The ABC's of Baking

Friday 13 January 2023


The ABC's of Baking

Growing up I never thought of myself much as a baker. My sister was the baker. I was more of a cook.  Through the years however, I came to appreciate that I was a baker and a pretty good one at that.  I learned as I went along.  Trial and error are really great teachers.

I did do Home Economics in High School and learned a lot about baking from those classes.  They started me on my journey. Getting married young and raising a large family also helped me to gain valuable experience.

Going to Culinary College further cemented my skills, and then working in the industry was another great teacher. One of my very first jobs in the field was as a Pastry Chef at a local hotel here in the Valley.  

I have learned so much through the years, professionally and from friends and family.  What good is knowledge if you can't share it. I thought today I would share with you my ABC's of baking and then some of my favorite recipes at the end.

Baking is a science as well as an art, a basket filled with skills and techniques that build a foundation upon which you can build your baking artistry.  It is precise and not something you can fiddle with a great dependance upon the chemical reactions of ingredients used.  Baking is not a very forgiving art, not like cooking.  Add too much liquid to a stew and you will still have an edible dish, add too much to a cake and you are more likely to produce a cake that cannot be saved.

Baking for the most part requires very simple and basic ingredients - flour mixed with a combination of salt, eggs, sweetener, leavening agent and fat, things such as butter, oil or shortening - how these things are combined and in what proportions is especially important.

To achieve success, home bakers really only need four basic things:

  1. Reliable recipes, written to accommodate your level of skill.
  2. Good Equipment
  3. Quality ingredients
  4. The ability to pay attention to what you are reading and what you are doing.
It is important to have confidence in your recipe source. Make sure that the instructions are well written and not vague, easy to understand and follow. Failure in the baking arena can almost always be traced back to fault with one of those four components mentioned.

Baking Tools


Using the right equipment and tools for your purposes is an essential part of successful baking.  Accurate wet and dry measures, mixing bowls, spoons, spatulas and wire racks are essential as is a good assortment of quality pans and dishes. I also would not be without a good set of digital scales. I find them invaluable and if you have a set of scales there is no recipe from any part of the world that will be deemed a mystery to you.  

Baking by weight is the most precise way of measuring your ingredients. The sizes of cups, both wet and dry can vary a great deal, as can your manner of filling them, whereas an ounce is always an ounce and a gram is always a gram.  Once you get used to baking by weight, you will not want to bake any other way.

Depending on how much and what you are baking you might also find it very handy to have an electric hand mixer, a food processor, cutting boards (both wood and plastic), several sizes of fine mesh strainers, a good rolling pin (I recommend Beechwood), a pastry board and parchment paper for lining pans.

The Oven


Your oven is probably the single most important piece of baking equipment that you have or need.  Oven temperature plays a critical role in baking.  Too hot and your baked goodies will be overly dark on the outside and not cooked in the middle.  Not hot enough, and you risk overcooking the centers of what you are baking in order to achieve the desired degree of browning.

Ideally when you set your oven temperature, that is how hot your oven will be, once it has finished preheating.  In all truth, most ovens 25*F (10*C) hotter or cooler than their setting says. One solution is to have your oven calibrated professionally, which can be costly. A simple, more effective approach is to learn how your oven bakes. You can also purchase a simple oven thermometer which will show you exactly what your oven temperature is and allow you to adjust the setting accordingly.

A. Watch for hotspot in your oven. Most ovens have hot spots which result in unevenly baked goods. This is why you will often see a recipe asking you to rotate the pans halfway through the bake time. If you do this and bake on the center rack, don't stack, you will achieve much more reliable results.

B. Check your baking earlier than the suggested bake time. Use your recipe as a guideline and then begin checking what you are baking at least 10 minutes prior to the end of the recommended time.

C. Don't peek.  That's what oven lights are for. If you keep opening your oven door to check the temperature of your oven will fluctuate. Keeping the door closed helps to maintain your oven temperature.

D. Timing and temperature depends on the types of pans you are using. Whether their surface is shiny or dull can affect the bake time. If you are using glass or nonstick pans, especially those which are dark in color, you should lower your oven temperature by 25*F (10*C).

You can also use a convection oven to bake. If you do so you will need to either reduce your baking time by about 25 percent or the oven temperature by 25*F (10*C).


Good quality, shiny, metal pans and baking sheets are a worthy investment because they bake more evenly and they do not rust.  It is money well spent as they will often (with proper care) last a lifetime.

Unless you are an incredibly experienced baker, always use the size of pan recommended for the recipe you are using.

Basic Pans (I recommend having the following)

  • one each 8-inch and 9-inch square cake pans
  • two 8-inch round layer pans
  • two 9-inch round layer pans
  • one 10-inch Bundt pan
  • one 10-inch tube pan
  • one 8 1/2-inch by 4-inch loaf tin 
  • one 9-inch by 5-inch loaf tin
  • one 12 cup muffin tin
  • one 13 by 9-inch cake tin
  • one 15 by 10-inch jelly roll pan
  • three cookie sheets in a variety of sizes (I like them with rims, but that is a personal preference.
  • one 9-inch pie tin
  • one 9-inch deep dish pie tin
Always use the size of pan as recommended by the recipe.



