Hiya, welcome to PEP’s first focused post. I’m thinking I’ll do a monthly theme but we’ll play it by ear and see how it goes. This week, I’ll be focusing on one of my top passions, baking. I’m still learning myself, I’d call myself currently an amateur baker, but I’ll share how I bake and what I’ve learned.
I’m planning to go professional eventually but first I have quite a bit to learn. Living on the edge financially, culinary school is not in the cards but there’s no reason I can’t teach myself from cookbooks, YouTube and TV. Of course, not having formal education, I have to piece things together and take things I learn with a grain of salt as everyone has their own way of doing thigns that someone else would say isn’t right. But learning informally also gives me more freedom to figure out how I prefer to do it, my own tricks. Plus, without ingrained habits, It’s easier, and at the same time harder sometimes, to play around with flavors to create new recipes. I say sometimes harder as being a home baker, I likely don’t have access to some flavors they do in culinary school or I don’t have access to the knowledge to keep from overpowering the dish with a flavor. But that’s what’s experiments are for. I’m still learning, nothing is going to be perfect the first time. Frankly, if I ever stop learning, it’s time for me to stop baking. I think part of a career that you truly enjoy, is continuing to grow, to learn your chosen craft, your chosen focus.
The first step I always do, after opening the recipe of course and setting it up, is preheat my oven to the necessary degree unless it’s a no bake recipe. After I set the oven to preheat, I do what is called mise en place. I get out all of my ingredients and set them out, as well as my measuring cups and spoons. Some ingredients I will have already set out as currently I bake on a set day of the week and I’ll look at the recipe again the day before to double check if there’s any room-temperature or softened ingredients necessary. I keep my fridge fairly cold so it takes some time for my butter or eggs or, for one notorious recipe, my buttermilk to warm up to room temperature. As for ingredients, I’m a member of Sam’s Club. So I buy my eggs and butter in bulk out there and eventually, when finances are a little better, I plan to buy my sugar and flour in bulk. I use enough of each that it’s worth it. The eggs are 2 shrink-wrapped 18 count cartons of large grade A eggs, I’ve never had an issue with cracked or old. I buy a box of 4-2 cup sticks of sweet cream unsalted butter. Rarely have I done a recipe that used salted butter but if I do, it’s a simple matter of buying a small box at the grocery store since most baking recipes call for salt, I don’t use salted butter all that often.
After I do my mis en place, including setting out my mixer and whatever dish I’ll be baking in, depending on if I’m making cookies, cupcakes, brownies, a cake, muffins, a pie, a cheesecake or another kind of pastry, I simply follow the recipe. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not one for following a recipe exactly, even the first time sometimes. A lot of times, it’s because the recipe calls for equipment that I do not own. My mixer is an old one, older than I am actually, and it has regular whisk beaters and dough hooks, it does not have paddle beaters. But I’ve found that it simply takes just a little bit longer in mixing the batter as my mixer has to work it out through the whisk beater. My cakes and frosting have all turned out good despite not having the fancy paddle beaters. Frankly, they used to bake without all of this fancy equipment. So though I do still want a newer mixer that’s more professional level, with the various speeds and attachment, my mixer does the job just fine.
Now, where I currently live, my oven bites. If the temperature is over 350, my temperature is off. A recipe will call for 20 minutes on 375 and if I don’t watch it exactly, it can either burn if it’s cookies or won’t be done if it’s a cake or pie. But it also depends on the batter as a batch of oatmeal cookies were perfect done at the same temperature and time as a batch of snickerdoodles but I had to take the snickerdoodles out, having made them before just fine, as they were burning on the bottom. I did a red velvet cake that was perfect, light and fluffy, temperature over 350. But a week later, I did a hot cocoa cake that appeared to be done, passed both tests that I did on it, but when I cut into it to shape it and decorate it, it was under-done in the middle. Like, what the??
The tests I perform on a baked good that has rarely, used to be never until the hot cocoa cake, let me down is the toothpick test. You take a toothpick and lightly poke it into the center and towards the end. When you pull it out, if it’s clean, the baked good is done, if there’s batter on the toothpick, it’s not finish and you need to put it back in. I tried a new test from a recent cookbook, called the fingerprint test. You push lightly down on the cake and if it springs back up, it’s done, if it doesn’t, it’s not done yet. I’ve only done that test once so I’m not going to confirm or deny it yet, I’ll get back to you after I’ve used it a few more times successfully or unsuccessfully.
Well, in a nutshell, that is how I bake. I’m sharing each baking experiment on my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/paulacrofoot/. If I continue the focus posts on my baking, I’ll probably share how a specific recipe went each week but we’ll see.
My most recent dish: Ultimate Chocolate Chip Oreo Brownies:
‘til next time, slán.
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