The basics of baking, so you don't sabotage your banana bread
Pastry chef Rachel Goenka shares the secret hacks that you won’t learn in a recipe book
I call dibs on the idea of creating bakery-scented agarbatti. There’s nothing quite as comforting as the smell of freshly baked… anything, really.
The lockdown has turned most of us into amateurs bakers, both to fulfil cravings and avoid self-reflection — so naturally, things like unicorn toast looking like artwork you should hang on your wall and perfect loaves of banana bread have been dotting my timeline.
Baking keeps you occupied and there’s an added sense of productivity (and glee) when you take a bite into the final result
Baking, like cooking, can be a meditative process they say. They say.
I, however, ended up spray painting myself with flour after running a hand-held mixer through dry ingredients. Thanks for nothing, Betty Crocker cake mix.
So I turned to the expertise of pastry chef Rachel Goenka, founder and CEO of The Chocolate Spoon Company, to figure out where to get started (so my kitchen doesn’t look like I played Holi with maida).
Getting down to the basics of baking
I want to channel my coronavirus anxiety into making a caramel swirl carrot cake topped with crème au beurre as much as the next person, but with just my mom’s hand mixer to work with it, I couldn’t just dive into it.
For anyone who wants to start baking, these are some basic tools to keep handy:
- a weighing scale (digital scales are more accurate) or measuring cups
- baking tin (round and rectangle)
- baking paper / butter paper
- sheet pan
- wire rack
- hand mixer or stand mixer
A warm apple pie, oozing cinnamon goodness and a buttery flakey crust. Excuse me while I wipe away drool.
Before you try your hand at the puff and choux pastries, Goenka says to master the basics, so you avoid wasting time, energy and precious ingredients.
Start with making a simple sponge cake (you can always top it off with a dollop of Nutella for frosting).
Graduate to “cookies, a tart, a loaf cake — then move on to harder techniques of bread, puff pastry and choux pastry.”
The most common mistakes people make when they start baking
We learn through our failures, and along the way, figure out the things they don’t tell you in the recipes. Like preheating the oven at least 10-15 minutes before baking and questioning which direction you should be stirring/whisking your ingredients in.
The biggest mistake people make, according to Goenka, is not reading the entire recipe beforehand. Scurrying around to grab your next ingredient halfway through whisking your eggs isn’t going to work either.
“People start measuring their ingredients as they go through the recipe and realise they don’t have chilled butter, or that eggs have to be at room temperature,” she says.
“It’s best to read the recipe first, plan ahead and weigh ingredients before you start baking.”
Your hands (and nose) may be itching for it, but resist the urge to keep opening the oven door.
Tips and tricks from the expert
Goenka shares her tricks to getting the best out of your creations.
- Always sift your dry ingredients
Sifting will help the ingredients to mix better, allowing you to remove any possible carry-ons from the factory processing and break up clumps. So there won’t be little pebbles of cocoa powder in your chocolate cake.
- Use an ice cream scoop for measurement
When making cookies, use an ice cream scoop to ensure even-proportioned cookies. It may not seem like a big deal to have differently-sized cookies, but you’ll feel the burn when, out of kindness, you offer the last of two to your partner only to realise you got the much smaller one.
- Use cold butter
When making a tart or pie, always use cold butter. Just whip it straight out of the fridge and add it to the bowl. While mixing, the butter won’t melt but get broken down into smaller bits evenly through the dough. As it bakes, the steam from the cold butter releases into the dough which makes it even more flakey.
- Grate the butter
“If you need softened butter for a recipe and only have cold butter then use a grater. The butter will soften as it’s grated,” adds Goenka.
- Spin the bowl
If you are using a hand mixer, then spin the bowl instead of moving the hand mixer around. You’ll strain your arm a lot less.
- Make your cookie dough a day in advance
“Chilled cookie dough baked tastes better when it’s baked,” says Goenka. “So, make your dough in advance, portion it onto a tray and then bake the next day.”
Acing the basics of baking
Feel prepared to start baking? Goenka says the recipe to start with is one for brownies.
Crusty on top, soft and chewy in the middle – sign us up.
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Ok since a lot of you have been dm’ing me about this recipe. Here you go. ⚠️ *Statutory Warning* ⚠️ HIGHLY ADDICTIVE SUBSTANCE! Do not blame me if you can’t stop eating. Enjoy! INGREDIENTS * 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and hot * 1 tablespoon cooking oil, (olive oil or coconut oil are fine) * 1 1/8 cup superfine sugar, (caster sugar or white granulated sugar)* * 2 large eggs * 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract * 1/2 cup all purpose (or plain) flour * 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder * 1/4 teaspoon salt INSTRUCTIONS * Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). * Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking oil spray. Line with parchment paper (or baking paper); set aside. * Combine hot melted butter, oil and sugar together in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk well for about a minute. Add the eggs and vanilla; beat until lighter in colour (another minute). * Sift in flour, cocoa powder and salt. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until JUST combined (do NOT over beat as doing so well affect the texture of your brownies). * Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top out evenly. (OPTIONAL: Top with chocolate chunks or chocolate chips.) * Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the centre of the brownies in the pan no longer jiggles and is just set to the touch (the brownies will keep baking in the hot pan out of the oven). If testing with a toothpick, the toothpick should come out dirty for fudge-textured brownies. * Remove and allow to cool to room temperature before slicing into 16 brownies. *For even fudgier brownies, use half white and half light brown sugar!
A post shared by Rachel Goenka (@rachelgoenka) on Apr 13, 2020 at 2:14am PDT
If you’re ready to ace your quarantine baking game, then try these recipes for making bread and biscuits at home.