The art of Baking

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    The Art of Baking - a dry heat method of cooking

    Definition of Baking

    Baking is defined as cooking food in an oven usingdry heat. Thats all well and good, but since bakingis one of the primary ways in which we cook food,

    lets take a minute to look at baking, in depth.

    When we think of the term baking we aregenerally talking about cakes, breads, and

    pastries. We will discuss oven roasting of meatand vegetables in the Roasting section.

    History of Baking

    Baking was originally accomplished in the coals ofa fire, or on a hearth. The Italian peasant bread,focaccia, comes from the Italian word for hearth.

    Notice that it is the same root as the word focus.The hearth was, literally and figuratively, the

    center, or focus, of the home.

    From the earliest, unleavened breads from the

    Middle East and the Americas to risen breads toelaborate cakes and pastries, history leaves us

    record of baking in many ancient civilizations, including Babylon, Egypt, Rome and Greece.

    Types of Ovens

    Several free-standing brick ovens have been uncovered in the ruins of Pompeii. Other ovens of theancient world include clay and even mud ovens, and later, in the 1600s, cast metal ovens, such asthe Dutch oven. Although brick and clay ovens are still in wide use all over the world as well as inAmerica, most home bakers will have access to a conventional oven, a convection oven and/or a

    microwave oven.

    Conventional ovens consist of a metal box with several racks and upper and lower thermostaticallycontrolled heating elements of some sort (gas or electric). Preheating a conventional oven first heats

    the air in the oven and then the metal box itself.

    Cooking is primarily done through means of radiant heat. Heat is transferred from the walls of theoven to the food through the air in the oven. Some conduction occurs, as well. Conduction is the

    transfer of heat through direct contact.

    For example, cakes are baked with radiant heat from the oven itself, and heat is also conducted fromthe cake pan (which of course has heated up) directly to the batter. This is why baked goods are

    generally darker at the edges where they meet the pan: the food is being cooked through two heat

    transfer processes at once.

    Convection ovens are similar to conventional ovens, but they also have a fan inside that creates anair current inside the oven. Regular convection ovens have a fan that blows air, but true convection

    ovens also have a third heating element, located right behind the fan, so the fan blows heated air.

    In general, convection ovens speed the cooking process, harnessing radiant heat energy, conductiveheat energy as well as convective heat energy. If you have a convection oven, your baking times willbe shorter, and you will most likely have to set the thermostat anywhere from 25 to 50 degrees lower

    than your recipes call for, unless they were developed using a convection oven.

    Microwave ovens send energy into food in the form of waves that excite lopsided molecules,namely: water. Microwave ovens can heat quickly, but since water boils at 212 degrees, food will

    never get hot enough to brown. For that reason, most home cooks eschew the microwave for

    cooking, but they are very useful and efficient when it comes to reheating foods.

    Baking V. Roasting

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    The age old question of which came first, baking or roasting. No I have that confused with somethingelse. Seriously, I get asked what's the difference between baking and roasting all the time. People

    want to know why we bake bread but roast chicken since they are both essentially the same dry heatcooking method. You have baked clams but roasted bruschetta. To make matters even more

    confusing, there are baked potatoes and oven roasted potatoes.

    To help clear this up, I wrote a blog called Baked or Roasted - You Decide that might help or mayeven confuse you more.

    Mixing Methods:

    Since we have pretty well established that bakingstarts with dough or a batter, let us take a moment

    to examine the different methods we have formaking a batter or dough. Well discuss methods

    for making bread dough elsewhere. Many of thesemethods outline the manner in which fats are

    incorporated into the batter or dough.

    Creaming

    In the creaming method, fats are mixed with sugarto form a mixture that is either smooth and creamy

    (cookie dough) or light and fluffy (cakes). Then,eggs are added one at a time, followed by addingdry ingredients (flours + salt + spices + chemical

    leaveners) alternately with wet ingredients(milk/water + liquid flavorings). The resultant batter

    can be very thick, as in cookie dough, orspoonable, like cake batter. Rarely does thecreaming method produce a batter that is truly

    pourable.

    So why combine ingredients this way? The initial creaming of the fat with the sugar creates lots oflittle air bubbles (fewer for cookies, many more for cakes). The sharp edges of the sugar actually cutinto the butter and create a bunch of little air pockets. Upon heating, the air in the pockets expands,

    helping the dough/batter to rise.

    Beating the eggs in early allows even more air to be whipped in (think of meringue) in the initial mixingstages. In the creaming method, it is very important that you do not skimp on the creaming of the

    fats/sugar/eggs. The more air pockets you have to begin with, the more rise you will get, regardless ofhow much baking powder or baking soda you add to the batter.

