Baking is an art and like all the other arts, there are so many subdivisions within baking. For a beginner, there will be thousands of questions in mind. Only if they find the answers, they can become confident in baking. I have been baking for more than five years and have made thousands of dishes in these years. I have read so many articles and books to increase my knowledge in baking. So for making a beginner’s job easy, I thought of putting together what I learnt, in this page. Happy Baking!!
If the question needs to be explained in detail, then I would give a link to the post which explains every thing about it. So look out for links in the answers. I will be updating this page regularly with all the inquiries from readers and fans. So book mark this page and check it often to learn more about baking. If you have a question, mail me to firstname.lastname@example.org with Baking 1001 as the subject. I will be so happy to add it here…
Q: What type of oven is a must to bake cakes and cookies?
A: An OTG (Oven Toaster Grill) or a convection oven can be used. There are also gas ovens which can be used for baking. A pressure cooker can also be used if no oven is available.
Q: How do I know my oven?
Q: How does an OTG differ from Convection?
A: OTG has two filaments which heats when the oven is on. That heat is used to bake. But in convection, there is a fan which rotates hot air into the oven which then bakes the dish.
Q: What types of pans can be used in OTG?
A: You can use aluminium, non stick pans, glass dishes and ceramic wares. Make sure they are all oven safe before using. You can also use paper cups but make sure that they are not wax coated. Do not use plastic in OTG.
Q: What types of tins can I use in Convection?
A: You can use all the tins you use in OTG in convection oven too. Make sure that the convection mode is set. Do not use combo mode when using metals.
Q: Is there a temperature difference while baking in OTG or convection?
A: Yes, there is a difference. Most of the recipes you find online are for OTG. IF you are making the same dish in convection, reduce the temperature by 20°C. That is, if a recipe asks for 180°C, then you need to set your convection to 160°C.
Q: How shall I know whether my oven is heating to the correct temperature?
A: Invest in an oven thermometer. If your oven is acting weird and all your baking attempts fail, you need to check the oven’s heat. If you see any discrepancy in temperature, then you can make adjustments while baking.
Q: Which rack of the oven for which recipe?
A: The dishes are baked in the middle rack unless it is mentioned in the recipe.
Q: How should the tin be placed in the oven? Can I use two tins at the same time?
A: You can use two tins at the same time if you have enough space between the two tins and they don’t touch the oven wall. If you feel that the space is too less, bake them in two batches.
Q: While baking huge number of cookies, can I use all the racks of an oven to bake in bulk?
A: Unless your oven is a commercial one, it would be a disaster to use all the racks for baking. The heat distributed will be uneven and your cookies will come out unevenly baked. Use only the middle rack and bake for perfect results.
Q: What is the mode to be used while baking. Our oven guide says that only the lower filament needs to be on for baking. Is it true?
A: To bake any dish, both the filaments need to be switched on. Switching only the lower filament may cause burnt bottom and a pale top.
Q: What is the problem when my cake comes out with burnt top and uncooked?
A: Check whether only the top filament is switched on. And also check whether the temperature is way too high than mentioned in the recipe. If using a taller tin, the cake batter sometimes reaches near the top filament causing it to burn and leaving the cake undercooked. If you feel that the cake is very near the filament, place an aluminium foil on top of the tin to avoid the burning. This is called as tenting.
Q: My cake takes takes too much of time to bake and comes out dry. Why?
A: Check your oven temperature. Though it is good for a cake to be baked at 160C, if the temperature is too low, the baking time will be so much increased and you will also end up with a dry cake.
Q: How do I preheat my oven?
A: Preheating is very necessary in baking. While your cake batter goes in the oven, the oven must be already hot, otherwise the batter will be ruined. That is why we preheat the oven. Set the temperature mentioned in the recipe and switch on oven for 10-15 minutes. You need to place the batter only after that time. This ensures that your batter goes in the perfect heat.
Measurement of Ingredients:
Q: How do I measure my ingredients?
A: There are two ways of measuring. One by the weight of the ingredient or by the volume of the ingredient. You need a weighing scale for measuring weights and proper cups and spoons for volume.
Q: How do I weigh my ingredients?
