While it is easy enough to buy prepackaged goodies in the supermarket, there are many parents and single folks alike who are daring to take on the challenge of producing delicious baked goods in their own ovens. Nothing beats the aroma of freshly baked cookies and brownies after school, or a warm cinnamon bun for breakfast in the morning.
Although it is daunting at first, learning to bake is both a science and art that can be self-taught. As a home baker for more than 5 years, I am certainly a novice, but have learned some important basics that can be quite helpful in ensuring an orderly kitchen, a sane cook, and hopefully, a mostly successful end product for you and your family.
The Kitchen Basics
When it comes to kitchen equipment, start small.
While it seems like the best idea to buy all gadgets right now, you’re making a mistake. By purchasing your most basic kitchen utensils and supplies, you will first learn basic baking skills, and learn what your kitchen will need as you progress. For example, if you plan on making pies a great deal, you may end up needing a food processor, like a Cuisinart Food Processor, but not 20 different sized cake pans. Invest your dough (pun intended) in good spoons, spatulas, a few pans and bowls, and measuring cups. As you continue in your baking, you may need those bundt pans and 20-cup food processor. But not today.
Decide what you would like to prepare.
Not everyone is a bread baker, but by deciding what YOU like, you will find your niche in what works best for you. If you are a cake lover, start with that, and find ONE recipe to use. Scour cookbooks in the library (or shell out some cash for one for your home, you will have to eventually), or find out if that family recipe for coconut cake is written down somewhere. Once you’ve decided on what to prepare, you can shop for ingredients.
Pick just one recipe.
Or mix. Yes, you read that right. If you need to slice and bake to feel comfortable with your oven, by all means, start there. This is not a contest. But when you are ready, you need to pick one thing, one thing you will call your own. That is not to say you will never become a pastry expert, turning out both breads and cookies, but decide on one thing to prepare, one type of baked good to perfect. My experience has shown that if you try to take on too much at one time, you will become frustrated and give up completely. So learn the perfect chocolate chip cookie. The brioche will come later, when you want it to.
Storage is the key.
This is the one tip that saved my sanity, and made my life 100 times easier. Designate a baker’s cabinet. Whether you bake cakes from a box or breads from scratch, select one cabinet or shelf in your pantry for baking supplies only. My cabinet contains flavorings (vanilla, almond, lemon), cornstarch, baking powder, various sugars, cocoa powder, spices, sprinkles, etc. If you have enough space, you can include any special pans, rolling pins, and pie tins, whatever you want. I promise you, by having a space just for baking, you will bake more, feel organized, and be ready when you need a batch of emergency brownies for your church or kids’ school function (or midnight deals on munchies for you and your pals).
So, now that you have enough information and courage, it’s time to get started! You can do it, and if all else fails, you know how to drive to the Mega Mart to try again. In part 2, I will share some more basic tips and new information on specific baking issues.
While you’re here, be sure to check out our kitchen product reviews!