    When adding the flour and liquid, it is important to mix as little as possible while still getting the

    ingredients well combined. The less you mix, the less gluten is developed, resulting in a more tenderfinal product. Adding flour before adding the liquid helps to coat the flour with fat, further inhibiting

    gluten production. If you add liquid first, and then add flour, you will end up with a chewier finalproduct since more gluten will be activated.

    Muffin

    The muffin method is the method by which we make muffins, scones, pancake and waffle batter and

    other quick breads. Its a pretty easy method, but like many easy things, it must be done correctly to

    be successful. In the muffin method, all dry ingredients are combined (flour + salt + sugar + chemicalleaveners + spices).

    All wet ingredients are combined (milk/water + liquid fats + eggs + liquid flavorings).

    Then, the wet ingredients are poured onto the dry ingredients and gently mixed. Lumps are okay inthis methodthey will settle out on their own. Since youre not taking the extra step of coating the

    flour with fat, it is extra important that you mix gently so you dont activate the gluten.

    When incorporating the wet with the dry, dont think mix, think fold. You want to gently fold theingredients together to make a batter. This folding shouldnt take any longer than about ten to fifteen

    seconds. Then, even if its lumpy, as Alton Brown says, Just walk away.

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    In reality, you want to get your batter into tins and into the oven (or on the griddle) relatively quickly sothe chemical leavening can do its job.

    Biscuit

    The biscuit method is the method used to make biscuits, scones and many pie doughs. In the mixingmethod, dry ingredients are combined (flour + sugar + salt + chemical leaveners + dry flavorings).

    Then, chunks of cold, solid fat (butter, lard, shortening or a mixture) is cut into the dry ingredients)with either forks or another mechanical helper or by hand), until the fat is about the size of peas. Thismethod allows some of the flour to be coated with fat, adding to tenderness while leaving enough fatin large pieces to melt during the baking process and create steam. This adds texture and leavening

    to the final product.

    Once the cold fat is cut in, cold liquids are added (ice water/milk/buttermilk/cream). It is important tokeep the fats very cold in this method. If the fats begin to soften before you are finished, put your bowlin the freezer for a few minutes so they firm up. Once the liquid is incorporated, mix minimally, shape

    and bake.

    Two-Stage

    The two stage mixing method was originally applied to high ratio cakes. The term high ratio refers to ahigh ratio of water to flour held together by the emulsifiers in the new fangled solid shortenings.Since the emulsifiers could hold more water, the batter could also hold more sugar, since sugar

    dissolves in water. This helped to increase shelf life and moistness in cakes.

    Since we have become more health conscious about the effect of trans fats, solid shortenings have

    fallen out of favor somewhat. The two-stage mixing method, however, is an effective method forcreating a meltingly tender, fine crumbed cake.

    In the two-stage method, you mix all dry ingredients in the mixing bowl (flour + sugar + salt + chemicalleaveners + dry spices). Then, mix the eggs with about of the l iquid ingredients (milk/water + wet

    flavorings).

    Make sure that all dry ingredients are well mixed in the bowl, and then add butter at cool roomtemperature plus the egg mixture. Mix on low to moisten all the ingredients, and then beat on medium

    for a couple of minutes to develop the structure of the batter. The batter will get light and fluffy.

    Next, add the rest of the milk in three additions, scraping the bowl and mixing for a few seconds

    between additions. Batter made using this method is generally a bit thinner that batter made with thecreaming method. Since dry + wet + eggs are mixed in at the same time, you will not get the sameamount of air bubbles that you will with the creaming method. Your final product will have a tighter,

    more velvety crumb and have a very melting mouth feel.

    Egg Foam

    The egg foam method is the method we use for making genoise, angel food cake, and meringue-typecookies. In this mixing method, most (if not all) of the leavening comes from an extended beating of

    either egg whites or whole eggs with sugar. Then, the dry ingredients are gently folded in.

    Batter made with the egg foam method of mixing are generally very thick and light. It is best to bakethem immediately and let them cool in the pan upside down, as the structure of these cakes is very

    delicate until cool.

    There are also some hybrid mixing methods where eggs are separated, the yolks are addedaccording to the creaming method or the muffin method, then the whites are beaten to medium peaksand folded in before baking. This creates a batter with extra lif tfrom chemical leaveners, air bubbles

    created during creaming and air bubbles in the egg foamand a drier end product.

    Now that you know the major mixing methods, the world is your oyster. You can take almost any cakerecipe that calls for the creaming method