A: Read the recipe carefully. Mostly the weight is mentioned in grams of kilograms. Use a proper weighing scale to weigh out the ingredients according to the recipe.
Q: What are the types of cups and spoons used for baking?
A: You get sets of cups and spoons mainly for baking. There are three types of measurements mentioned in recipes – They are American, UK and Australian. Usually in India we get American measuring cups and jars. So before following recipes make sure about all the measurements. And for conversions there are so many converters available online. Google is very helpful in measurement conversions.
Q: Is it necessary to follow a recipe exactly? Why?
A: Baking is science and yes, you need to follow any given recipe to T. Each ingredient while added according to the recipe will result in a perfectly baked cake. Even if one ingredient is left out or substituted, then there will be differences in the final cake. So as a beginner, you need to follow the recipe perfectly.
Q: Why does my cake turn bitter?
A: There is certainly flaw in the recipe. Bitterness is caused by excessive use of leavening agents such as baking powder and baking soda.
Q: Why are my cakes not very soft and moist like the cake I buy in bakeries?
A: There is lots of difference between a home made cake and a cake we buy in bakeries. While we use finest ingredients and zero chemicals, the bakery products are based on chemicals. There are so many chemicals used to get a soft and moist texture. We too can make our cakes soft and moist by following good recipes. Use sugar syrups to drench your cakes to get the moistness. But here is my humble request – Never ever compare the home made cake with a bakery cake. Home made are the best..
Q: My cake rises in the oven to lovely peak but falls down as soon as it comes out of the oven. Why?
A: There are so many reasons for a sunk cake. Either the liquid is too much in the batter or too much leavening agent. Even too much butter may cause your cake to collapse. Search for a better recipe.
Q: The top of my cake cracks too much. Why?
A: If your batter is very thick, and there is little bit more of leavening agents the top of the cake might crack. It is usual in eggless cakes.
Q: My cake is way too soft and it crumbles at touch. And it also didn’t rise. Why?
A: Too much oil or butter in the batter may be the cause of a crumble, flat and soft cake.
Q: My cake is sunk in the centre. Why?
A: If the temperature is very low, it may cause the cake to sink. And also if you open the oven door within fifteen minutes of placing the batter in the oven, the sudden temperature difference will make the cake sink. And also if you have inserted a tooth pick way before the cake is cooked, the air escapes through that hole and the cake may sink.
Q: My cake comes out very dry and hard. Why?
A: Over baking is the only reason for a cake to become hard and dry.
Q: My cake comes with a huge dome. Why?
A: Uneven baking temperature can be the cause of this. To get an even cake, use a cake strip. To make it at home, wet a strip of turkey towel and wrap it around the cake tin. This will help in even distribution of heat and your cake will come out flat.
Q: My cake has a sticky crust once cool. Why?
A: Too much sugar in the batter will cause this. And if you have wrapped your cake while still warm, it will create condensation and make your cake sticky.
Q: How do I store my baked cakes?
A: Allow it to cool for 5 minutes in the tin and flip it on to a wire rack. Allow it to cool completely. Use two or three layers of cling film to cover the cake. Refrigerate until decorating.
Q: What is the secret of getting a moist and soft cake?
A: A good recipe is the secret to a perfect cake. If a recipe fails you for the nth time, it is time to search for another recipe. Make sure the blog you are following has good reviews from readers. And always go through the comments. You will get various ideas about the recipe from there.
Q: I followed a recipe properly but the cake was a disaster. Why?
A: Every person attempting a recipe blames the recipe when it gives bad results. But it is not always true. So before taking it out on the blog where you found the recipe, it is a good idea to dig deeper. Check all your measuring gadgets and see whether they are exactly a match to the ones mentioned in the blog. Check your oven. Check your ingredients. 99% there is a chance of any of these being wrong.
Q: I tried a recipe with substitutes and my cake is not good. Is there a problem with the recipe?
A: Understanding the substitutes is very important before using them in recipes. I have seen this in many popular sites. There will be hundreds of positive reviews about the recipe but there will be some negative and if you read it they might have substituted some ingredients. Then there is no problem with the recipe and it is the problem of substitutes. Read my post on substitutes to get a clear idea of how they work.
