Baking Basics

Getting Ready/Equipment

  • Don't mess with the basic ingredients -the flour, liquid, salt, fat and leavening in your recipe. Unlike other types of cooking, you must measure your ingredients accurately and have the right tools to do so.
  • Dry ingredients are measured in flat topped measuring cups.  Be sure to fill them to the top and then level off the extra.  
  • Liquid measuring cups are usually glass, with more space at the top, and a pour spout. Add liquids to the cup, set it on the counter and look at it sideways, on its own level. Do not substitute liquid and dry measuring cups for one another -your ingredient measurements will be inaccurate if you do.
  • Tableware spoons should not be used for measuring since they vary in size.
  • For best results use shiny aluminum baking sheets without sides (baked products will brown more quickly on dark colored baking sheets because they absorb more heat than the shiny type). You can also turn a jelly roll pan (15 x 10 x 1-inch pan) upside down and use it in place of a baking sheet.
  • Prepare baking pans according to the recipe. Cookies with a high fat content may not need to be baked on a greased surface. Remember some non-stick pans can be ruined if you apply non-stick sprays.
  • Allow baking sheet to cool completely before reusing.
  • Line baking sheets with parchment paper. The paper will withstand high temperatures without scorching. This makes the baking sheet easier to clean, and you can slide the sheet of parchment with the baked cookies right onto your rack for cooling. However, as they cool you'll need to turn them over to complete the cooling and prevent the bottom of the cookies from getting soggy.
  • Bake only one sheet of cookies at a time on the middle rack in the center of the oven.
  • A wire cooling rack speeds the cooling of cookies, etc. It allows steam to escape from all sides of the baked product so the bottom doesn't get soggy.
  • Use a cooling rack with closely spaced wires so cookies have adequate support when cooling.
  • And remember to always supervise kids in the kitchen.

 

Ingredients

Flour 

  • All-purpose is a good choice for a wide variety of recipes from cookies to breads to cakes.
  • It comes in 2 basic forms; bleached and unbleached, which can be used interchangeably.
  • All-purpose flours today are "pre-sifted" therefore no need to sift the flour unless a recipe specifically states to do so. Do not tamp it down when measuring. Spoon it into cup and let it heap up, then use the flat side of a knife to level it off.
  • Whole wheat flour is heavier. If you substitute it for all-purpose, you'll end up with a baked brick. You can substitute half the flour in an all white flour recipe with whole wheat, but no more than that.

 

Butter

  • Substituting a spread product for butter or margarine is the most frequent baking mistake people make and often a guaranteed way to wind up throwing your results in the trash.
  • If the first ingredient on the product label is water, don't use it for baking. Spreads that are less than 60 percent fat have a lot of water included and will make cookies spread too thin or otherwise mess up recipes.
  • Stick margarine that is at least 80 percent fat can be substituted for butter. For best results, use butter if the recipe calls for butter. Buy it on sale when it is cheap and freeze it in the original packaging.

 

Baking Soda and Powder 

  • Place a teaspoon of baking powder in some warm water. It should foam and bubble quite actively if it is fresh.
  • Place a teaspoon of baking soda in a small bowl and add 1 Tbsp. vinegar. If the mixture fizzes then the baking soda is still good.
  • Baking powder cannot be substituted for baking soda. They are not the same thing.
  • Baking soda is used instead of baking powder when a recipe contains acid ingredients like buttermilk, vinegar or sour cream. It creates a chemical reaction as soon as the liquid ingredient is added, so the recipe should be baked immediately after mixing or the gases will escape and the product will not rise.

 

Eggs 

  • Egg sizes range from jumbo to small. Always use large size eggs in recipes unless it is specified differently.
  • Before purchasing, always check the carton to make sure there are no cracked eggs.
  • Eggs should be stored in the refrigerator. For optimum quality, use them before the "Best Before" date expires.
  • When eggs lose their freshness, the yolks flatten and the whites become runny. A fresh egg will sink in a bowl of water whereas an old egg will float.
  • When adding eggs to a recipe, break them one at a time into a small bowl before adding to the other ingredients. This way you can check the quality first and remove any pieces of shell.