Handy Baking Tips

My love of cooking and baking was something which began when I was about 7 years old. My grandmother catered and I often went along with my mother to help her when she had large orders and needed extra hands in the kitchen. I would help make bouchée cases with pastry, which would be later filled with things such as tiny sweet shrimp in a bunjal curry sauce, or creamy chicken salad. My grandmother was well known for her expert Choux pastry which she made into delicious chocolate eclairs and chicken puffs and her special two part flaky pastry which she made into Chinese bean cakes. She had a small business, and put her heart and soul into making delicious treasures which her clients enjoyed. I was very lucky to have had an early mentor in the kitchen who stimulated my interest and love of food and food preparation.

As I grew up and honed in on my skills, I began to create my own repertoire of recipes. Through the years I have amassed a wealth of recipes and techniques which have been the heart of my home kitchen. I have learned so much from other wonderful home cooks at various stages of my life in both Guyana and Haiti. I love to welcome guests to my home. I bake frequently and cook everyday. It has become second nature to me now and I find great joy in preparing meals and treats for friends and family. Our best memories are made in the kitchen and around the dining table.

I have been getting lots of positive and encouraging feedback about my blog from so many people, I am awestruck. I just want to share my passion for food and cooking with tidbits of my life and things which have influenced my life journey. I am also discovering that everyone loves food, but so many find cooking laborious and daunting. As a consequence, many people opt for dining out or they pick up food to take home after work. I understand that it's just easier to take this route, but I feel that a couple of nights or during the weekend, everyone can make a home cooked meal and that it can be a tasty and simple experience. A simple good, healthy meal can be whipped up in about 30 mins. It just requires a little planning and organization. Usually a meal can take an average of 45 minutes to an hour to prepare, but once you plan ahead, you can cut your prep and cooking time down. Once you get your kitchen basics in terms of cookware and pantry items organized, quick and delicious meals can be made more often. This ultimately will save you time and is definitely more economical. The biggest advantage is that you can control the freshness and quality of the ingredients and you know what you are consuming.

As I have had several people ask me some baking questions recently, I will begin with some baking tips that will ensure success in your home kitchen. If you follow the recipes I have shared, you should have success.

Baking 101: Kitchen tools you need to have as a home baker

Set of measuring cups: 4 graduated cups 1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4 cup measures; preferably stainless steel.

Set of measuring spoons, graduated 1tbsp, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/3, 1/8 tsp.

Liquid measuring cup. Graduated in cups, ml, oz

1 lg glass bowl or a set of graduated glass bowls

Set of stainless steel bowls

Wire whisk

Several rubber spatulas

Square edged  stainless steel spatula 

Large sifter

A hand mixer or a stand mixer

A timer

A rolling pin; medium size

A pastry brush

Cookie scoops small and large 

Baking pans and molds: most useful sizes

2 Cookie sheet pans 10 1/2 by 15 1/2 by 1"

Xlg Sheet pan 12 1/2 by 17 1/2 by 1"

1-2 loaf pans 9 by 5 by 3"

Bundt cake pan or tube cake pan 10 cup capacity

2 cup cake/ muffin pans 2 1/2" wide

Brownie pan

1  8 or 9" square baking pan

2 8" round cake pans

9" pie plate or 9-10" tart dish with removable bottom

A large  rectangular cooling rack and 1 square or round one for cakes

Parchment paper or a silpat sheet

Optional equipment that is useful: 

Citrus zester, citrus press, dough blender, icing spatula, off-set spatula,

Nutmeg grater, food processor & pizza pan

Baking basics for achieving success

1. Always ensure your ingredients are fresh and good quality. Baking is an exact science. Follow the quantity stipulated as well as the oven temperatures and time guidelines to get the best results. You also need to have some counter space on which to work and organize. There is a methodology to baking. Follow the steps as stated. If a recipe requires a creaming of butter and sugar, do not add the flour before the mixture. It is imperative to follow the order in which the steps are dictated. Refraining from doing so could result in an entirely different end product. Measure your ingredients well. Level flour and sugar properly. Liquid measure should be measured in a measuring cup with graduated measures in the sides.

2. The choice on whether to use butter or margarine is a personal one. Can one be substituted for the other in a baking recipe? Absolutely!! I personally have made both cakes and pastry with perfect results from margarine. Having said that, I will say that Butter definitely gives you a richer flavor and tenderness in cakes and pastries. Margarine results were very acceptable in both taste and quality. Whatever you chose to use, remove from the refrigerator at least 20 minutes before use. However, for pastry making, I would advise that cold butter or margarine be used as soft butter will not produce great results or a flaky pastry.

3. If a recipe calls for flour, it is usually all-purpose flour. Self-rising flour contains baking powder and salt. If you only have this type of flour on hand, you have to reduce or eliminate the quantity of baking powder and salt. Cake flour is a finer flour which has been sifted several times to create a good texture for cakes. The substitute for cake flour is 1 cup all purpose flour less 2 tbsp. Always sift your flour as well as your levening agents. Sometimes baking powder and soda can form small solid pieces. These do not dissolve easily and thus, need to be broken down and sifted before addition. Cocoa powder should also be sifted before using.

