Friday, 31 August 2012
I have friends who love to eat cakes and cookies, but they are scared to bake them from scratch. Often they will just wing it with a baking mix, topped with canned frosting. Now, I know I am a bit of a cake snob--I know, because my friend Ms. L was telling me that several people who've baked cakes for asked why we didn't just make cake from a box. I thought, "Really? Cake mix cake is better than made from scratch?" I pride myself in baking delicious cakes from scratch, the old fashioned way. So, this morning I am reading this article, and the author asked what kind of tips would I give to people who want to start baking, and/or improve their baking. I still have a lot to learn because I am not a professional baker, but these tips I've shared with my friends who want to make some simple cakes and cookies on their own.
Well, here is my answer. It is quite long, so I decided to write a post!
- Be sure to read through entire recipe before beginning.
- When choosing recipes from online sources, I like the read the reviews from other users. If there is a major flaw, the testers would note it. If I am determined to make that particular recipe, I will take that into consideration.
- You don't need fancy equipment, but be sure to use the right equipment. You don't need to have a KitchenAid stand mixer to bake cakes. I have both a stand mixer and an electric hand mixer, and I love my stand mixer but the electric hand mixer can do mostly all the cake and cookie batters. However, I would not recommend using the hand mixer to make kneaded breads. The bread dough is stiff, so that should be done by hand, or for a stand mixer with dough hook (or if you have a bread machine). The electric hand mixer will surely burn out if you use it to knead bread.
- Measuring cups. Dry and wet measuring cups are not the same. Be sure to use the proper measuring cups. There are some exceptions, such as shortening and peanut butter. Although they are wet ingredients, you should measure them in "dry" measuring cups rather than the glass liquid cups.
- If the recipe calls for ingredients by weight rather than cups/spoons, then use a scale if you have one. If you don't, keep looking for one with cups/spoon measurements. For example, if the recipe calls for 8 ounces of flour, it does not mean one cup. 1 cup of flour does not weigh 8 ounces.
- Use the proper sized pan listed in the recipe until you are more skilled at baking and know how to adjust the cooking times. A recipe that makes two 8" round cakes can usually make one 13x9" cake in a pan or 24 cupcakes, but each of the sizes do not take the same amount of time to bake.
- Each oven varies, but be sure to preheat well. My oven has an indicator that tells it has been heated to the temperature I set it to, but for some reason my cakes were not baking up right. I was able to call the manufacturer, until I realized that maybe the oven is not hot enough yet when I am about to put my pan in. So I spent a couple bucks and bought an oven thermometer. It turns out that when the oven beeps to tell me it's hot, it really wasn't yet. It was 50°F less at the time of the beep. I let it heat a little longer, maybe 10 minutes, then it was the proper temperature. My baking has improved since learning the oven temperature discrepancy.
- Gather all the ingredients before starting to bake.
- Use fresh quality ingredients, especially the dairy, eggs and leavening agents (baking powder, baking soda and yeast).
- Use the ingredients listed in the recipe, making substitutions may yield different results.
- Pretty much assume all the ingredients should be at room temperature, unless noted in the recipe. Any refrigerated ingredient, take them out at least 30 minutes so the eggs, milk and butter comes to room temperature. The time may vary depending on how warm your kitchen is.
- Most often the recipe may only say things like, "flour," "milk," "eggs," and "butter." Know that there are often several varieties of each ingredient available in the supermarket. I collect cookbooks and love reading them, most of them indicate that ALL PURPOSE flour, WHOLE milk, LARGE-sized eggs and UNSALTED butter are typically used unless noted otherwise.
- Often the recipe looks like it contains a lot of butter/oil and sugar. Yes, it does have large amounts of butter/oil and sugar. You may be tempted to reduce and/or replace with other ingredients, such as using apple sauce instead of butter. Well, the baking recipes are chemical combinations. The proper amount of fats, sugar, flour and liquids must be a certain way for the recipe to work as intended. Each ingredient contributes to the recipe: for flavor, color, texture, etc.
- You may need to look up the terms online to see how it is done. Stirring is not the same as folding. Stirring when you should have been folding can yield a poor result. Typical terms found in cake and cookie recipes are: "cream," "stir," "fold," "whisk," and "sift." Also you may need to look up "soft/medium/stiff" peaks when beating egg whites.
- Measure properly. Dry ingredients, such as flour, should be fluffed up with a spoon before scooping lightly into the measuring cup and leveling the top with the back of a knife. If the recipe says "1 cup sifted cake flour," that means you sift the cake flour first and then measure. If the recipe says, "1 cup cake flour, sifted," then that means fluff up the flour, measure into the cup and then sift.
- Edit: Measuring brown sugar is different then measuring granulated (white) sugar. The moisture in the brown sugar does not allow the sugar to fill the cup evenly, therefore needs to be pressed down into the cup to obtain and accurate measurement.
Now, I am not against cake mix, because that may be the only way some people can make a cake. Either they do not have time to fuss with all the ingredients, measuring and such, for busy folks who want something more homemade than buying. Occasionally I will use a mix, but I will spruce it up a bit. Often, a boxed cake mix will ask for vegetable oil, water and eggs. I use milk instead of water and melted butter instead of oil. I will also boost the flavoring a bit, usually add a teaspoon of vanilla, or some almond extract, spices (such as cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom), etc. Even though I may occasionally use a boxed cake mix, I refuse to use canned frosting, especially after tasting homemade frosting. Even decorator's icing is much better tasting then the canned frosting. It is easy to make! This is not the usual frosting recipe I use nowadays because I think it is too sweet for my tastes, but it is an easy standby.
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
6 to 8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk, room temperature
Place butter in a large mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer until smooth. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar at a time, beating after each addition. I usually add up to 6 cups by this point. Add vanilla; mix well--frosting should be very thick. Add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time until it reaches spreading consistency. You may not need to use all of it. You can tint this frosting to any color you like with gel paste food coloring. If you only have liquid food colors, add before adding the milk. Adding more liquid makes the frosting thinner and more difficult to pipe/spread.
I hope baking beginners find this helpful
Baking Friends, did I miss anything baking topic that needs to be addressed?