The smell of baking instantly turns a house into a home, and your mind to mush. In fact, real estate agents (the cads!) in America often swear by baking cookies in a house, or even just heating up vanilla essence in the oven, to lure prospective buyers into making a sale.
No trickery here! We love baked goods, but realised recently that some of us didn’t bake all that much, and a cheat sheet would be the perfect way to get started. So here are our steps baking basics for beginners.
Step 1: Read the recipe – till the last page
You wouldn’t get into a spaceship without asking for the manual right? Well, similarly, how can you be prepared to bake without reading the recipe fully? What if, halfway through, you suddenly need items you don’t have at home? Or if you’re supposed to have done one thing before the other? Reading the recipe means you’re visualising the process, and as any Olympic athlete will tell you, visualising is half the battle.
Step 2: Get your tools and ingredients together
The first few times, baking isn’t going to be as much fun; rather it’s going to feel like maths. How many grams of flour needs to be added to how many grams of sweetner? And how many bakers does it take to change an oven lightbulb? (Answer: none. Please call your oven technician!)
Gathering the tools like whisks, a bowl to mix things in, spatulas and most importantly, measuring spoons or scales is well-begun, and half-done, as Mary Poppins would say. If you’re particularly passionate, we’d also suggest you get a thermometer to better understand melting and cooking temperatures of various items.
Step 3: Choose your ingredients correctly
You’ll be surprised to find out, through trial and error, that if a recipe calls for salted butter, unsalted butter just might ruin the final dish. Or if a recipe calls for a particular type of flour, your hastily-subbed in versions might end up tasting very different.
Stick to the recipe – as religiously as possible.
Step 4: Prep your ingredients properly
“Butter is butter, no matter what room temperature.” Nope. Nada. Not really. And nyet. Butter at room temperature mixes easier with ingredients, as opposed to frozen or liquid butter. Butter’s job in baking is to bind other ingredients together, which means it has to be the right consistency. If you’d rather not cook with butter and stay vegan, then you also need to investigate which oil can be subbed in, in that recipe. When using any oil, you must consider its smoke point and taste. Mustard oil has a very high smoke point, but it’s strong taste might not suit many dishes. Olive oil has a very low smoke point, but it’s much more versatile. Which oil suits your dish? Do a little research and R&D to find out.
Step 5: Size does matter aka Scoop and Level
Okay, we couldn’t resist that pun, but the truth is that when you’re starting off, you need to measure the ingredients according to the recipe. Too much flour or too much sweetener can lead to too-sweet or too-dense cakes, which you might not enjoy after all your hard work. Scoop out your dry ingredients in the measuring spoon, and level it off. Precision is key.
We’d even suggest separate cups for liquids and dry items, and scales for larger items. You’d also do well to print out a conversion chart and stick it to the fridge, so that at the last minute, you’re not running around trying to convert ounces into grams and panic into sanity.
Step 6: Do a test batch
Does 200˚C mean the same in your oven? Depending on make, country, convection or combination, ovens can differ slightly in how they measure temperatures. When you’re starting off, do a test batch to see how long the final dish takes. Or make tiny batches first and then make a full size batch. This way, you’re being crafty about the ingredients used or even wasted.
I Say Organic Baking Tool Cheat Sheet
- A large oven safe bowl
- A small oven safe bowl
- Two spatulas of differing width to scrape and smooth
- Whisks for folding ingredients together or electric whisk
- Scales and measuring cups for liquid and powder
- Baking mats or racks or muffin cups – basically a baking base for your intended dish
- Oven thermometer
- Toothpicks to test if something’s done