November 16, 2014

General Baking Tips

I like to think of baking as a science, which is probably why I love it so much. Combine reactants A and B, add heat, a chemical reaction occurs, and product C is formed. Any slight change and you get a different product. This can be either good or bad, but it is an experiment- one that can be done multiple times with different variants to determine what product is the best! Alright, so all nerd talk aside, baking is fun! Don't give up because it's not working for you. With practice and knowing what to look for, you can have the baking skills of Martha Stewart in no time!

All Ovens Are Not Created Equal
I used to nanny for a family in New York that had a Miele Convection Oven. This appliance was baking perfection- no hot spots, complete temperature precision, and didn't heat up the kitchen to temperatures relative of Mordor. Unfortunately, that oven is not mine and most of us are not lucky enough to have an oven that costs $3000. Every oven is different, and because of this you must watch what you are baking! Know a few things when baking:
1. Baking times are a guideline, not an exact science. So many variables can result in needing more or less time. Learn to know what your baked good should look and feel like when done. Does the middle of your cake look like batter? Keep it in the oven! Are your cookies turning golden brown on the edges? They are getting close to being done, or might even be ready! Pay attention and you will know when it is time to take it out.
2. Oven temperatures vary from what they say. Gas ovens fire up to bring the temperature back to what it should be, cycling from cooler to hotter. Some ovens are not correctly calibrated and read off a wrong temperature. It is wise to invest in an oven thermometer to get a better gauge on the actual temperature inside your oven.
3. Most ovens have hot spots. The back of your oven might burn food while the front is undercooking food. Rotate to ensure even baking. Additionally, make sure there is enough room for air circulation, and keep the pan near the center.
4. Even fancy convection ovens will differ in baking time from what the recipe says. Convection ovens are awesome, but they bake faster! Keep watch on what you are baking and you will start to figure out how much to reduce baking times.

Those Eggs Are Probably Still Good
Eggs last so much longer than the printed label wants you to think. To check, lower the egg in question into a bowl of cold water. Does it float? Time to say goodbye... but if it sinks or stands on it's tip it is still good to use! Keep in mind that if it sank but is standing on it's tip that it should be used promptly.

You Can Change and Substitute Ingredients, but Your Consistency Might Change
Remember what I said about baking being a science? If you change the chemical makeup, you will form a new product. Simple changes like omitting nutmeg, adding more cinnamon, or slightly reducing the amount of sugar are all small changes you can easily get away with. Removing baking soda or baking powder will cause your dessert to fall flat. They are both leavening agents which help aid in rising. Eggs also help with leavening, add moisture, and act like a "glue" to your baked goods. Too much flour can result in a gummy and dry texture, and your dessert might not be able to hold together if there isn't enough. Flour is most accurate when measured in grams on a scale rather than by cups. Keep in mind ratios when baking- if you reduce the amount of oil or butter, you might also want to reduce the amount of flour. Don't let this scare you! Some substitutions really do work. I've had amazing vegan cookies (no animal products- butter and eggs), so experiment and find what works for you!

Don't Overwork Your Flour
Overworked flour can easily turn a flaky pie crust into a piece of rubber. Once flour is just mixed in, it's time to stop.

Be Aware of Temperatures
Recipe say to mix in cold butter? To chill dough before baking? To reduce oven temperature after 25 minutes? Use room temperature eggs and butter? These instructions are crucial. Don't try to cut corners for something that might seem insignificant because your baking will ultimately suffer.

Follow Instructions
Remember how I said baking times are just a guideline? Well, other instructions when baking don't have as much wiggle room. Under-mixing or over-mixing can change consistency. Adding ingredients in a different order can change how you product will rise. Make sure that you sift ingredients if the instructions say to! Flour and powdered sugar can very easily clump and leave dry pockets in your batter if not properly sifted. Don't act like your boyfriend when putting together IKEA furniture; read and follow the instructions and you will be just fine.

Have Fun!
The more fun you have, the more you will want to bake. The more you bake, the better you will be! Learning what not to do is just as important as learning the right way. So go get your apron and get to it! As Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus used to say, "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!"

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What have you learned from your time baking? Comment below and let me know!


2 comments:

  1. great tips! thank you for sharing!
    i'm following you on bloglovin' and twitter. hope you'll look for me too. see you around!


    a possible fantasy

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