Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Baking Tips for Beginners

I know I keep promising to give up baking and get back to cooking dinner, but it's so satisfying -- and people seem to enjoy the treats of my labor.

From an informal poll of friends and family members, it seems that people tend to fall in two categories: those who love following recipes and enjoy the straightforward nature of baking and those who like the improvisational nature of cooking.

It's true that you can't be creative with the basics of baking -- if you decide to skimp on flour or baking soda, those cookies don't stand a chance.

As a kitchen newbie, I'm finding baking to be easier than cooking. With cooking, there are so many options -- do you saute, grill, boil, or broil? With baking, there's just...baking. But I've still got a lot to learn about baking. In addition to the baking tips for dummies I posted about last month, keep these "rules" in mind:

1. Rotate your pans from top to bottom, back to front, halfway through the cooking time (per my friend Katherine). But don't do this when you're baking cakes though since opening the oven door too often can spell disaster for a cake.

2. Preheating the oven really makes a different. It is key for good color and texture. Keep in mind that it generally takes around 20 minutes for an oven to hit its stride, so plan ahead.

3. Certain ingredients fare better at certain temperatures: Room-temperature eggs beat up fluffier; cream whips best ice-cold, and, though cold butter makes the flakiest pie crust, room-temp butter makes the lightest cakes. Got that?

4. Most baking recipes call for all-purpose flour, but cake flour really does help cakes get a lighter, softer texture.

Anything I'm forgetting?

Oh yeah, don't forget to set a timer so you don't burn those cookies!


Nancy Baggett said...

How about warning folks not to make substitutions when baking: Margarine in cookies not only doesn't taste the same as butter, but dough with butter is a lot firmer/better for slice & bake cookies. Brown sugar has more moisture than white, which can throw things off--depending on recipe, of course!

Undomesticated Me said...

Thanks, Nancy. I much prefer butter to margarine! I'll have to check out your books for more tips.

Bernie Bernstein said...

It's Me, Mom - I'm certainly not a new baker, but I found your baking tips very interesting. I also agree with Nancy; use butter (the unsalted kind) when baking unless the recipe says otherwise. On occasion I've substituted apple sauce for shortening in cakes to cut down on the fat content. You get fairly good results. Don't try this with cookies though. I've never tried, but I imagine the dough wouldn't hold up. Have any of your readers tried this?

M. said...

It is always good to learn and refresh the basics, good tips

brynn cody said...

I too was a new baker about a year ago. I love decorating cakes but never had much experience making them from scratch. I see these are from 2010 so I'm sure you've come a far way from then, but in case others are looking, I too wrote a post for beginners: