A Beginner’s Guide to Baking
By Carmela Villegas of Casa San Luis
Many people find that baking for the first time can be overwhelming and they get discouraged after reading a recipe with different techniques such as beating, whipping, folding, sifting, etc. Then they start reading the list of various tools needed to prepare the dessert and then stop in the middle knowing that they don’t have something on that list and put it off for another day.
Building your baking arsenal can also be tricky because there are so many choices and many tools or ingredients that you won’t need right away.
Here are simple guides on basic baking tools and building your own baking pantry. Once you have these things laying around the kitchen it will be easier to try making desserts and it will encourage you to continue on baking.
Measuring Cups and Spoons: These are indispensable tools to make sure you measure your ingredients right.
Liquid Measuring Cups: I love my 8 Cup/ 2 Liter! Well that’s because I bake for a living so this simplifies my life when I make big batches of caramel. However, 1 Cup or 250 ml ones will suffice. Make sure to buy glass cups and not plastic ones.
Weighing Scale: Invest in a digital weighing scale! Most recipes today use the metric system when listing down ingredients. Don’t forget that baking is a Science so the weight of the ingredients does matter.
Oven Thermometer: Ovens are temperamental. Your oven controller may indicate that it is 350F degrees but it can actually be under or above that said temperature. This is how some cakes come out undercooked even when you followed the instructions to the t.
Flour Sieve: For cakes, it is important to sift your flour before because this adds air and makes the flour lighter. You may need to sift your flour 2 to 3 times.
Mixing Bowls: Have two types of bowls stainless steel and glass. Start with these three sizes small, medium, large. Make sure they are deep bowls so that they allow you to mix your ingredients well. Stainless steel is great because if you accidentally drop a bowl it won’t break. It is important to get durable, thick glass bowls that are microwavable and that can withhold a drastic change in temperature (cold to hot and vice versa).
Spatulas: These are used for folding ingredients, scraping the sides of the bowl and transferring ingredients from one container to another. Silicone spatulas are useful if you work with hot ingredients. There are two types of “rubber spatulas” a flat surface one or a spoon shaped spatula. I prefer to use rubber spatulas that have a flat edge and that are firm (pictured) because I find them easier to work with. Try to get two sizes small and large. I find it easier to use the bigger spatula to incorporate your ingredients.
Whisk: This is an indispensable tool. Try to choose a stainless steel whisk with fine wires. I find that silicone whisks are not firm enough to beat your egg whites into a meringue.
Wooden Spoon: When making cookies by hand this is the best tool to mix your ingredients. It is also best used when cooking ingredients over a stove.
Stand-alone mixer: It is best to invest in a durable and multi functional stand alone mixer. This allows you to make different things from bread, to pie crusts, to cookies, cakes and meringues. don’t skimp on the price for this one!
Hand mixer: If you don’t have the budget to get a stand-alone mixer, this tool is worth getting. This allows you to make frostings, beating your egg whites into a meringue or creaming your sugar and butter.
Pastry brush: Uses are for greasing your baking pans, applying egg wash, glazing your cakes.
Ice Cream Scooper: This small tool has many utilities. You can shape your cookies instead of the spoon to spoon technique and this way you the cookies will have the same shape and size. This is an accurate measuring tool for scooping cupcake or muffin batter into the pan.
Silicone mats: If you can invest in one, it’ll change your life in the kitchen. You won’t need to grease your baking pan ever. The downside to this mat is that it doesn’t give your cookies a nice golden color in the bottom.
Baking pans: This is a list of various baking pans that you should have. They come in different sizes but the ones listed below are the basic sizes. If you have the choice, get non-stick pans.
Muffin Pans – 3 oz – Can be used for cupcakes, muffins, tarts and even cookies.
Springform pans – 9 oz – These pans have a removable bottom and detachable sides which make your job of taking out cakes a breeze. Just start with one but you can get another one of the same size if you want to make layer cakes.
Cookie tray – The best size to get depends on your oven. They have double layer trays that allows the air to circulate better hence make better cookies.
Square pan – 9 x 9 inch – For brownies, other bars, bread puddings and even cakes.
The following pans are not a must but should be bought if you wish to complete your collection of baking pans: loaf pans, pie or tart pans (better to get the ones with a removable bottom), bundt cake pans.
Rolling pin: I prefer to use the traditional wooden rolling pin over the non-stick ones. The French rolling pin, which don’t have handles are easier to use but the downside is that your hands get painful after a while.
Cooling Rack: Place your hot baking pan onto this wire rack to cool that way your baked goods don’t continue to cook and you don’t destroy the surface of your table.
Cookie cutters: Start with just basic shapes such as circles and squares.
Piping Bag and tips: Essentially for decorating cakes but can be used for shaping cookies or placing mousse in individual glasses.
Offset spatulas: This is used for spreading frosting, evenly distributing cake batter into a baking pan and also leveling your ingredients in your measuring cups. Again, this comes in various sizes and shapes. If you will mostly bake cupcakes just get a small one.