The joys of baking have taken over social media since the beginning of quarantine in March and I, for one, couldn’t be happier! I have been a baker since high school, but since college I haven’t really had the time. Most years I haven’t even had a kitchen to bake as much as I wanted to. That all changed when we got sent home last year, all of a sudden I had both! So, this last year I have dedicated myself to becoming a better baker and learning everything I can about baking through YouTube (Claire Safftiz is my guru), Instagram (@theboywhobakes) and just regular old recipes online (My New York Times Cooking subscription has received a ton of use). Here are the five things that I have learned this year that I think can help anyone become a better baker!
- Baking is definitely a science!
They are definitely not kidding about how accurate you need to be when you are baking! I have learned how much a little bit of extra flour can alter the overall texture of something. You have to know exactly how much you need, especially when talking about the major foundations of the recipe, like flour, sugar or butter, because those things have the most effect on the final product. I finally invested in a food scale, and I am so happy that I did because measuring things out by weight is a much more accurate system of measurement!
- That doesn’t mean you can’t go a little rogue!
When I first started baking, I was so scared to ever make any changes to the recipes that I was using. Even though baking is fussy when it comes to ingredients, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with what you are making. Sometimes you are going to read a recipe and think, “This would be better with a little bit of vanilla.” As you get a little more confident in your abilities, you can add things that you think would work even if it’s not in the recipe! I always go by the rule that if it’s not one of those fundamentals that I said, or the raising agent like baking soda, adding a little won’t change the outcome too much!
- Work on learning techniques that always come up!
There are some baking skills that come up in a ton of recipes over and over again. This includes things like creaming butter and sugar, folding an ingredient into batter so it doesn’t lose its air or just being able to make a good frosting. Even basic kitchen abilities like good knife skills are helpful when it comes to learning to bake. These skills are the kinds of things that recipes will ask you to do and just expect you to know what they mean! When I first started to bake, I almost never got through the entirety of the recipe without having to google one of the skills that was asked for in the recipe. Watch YouTube videos and practice these kinds of skills, because they will help you in the long term as a baker and a chef!
- The importance of mise en place
I cannot stress to you enough how much the French cooking practice of “mise en place” has helped me as a baker. This fancy sounding phrase roughly translates to “everything in its place,” and it means the practice of weighing out all of the ingredients in a recipe beforehand and having them out and ready before you even begin to cook. This sounds like a lot, I know, but let me tell you it will save you from so much stress! When you are making something difficult or with a lot of time sensitive elements, having everything out prevents you from having to scramble mid recipe to weigh something out or find something. Between mise en place and making sure that you read the entire recipe through until the end, you are setting yourself up for success!
- Remember, there is no baking you can’t do!
I was always so worried when I first started to bake about specific kinds of baking because I was so scared that I would mess them up. Things like making bread or French pastries felt like they were too difficult and that I would never be able to learn them or make anything like it. However, the most important thing I have learned is that there is no baking that is too hard or too fussy that you can’t do with a little practice. Remember this is all for fun! Even if you make a mistake, you can always try again! Happy baking!
Sheila’s Townhouse Kitchen Banana Bread!
Nonstick cooking or baking spray
2 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
½ a cup of dark brown or just regular brown sugar
½ stick of room temperature salted butter
¼ a cup of plain greek yogurt, or sour cream (trust me!)
1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 ½ cups of mashed overripe bananas
½ cup of chocolate chips
Some raw/demerara sugar for the top
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan or any standard size loaf pan with cooking spray.
- Measure out the flour and baking soda, and place in a bowl to the side.
- Beat together the butter, sugar and yogurt (or sour cream) with a stand or hand mixer (or a wooden spoon and a friend because your arm is going to need a break). Once combined, add in the eggs one at a time. Then add the vanilla extract.
- Add in the dry ingredients before adding the bananas and mix until just combined! (It’s okay if it’s a little lumpy!)
- Then add in the mashed bananas and mix until just combined! (Don’t overmix or your bread will get tough and chewy.)
- Add in your chocolate chips, nuts or any other mix-in before pouring the batter into the loaf pan.
- Bake for 55-60 minutes and then allow to cool completely before slicing (or you can do what I do, give in and eat it while it’s still hot)!