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So You're a Beginner To Baking?

It's probably not a very well kept secret that I'm a bit of a baked goods fanatic. Almost all my Instagram photos are cupcakes or brownies, and those photos tend to be my most commented or liked photos. I was encouraged to cook as a kid, I took Standard Grade Home Economics and also Introduction to Cake Decorating, which does help explain my confidence in a kitchen. However it wasn't until the past year that I began to take baking (and other forms of cookery) extra seriously having founded my university's Cupcake & Baking Society and also becoming vegetarian which meant most ready meals were a no-go area for me and to put an end to the myth that all veggie dishes are boring. 

So, I really haven't been baking for all that long. And not having been that long I can vouch that it easier than it sounds to get into it and that I can remember some of the best baking tips to get started on if you are not all that familiar with the world of cupcakes, brownies and macaroons. 

1. Kit Out Your Kitchen

There are obviously some baking equipment that only belongs in a professional kitchen. Put the blowtorches aside - it'll be a while before you perfect that soufflé! But even for the basic cupcake or truffle their are certain items you will definitely need.

For the easier recipes you will no doubt need:
  • sieve
  • as many bowls as you can store (you might need two going at the same time)
  • muffin tin
  • baking tray
  • cake cases
  • as many wooden/plastic spoons as you can store (I recommend plastic!)
  • measuring scales (get one that does American and British measures)
  • measuring jug
  • measuring spoons
  • measuring cups
  • electric whisk (you can a traditional one if you want - but it'll be harder)
  • cooling rack
There are plenty more types of baking equipment out there. But from my experience to get started on the basic baking recipes, above is what you'll need. Even something such as the simple rolling pin is only required if you're making a dough based recipe (which I don't recommend for beginners). 

2. Find Some Recipes

Being able to tell the difference between a good recipe and a bad one is something that takes some experience. Also I would tell you to be weary of recipes you find on the internet as anyone can put them up; to get a book deal you have to prove that you know a thing or two about a sieve and spatula. Most of the recipes I have managed to mess up have been from the internet. Let that do the talking. Two online resources I do recommend however are BBC Good Food and the other BBC food site. And as for those of you who don't own a printer (or prefer a cute book for display purposes) two books I recommend are The Cupcake and the baking section of Vegetarian Nosh for Students (a book long-term followers will know I've raved about before). 

When it comes to recommendations for what type of delicacies to create I'd recommend that if you're an absolute beginner to go with the oven-free recipes such as truffles or crispy bites (you'll find recipes out there a lot more exciting than just the rice crispy puffs from your childhood). Or if you're comfortable with an oven and a timer then try your hand at brownies, muffins or cupcakes. Brownies are easiest, though if you do burn the outside of a cupcake a good layer of icing shall cover it. Things to avoid for now: bread, macaroons, cake pops, pizza and any kind of pie. 

3. Finding Ingredients

Now that you've had a look at some recipes - and hopefully selected some - you'll have a good idea of what to go looking for when out shopping. Most baking ingredients can be found at most major supermarkets (unfortunetly little Tesco Metro's might not having everything you're looking for). Depending on what recipes you're looking at you'll know what to look for when it comes to flavouring however there are some ingredients that are basic for most recipes, and I recommend having two boxes at a time. 

My basic baking cupboard consists of:
  • Plain flour (N.B. flour should always be high quality - cheap flour is obviously cheap)
  • Self-raising flour
  • Baking Powder
  • Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda
  • Caster Sugar
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Golden Caster Sugar/Muscovado sugar (more appropriate for brownies)
  • Icing sugar (and plenty of it! One batch of cupcakes can use half a box)
  • Cocoa powder
  • A range of spices and herbs (make sure you have cinnamon)
  • Flavourings (make sure you have vanilla essence)  
  • Every liquid food colouring available from the supermarket
  • My decorating drawer
  • Egg replacer (as I'm currently experimenting with vegan baking)
And within the fridge you'll find my milk, butter (both soya), eggs, single and double cream. What you'll need could differ but this should cover many different basic recipes. 

4. Get On With It!

Now that you've kitted out your kitchen, chosen some recipes and bought your ingredients it's time to get on with the baking part. 

Here are some general guidelines
  • Measure exactly - even experienced bakers cannot afford to guestimate
  • Sieve your flour, coca powder and other other powders even if the recipe doesn't say so
  • Crack open and beat the eggs in a separate bowl - unless you want eggshells in your cakes?
  • Feel free to trade dark chocolate for milk chocolate (or visa versa) for your personal taste buds
  • Aside from that follow the recipe word for word - it is a chemical reaction
  • Always use a timer for the oven part
  • Clean up everything whilst they're in the oven
  • Keep the oven door shut aside from halfway through for turning them - unless you wish to wait longer?
  • Only begin to prepare the icing once the cakes are cool, otherwise it might set whilst you wait
  • Push a skewer or cocktail stick through the cake to work out if it's cooked (i.e. it comes out clean)
  • For more experimental baking at home I use re-usable silicon cases and keep the paper ones for cakes I share with others

5. Practise and Develop

As with most life skills the secret is to practice, practice, practice. Once you feel accomplished with the basic cake or muffin recipe you can start experimenting with different flavours or perfecting the decorating process (which is what I'm currently trying to master) or moving onto another types of recipe such as large cakes or meringues. 

One of the reasons I take so many pictures is so I can document my progress. If you look through my Instagram  you'll see a big change in my cakes and how adventurous I've been. From some messy looking cakes towards some perfectly formed brownies and the 99 cone cupcakes I made last week I've definitely made progress. Plus I actively keep track of what recipes I've made and which I'm yet to try and I'm always having a nosey on Pinterest for some extra ideas. 

Happy baking beginner bakers! 

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