These are other things which I recommend a baker has in their kitchen.

Mixing bowls in an assortment of sizes. I recommend glass or metal rather than plastic, and plastic can retain oils and flavors from other foods.

Measuring cups and spoons. I have a set of cups for dry measures and a set of cups for liquid measures.  I also have several sets of measuring spoons. This saves me from having to wash them multiple times during a baking session.

Cooling racks. Essential for cooling cakes and cookies.  You want your cooling rack to clear the countertop by at least 2 inches so as to prevent your baked goods from "sweating" on the bottom while they are cooling. Soggy bottoms are a no no.

Wire whisks for mixing. I have two medium sized wire whisks.  A large balloon whisk is ideal for whisking things like egg whites or cream if you do not have an electric mixer.

A fine grater and zester. Ideal for zesting citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and limes.

A fruit juicer.  There are several different kinds available. I have a small wooden reamer, and a larger metal one that you can place a whole half a lemon or lime into, which serves to juice the fruit and keep the pips behind.

An assortment of cookie and biscuit cutters. You can go crazy here. I have one good set of round metal cutters that includes about every size of round cutter you will ever need.  I also find a heart shape and a star shape invaluable.

Rolling pin.  I have a good beechwood rolling pin. It is essential to have a rolling pin if you plan on making pie crusts and certain kinds of cookies.

Spatulas. I have two rubber ones for scraping out bowls and folding in ingredients. I also have a large metal one for lifting cakes and cookies from pans, and an assortment of metal offset spatulas.  These are great for smoothing out icings on cakes and cookies.

Pastry brushes.  Essential for applying washes or glazes, or for greasing pans.

Knives. I recommend having a good, serrated knife and a sharp chef's knife. I also recommend a good pair of kitchen scissors.



Flour, sugar and fat are the most common ingredients needed to make delicious baked goods, but adding eggs, leavening agents, flavorings, chocolate and nuts opens up a cornucopia of tasty delights!

FLOUR - I recommend keeping a good all-purpose plain flour for most of your baking needs. Bleached or unbleached is a personal preference. You can also keep a self raising flour, a strong/bread flour and a fine pastry or pasta flour. I also like to keep a whole wheat flour.  Store your flours in clean airtight containers in a cool dry place.  White flour will last for approximately a year whilst whole wheat lasts for about 6 months. For longer storage, keep your flour in sealed containers in the freezer or refrigerator.

FATS - There are two kinds of fats. Those that are solid at room temperature and those that are liquid.

 Butter is the most popular fat in baking, but technically speaking it is not the best fat to use. Since it is only 80% solid fat and has a low melting point, all butter pie crusts will not be as flaky as those made with shortening or lard. (I use both lard and butter in my pastry).  Also, cookies made with butter rather than shortening will not hold their shape as well.

Margarine can be used interchangeably with butter, unless flavor is an issue (such as a buttercream frosting). I do understand why, economically speaking, it is what a lot of people have to use.  Do be sure if you are using margarine you use a solid type rather than a spreadable margarine, as spreadable margarines do not perform well in baking.

Lard is 100% fat and has a high melting point. It is to be used when flakiness is desired.

Vegetable Shortening is made from vegetable oils. It is also 100% fat and is excellent in producing flaky pastry and biscuits.

Vegetable oils, liquid at room temperature cannot be used in recipes based on creaming fats and sugars together and do not contribute to leavening. You will more often see them being used in quick breads and muffins.

SWEETENERS - Sweeteners are what gives baked goods much of their appeal. 

Sugar - is what is most commonly used and comes in many varieties, which will or should always be specified by the recipe you are using. White sugar is the most common used, followed closely by brown sugar, which is granulated sugar with molasses added.  Icing sugar (or confectioner's sugar) has a tendency to clump so it is best to sift it prior to use.

Other Sweeteners - Molasses, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, corn syrup are all effective sweeteners depending on the recipe used. Molasses has a strong color and flavor, is rich and dark and adds flavor and moisture to recipes. If it is not to your taste, you can substitute an equivalent amount of honey, corn syrup or maple syrup in its place.

EGGS - These are indispensable in baking and play many different roles. They contribute to leavening, texture, color, flavor, volume and richness in baked goods. The also act as an emulsifier, binding ingredients together as well as adding nutritional value. I find it is best to allow eggs to come to room temperature before using them in baking.  It is also important to use the size of egg specified by the recipe you are using.

LEAVENING AGENTS - These are what causes baked goods to rise, usually by creating a chemical reaction with the ingredients used in the recipe.

Yeast - this is what gives bread it's volume. It is also used in certain cakes and donuts. It comes in a variety. Quick rise. Bread machine. Regular.  It is important to use the type of yeast specified by your recipe.