Q: Can I use wheat flour instead of all purpose flour for cakes?
A: Using only wheat flour results in a heavier and denser cake. If using wheat flour, substitute 1/4 cup of flour with corn flour. Do not increase the baking soda or baking powder. It will leave a bitter after taste. Increase the liquid in the recipe because wheat flour needs more liquid to bind than all purpose flour.
Q: Though I follow the recipe to T, my cookies always turns out hard. Why?
A: The only reason for a cookie to be hard is over baking. While the cookies come out of oven, they need to be softer in texture when compared to the final texture. Because they continue baking in the tray even after coming out of oven. After 5 minutes in the tray, you need to transfer them carefully on to a wire rack with a spatula. Let it cool completely before storing it in jars. Your cookies will be perfect. If the cookies are firm when you remove them from oven, they will surely turn hard.
Q: Why do my cookies stick together on the tray?
A: Some cookies tend to spread a lot, mainly those with lots of butter. So it is very important to place them 2″ apart on the tray. If placed closer, then they tend to spread and combine with one another.
Q: What type of butter should I use for my cookies. Salted or unsalted?
A: If a recipe suggests just butter, then use unsalted cooking butter. Use salted only if suggested in the recipe.
Q: Can I use home made butter for the cookies?
A: You can use home made butter in recipes. Make sure that you remove all the water form the butter before adding it.
Q: Why should I chill the dough. Some recipes ask for overnight chilling. Is it really necessary?
A: Some doughs are thinner with a lot of butter content. These types of doughs are really hard to shape but once baked they just melt in the mouth. So to make the shaping easier, you need to chill the dough. Butter hardens while chilling and the dough will be firmer once chilled. It is much more easier to shape.
Q: What to do if I don’t have a piping bag? The recipe is asking for it.
A: You can improvise using a zip lock bag or a plain polythene cover.
Q: What is the usual baking temperature for cookies?
A: There may be different temperature for different recipes but the most common temperature would be 180°C. So if a recipe hasn’t mentioned the temperature, then set your oven for 180°C.
Q: What is better, greasing a tray or using a parchment?
A: I would definitely recommend using a parchment for baking cookies. It makes the cleaning job easier and the tray is less messy for repetitive baking.
Q: How do I store sandwiched cookies?
A: Sandwiched cookies tend to become softer because of the filling. So it is better to refrigerate.
Q: How do I store crackers?
A: You can store them in air tight jars in room temperatures.
Q: How do I convert a vanilla flavoured cookie to a chocolate one?
A: It is easy. Substitute 1/4 th cup of flour with cocoa powder and add some choco chips in the dough.
Q: Can I use oil instead of butter in a cookie recipe?
A: Personally I prefer butter or shortening in cookies. Oil makes it hard. So I avoid it.
Q: Can I use wheat flour instead of all purpose flour?
A: Of course, you can.
Q: My cookies bottom is burnt and the top is pale. Why?
A: If using a black tray, you may face this problem. So if you are using a black tray, reduce temperature by 20°C and bake. If 180°C is mentioned in the recipe, then you need to go for 160°C.
Q: What are the types of yeast available?
A: You get Dry yeast, Instant yeast and fresh yeast in market. Dry yeast comes as granules and it needs to be proofed in warm water before adding to the flour. Instant yeast can be mixed directly to the flour. And fresh yeast needs to be dissolved in water before adding to the flour.
Q: Can I substitute one yeast for another? If so what would be the quantity to be used?
A: One teaspoon of dry yeast is equal to three teaspoons of fresh yeast and one teaspoon of instant yeast.
Q: What is fresh yeast?
A: Fresh yeast also known as cake yeast or baker’s yeast or compressed yeast comes in blocks. It needs to be refrigerated and should be used with in two weeks. It is mostly used by professional bakers.
Q: My bread dough didn’t rise even after three hours. Why?
A: Check your yeast. When the yeast is not active your dough will never rise.
Q: How do I check the yeast?
