How to Bake: A Step by Step Guide for Beginners {with Recipes, Hints and Tips}

During the current crisis many people have rediscovered the joys of baking.  If you haven't yet taken the plunge and would like to start baking, follow this guide which will take you step by step through learning to bake, and point you in the direction of some delicious but simple baking recipes too.


Why Bake?

First of all, why bake when you can buy everything you need ready made?

1. It tastes better
2. You know exactly what has gone into your food
3. It's therapeutic and relaxing

Baking is Good for the Soul

Imagine walking into a home that smells of homemade bread, cookies or cinnamon rolls. The scent envelopes you and makes you feel like a child again. Baking truly is good for the soul. Not only because the aromas and flavours can take you back to childhood, but also because it is a mindful activity that can help you find focus and joy.

Baking can easily become a fun family activity too.  Once you have conquered your first few recipes, start baking with your children, they'll love it!  Children love to bake. They love to eat the results too! Baking cookies with kids is a fun activity that children love, and they can learn from baking too.


Baking as Meditation

Yep, baking is a mindful activity.  Being able to single-mindedly focus on a task is meditative. Baking allows you to be absolutely in the moment and to focus only on what you’re doing.

One of the most meditative types of baking you can do is to bake bread. The kneading by hand is perhaps the most meditative aspect of the bread-baking process. You can bake bread as gifts, or simply as something to enjoy with friends and family. Imagine a gorgeous loaf of homemade bread coming out of your oven, bliss!

Baking as a Way to Unwind

There’s something utterly simple and joyful about baking. It cannot be hurried. You must follow directions. Everything is laid out for you, yet there’s a creative element to it as well. Baking for loved ones, for pleasure, and for family doesn’t have to feel like a chore. It can be a real pleasure. So why not spend an afternoon or an entire weekend filling your home with the delicious aromas of freshly-baked goods?

Convinced?  Read on...


What You Need to Start Baking

If you are new to baking, you will need to first get the right supplies. Depending on what you are planning to bake, you may only need a few simple items, or you might want to stock up your kitchen completely.

Stocking up now is a good idea because it allows you to bake whatever you want when you want, but you can also acquire items as you go along if that suits your budget better.

You may well have some of the tools you need already, but spend some time looking through what you have and replacing or adding what you need.  It is worth spending a bit more on things you will use a lot, such as scales or bakeware (we love Wilton bakeware).  Then you can save money by buying cheaper items such as a set of measuring cups, spatulas, spoons, mixing bowls and rolling pins.

Here are the 10 essentials we recommend:



Bakeware

Once you get going you might be baking more than one thing at a time, so it is a good idea to have a selection of cake pans and trays. You will possibly need different sizes as well, but these can be acquired over time.

The ones I would recommend getting at the beginning are:


You will also need some muffin or cake cases, these can be silicone or paper.


Appliances

Bakers managed for millennia without any gadgets or kitchen appliances to help them, but nowadays everyone and their dog wants a fancy stand mixer to shine like a beacon of baking honour on their kitchen counter.  Lovely as they are, you do not need one, so if you can't afford one comfortably forget it.

However, a small handheld whisk will save you the hard work of beating and whipping by hand, and is something you should aim to get.  This one is perfect for under $35 or this one under £20 in the UK is the one we use a lot.

If you do find yourself with the budget for a stand mixer or a food processor, click through to see which we recommend but do not worry that you need either!


Pantry

Finally, make sure your pantry is stocked up with the essentials. While you don’t want a bunch of ingredients that will expire before you use them, it is a good idea to have essentials that are always available. If you start baking regularly, you will most likely use them up before they reach their expiry date.

For example, have a variety of oil to use, including vegetable oil, olive oil, and even coconut oil. You will need to have plenty of flour, white sugar, brown sugar, table salt, and sea salt. Baking powder and bicarbonate of soda are always needed, in addition to pure vanilla and almond extracts, cinnamon, ginger and mixed spice.

Here are some other pantry items you will need for baking:

  • Oats
  • Honey or golden syrup
  • Chocolate (we use Lindt)
  • Cocoa powder
  • Icing sugar
  • Nuts, various and mixed
  • Ground almonds
  • Raw maple syrup
  • Molasses and treacle
  • Dried fruit, candied peel and glace cherries
  • Food colourings
  • Cornflour
  • Ground almonds
  • Desiccated coconut
  • Jams
  • Eggs
  • Butter, unsalted unless a recipe says otherwise
  • Lemons, limes and oranges


Beginner Tips

These tips are going to help you with all the basics of baking, including answering some common questions you might have. Baking is a learning experience so you aren’t going to learn everything you need to know right away, but it does help to have some guidelines to start with.

Read the Entire Recipe First

It is not uncommon to start putting a recipe together, then realize you missed steps or you forgot ingredients. This is a mistake usually done because you didn’t read the entire recipe first.

Study the ingredients list, double check that you have everything, and read the recipe through a couple of times. Make sure you have all the tools and appliances needed, and that you have taken care of all the prep work that is needed before you begin.


