When I began my adventures in cooking, I mostly tried to steer clear of baking. I have fuzzy memories of attempting to bake “healthy” treats around 2009-2010 and how absolutely horrible they were. Yet I still forced myself to eat the rubbery sugar free, fat free, (joy free…) “brownies.” Then there were some sort of vegan cookies I recall trying to sell people on that were equally as terrible. Also let’s be honest, baking is intimidating. If you delve into serious baking blogs, you suddenly want to buy the most expensive KitchenAid Mixer you can find, silpats, a very precise food scale so you can measure properly, and vanilla extract infused with unicorn horn powder. (Right? That’s a thing?)
With all the expertise that seemed necessary, I didn’t bake a thing until very recently. I started slowly, adapting this recipe for individual baked oatmeals so A and I would have some easy breakfasts we could both bring to work (ours are a bit different – let me know if you want me to go in depth on these!). I mean, it’s hard to mess up oatmeal. After the oatmeal, I moved on to bars making some apple butter bars, then some apple and pear cake, then suddenly I was just quickly whipping up a Vietnamese coffee cake with sweetened condensed milk frosting….and I realized hey, this baking thing, if taken slowly and carefully, is actually something I was pretty good at.
So good in fact, I am in charge of all desserts for Christmas at my house! And with my measly baking skills, I’ve got a few tips for new bakers to help and possibly take the intimidating-factor away
TIPS FOR BAKING WHEN YOU ARE AFRAID OF IT:
- Start small.
Look for a recipe that you feel like you can handle. The baked oatmeal barely felt like baking to me and gave me the confidence to later move on to more complicated recipes with different techniques and ingredients involved.
- If you have the room, ALWAYS buy more baking supplies than you need!
This is good for a few reasons, the first being that baking supplies can often be really expensive. Between the many different types of flour I have stocking my shelves (whole wheat, all purpose, baking, whole wheat pastry…) the different types of sugar (light brown, dark brown, cane, powdered) it can all add up. Now when I’m at the grocery store and I see that vanilla extract, chopped pecans, baking powder, RAINBOW SPRINKLES (I definitely bought two today in a BOGO deal…) or whatever else is on sale – I usually grab it. This leads to the second reason to stock up – you can bake on a whim! Now that I’m a bit more confident in my baking scales, I often look up recipes on a Saturday afternoon and whip up a batch of brownies, muffins, or cookies for fun. There is nothing better than opening the cabinet, seeing that I have plenty of cocoa powder, coconut oil, and whatever else to make something gooey and chocolatey. The more I bake the more comfortable I get with it – so having full cabinets is a necessity.
- Parchment Paper.
OH PARCHMENT PAPER YOU GLORIOUS CREATION. Parchment paper will save your life so many times. You can keep your pans completely clean, you can make cupcakes and muffins that don’t get stuck in their wrappers…parchment paper is the best. I’ve been buying these cupcake wrappers by Paper Chef whenever they’re on sale at my local grocery store. They’re a dream and they look great. I also just bought their tulip cups to make fancy cupcakes for Christmas.
- Get a good baking sheet and a cooling rack.
I never thought I’d need a cooling rack in my life. I just bought one. When you’re trying to cook multiple batches and you don’t have a plethora of pans – the cooling rack saves so much time. And speaking of that – a good baking sheet is necessary for cookies, too. I need to invest in several more, but right now I have a great half sheet that my mom gave me and I realize more and more how important a good baking sheet is!
- Be Brave.
You have to be a bit brave to start baking (cue Sara Bareilles please). I’m still a complete amateur, but I follow recipes very closely and I’ve been successful! And when I’ve had a problem, I’ve googled the crap out of it so it doesn’t happen the next time (Can we talk about how many in-depth articles I’ve read about how to achieve the perfect domed top for you muffin or cupcakes?) But I’m also not afraid to change things up a bit – I often substitute coconut oil for butter, vegetable oil, etc. And I sub in whole wheat pastry flour here and there for all purpose, and I usually sub in almond milk for regular milk (because I never have any!). I’ll toss in extra fruit or cocoa when I’m pretending I have real expertise. But also, don’t be afraid to try a challenging or new recipe. One of my favorite recipes (now) I made for the first time Thanksgiving-eve AND BROUGHT TO A’S THANKSGIVING DINNER. Guess what? It was delicious. And it’s that Cranberry cake with pecan topping from my last post, if you’re wondering. Go make it. And eat a whole loaf yourself. You won’t regret it – I promise.
Obviously, these are just the few things I’ve learned in my very short time as a home baker. Tips from one beginner to another. If anyone has any idea how to not make a huge mess and keep your dogs from being covered in flour, please let me know.
Coming up later this week: a review of Joy the Baker‘s latest – with some pics of the cookies I’m baking from it!