A: Mix one teaspoon of yeast in half a cup of lukewarm water, cover and set aside for 10 minutes. If at the end of ten minutes the solution is bubbly, your yeast is fine. But if it is just like you left it, then know that the yeast is not good. Yeast may also become inactive when hot water is used. So make sure that you add lukewarm water.
Q: How do I store yeast?
A: It is better to refrigerate the yeast if it is a small pack. But if you have bought a bigger pack, then empty the contents to an airtight jar and place it in your freezer. It stays good more than 6 months.
Q: What is a quick bread?
A: Quick bread is an easy bread which is more like a cake. It doesn’t use yeast and so there is no need to proof. Baking powder or baking soda are used for leavening and they can be baked as soon as the batter is mixed.
Q: How do I get that exotic brown colour on my bread?
A: Usually brown colour is got by applying egg on the dough before it goes into the oven. But if you don’t use eggs, then a mixture of milk and honey acts the same as the egg wash. Mix 3 tbs of milk with 1/2 tsp of honey and apply it gently on the proofed bread dough before placing it in oven.
Q: My bread dough rises very nicely but sinks when placed in oven. Why?
A: You are over proofing the dough. The bread dough needs to double in volume before baking. If the volume goes beyond double, the gluten in the dough looses power and the air escapes causing the bread to sink.
Q: How do I know that the dough has proofed enough?
A: Look at the volume of the dough rather than the time of proofing. The dough takes time if the climate is cool and takes lesser time if the climate is hot. So the time depends on the climatic conditions. It is better if you see the volume. When double in size go to the next step in the recipe.
Q: I live in a cool place and so my bread dough takes forever to rise. What should I do?
A: Preheat oven to 100°C for 10 minutes. Now switch off oven, place your dough inside the oven and keep the oven door partly open. The surrounding air would be warmer and the dough will rise easily.
Q: How do I cool my baked bread?
A: Once the bread is baked, remove it from the pan immediately onto a wire rack. Then allow it to cool. If let inside the pan, condensation would be formed and the bottom would become soggy.
Q: How to properly slice a loaf?
A: Any loaf need to cool down completely before slicing. If you slice a warm loaf, the inner texture will become squishy and the bread might crumble. When slicing use a long serrated bread knife. Use sawing movements and gently slice the bread. You will get perfect slices by doing so.
Q: What is the perfect temperature setting for baking bread?
A: Mostly 200°C is used to bake breads. So unless a recipe states a different temperature, go for 200°C.
Q: My breads and rolls turn out with cracks on top. Why?
A: f the dough is very dry it will result in cracks. Even if the dough is correct, poor shaping will also result in crack.
Q: Bread browns too quick. By the time it is baked, the top becomes black. Why?
A: This happens in old ovens. By the time the bread starts browning, place an aluminium foil on it. This will slow down the browning. This is called as tenting.
Q: The crust of my bread is very thick. Why?
A: Setting the oven temperature low will result in thick crusts.
Q: Is it necessary to use bread flour?
A: Bread flour has high gluten content than the all purpose flour and so it is recommended for baking breads. But if you don’t have access to bread flour, you can add wheat gluten to all purpose flour to make bread flour at home. For one cup of flour, mix in 1 teaspoon of vital wheat gluten and mix well. Use it in the recipe.
Q: My bread smells yeast and sour to taste. Why?
A: The dough is definitely over proved. Next time reduce the proofing time.
Q: Most recipes I read asks for kneading the dough for 10 – 15 minutes. Is it really necessary?
A: Kneading the bread dough is absolutely necessary. If a recipe asks you to knead for 10 minutes, set a timer and knead for 10 minutes. Kneading is what helps in strengthening the gluten and results in the perfect texture.
Q: What is window pane test?
A: The structure of the bread depends highly on the strength of the gluten in the dough. The gluten develops by kneading the dough. To know whether the dough is kneaded enough, the dough needs to be tested. Take a small ball of the dough and stretch it into a square. Keep on stretching until it becomes a thin film in the middle without breaking. The dough must be thin enough to pass light through it. If it is obtained without any tear, then your dough is properly kneaded. IF it breaks, then you need to knead it more.
Q: Can I make the dough and refrigerate to bake it another day?
