Amrita Rawat provides both some great tips, and a few useful shortcuts that will make your baking much easier.
By Amrita Rawat
“Cooks and bakers are distinctly different creatures. Cooks are the jazz musicians, bakers and pastry chefs are the classical pianists.”
I used to despise cooking and stick exclusively to baking. That all changed when I moved out of my parents’ home and got my own place… It helped that my boyfriend who lives nearby loves cooking a good meal at home. He isn’t a fan of baking because it requires directions, which he hates following. He can apply his laidback attitude towards cooking and still produce great results.
But you can’t do that with baking. I love following directions to a T and having exact measurements. My favorite piece of equipment in my kitchen is definitely my digital scale that measures ounces and grams, exciting!
I used to be one of those people who often picked up store mixes or just bought the dessert from out. There are still a couple cake mixes that I find tastier than home-made, but they’re ones where I can at least understand the entire list of ingredients, and of course they then cost much more. In general, if you want to eat sweets, making them at home is smarter since you will know what is actually in it, and it makes it easier to stay away from high fructose corn syrup and the like.
Oddly enough, making my own desserts has made me more conscious of what I eat, since I now know how much sugar and fat I have put into a recipe, and I end up savoring a smaller amount much more!
I love the feeling of standing in the kitchen with my mixer and creating something delicious. I also love making something that my friends and family can truly enjoy and appreciate. There’s something great and comforting about eating a home-baked dessert and it’ll give you a fantastic sense of accomplishment as well.
Now that I’ve been baking for a number of years, I’ve also learned which shortcuts I can try and which I shouldn’t, and I’m here to share those with you!
Any baker (amateur or other) should have these in their pantry:
Eggs, butter, sugar (powdered, white and brown), milk, flour (all-purpose and cake), baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract and cocoa powder.
As for equipment, you need:
Mixing bowls (preferably steel), a spatula, an electric beater (it’s cheap!), measuring cups and spoons, and baking pans (round/cupcake/square)
My Top 10 Tips And Shortcuts For Cakes And Cupcakes:
1. It is important to beat the butter at room temperature with the sugar before adding in the other ingredients. This helps the cake to turn out lighter. You don’t always have to follow the rest of the directions of adding in ingredients one at a time, but it’s important to start with this. This is also far quicker and easier with an electric beater.
2. Try to only beat the batter until everything is incorporated and don’t over mix.
3. You can replace oil with applesauce in a 1:1 ratio, but it takes about 5 tablespoons of oil to replace 1 stick of butter. It’s better to just reduce the amount of butter by 25% instead of replacing it with oil (Oil can make it more greasy).
4. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute 2/3 plain, low, or non-fat yogurt mixed with 1/3 cup milk instead.
5. Dutch-processed cocoa powder has been treated with an alkali, a process that darkens its color and reduces its acidity. The Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder is Dutch-process while other store-brand ones are often not.
6. Cake recipes that ask for milk or buttermilk tend to produce a better-tasting cake, in my humble opinion.
7. I tend to skip the sifting of dry ingredients and it’s never made a difference in results. It’s more important to set the dry ingredients aside together, and incorporate them into the wet ingredients.
8. Baking strips are available at many stores or online to make an even cake. You simply run them under some water, and then wrap them around the cake pan before placing in the oven. It causes the cake to rise evenly and pull apart from the sides, making it easier to work with! If you don’t want to buy baking strips, you can cut an old kitchen towel into strips and use it instead.
9. Cupcakes and cake can both be stored in the freezer for at least a month, without frosting. As long as you wrap them well in plastic wrap, you can take them out and let them thaw before frosting and serving. In general, frosting a two or more layer cake is much easier to do when the cake is chilled.
10. When making cupcakes, use an ice cream scoop to put the batter into each hole; this ensures that each cupcake will have the same amount of batter and thus be the same size.
With a well-stocked kitchen, it’s easy to make a variety of recipes! It’s also great to be part of a generation who is blessed with the internet. You have a million recipes right at your fingertips, not to mention a variety of helpful tips on how to whip butter, or how to make buttermilk when you only have regular milk on hand.
I’m slowly learning that cooking and baking don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and I do actually enjoy both. But in the end, desserts have my heart. My sweet tooth prevails!
Good luck and happy baking!
Amrita Rawat is the author of the blog Chai and Dumplings. Born in India and a lifelong resident of Atlanta, she recently moved to Saint Louis. Her love for food stems in part from its ability to bring cultures together and in part from how darn good it feels to eat a delicious meal. She loves traveling and has eaten her way through cities like Hong Kong, Paris, Budapest, Mumbai, and Shangri-la. Amrita is also a contributor to Sauce Magazine in St Louis.