When you are first starting to bake from scratch, especially if you were not taught as a child, there are several things you can do to make the process easier. You can learn to bake your best goodies in just a short time with some general tips.
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Get the basics
The concept of baking from scratch is actually a bit of a misnomer. What does “from scratch” really mean? Well before we go down that rabbit hole, just consider in general that there are some things that are very difficult to make in your home. For example, most people do not have the means, willing to take the risk or able to make baking soda, baking powder, etc. from scratch.
Given that, baking from scratch usually means that you gather most of the rawest ingredients you can find and then put them together in delicious cookies, fluffy cakes and wonderful pies. Here is what you need to get started on almost everything:
Yeast (wild caught such as sourdough or commercial such as at the grocery store)
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Sugar (or sugar substitute, honey, syrup, etc.)
- Flour (several varieties would be good as you try different kinds to see what you like)
- Cocoa powder
- Vanilla extract (this one is easy to make your own, but it is hard to grow vanilla)
- Milk (and/or cream)
That’s it. Within these ingredients you can make cookies, cakes, brownies, pastries, pies and more.
Get a few (not many) vessels
You will need things to bake your delights in. There are a few basics you might want to have on hand. This includes a bread pan, pie pan, cast iron skillet, dutch oven, cookie sheets and basic baking pans. I also highly recommend muffin pan, silicon cupcake wrappers, silicon baking sheet, cooling rack.
While you can get all of these things. To bake most of the things, you just need a pan. My favorite by far is the cast iron skillet. Between that and a cookie sheet you can bake almost anything. The most popular bread in my house I make in a cast iron skillet in the oven.
Be sure to measure
Unlike most cooking, baking often requires specific amounts. Particularly for different things to set correctly such as souffles, macarons, etc. You will need measuring cups and spoons. Here are my recommendations for what you need to start baking from scratch.
You can pre measure the amounts if you want it all to be one smooth process. But often, I am simply dumping as I go along, particularly in the kitchen aid mixer. In fact, without the mixer, I would likely not bake as often as I usually do.
Especially in bread making, patience is key. Because you are relying on yeast to help bring life to your bread, you need to give it time to rise to the appropriate level. When a recipe calls for letting it rise for an hour, that is really a rough estimate. If you house is cold, drafty, humid, hot, etc. that will change the rise time.
Often people use places like the top of the refrigerator and the dryer during the winter to help their bread rise. Alternatively, in the summer, I just shorten the rise time as it is both humid and hot here even with AC.
Recipes such as cookies, cupcakes and pizza dough will all need a little rest time. Often I put cookie dough in the refrigerator for a bit to let it rest and cool off before trying to shape it into balls. Patience really is key to much of baking.
You should not be too worried about being perfect. Yeast in particular, both wild and commercial, is subject to a lot of factors and can definitely influence a bake. In fact, wild sourdough yeast varies from region to region just because of the differences in the environment.
Do not be intimidated
I grew up on store bought bread. Often the best store bought bread, but store bought nonetheless. Because of this I was very intimidated for trying to bake my own bread. No one had ever taught me and I was sure there must be some big reason why people do not bake their own bread. Turns out this was just a misconception. At its core, bread is just flour and water and yeast (that forms or is bought).
This means you only need a few ingredients, a heating element and time to make delicious, right-out-of-the-oven bread that you are free to enjoy. I have a few recipes that are my favorite but it is pretty simple. You can easily bake your own bread.
Another one I was really concerned about was brownies. For some reason, I was sure this would be difficult to make at home. And at the store there were SO MANY different options, varieties and other. Turns out it really isn’t much different from a basic cake recipe with an added bit of cocoa powder. Even better you can make your own mix with simple instructions such as “add 1 egg, 1/2 cup oil…” You get the idea.
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