Secret Tips For Better Baking

To some baking is second nature to others baking seems to be seeped in some dark mystery. Take the mystery out of baking today, it really is easy, when you know how.

Baking encompasses the method of making cookies, cakes, puddings and biscuits. The recipes are based on flour and it generally requires the use of an oven.

The ingredients used in baking can be wide and varied, but there are several items that are included in most baking. These include:

Plain white flour – is a blended wheat flour, used for all general baking.
Self-raising flour – white flour with a raising agent (baking powder) added.
Wholemeal flour – flour made from the entire grain.

Raising agents
Raising agents produce carbon dioxide and cause your baking to rise up and be light. Bicarbonate of soda is a raising agent which, produces carbon dioxide when mixed with an acid. Baking powder is a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and tartaric acid which produces carbon dioxide when moistened.

Different recipes call for different types of sugar. Each sugar should be used according to the recipe. Types of sugar include – super-fine (caster), confectionery (icing), brown sugar, demerara and muscovado.

Eggs for baking include the yolk and the white. Sometimes they are used whole or sometimes they are required to be separated. Eggs are used as a binding agent in baking.

Fats give moisture and/or air to baking. A number of different oils can be used as well as butter, lard, shortening and margarine.

In the basic baking of cookies and cakes there are four main methods. These baking methods include:-

Creaming method
This is where the fat and sugar are "creamed together", using an electric mixer. This requires the fat at room temperature. It and the sugar are beaten until smooth and creamy. The eggs are then added and beaten lightly. The flour then folded in. Cakes made by the creaming method tend to keep well due to the amount of fat in the mixture.

Whisking method
This is when the eggs and sugar are first whisked together to form a foamy consistency. This technique entraps the air, which, when heated in the oven, expands and raises the cake. The flour is then carefully folded in. These cakes are known as sponge cakes and do not keep as well as creamed cakes.

Rubbing-in method
You either like doing this or you don’t – and I don’t. Getting the butter and flour under my nails makes me wince. Anyway the rubbing-in method involves having the fat at room temperature and with your finger tips rub it through the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. This method is used for scones, shortbread, rock cakes and tea breads. It results in a baked item less rich as the fat content is usually less.

Melting method
This is the method used to make moist, heavy cookies like flapjacks and cakes like gingerbread. The fat and sugar are heated until all are dissolved, before the addition of the eggs, flour, raising agent and any spices. These cakes keep well due to their high fat and sugar content. Best kept wrapped to maintain their moist texture.

One of the good things about baking, is that you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment other than your oven. When using a new oven it often takes a few bakes to get to know what temperature it is really running at.

Other baking equipment that you will need includes:-

Baking sheet (tray)
This what you are going to cook your cookie on.

Baking paper (or silicone sheet)
I find this an absolute must. It saves on ruining things by sticking and makes cleaning up so much easier. Definitely, get yourself a roll of baking paper.

Baking Tins
A pair of sandwich tins are useful. A round tin or two is a must and a bar tin is good for a start. If you start doing lots of baking then you can acquire more shapes and sizes.

Muffin/Cupcake Tray
It is a good idea to get a muffin tray. Muffins and cupcakes are a great way to start baking. Use cupcake papers and this will help with washing up.

So there are the basics to baking. No mystery at all really, just a little know how and understanding.

Happy Cooking
Francis Chang

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