Baking 101

Learning how to bake can be a daunting process, but it does not have to reduce a grown adult to tears. The key is to know the basics of baking before you dive in. Once you have the essential items in your pantry, know how to measure ingredients and consider the environment in which you are cooking, you can then begin building your baking skills and go from novice to expert in no time at all.

Stocking Your Pantry: Each recipe is bound to have its own characteristics, but many recipes have similar ingredients or basics. Thus, it is important to have these items on hand. It will make baking that much easier. Flour is one such essential item to stock in your cabinet. This ingredient is used in everything, from pastry baking to making bread, biscuits and other recipes. Sugar is another great ingredient to include, especially white sugar, brown sugar and confectioners' sugar. Other common ingredients include yeast, baking powder and baking soda, all of which help recipes rise or lift. Typical wet ingredients include milk, eggs, cooking oils and vanilla extract.

Getting the Measurements Right: Cooking is as much a science as it is an art: Without the right measurements, bread can fall flat, cake will break apart and dishes will seem off or can even make people ill. Thus, it is important not only to have the right ingredients on hand when baking but also to measure them as accurately as possible. For example, too much flour in cookies could make them dry and bland, and not enough baking powder can keep a cake or bread from rising or keeping its shape.

Understanding High-Altitude Baking: You may need to adjust your recipe if you live in a high-altitude area. Lower air pressure causes boiling water, which is a common component of many dishes, to evaporate more quickly than in other environments. Your dough may also rise too fast if you don't adjust. Often, you will have to lengthen the baking time needed for a recipe. Because all ovens are a bit different and because of the increased elevation, the only way to know for sure if a dish is cooked or done is to test it. It's always best to experiment with recipes to figure out which adjustments to make and to invest in a book with recommended adjustments.

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