Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Reluctant Baker: Cookie Baking 101

I realized awhile ago, after talking to my Net-buddy Loukia, that sometimes I write assuming that everyone coming here knows how to bake. In reality, that's a bit silly; there's a LOT of people out there who have never baked in their lives, and the very thought kind of scares them.

That realization made me a little sad, to be honest; what's better than pulling out a pan of chocolate chip cookies from the oven that you made yourself? Or when the house smells heavenly and your kids rave that you are the best baker ever? You can do it! Really, you can, and I'm going to help you.

First let's talk about equipment.

You don't need fancy equipment to bake, but you will need the following:

-an electric mixer
-dry measuring cups
-liquid measuring cups
-measuring spoons
-a wooden spoon
-a spatula (or flipper, as I call them)
-oven mitts
-cooling rack
-cookie sheets

The equipment doesn't need to be fancy or expensive. If you rarely bake, it wouldn't be worth it to invest in top notch equipment. Just things that are durable and work will be fine to start with and if you begin to bake more, you can invest in bigger, fancier, more expensive equipment (such as my Kitchen Aid stand Mixer, which I adore!)

You've got the equipment? Okay, now let's talk about ingredients.

Basic cookies generally use the same kinds of ingredients; flour, eggs, sugar (brown or white), baking powder or soda, salt, margarine or butter, vanilla, spices, and add ins like chocolate, nuts, etc.

I have used both margarine and butter, with my preference leaning towards butter. I think it gives the finished product a better taste, and over the next few days, the cookies don't go stale as quickly. Another ingredient I won't skimp on is the chocolate. When it comes to chocolate, I like mine to be really good quality and will only use the best I can find. No generic brand chocolate in MY house!

On the other hand, some ingredients can be generic brand without any noticeable difference, such as flour, sugar, and baking powder. Since I bake so often, it just makes a lot of sense to buy flour in a 10 kg bag at a time-and generic is just that much cheaper. I went to the ice cream shop awhile ago and bought some great empty 5 gallon buckets to store my flour in for $.50. They have a snap on lid to keep the bugs out, even!

Baking may seem expensive at first, if you are just starting out. However keep in mind that you're are putting together a cupboard of pantry ingredients that will last for a long time, and in the long run will be far cheaper than buying snacks for the kid's lunch boxes.

My must haves in my baking cupboard/supplies:

-white, all purpose, unbleached flour
-white granulated sugar
-brown sugar
-quick rolled oats
-cinnamon
-nutmeg
-ginger
-cloves
-unsweetened cocoa powder
-baking soda
-baking powder
-vanilla (I use artificial-to me, the expense of real isn't worth it. Now a real vanilla bean, that IS)
-semi sweet chocolate chips
-butter
-margarine
-corn syrup
-sweetened coconut
-sprinkles (for cupcakes, etc)
-icing sugar
-unsweetened chocolate squares (Baker's chocolate is my favorite)

So you have the ingredients, and the equipment, where do you find some good recipes?

This takes some trial and error. I didn't start out as the best cookie baker, I learned through many recipe flops. Some cookies turned out as hard as hockey pucks, some were burned, some undercooked, some tasteless, some just plain gross!

My best cookie recipes have come from Mrs. Fields, Canadian Living, and sometimes just by chance. The more you bake, the more experienced you will become at just looking at a recipes and knowing whether it will be good or not. Try starting out with a basic drop cookie or a no-bake, which are the easiest, before you work your way up to the kind that you roll out, decorate, etc.

The recipes here are ones that I have personally made and served over the years (if not it actually will say so in the post), and received rave reviews. You should know that I am exceedingly picky about my baking and unless it's up to my really high standards, I won't post the recipe.

So are ya ready?

Next post, I'll walk you through a basic drop cookie recipe!

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