I hear it all the time: “I’m a good cook, but I don’t like to bake.”
That’s such a hard concept for me to understand. If you are going to go to all the trouble to make a mouth-watering meal, go the extra mile and include fresh rolls or a simple homemade dessert. Even if baking isn’t your favorite thing to do, you can do it!
Honestly, it’s just not that hard. For most everyday baking there are really only four rules you absolutely must follow:
- Make sure your leavenings are fresh. (This means baking soda, baking powder, and yeast.)
- If you are beating egg whites, don’t get any yolk in the bowl.
- Don’t substitute flours. If it calls for bread flour, use bread flour. If it calls for cake flour, use cake flour. As your confidence grows, you can experiment with substitutions; for now, use the type the recipe calls for.
- Use the best-quality ingredients you can afford. Never skimp on sugar – use pure cane white sugar and brown sugar. When the recipe calls for butter, use good butter – never margarine. Ugh…never use margarine for any reason!
I love to fuss over pastries – Danish and croissants that are a two-day project, cakes with gum-paste decorations, pies that have scenes built into their crusts – but most of the baking I do is the everyday kind. Biscuits, cookies, breads. My husband was in construction, and we had two sons and a daughter. Believe me – we didn’t live on petit fours!
If you’re already an accomplished baker, there will be plenty of fun and challenging recipes on this blog for you. But for now, I’m going to offer a recipe for one of the easiest (most forgiving) goodies you can bake: cookies!
Everyone loves them. They usually don’t need special ingredients or fancy equipment, are hard to ruin (unless you *ahem* forget to set the timer and start playing on the computer,) and accept substitutions easily. Dark brown sugar instead of golden brown, pecans instead of walnuts, old-fashioned oats instead of “quick” oats…you get the picture. See? Nothing is sacred – just wing it! As long as you don’t do much messing around with the fat to dry ingredient ratio, or substitute baking soda for baking powder, the cookies will be just fine. Here’s a simple, hearty cookie to try:
OATMEAL CHOCOLATE PEANUT COOKIES (makes about 5 dozen)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt *
3 cups “quick” oatmeal (you can use old fashioned if you’d like)
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup unsalted peanuts
*If you can’t find unsalted peanuts (unsalted dry roasted is fine) you can use lightly salted peanuts and reduce the amount of salt in the recipe to ½ teaspoon. See how this works? Improvise!
Heat the oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until thoroughly mixed.
Add the eggs and the vanilla and beat until creamy – about 15 seconds.
Mix in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined.
Add the oatmeal, chocolate chips, and peanuts and mix well.
Using a cookie scoop or a rounded tablespoon, drop the dough onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake approximately 12 minutes, or until they are a light golden color. Leave on cookie sheets until set (about 3 minutes) and then move to a wire rack to cool.
Pretty easy, huh? I love mixing ingredients together, but get bored with the actual baking part of it, so I usually freeze some for later. I just put the scoops on a cookie sheet, place it in the freezer for an hour or so, and then pop them into a zipper bag. Then when I need cookies quickly (the fragrance disguises the smell of wet dogs when company’s coming) I just put the frozen balls of dough on a cookie sheet, preheat the oven, and “Ta Da!”. You’re an instant domestic goddess. Remember, you may have to let them cook an extra minute or two if they’re still partly frozen.
More cookies coming up soon. I’ll let you bask in the glory of cookie success before we move on to breads!