Aim For the Right Butter Consistency

When you add butter to a recipe, which is common among most baked goods, don’t just grab it from the fridge and add it to your bowl right away. You need a certain temperature and consistency to make it mix right. Otherwise you end up with clumps, there are certain parts of the mixture with a lot more butter, or you simply make it to where mixing takes way longer than it should.

Butter should always be at room temperature unless the recipe tells you otherwise. Make sure you leave it out for a little bit, usually around an hour. However, if the recipe says softened, a bit longer is needed. Softened does not mean melted though!


Get the Measuring Right

Baking is a science.  Unlike regular cooking where you can substitute things in or out and be more free with quantities, baking requires you to use exactly what's in the recipe, and in the exact quantities stated or it isn't going to work perfectly.

Measuring ingredients seems like such a simple, common thing to do, but there are some techniques you need to use to make sure you get it right in your recipe. To start with, if you use cups always use different containers or measuring cups for wet and dry ingredients.

You should avoid using the same measuring cups unless they are rinsed and dried in between, which is really more of a hassle. Don’t measure ingredients over the bowl or pan where the ingredients are being added; spills happen which cause you to add more than you meant to.

If using scales, digital is best so you can get the precise quantity.


Common Baking Terms & What They Mean

Bake blind

This means either partially or fully bake a pastry case in the oven without any filling.  You line the tart tin with pastry then cover it with greaseproof paper weighted down with ceramic baking beans.  It crisps the pastry up and prevents a 'soggy bottom'.

Beat

Rigorously mix ingredients using a wooden spoon, electric whisk or stand mixer. The purpose is to thoroughly combine ingredients and to incorporate air, which makes cakes lighter and fluffier.

Cream

Creaming ingredients in a bowl with spoon or whisk usually means just sugar and butter.  Aeratign the mixture makes it a lighter colour, a creamy white when done.  It adds lightness and volume to cakes.


Curdling

Curdling happens when a food mixture separates into its component parts. It is common in a creamed cake batter, usually because the eggs have been added too quickly or are too cold. The mixture can be brought back by stirring a tablespoon of flour through.

Dusting/Dredging

This simply means sprinkling icing sugar over a finished cake or biscuits as a decorative flourish.  You can buy a sifter, but a small sieve or tea strainer works fine.

You should also dust a work top with flour before kneading bread dough, or with icing sugar before working with fondant icing.

Folding

This technique is used to combine a lighter, airy ingredient (such as flour or beaten egg whites) into a heavier one (such as cake batter).

Pour the lighter mixture on top of the heavier then using a metal spoon and starting at the back of the bowl, cut vertically down through the two mixtures, across the bottom of the bowl and up the side. The bowl should be rotated slightly with each series of strokes.

This down-across-up-and-over motion gently combines the ingredients to create a light, fluffy consistency without losing the air that was beaten in earlier.


Icing

There are a number of different icings and different ways to ice a cake. Icing is a term used both for the action of covering a cake and for the covering itself. Icing may also be called frosting.

Popular icings include:

  • GlacĂ© icing (icing sugar mixed with water or sometimes juice)
  • Buttercream (icing sugar and softened butter)
  • Cream cheese icing (icing sugar, cream cheese and butter)
  • Fondant icing (a malleable icing that can be readily bought, also known as ready-to-roll icing or regal ice)
  • Royal icing (a glossy, runny icing that sets hard, made from icing sugar and egg whites)

Sifting

This is the method of passing a powdered ingredient (flour, cocoa or icing sugar) through a sieve to remove lumps and aerate it. Most cake recipes will suggest you sift these ingredients for best results.


Common Baking Mistakes to Avoid

When you don’t have a lot of experience with baking, you might be following a recipe, but are still making some mistakes people have a tendency to make. These mistakes might seem minor, but they do make a difference in how the final results turn out. If your cake is dry or the flavour of your pie seems off, it might be due to some of these common mistakes.

Using Cold Ingredients

You should never use ingredients that just came out of the fridge or freezer unless a recipe specifically calls for it. Generally when you start baking, you pull all of the ingredients out of the refrigerator or pantry and set them on the counter while doing your prep work and preheating the oven. This doesn’t just make it easier to get the right measurements and make sure you don’t forget anything, but helps those cold ingredients, like butter, get to room temperature.


Not Preheating the Oven

This is another thing that seems so minor, but does actually make a drastic difference in how everything turns out. If your oven isn’t preheated, then it isn’t going to cook at the right temperature the entire time.

For the first 5 minutes, it will be cooking at a lower temperature as it heats up. This often results in baked goods that are not completely done on the inside. Inconsistent baking temperatures can also cause the inside to be perfect but the outside to be crispy and burnt. Take the few extra minutes it takes to preheat the oven properly.

Be careful too if you are cooking multiple recipes.  Start with the item that needs to be cooked on the lowest temperature, then turn the oven up a few minutes before you put the next thing in.


20+ Easy & Delicious Baking Recipes to Try Right Now

Remember when you’re baking that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Some of the best recipes are also the easiest. Bake a loaf of white bread. Make some cookies. Enjoy the simple pleasure of baking and learn as you go along.

Here are 20+ recipes you could try right now:



Happy baking!

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