If not, return it to the tin and the oven for a further 5 minutes, then test again.
Storing Cakes and Breads
Sponges, light cakes and breads are all best eaten soon after baking. Only heavier fruit cakes or rich cakes improve if they are stored, carefully wrapped in foil, in an airtight container.
Biscuits will keep for a couple of days if stored separately in an airtight container.
Most cakes can be successfully frozen if as soon as they are cold they are wrapped in clingfilm (plastic wrap) and a freezer bag and frozen. They will keep for up to three months.