A: Yes, you can. Knead the dough and place it in a bowl, cling wrap it and refrigerate until needed. Take the dough before two hours of final shaping. Let it come to room temperature. Do the shaping and let it prove before baking.
Q: How do I store my baked bread? It dries very fast.
A:To ensure that the bread remains soft even after a day, you need to cover the bread in two or three layers of cling film and then a layer of aluminium foil. Never leave a sliced bread out. It will dry easily.
Q: Where should I place my bread in oven?
A: Bread is perfectly baked when place in the middle rack. If placed in the lower rack, the top may be pale while the bottom burns and vice versa if placed on the top rack.
Q: How do I know that my bread is done?
A: When you tap on the bread, it must sound hollow. If the crust is soft, then it needs a bit more of baking.
Pies and Tarts Queries:
Q: Is a tart tin necessary to make tarts?
A: No, you can always use your muffin pans or individual bowls to make tarts.
Q: How to get a flaky tart shell?
A: The secret of getting a flaky base is in preparing the dough. The butter must be very cold while mixing it in the flour. And the dough must be slightly crumbly. Do not knead it into a soft dough. Chill the dough until firm yet slightly pliable. And after lining the shells, it is better to chill it until you bake.
Q: What is blind baking?
A: Some tarts and pies need your shells to be blind baked. This is very simple. Line your tin with the crust and bake it separately before adding any filling is called as blind baking. As the shell may rise and the tart may become uneven, it is usual to bake the tart shell with beans inside. The weight of the beans will press the crust so that once baked it will be uniform.
Q: How do I bake with beans?
A: After lining the tin with the crust dough, prick all over with a fork. Then line it with a butter paper so that it covers the entire surface. Now add any dry beans to fill the tin. Then bake as suggested in the recipe. Once done, remove the butter paper carefully along with the beans. Now your shell is ready to be filled. The beans can be cooled and stored for the next baking or can be used in any other dish.
Q: Though my crust is crisp and flaky, once I add the filling, it goes soggy. How do I prevent this?
A: This problem can be solved very easily. Though the crust is crisp, the moisture of the filling would definitely affect the crust. To avoid this, you can coat the crust with an ingredient which forms as a shield so that the moisture will not be absorbed. Eggs, Jam or Chocolate can be used for this purpose. If you eat eggs, then beat an egg and apply it with a pastry brush into the interiors of the shell. Bake for two more minutes. Your moisture proof tart shell is ready. If you don’t use eggs, then mix any jam with little water and apply it inside the tart with a pastry shell. Bake it for 2 minutes and allow it to cool. If you are going to serve your tart chilled, then you can brush the interiors with melted dark or white chocolate and this forms the necessary barrier.
Q: What is the difference between a pie and a tart?
A: Most of them say that they are the same but there is a little difference between the two. When a pie is made with top and bottom crusts, tarts are made with only bottom crusts. Pies are always baked and served while a tart may be baked and then filled with various fillings and served. Pie dishes are little deep while tart bases are shallow.
Q: What would be the perfect temperature to bake my pie?
A: Start with a high temperature like 200°C – 225°C. After 15 minutes reduce it to 180°C and bake until the crust is golden.
Q: Why is my crust hard and dry?
A: When you over work your dough, it will form gluten and result in a harder crust. Be gentle and just mix the dough until every thing comes together. DO not knead the dough.
Q: My pie doesn’t brown on top. Why?
A: Just like breads, pies also need a milk or egg wash. It gives a nice golden brown to the baked pies.
Q: The filling is oozing out of the crust. Why?
A: Make sure to add a vent hole on top of the crust. Any steam which is produced during cooking of the filling will escape through the hole. And do not over fill your pie.
Q: The crust is burnt while the filling is perfectly done. Why?
A: Some filling take a long time to bake and while it is baking, the crust may burn. To avoid this use a pie shield. You can also make it at home with a strip of aluminium foil. Use a strip of aluminium foil to cover the crust at the sides. This will prevent burning.
Q: My crust shrinks while baking. Why?
A: This is because the dough is not rested long in refrigerator. After rolling out the crust and fitting it in the pan, refrigerate it for at least 15-20 minutes before baking. And do not forget to add the weights/ beans. This will avoid shrinking of the crust.