4. When a recipe calls for sugar, it means white or granulated sugar. If a recipe requires brown sugar, white sugar should not be used as a substitute, as each type of sugar yields different textures. A substitute for brown sugar can be made by adding molasses. 1cup white sugar + 3 tbsps molasses = 1 cup brown sugar. Powdered sugar is also known as icing sugar. Never use granulated sugar in place of powdered sugar. This type of sugar is for making frosting or for powdering cakes, pastries or donuts.

5. Use eggs that are room temperature. Never crack them directly into your batter. Have a medium bowl and a small bowl ready. Crack each egg separately and add each one to the medium bowl once you have assured that it is fresh. There is nothing worse than losing your batter to a bad egg. Cracking the eggs separately also makes it easier to remove any tiny pieces of shell which can fall into the bowl. It's rather unpleasant to have eggshells in your food. 

6. Always use a timer. It's very easy to forget that you have something in the oven. A timer will always ensure that you remember  your baked goods. If you have 2 different types of recipes being made at the same time and they require different baking times, it  is a good idea to have 2 separate timers. Your cell phone can act as a great substitute for a kitchen timer.

7. It is primordial when baking a cake not to open the oven unecessarily. The drop in temperature caused when the door is opened could cause a cake to deflate. For this reason, I would highly recommend that if baking cookies which take about 15-20 minutes, you do not also attempt to bake a cake which will take 50-60 minutes. It would be better to bake them separately to ensure the best results. If however you are baking a tart or pie, you can combine this with another item. As long as there is no raising agent or beaten egg content that can be deflated; opening the oven door several times during the cooking time will lower the temperature but will not affect the outcome.

8. Preparing a pan means greasing and flouring it before adding the batter. Not all recipes require that the pan be prepared. If it is a requirement, ensure that all of the edges, nooks and crannies are covered. There is nothing more frustrating than being unable to unmold a cake. Use parchment paper or a silpat mat for cookies or pastries to enable easy removal. Cake pans may also be greased and lined with wax or parchment paper for easy removal.

9. Pre-heat your oven before using. Check the required temperature of the recipe. The required oven temperature will vary depending on the recipe. An oven thermometer is a great addition if your oven calibration is not what it should be. Always test your cakes or sweet breads with a skewer or toothpick to ensure that they are done. If there is sticky batter on the skewer when the cooking time has elapsed, you need to continue cooking for about 5-10 minutes longer. If your cake, banana bread or tart has already browned sufficiently but the center is still uncooked; cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and allow to bake for a little extra time. Be careful not to over bake. Check every 5 minutes. The rule of thumb to test for doneness is, a skewer inserted in the center of the cake should come out clean when done.

10. A good thing to note is that even after you have removed your cake or roast from the oven, the internal temperature continues to cook for about 15- 20 minutes, until it cools down. It is always better to have something slightly undercooked than over cooked as a result. Move the baking pan away from the oven to cool down. Never turn off the oven and leave the pan inside the hot oven.

11. Never try to ummold a hot cake. Allow the cake pan to cool for about 15 minutes on a wire rack to allow air circulation. During this time, the cake will usually shrink back slightly and removal is easier. Do not allow a cake to cool completely in the pan or it will be very difficult to be removed afterwards.Cookies should not be allowed to cool completely on the baking tray or they will stick. Remove about 5 minutes after being removed from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

 12. When using dry spices, smell them to ensure that they are fresh, especially if you have them in your pantry for a while. Opened spices and extracts can lose their flavors after a while. The expiration dates of raising agents such as yeast, baking powder and baking soda; should always be verified before use. Using expired products will definitely affect the result of your baked goods. Dried spice can be kept fresh for long periods when kept in ziplock bags in the freezer.

I hope that these tips can help you to achieve great results in all of your baking endeavors. Having the right tools in the kitchen will always help to make the task easier. I would also recommend that if you plan on baking or cooking; choose the recipe and ensure that you have all of the ingredients before you start. It can be quite an exasperating experience to have the excitement turn amuck, if you realize half way through that you do not have everything you need to complete the recipe.

Baking is a wonderful and fulfilling activity. It is a great way to include your kids in an activity in the kitchen. This is the way that lasting memories are made and it also encourages an interest in cooking and nourishment, which are tools that are valuable, comforting and last a lifetime.

Butter cookies, guava jelly thumbprints and chocolate malted milk cookies.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Sharon! Sharon! Sharon! Guyrl this is serendipitous : incidentally my mom was a Home Economics teacher and also did quite a bit of catering. When she would have big projects like for the teacher’s association myself, my sisters and my best friends from St. Gabriel’s. the Fung a Fats would be the extra hands. Aunty Joyce Fung a Fat would be the driver in the mini mook…. you take me back girl. If I remember correctly Joanne Fung a Fat was a friend of your sister Karen. Anyway another great article.

    1. Much love and thanks Dale! I have the fondest me memories of Guyana. Yes, we know the Fung-A Fats well! I appreciate your comments and the fact that reading my blog takes you back to the good old days🙏🏼❤️

  2. Dawn says:

    So enjoying your blog Sharon!

    1. Thanks so much Dawn! I am so happy to hear that you are enjoying the blog.

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