The Basics: Baking 101
Ok, so some people like to bake. Some just like to cook. I happen to be one of those that enjoys doing both. Baking (especially bread) provides me a sense of accomplishment that I do not get from making a simple dish like spaghetti. Maybe it's because it does not take much for me to make a plate of pasta but with baking, I have to think in ratios and how the ingredients work together. It takes patience and I have to measure ingredients (most of the time). It's more precise than making meatloaf or soup.
However, if you are new to this whole "baking" thing, I have some tips for you:
Baking is a science, more so than cooking. Treating it like a science will definitely improve your baking skills.
Know your chemical leavening agents, which are acids and bases (Oh no! Chemistry!!):
Preheat the oven
This seems like a no-brainer but it must be repeated. Preheat the oven prior to baking. This is especially important for cakes, muffins, or breads where it is important that the immediate heat of the hot oven starts the baking process right away (like getting those chemical reactions to occur rapidly).
Room temperature ingredients
Unless you are making pastries, you need room temperature ingredients. For instance, if you are making cakes, cookies, or muffins, let all the butter, eggs, and milk come to room temperature before mixing together. If the butter is at room temperature and you’ve carefully creamed it together with the sugar, adding cold eggs and milk will start to solidify the butter. Your end product will turn out greasy.
Nearly every cookie or cake recipe calls for creaming together the butter and sugar. What does this even mean? Well, it means thoroughly mixing together the butter and sugar until it is one homogenized mixture, light, and fluffy.
Muffins (and pancakes)
Do not over mix muffin or pancake batter. Why? Over mixing the batter will make a tough, flat pancake and causing tunneling (air pockets) in muffins. Mix the wet and dry ingredients separately before combining. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and then stir the mixture until just combined. Some tiny lumps are ok. The batter should not be smooth.
Master a simple cake recipe, cookie recipe, and muffin recipe like the one below. Below is my grandmother's snickerdoodle recipe and happens to be my kids' favorite cookie. I will be posting more cake, cookie, and muffin recipes over the next few months. Stay tuned!
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Cream together the shortening, sugars, eggs, and cream. Add the vanilla. In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly to combine well. The cookie dough will be quite stiff.
In a small bowl, mix together the 1/2 cup sugar and teaspoon of cinnamon. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in the cinnamon and sugar. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown.
Cool on a wire rack.
*You can use white whole wheat flour.