Even though this blog has explored all the tasty bits of life, there is one that I very rarely write about, but is nevertheless very close to my heart- baking.
As a food expert married to a culinary chef, there is one part of the kitchen that I dominate with almost no interference- the oven. While cooking is pretty much a unisex activity in this modern age, in many ways I know way more women who are fine, expert bakers and men who are masters of the grill. As someone who has to share cooking space in my Chef and Steward Test Kitchen at home with my hubby, I don’t mind to have the oven and the baking cupboard to myself.
I have always been fascinated with baking. It was always a dream when my mother would whip up some traditional sweet treats as a child. I always wanted to learn but never got into it until adulthood.
My first foray into baking was somewhat funny. I, who had learnt to cook as an intuitive cook, by developing a strong sense of balance and a sharpe palate, thought I could apply such intuition to baking. Granted, seasoned bakers can do that but as I learnt then, I most certainly was not. I set off to bake a fruitcake and ended up with what was more like a dense Jamaican Easter Bun. It was then I learnt to bake it before you name it.
Since then, I have taken a few baking and professional cake decorating classes and have even baked professionally for paying customers. But it has come with learning the rules and equipping myself with the right tools to do the job.
One thing though, I do prefer to bake for someone else- be in a client or as a gift. Having homemade baked goods from scratch in my kitchen is a recipe for disaster, as I just cannot help myself. The thing is I use the best quality ingredients in my baking and that makes for super scrumptious treats that are hard to resist when you have them lying around.
Here are some useful tips I have learnt along the way…
How to be a better baker
- Always bake on a full stomach. Is it only me?
- Invest in an accurate oven thermometer. I find my WMF Oven Thermometer to be trusty and I have had it for years. I bought it in Dubai.
- Bring ingredients to room temperature except for when a recipe calls for otherwise.
- Read the recipe thoroughly, then read it again.
- The. Recipe. Baking is not cooking, it is a science so to get the best results, follow the recipe. As you bake more, you will begin to be able to make subsitutions effortlessly and create your own recipes. But as my mother used to tell me, “you have to crawl before you walk.”
- Start always by preheating the oven and buttering/greasing the baking pans.
- Gift extras. Drop them off if you have to. Just give them away. You will brighten someone’s day anyway. Who does not love the co-worker who brings freshly home baked delights to work on Mondays? I tell you who- no one!
- Using baking as a stress reliever. It actually really works. Everything about baking makes me really happy- except the intense deep cleaning you will have to give the kitchen if you are a messy baker. So, do not be a messy baker. Clean up as you go along. You will thank me for this. Unless you have someone else coerce to wash the dishes. Baked goodies are a welcome barter for dish duties for many.
- Let the baked treats cool before you cut especially for cakes. Cutting them too early can actually dry them out and you will never get a perfect slice on a hot cake.
- If you plan to ice and decorate the cakes, do your baking and decorating over two days. Bake one day then ice the next. Always ice cake in a cold kitchen. Hot ovens make for hot kitchens so it is best not to do both tasks simultaneously or even on the same day.
- If you have a special diet, experiment with recipes to suit your diet so that you can enjoy a permissible treat every now and then.
- Put on a kettle, make a pot of tea, invite over a few friends and have a casual, no fuss tea party. Give each guest a little extra to take home. Baking is a love that MUST be shared!
- Keep on baking. Never stop. If you mess up a recipe, do it over and over until you perfect it. You will once you become patient and attentive to every detail.