Baking Soda - (also known as Bicarbonate of soda) this is a chemical which, when combined with acids such as buttermilk, yogurt, fruit juices or even chocolate, creates bubbles of carbon dioxide causing the batters to rise. When using baking soda it is best to bake the items as soon as mixing because it will start to react as soon as it comes into contact with the acid.

Baking Powder - This is baking soda combined with an acid, so it works better in batters with a low acidity.

Check your baking soda and baking powder regularly to make sure they are still active.  To test baking powder, stir 1 tsp of it into 1/2 cup hot water. If it does not bubble immediately, throw it out.  To test soda, add 1 tsp to 2 TBS of white vinegar.  If it does not bubble immediately, throw it out.

DAIRY PRODUCTS - You can use either full fat or semi skimmed milk interchangeably. You can also use lactose free or reduced milks in their place. Buttermilk is also a common ingredient used in baking which results in baked with a tender and moist crumb. 

Other dairy ingredients which are often used for baking are cream, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, dairy sour cream, yogurt and cream cheese.  Use what is specified by your recipe.

CHOCOLATE - This is one of the most popular ingredients in baking, second only to vanilla as a flavoring.  There is a wide assortment of products available to choose from these days.  It is important to choose whichever chocolate product is recommended by the recipe you are using.

Cocoa powder is a dry unsweetened powder made from chocolate liquor with most of the cocoa butter having been removed. When baking use natural or Dutch process cocoa powder, not the sweetened drinking mix. They are not interchangeable.

Other Essentials


Nuts - These add flavor and texture to many baked goods. They are high in fat however and are best stored in the freezer to maintain their freshness.  When you are ready to use them thaw and use as per the recipe.  Toasting your nuts adds exponentially to their flavor. To toast spread them onto a baking sheet and toast at 350*F/180*C. for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant. Allow to cool before proceeding.

Coconut - As with nuts this is best stored in the freezer for optimum freshness.  Sweetened and unsweetened can be used interchangeably. Again, its flavor is improved with toasting. To toast spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Toast at 350*F/180*C for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Flavorings - Vanilla is the most commonly used, followed by almond. I recommend the use of pure extracts rather than artificial, as they have a much better flavor.

Spices - Essential to the success of many recipes and you need to have a good selection on hand. The ones most commonly used for baking are cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, and cloves.  They lose their potency quickly when ground or grated so it is recommended you buy them in small amounts and replace within 6 to 9 months.

Fruits - I like to keep an assortment of dried and candied fruits in my baking cupboard.  Raisins, apricots, currants, cranberries and dates are the most  common dried fruits used. Buy speciality items such as candied fruits for holiday baking or as needed.

Love - This is the topmost essential baking ingredient. A small pinch of love goes a very long way!

And now for some great basic baking recipes!!

basic victoria sponge cake

A BASIC VICTORIA SPONGE CAKE - My favorite of all the cakes. It was the Victorians that invented this lovely cake by adding butter to an ordinary sponge mixture, which baked better in two flat tins rather than one deep tin. (Oh those Victorians, they were very clever at inventing things I have to say!) I like to layer it with a layer of jam and some vanilla buttercream in the middle. This cake is a necessary component of a great tea table!

Classic English Scones

CLASSIC ENGLISH SCONES -These are buttery and flaky tender with just the right number of sticky sultanas. Serve with cream and jam for a real treat! These are another tea party essential. Which do you put first?  The jam or the cream?  It all depends on where you come from! 

chocolate chip cookies

CRISP CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES -Crisp and buttery, packed full of chocolate chips and toasted pecans. In short, dangerously delicious! These are THE perfect chocolate chip cookie in my opinion!

Mom's Apple Pie

MOM'S BEST APPLE PIE - Nobody can make an apple pie like mom can!  This pie boasts a flaky tender crust and plenty of sweet apples in the filling. Now are you a person enjoys this with a scoop of ice cream or a wedge of good cheddar, or maybe both? 

super duper bran muffins

SUPER DUPER BRAN MUFFINS - This is everyone's favorite bran muffin. Not too sweet.  Just right. Moist and filled with raisins. If you are on a quest for the perfect bran muffin, I think you may have just stumbled upon it. Your search ends here! These moist bran muffins are delicious! Honed after years of searching for the perfect and best bran muffin!

pull apart bread rolls

OLD FASHIONED PULL APARTS - If you are looking for a good recipe for a bread roll, look no further. This is the best bread roll recipe. You have never tasted better pull-apart dinner rolls than these ones. This is an old-fashioned yeast rolls recipe that you are sure to fall in love with. If I can make them anyone can! 

apple dumplings

APPLE DUMPLINGS - You have never tasted heaven until you've eaten one of these. Nothing speaks more about Home Sweet Home I think than a warm apple dumpling. Fresh from the oven and served warm with cream or ice cream, you really can't get a tastier dessert!

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  1. These are great tips and the recipes look wonderful too. I feel like baking this weekend, so who knows? Maybe one of these!


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