Tuesday, February 18, 2014

5 Need-to-Know Tips for Baking

I've been helping my mom in the kitchen ever since I was old enough to stand on a chair and stir something. She is a baker - she used to work professionally as a baker in a restaurant, and she regularly bakes things at home. Now that I have a child of my own, and she's old enough to stand on a chair and help, we've been doing a lot of baking in my own home. I bake my own bread, I bake a lot of cookies and other sweets around the holidays, and I even bake dinner every now and again. I've compiled some tips, here and there, and I thought I'd share. :)

My very first batch of bread.
It was even more delicious than it looks.
  1. Watch the weather - for things with a dough, especially, humidity matters. If it's a dry day, put in just a little less flour; if it's been raining, add a little bit of flour. By "a little", I mean 1/4 cup at a time, max, because that's easy to fix if it winds up being too much flour - just sprinkle some water. (By "some water", I mean get your hand wet and flick your fingers at the dough. If it's still dry after mixing, do it again.)
  2. A stand-mixer is your friend, if you do a lot of baking. I use it to mix my ingredients, and to knead my dough. These are things that I can do by hand, but the mixer makes it so much easier. If you decide to invest, you can buy attachments to make and cut your own fresh pasta or grind your own meat, and lots of other things, too.
  3. On the heels of #2, sometimes doing this stuff by hand is better. Last time I made bread, the mixer started smoking because the dough wasn't stuck to the hook; it was on the side of the bowl, and every time the bread hook came around, it'd slow down the hook, which made something in the motor grind. There were no flames, thank goodness, but it was scary once I noticed.
  4. Follow a recipe, for at least the first few times you make something. Baking is a form of chemistry, and you wouldn't go around adding chemicals in a lab together willy-nilly, would you? I've never seen anything explode in a kitchen, but you might wind up with flat (or sky-high) bread, or tough dough, or just really weird-tasting food.
  5. Several of these tips (and the last few tips I have in mind) boil down to "pay attention", so that's what I'm going with. Just pay attention! Pay attention to the weather, pay attention to your mixer, pay attention to your recipe, pay attention to the oven temperature and placement of the racks, and most importantly, pay attention to the food/dough itself. Once you've done this for a while, the food will tell you what it needs (more flour? more moisture? more kneading?) by how it looks, feels, and/or tastes.
And, a bonus tip spurred by the picture above - stackable wire cooling racks are the bee's knees when it comes to baking. Mine are too short to stack with loaves of bread, but they are a space-saver when it comes to cookies, pies, cinnamon rolls, casseroles, and other short, baked goods.

Do you have your own tips for baking? Leave them in the comments, and I might do a "Readers' Special" post with your tips! :)

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