Q: Even though I used chilled butter, it is going soft when I mix the dough. Why?
A: It depends on how hot your hand is. If your hand is hot enough to melt the butter, then it will go soft. To avoid this, use only your finger tips to rub the butter into the flour. If even it doesn’t work, use a food processor to mix the dough.
Flavour Changing in Recipes:
Q: Can I change the flavour of a cake easily?
A: Of course, you can. I would recommend you to have some basic recipes like a vanilla cake, a chocolate cake, a cake made with fruit juices. If you have a proper base recipe, it is very easy to add flavours of your choice to the recipes. For example, adding butterscotch essence to a vanilla cake would make a basic butter scotch cake. By substituting various fruit juices in a cake made with juices, you get a variety of fruit flavoured cakes. And playing with the flavours of the frostings also result in various types of cakes.
Q: How do I change a vanilla cake recipe into a chocolate cake recipe?
A: This can be easily done by substituting some flour with cocoa powder. Normally in a recipe using two cups of flour, you can remove 1/4 cup flour and substitute it with cocoa powder. To enhance the chocolate flavour, add 1/2 tsp of instant coffee powder.
Q: How to make a lemon cake with a vanilla cake recipe?
A: Use lemon juice as part of liquid ingredients and add grated lemon zest to the batter to have a more pronounced lemon flavour. You can also add lemon essence.
Q: How do I incorporate dry nuts in recipes?
A: Add dry fruits is one of the easiest of all. Just add a handful of chopped nuts to any batter to get the crunchiness of the nuts in the final bake. No need to change any thing else.
Q: Can I use diced fruits in the batter?
A: Yes, you can, but when fruit is baked, it will release some water which will make the final dish more moist. If using pineapple, always cook it before using as fresh pineapple tends to go bitter when baked.
Q: Can I use coconut oil to get coconut flavour in the cake?
A: Yes, you can. But choose an oil based cake and substitute the oil with coconut oil. You can even use coconut milk for liquid. It will give a nice coconut flavour.
Storing The Ingredients:
Q: How do I store flour?
A: It is better to buy flours fresh while baking. But if you want to buy in bulk and store, then you can store it in an airtight jar upto three weeks. But if storing it for more than three weeks, place it in freezer.
Q: How do I store chocolates?
A: You can keep it in a dry and cool place. But if weather is very hot and chocolate starts becoming soft, it is better to refrigerate. But bring it to room temperature before using in any recipe.
Q: How do I store essences?
A: Just keep it in a cool and dry place. A cupboard would be perfect.
Q: How do I store butter?
A: Butter needs to be stored in the dairy compartment of the fridge. No need to freeze.
Q: I bought a whole block of cheese. How do I store?
A: For smaller quantities, dairy compartment of the fridge is good. But if you have bought it in bulk, then cut it into smaller blocks. Cover each block with two or three layers of cling wrap and place them in zip lock bags. Freeze until needed. Before a day of using the cheese, remove the blocks you need from the freezer to fridge. Let it thaw inside the fridge. Use it the next day.
Q: How do I store fresh cream?
A: If using in a day or two, keep it in the dairy compartment. But if you have bought a huge batch, then divide it into small airtight plastic jars and freeze. Remove required number of jars the previous day of using and transfer to the fridge and let it thaw for 24 hours inside the fridge. Use it the next day.
Q: How do I store condensed milk?
A: Condensed milk can be stored in your cupboard. It just needs a cool and dry place. But once open, place the remaining in fridge covering the top with cling wrap and use it within two days.
Q: How do I store sugar?
A: Sugar can be placed in your cupboard in a dry place. Make sure that the place is ant free.
Q: How to store baking soda and baking powder?
A: Transfer them from packages to airtight containers and refrigerate. This will increase the shelf life of the powders.
Q: How to store yeast?
A: Transfer to airtight jar and freeze it. It will keep it fresh always.
I will be adding more to this list whenever a reader sends me a query. So pin this post and keep checking. I am also doing a post on cake decorating FAQ. Until I post it, enjoy this post!!