Feb 9, 2015

Baking Basics for Beginners

It's been a year since I got into baking and it has become one of my hobbies that I look forward to every weekend. I bake something atleast once a week, which my family really appreciates and enjoys the end results. Some say baking is therapeutic and brings joy. I totally agree!

This post is an attempt to help others who want to get into baking but don't know how. What's the first step? Buying an oven, ofcourse? Not really, some use pressure cooker to bake cakes but I haven't tried that method yet. I have a LG 28 litres convection microwave oven. There have been many debates on OTG v/s convection but for a small scale home requirement, I find convection oven to be perfect. It occupies less space and cakes/muffins come out good. The only regret is that I could have purchased a slightly bigger one, to make a bigger batch of cookies/muffins. For a family of 3 (2 adults + 1 child), 28 litres is adequate but for a bigger family, I would recommend you invest in a 30 ltrs+ model.

Next comes the accessories. Most MW ovens come with a baking pan/tava that you could use for baking pizza, cookies etc. For baking cakes, I have 3 pans - a 4" square pan, a 8" round pan and a medium loaf pan. I also have a muffin tin that can hold upto 6 muffins. All are made of aluminum and you can get them easily from any supermarket.

Apart from these, you need a mixing bowl, a hand whisk, a sifting plate and measuring cups. Any broad steel vessel/frying pan would be perfect as a mixing bowl. You don't have to invest in a delicate glass bowl. Measuring cups and spoons are a must and they are easily available too.

Now comes the basic baking ingredients to stock in the pantry - flour, sweetener and fat.

Before I ventured into baking, all-purpose flour (maida) never found a place in my grocery list. But it has become a regular now. I usually try to tweak the flour proportion with 50:50 wholewheat flour : maida so it's relatively healthier.

For sweetener, I usually substitute either sulphur-free brown sugar or organic powdered jaggery in place of white sugar. But I would suggest you to start off with regular sugar and once you try out a few recipes, then experiment with these substitutions ;-)

For the fat, I use either sunflower oil or rice bran oil for cakes and unsalted butter for cookies.

Buy good quality baking powder and baking soda. Store them in air-tight containers.
Buy good quality unsweetened cocoa powder. I use Cadbury. I have heard Hersheys is good too.
Also have vanilla extract handy. I usually buy a small bottle of Bush vanilla essence.
I prefer to bake eggless recipes. But if you don't mind eggs in your cakes, make sure you have some fresh eggs stocked up in your pantry.

Now, you are all set to bake.

There are loads of recipes available but figuring out which one to bake when you have the urge to bake something is the tricky part. Many days, I would happily browse one recipe after another, without realizing 30 minutes has whizzed past by then :-)

Here are some of the recipes (eggless) which I have tried many times and have worked out very well.

Banana muffins
Apple cinnamon muffins
Chocolate muffins
Lemon cupcakes

Carrot cake
Chocolate cake
Gingerbread spiced cake
Strawberry yoghurt cake
Chocolate nuts cake
Banana walnut cake 

Oatmeal raisin cookies
Ragi cookies
Cumin cookies
Chocochip oatmeal cookies
Jowar coconut cookies

Other minor aspects to keep in mind:
  • Ensure you have undistracted time of atleast 20 minutes before you get into baking. I usually bake when my little one takes her nap in the afternoons.
  • Baking requires multiple dishes/pans/cups/spoons etc. So if your maid/househelp has informed you of leave the next day, postpone the baking plan :-)
  • I usually don't ice or frost my cakes. The amount of oil and sugar that goes into the base of the cake in itself makes me feel a little worried on the health factor. But do try out icing your cake once in a while. It looks pretty and tastes yummy too.
  • Plan for power fluctuations if they occur in your home in a predictable manner. I have heard eggless cakes are unforgiving if power goes off in the middle of baking. So far, I have faced this problem only once (touchwood!) and the power came back in 10 minutes.
  • You can easily substitute with other flours and sugar substitutes to make healthier cakes. In any case, Home-baked ones are way better as compared to the ones available in the bakery.
Do share your comments if you have any questions. I'll continue to write about how my baking adventure is progressing!

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