Although research shows that many people deem cooking a chore, baking falls into another category entirely. Since it isn’t a necessary day-to-day task, it’s viewed as a hobby. Canadians report that baking is a favourite wintertime activity (I once read that flour sales spike in January — J is your mystery letter for today). While January days are often too harshly cold to enjoy outdoor activities, the bulky sweaters you wear at this time of year hide excess cookie pounds well.
I learned to bake from my grandmother, Mary Badiuk. She was a self-taught, wonderful baker. She didn’t use written recipes and her tools were humble — a faded flower-patterned teacup with a broken lug for measuring flour, a worn silver teaspoon for measuring pretty much everything else. Because Mary knew what the dough or batter was supposed to look and feel like, it wasn’t important for her to use proper baking cups and spoons or even written recipes.
Hers was a large prairie farm family so, daily, she baked bread for sandwiches, pies and cakes for lunch and dinner, dessert, and then cookies or squares for evening snack time.
Today, very few of us scratch bake everyday so we don’t develop my grandmother’s intuitive baking skills. In fact, after telling her story, I feel like I should add the proviso: Don’t try this at home!
For most of us, taking the time to measure exactly is essential to guarantee good results both when cooking and baking. So, to help you to get the best out of your baking efforts, check out my test kitchen tips:
–Read the recipe all the way through before beginning to ensure you have everything you’ll need. Baked goods depend on specific chemical reactions to succeed so you need to use the exact amounts and the specific ingredients called for in the recipe.
–Measure dry ingredients such as flour and sugar into spoutless measuring cups by scooping the ingredient into the cup and then levelling it off with the flat edge of a knife. Don’t shake or tap the measure on the counter to even out the ingredients.
-Always preheat the oven until it reaches the required temperature before adding filled pans.
-Make sure your oven temperature is accurate — it’s a good idea to invest in an inexpensive oven thermometer to double check even if your oven is new.
–Don’t sift flour or cocoa unless specified in the recipe. Also, do not substitute an equal amount of one type of flour for another. Every type of flour has a unique gluten (protein) content, which will affect the texture of the finished baked goods.
–Pack brown sugar lightly into a dry measuring cup.
-Remember when reading recipes that a baking pan is metal while a baking dish is glass. Substitutions in baking pans can affect results and change baking times.