October 4, 2012

Bakeries are magical places, adults and children alike can't help but cheer up in the presence of so many delicious, professionally made baked goods. Of course, everyone knows there is nothing better than baking at home when it comes to convenience, affordability and choosing the ingredients that best suit your family needs. With a few tips from professional bakers you can get into easy baking in your own home and have the best of both worlds.

The first and most important thing to consider when making bakery quality treats is to use the best ingredients for the job. This means determining the right type of flour. If you are making bread you want to look for a type of flour with a higher level of protein because this will build stronger gluten, which is what gives bread its strong texture. You want just the opposite if you are buying flour to bake cakes. Cake flour has less protein and yields softer results. With cookies you are better off using a middle of the road all-purpose flour.

Additionally, you don't want to use margarine when a recipe calls for butter because margarine is oilier and will give your baked goods the wrong texture. Always use large grade A eggs and spend the extra money for farm fresh eggs and fresh spices whenever possible. A professional baker's tip is to set aside the water you used to boil potatoes. By substituting this water in the bread recipe it will give your bread a better taste and the bread will stay fresher longer. Use bottled water as opposed to tap water in all your baking to avoid unwanted minerals and chemicals.

To get the best results with your baking you also need to have the right tools. Parchment paper is essential when baking like a pro. By placing it at the bottom of your cookie sheets and cake pans you can prevent the bottoms of your desserts from over browning and it makes clean up a breeze. You can also use parchment paper or cling wrap to roll out your dough and avoid adding in too much additional flour. You also want to invest in heavy-duty pans as opposed to flimsy aluminum ones and make sure you have on hand things like pastry blenders, off set spatulas for frosting and disposable pastry bags.

Another essential ingredient for baking is an accurate food scale. Weighing out ingredients is the most accurate way to measure them because using cups and spoons to measure doesn't take into account the density of the product that you are using. In general when a recipe calls for a cup of flour it is referring to a cup of sifted flour and the difference between a sifted cup and a packed one can be quite significant. If you don't have a scale and you have to use a dry measuring cup to measure out the flour, don't pack it down inside the cup. You will have much better results if you sprinkle the flour into the measuring cup with a spoon

Temperature is another important aspect to consider when seeking professional results. When baking bread use warm or room temperature ingredients for the best results. Cold ingredients are best when making pastries to give them a light and crispy crust. Another important tip is to always use an oven thermometer instead of trusting the temperature reading on your stove. The temperature of ovens can change over time and varies as much as 20 degrees from the temperature it states on the stoves display.

Perhaps the most important advantage professional bakers have over amateurs is the ability to make baked goods that looks as delicious as they taste. To get perfectly formed cookies effortlessly you can roll the dough directly onto the cookie sheet, cut out your cookies and then simply remove the excess dough. Without having to move the cookies they are sure to stay intact. For drop cookies, drop them onto the cookie sheet using two spoons and then flatten them into shape with a water-glass dipped in sugar. Dip the spoons in milk before dropping the cookies to keep the dough from sticking to them.

When following a chocolate cake recipe for example be sure to let it cool completely, stick it in the freezer for a while if possible. This will prevent crumbs from forming in the frosting. Add just a pinch of baking soda to your frosting to keep it moist and prevent it from cracking. Sprinkle a thin layer of powdered sugar on the cake to keep the frosting or filling from seeping into the cake and it will also help the frosting stick to the surface. Professional bakers will often apply a thin first layer of frosting, let it chill and then go back and apply a second coat of frosting. You can hold the layers in place with pieces of uncooked spaghetti while you are waiting to put the frosting on.

There are so many advantages to baking at home and with these simple tips and tricks there is no reason why you should ever have to go to the bakery again. Your family and friends will think that you are an amazing baker and they will be right. So stay in and get easy baking!

Orla Hayman is a keen and passionate home baker who likes nothing more than helping other people develop their skills in the kitchen, in particular teaching people her own unique banana bread recipe and soda bread recipes.

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