Indian River County Extension Service
                                     1028 20th Pl, Suite D
                                     Vero Beach, FL 32960

Judith A. Wakefield

                                                                                                                                     Column for October 13, 2002

               Baking Basics

  Baking can be a lot of fun but a knowledge of some basics is a lot of help in avoiding problems.

The new ovens have more even heat in all parts of the oven created by circulating air. If you have a self-cleaning oven it is better insulated than other ovens and will preheat faster and hold heat better.  It is important to place pans in a way that will not interfere with the air circulation.

  For best baking results always..

                      Follow trusted recipes

                      Measure ingredients carefully, using standard liquid and dry measuring cups and measuring spoons.  Liquid measuring cups have some space above the top line so you can pick up the cup and pour the ingredients without spilling it.  Dry measuring cups are accurate when filled to the rim and leveled off with a straight edge. When dealing with small amounts, keep in mind that two tablespoons equals one ounce (1/8 cup) and that there are three teaspoons in each tablespoon.

                      Never alter main ingredients.  Itís best to use stick margarine or butter when baking quick breads.  Vegetable oil spreads (also in stick form) must contain at least 65 percent fat to work satisfactorily, but the results may have a slightly softer consistency.  Vegetable oil spreads with less than 65 percent fat (tub margarine or whipped products) can produce less tender or wet and gummy products because water is whipped into the oil.

                      Read the recipe carefully.  Follow individual recipes for mixing instructions.  Some batters are mixed until smooth, other (such as muffins) only until moistened.  Over-mixing can result in less tender breads.

                      Do not combine liquid and dry ingredients until you are ready to mix and bake.  Otherwise, foods may not raise properly.

                      Normally, a cookie sheet should not be greased and floured before food items are added.  Do not pre-treat the cookie sheet unless the recipe says to do so.

                      Only the bottoms of pans are usually greased with shortening for muffins and nut breads.  This prevents a lip from forming around the edge of the bead.

                      Use sturdy cookie sheets made of shiny aluminum. Dark cookie sheets absorb too much heat. ďDarkĒ includes dark or painted metal, Teflon lining and sheets darkened after much use.  Some manufacturers recommend lowering the temperature twenty five degrees if using dark pans, just as is recommended when using glass baking pans.  Lightweight aluminum foil trays also absorb too much heat.  This results in very dark and crusty bottoms on food.  Do not use cookie sheets with sides unless the recipe suggests them.  The sides cause uneven browning.  If using insulated cookie sheets youíll have to increase baking time slightly. 

                      Use the pan size needed for your oven.   There should be at least one and a half to two inches space between cookie sheets and oven walls or door to allow for good air flow.  Good air flow is needed for even browning. If you are baking with two cookie sheets at a time, if they are both large the bottom sheet can brown unevenly.  Itís better to use two smaller cookie sheets and have one closer to one side of the oven and the other closer to the other side of the oven to allow for better circulation.

                      Use the oven temperature given in the recipe.  An oven thermometer is helpful for making sure your oven is heating accurately.    Preheat the oven before adding food..

                       Adjust rack positions before preheating the oven.  Place the rack so that food is near the center of the oven.  The oven bakes evenly when food is centered in the oven.  Also, pans must not block air flow.  Food placed too close to the top or bottom of the oven will bake and brown unevenly.

                      Do not block the oven vent.  On electric ranges, the vent is usually under the right rear surface unit.  Do not cover the vent with foil or store an oversized pot on the surface unit.  Air needs to flow through the oven vent for proper baking.

                      Do not open the oven door to check doneness until the end of the shortest suggested bake time.  If you have divided the batter between two pans instead of using one, youíll have to check them sooner.  Frequent openings will result in longer baking times and uneven browning.

                      Make cookies, rolls, and biscuits the same size as stated in the recipe.  If larger portions are used, extend the baking times and allow more room to expand while baking.  If smaller portions are used, shorten baking times. 


Following these basic tips can help have the great baked goods you had visualized.