The Basics of Baking

From The Lecture Series: The Everyday Gourmet — Baking Pastries and Desserts

By Chef Instructor Stephen L. Durfee, The Culinary Institute of America

Many people are interested in learning how to bake, but they’re intimidated because they think it’s is too complicated. Once you learn the science behind baking, you’ll find that you get much better results!

Baking Ingredients

 

First, organize yourself a nice, clean workspace. Organize your tools and ingredients. Some of the tools you need are measuring cups and measuring spoons. More often than not, the confusion that people have when it comes to good, consistent baking is that they just aren’t measuring properly in the first place.

This is a transcript from the video series The Everyday Gourmet: Baking Pastries and Desserts. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

The proper method for measuring flour for most recipes is to take a one-cup measurement and to actually scoop the flour into the cup and then level it off when you’re done.

The Creaming Method

The creaming method is used for baking many different varieties of cookies and cakes. It involves four basic ingredients: sugar, butter, eggs, and flour.

First, make a dough. For this example, it will be a cookie dough. You can use a mixer, but if you want to really understand what’s taking place, use only your hands to mix. If your ingredients are lumpy, by all means they should be sifted.

Your butter should be at room temperature. Take the butter and soften it with the palm of your hand. Next, mix it in a bowl with the sugar.

The purpose behind creaming is that when you blend sugar into butter, you’re incorporating a certain amount of air into that mixture, and the more air, the more tender the mixture will be. When you’re making cookies or tart dough, you don’t necessarily want a lot of air because you don’t want your cookies to spread that much; they might become too tender and fragile.

Next, add an egg. If your egg is cold and right out of the refrigerator, you’re going to find that it’s really difficult to blend in. If your egg has been sitting out at room temperature, it’s going to be much, much easier to incorporate and to emulsify into the butter blend.

Continue mixing for a few seconds to get it blended completely and then add in flour and salt. Blend until the flour starts to pull together and become more uniform. To finish, wrap this in a piece of plastic wrap. Put it in the refrigerator to firm up.

Learn more about several basic techniques and methods you can then expand on to make a wide range of unforgettable desserts

Preparing the Dough to Bake

Leave the dough to chill for about thirty minutes. Next, it’s time to roll the dough. Use bench flour to dust the surface before you begin to roll.

Once you’ve rolled it out to a good depth, take a decorative cookie cutter. Dip it in a little bit of flour so that it doesn’t stick and then press straight down. Put that on a tray that you’ve prepared with a piece of parchment paper.

Cut a couple more cookies. Always try to be economical. It takes some time to roll the dough out. You want to try to get the most cookies that you can.

You can re-roll and reuse these scraps, but the best cookies come from the first round, and as you re-roll your excess dough, remember that the extra flour is going to be incorporated into the dough.

One of the easiest techniques is to roll your dough up into a log. Take a piece of paper, take your dough, roll it up, and twist it. Then put it into the refrigerator so the dough is nice and cold and you can just cut some little pieces from it, just like you would if you bought the dough in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

That’s easy to understand. Even easier than that, however, would be to scoop the dough. Take an ice cream scoop and, if you want to make a scooped cookie, take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it soften up a little bit. It’s going to make it easier to scoop.

Wedge the scoop into the dough, pop it into your hand, and deposit that onto the tray. Scooped cookies will be uniform in their size and their shape and will spread to get a nice round finish.

Either way, for all these cookies, they will spread somewhat. Because they are made with the creaming method, they have air blended into them. This fact, along with the amount of sugar and butter used, means that when you cut them and put them into the oven, the dough is going to spread.

Therefore, you need to make sure to give your cookies a little bit of space on the tray so they don’t grow into each other. For another decorative touch, you can sprinkle them with a little bit of coarse sugar. Now they are ready to go into the oven.

Learn more about the right—and wrong—way to whip eggs and cool your cakes

Baking Pound Cake

Ingredients

  • 8 oz butter
  • 8 1/2 oz sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 7 oz cake flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Cooking Instructions

Use the creaming method to blend the butter and sugar, then add the eggs, egg yolks, salt, and vanilla. Once those are blended, add the flour and baking powder. Notice that this dough, or batter, is much softer than the cookie dough.

Again, be careful in mixing. An overmixed cake will be full of holes once it’s baked, while one that’s undermixed will have very little structure; it may stick to the bottom of the pan or be gummy.

Transfer the batter to a loaf pan or a decorative ring pan. To get a nice crack in the center, wet your finger and run it down the center of the batter in the pan. That creates a weak spot in the center of the cake so that as it rises, it will develop a decorative crack.

Bake at 325° for about 1 hour, until golden.

Learn more about everything you need to know about flaky dough

Common Questions About Baking

Q: What methods are used in baking?

Baking is a huge collection of methods for combining fats and flours in dry heat to achieve varying textures of crumb, some of which include the creaming method, the rubbing in method, and the blind bake method.

Q: Are baking and cooking different ?

Baking is a type of cooking method. Cooking is the entirety of preparing food while baking is just one method using the dry heat of an oven.

Q: Is baking a healthy way to cook?

Like any cooking method, baking can be healthy or unhealthy depending on how much fat and sugar is used, but in general it is considered somewhat healthier to cook foods in the oven as less fat is used.

Q: What are the types of pastry?

There is a huge variety of types of pastry, some of the more popular being puff pastry, shortcrust, faux, and filo pastry.

This article was updated on 1/22/2020

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