Cooking and baking — is there a difference? Cooking can be sweet or savory and does not require a recipe. Baking is more of a science, where teaspoons and ounces need to be exact for a quality product.
While my Grandmother Arnett could bake a great batch of biscuits without ever looking at a recipe, that came from years of experience. Personally, I depend upon a recipe when baking.
There are a few tricks, if you will, that will ensure your baked products turn out perfectly every time.
Preheat the oven. Most baked goods require a leavening agent that reacts with heat and other ingredients to make the product rise. They need the shock of a preheated oven to kick them into action.
Set the timer. Burnt cookies don’t taste good and are a waste of time, effort and money. Once you have set the timer, resist opening the door to check on the product. Opening the door decreases the oven temperature, adding 3-5 minutes to the baking time and causing cakes to collapse.
Grease your pans correctly. You don’t want to leave half the chocolate cake in the pan because it is stuck to the bottom. The best way to grease cake pans is to coat the sides and bottom with butter (use a little on waxed paper or a paper towel for ease of cleanup) and then lightly flour the pans. Using a parchment paper round that you have cut to fit also keeps the bottom from sticking to the pan.
Measure flour correctly. Scooping out of the bag is not an accurate way to measure flour. Stir the flour loosen it, then spoon the flour gently into the measuring cup, and then use a straight edge to level off the top.
Sift some ingredients. While sifting flour is usually unnecessary, sifting cocoa powder or powdered sugar will prevent them from clumping.
Use the correct leavening agents. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, which requires an acid and liquid to activate and helps baked goods rise. Baking soda is 3 to 4 times stronger than baking powder but creates a metallic, soapy taste if you add too much or forget the acid. Baking powder is a combination of baking soda and an acid, usually cream of tartar. Baking powder only needs a liquid to be activated.
Most baking powder is double acting: first when it gets wet and then again when it is heated. Dried yeast must be rehydrated with warm moisture first and then it releases carbon dioxide for rising by feeding off the sugar in the recipe. Liquid above 115 degrees F will kill the yeast so your product will not rise. Less than 110 degrees will keep it from becoming rehydrated. Yeast gives a characteristic aroma and flavor to breads.
Resist overmixing. If you overmix cake batter, it will be tough and muffins will have tunneling inside. Go for tender and moist by just mixing until small bits of flour show.
Use substitute ingredients that you know work. For example, 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice plus enough milk to measure 1 cup is an acceptable substitute for buttermilk. If you use buttermilk instead of milk, you will need to substitute baking soda for some or all of the baking powder as the acid in the buttermilk reduces the carbon dioxide released.
Enjoy the baking process! There is nothing better than a kitchen full of the aromas of baking your favorite recipe.
½ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup applesauce
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup raisins
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix shortening, sugar and applesauce until creamy. Add flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg mix together until well combined. Stir in raisins, nuts and vanilla. Spread batter in a greased 13x9x2-inch pan. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until top is lightly browned.
Yield: 24 servings
Nutritional Analysis: 130 calories; 4.5 g total fat; 1 g saturated fat; 1.5 g trans fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 240 mg sodium; 23 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 1 g protein
Editor’s note: The source of this article is Dr. Sandra Bastin, RDN, LDN, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension professor, and Food and Nutrition specialist. References include Food Network, Baking Ingredient Guide, https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/packages/baking-guide/baking-ingredient-guide. The recipe with this article was downloaded from “Plan. Eat. Move.” An informational website provided by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service Nutrition Education Program and found at https://www.planeatmove.com/recipes/recipe/southern-fish-in-a-foil/
Reach Cecelia Hostilo, Trigg County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences, at P. O. Box 271 (2657 Old Hopkinsville Road), Cadiz, KY 42211, by phone at 270-522-3269, fax at 270-522-9192 or email email@example.com.