Baking, an art or a science?
Well, it's actually a little bit of both. As many a baker can tell you, ending up with a beautiful creation usually begins with a little imagination, and the right tools.
Unlike cooking, baking is about discipline. In cooking, if you feel like adding a little bit more wine to the recipe, it probably will not matter too much. In baking, a little extra flour could mean the difference between light and fluffy or dry and heavy.
For the novice bakers out there, this necessary adherence to the recipe is actually a boon. It provides a step-by-step roadmap to get from a pile of ingredients to "no way did you make this yourself!" exclamations after dinner.
Along with keeping some baking rules of thumb in mind; practice, patience and the right equipment will enable you to create great desserts just like a professional.
Baking Rules of thumb:
- Investing in a digital scale will ensure precise measurements. A good investment is a scale that can alternate between pounds and grams and has an ON/ZERO reset button that allows you to accurately add more ingredients without emptying or switching bowls.
- If you prefer using traditional measuring cups, it is best to use stainless steel measuring cups for dry ingredients and glass for liquid.
- When measuring flour, spoon it into the measuring cup instead of using the measuring cup as a scoop. The latter tends to result in a heavier cake. Always level dry ingredients with a knife.
- When measuring liquids, read the measurement on a level surface, not while holding the measuring cup in you hand. To ensure accuracy, it is best to use a measuring cup closest to the amount needed. For quantities under a cup, use a 1-cup measure. With the invention of the angled measuring cup you can now look straight down as you fill the cup with liquid -- no more stress on your knees or back and bobbing up and down to determine if you reached the desired amount.
- Creaming, which is the mixing of butter and sugar, is a crucial step in making the perfect textured dessert. The temperature of the butter ensures the required consistency. The ideal temperature is approximately 65║F as anything cooler or hotter decreases the volume of the mixture. The test for perfect butter consistency is if it spreads easily with some resistance and looks shiny without appearing greasy. The best way to reach this desired temperature is patience.
- When whipping cream, add the sugar in the beginning to ensure that it dissolves, otherwise the sweetened cream can have a gritty texture.
- Make sure you know your oven. The inside temperature of an oven can be anywhere from 25║ - 50║ off from the temperature indicator. The cooking time of the recipe should be adjusted to accommodate your oven. An oven thermometer would be a wise investment.
- Always grease your pan as the recipe directs, even if using a non-stick pan.
- Darker-colored pans (many of which are non-stick) absorb more heat resulting in quicker browning of the edges and bottom of baked goods. Consider lowering the cooking temperature and/or checking for doneness 5-10 minutes before the suggested cooking time.
- Using a pan with the right capacity is essential - If the pan is too big, your cake will bake too quickly, too small and it may overflow or be undercooked. A typical 2 layer cake recipe will yield 10-12 cups of batter that can fit into the following pans:
- Resting baked goods on a cooling rack before un-molding, icing and storing will result in perfect presentation.