Novice cooks sometimes find baking intimidating – so here’s my answers to 10 common baking questions to get you started in your quest for cake!
This month in the Lambs’ Ears Cookbook Club we are cooking from First Cream the Butter & Sugar, a gorgeous new Australian baking cookbook, and it made me think about all the novice bakers out there and 10 common baking questions that get asked.
I’ve been baking since I was a kid and am simply a competent home baker, not a professional. I have shared lots of baking tips here and here, but there’s so much more knowledge to share. I want as many people as possible to know the joy of a fresh home baked cake, slice or cookie, so here goes – my answers to 10 common baking questions.
- What is baking?
Baking is the process of cooking food using dry heat, typically in an oven. It is a popular method of cooking for a wide range of dishes, from bread and pastries, but the literal definition can include casseroles and roasted meats.
2. How/why do I preheat an oven for baking?
Preheating an oven is an important step in baking. Placing the item to be baked in an already heated oven ensures even cooking and is imperative, especially when baking cakes, pastries etc. To preheat an oven, set the temperature to the desired level and allow the oven to warm up for at least 10-15 minutes before placing any food inside. (See my notes on checking oven temperatures here.)
3. What is the difference between baking powder and baking soda?
Baking powder and baking soda are both agents used to create a rise in your bake, but they work differently. Baking powder contains both an acid and a base, while baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. Baking soda is typically used in recipes that contain acidic ingredients (like lemon juice or yoghurt), while baking powder is used in recipes that do not.
4. Can I substitute butter for oil in baking?
Yes, in most cases you can substitute butter for oil in baking. However, keep in mind that butter has a percentage of water in it, whereas oil does not, and this can change the texture of your bake.
5. How do I know when my cake is done?
The best way to determine if cake is done is to use a toothpick or cake tester. Insert it into the centre of the cake and if it comes out clean, it is done. Once you have a little more experience, you can also tell by feel – when you gently press on the top of a cake it will spring back when done.
6. How do I store baked goods?
Baked goods should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Some things, like bread and cake, can also be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for longer storage, but may dry out a little.
7. Can I use plain/all-purpose flour for baking?
Yes, all-purpose flour can be used for baking a variety of goods, from cakes to bread. However, for some recipes, like bread or pastry, different flour may be required to get the desired texture.
8. What is the purpose of creaming butter and sugar?
Creaming butter and sugar together is an important step in baking cakes. It aerates the batter to create a light, fluffy texture and also helps to evenly distribute the sugar throughout the mixture.
9. How do I make my baked goods rise?
See question 3 – baked goods rise due to the action of leavening agents, like yeast, baking powder, or baking soda. It is vital to follow the recipe carefully to ensure the correct amount is used, and it’s important to check the use-by dates of your leavening agent. Many a bake has failed due to elderly baking powder.
10. How do I prevent my baking creations from sticking to the pan?
To prevent baked goods from sticking to the pan, you must follow the recipe instructions to properly grease and flour the pan before adding the batter. I always use parchment paper to line the bottom of cake pans for easy removal.
I hope this helps baking newbies out there to gain a little more confidence and give baking a try. It’s one of the most rewarding (and therapeutic) forms of cooking. If you have any other questions – just ask me!