February 19, 2012

Simplify Your Life Series: Better Living Through Baking

If you're looking to simplify a little bit of your life or achieve a major overhaul then join me for our ten part series as we work alongside Country Living's Simple Country Wisdom: 501 Old-Fashioned Ideas to Simplify Your Life by Susan Waggoner.  I pick a few points in each chapter, expound upon them and share some of my own tips.  Grab your favorite cuppa and join along!  (Start at the beginning HERE.)

Better Living through Baking

"When you bake, you control what goes into your food.  More raisins, less sugar.  A pinch of salt instead of a tablespoon.  Natural ingredients instead of preservatives.  There are probably as many reasons to bake as there are bakers, and I hope everyone finds theirs somewhere along the way.  ... Baking is not hard.  Once you get the hang of it, it isn't even time consuming." -- Susan Waggoner

Simple Guidelines  Good baking is no more complicated than doing the right thing at the right time.  Here are a few simple guidelines to get you off on the right foot.  Baking often will help you develop a feel for how dough should look and feel, how flaky the pie crust should be, or how light the cookies should look when taking them out of the oven.  Accept that you will make mistakes.  Humidity, lighter or denser flour, and a myriad of other variables control your baking outcomes.  Baking a small batch of something until you get the hang of it (or even dividing a recipe) will help you not only hone your skills but help your waistline (unless you have a large family then they'll solve that problem for you *smile*).  

Better Baking   Read the instructions then reread them.  Again.  I once made a mac-n-cheese recipe that had mustard in it.  The first time I made it everyone loved it.  The second time.  Not-so-much.  I mistakenly put in tablespoons instead of teaspoons.  *shudder*  Enough said?  Have ingredients at room temperature such as eggs (they'll have better volume) and butter (it will cream easier). Use unsalted butter since most recipes call for salt at the amount needed with butter that doesn't have any.  Unsalted butter tastes better and is fresher (no preservatives and salt doesn't cover up the natural sweetness).  To sift or not to sift? The purpose of sifting is to mix the dry ingredients and make the flour light and fluffy.  However, the less the flour is touched the better.  Try putting a small strainer over your bowl, strain flour and other dry ingredients together in the bowl.  Or just stir it well with a fork.   Preheat your oven!  Mine has a beeper that lets me know when it's preheated.  If you don't have one just wait ten minutes or so.  All ovens are not alike! Smaller ones bake quicker than larger ones.  Gas cooks differently than electric, etc. The first time when baking something watch it carefully.  In a first time recipe that calls for 25-30 minutes I'll check it at 20.  Then recheck every so often.  If you use an oven thermometer make sure you hang it at the center of the oven.  Try not to peek.  Every time you open the oven door, you lose at least 25 degrees of heat.  It wastes energy and throws off your baking time.

Cakes and More  Go to the cookbook!  Boxed mix cakes only come in a small variety of flavors, but check a vintage cookbook and you'll find a lot of combinations!  To bake a perfect cake make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. Don't skimp on the time spent creaming the butter and sugar.  This is how the air that makes cake light gets incorporated into the butter.  Cream butter alone for at least five minutes, then add the sugar and cream until the mixture is no longer gritty (same goes for whipping frosting!).  Combine the cake's dry ingredients in a bowl and stir well to fluff and lighten the flour.  When adding dry ingredients, don't beat. Mix at medium speed, and don't mix longer than necessary to blend thoroughly.  If you use butter or margarine in the cake, use the wrapper to grease the cake pan.  If you don't want to grease or flour the cake pan, line the bottom of the pan with baking parchment and leave the sides bare -- they can be loosened by running a spatula along the edges.   ...  There are oodles more tips in the book! 

Bake Cookies Anytime  Be the lady with the freshly baked cookies.  Almost any cookie dough will work as a slice-and-bake.  Slit the cardboard tube of a roll of paper towels or aluminum foil lengthwise and line with a piece of plastic wrap.  Holding the tube open, spoon in cookie dough, pressing firmly with a spoon to eliminate air pockets.  Squeeze the tube together, scraping off any dough that oozes out.  Wrap the excess plastic wrap around the tube, folding over the ends, then store in a plastic bag in the back of the freezer.  When company drops by, just slice and bake as many cookies as desired.  Keep a few different kinds of dough around, and treat your friends to a real cookie fest.  -- OR --  Use a plastic ice cream bucket and put your premade cookie dough in there, thaw then scoop out when ready to use.  -- OR --  Pre-scoop dough and flash freeze on a cookie sheet.  Put the frozen balls of dough in a plastic ice cream bucket and keep in the freezer.  Take out what you'll need.

When recipes call for creaming butter, sugar, and eggs until light and fluffy, they mean it!  Once it's creamed good and well add dry ingredients and mix on low until only all ingredients are combined.  Avoid greasing cookie sheets.  Greased cookie sheets make cookies brown too quickly.  Use a silicon mat (I love my Silpat!) or parchment paper if you don't have a non-stick cookie sheet.  As soon as cookies are cool enough to slide onto a spatula without breaking, transfer them to a wire rack to cool.  If they stay on the pan to cool they will over bake and not be as crisp if they stay on the pan.  Use two different baking sheets or let sheets cool in between batches to keep warm sheets from causing butter to ooze out of the dough.  If you burned your cookies try using a grater (when they are cooled) to remove the burned edges and bottoms.

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There are many more tips in this chapter!  For more tips on baking powder biscuits, baking the perfect loaf of bread, perfecting your frosting, tricks for cheesecakes, quick cobblers, flaky pie crust, and making leftovers fun with quiche order Susan's book HERE.

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Join me in the coming weeks as we unwrap the present that is our lives.  The next step in our series is In the Garden.  Please share this series by placing the button in the side bar of your blog or share on Facebook by clicking the button at the very bottom of this post.

* photos courtesy of Country Living

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This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your layer cake looks so inviting and delicious!

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