A comprehensive guide to baking for beginners and amateur bakers alike.
Introduction: Preheat Your Oven
All great bakes start with the simple act of preheating your oven, and in true baking-enthusiast fashion, this article is beginning in the same way. Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of all things baking, take the time to introduce yourself to what baking really is.
Baking can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be. It can be one of the most relaxing and rewarding hobbies in the world or something that stresses you out so much that you never want to hear the word baking again…. And when you’re a beginner baker, there is so much to think about that it can get very overwhelming and turn into that stressful experience in no time!
Of course, at Buttercream Bake Shop we only ever want baking to be fun, and we want you to feel the same way. This is why we decided it was high time to get you prepped for baking, whether you are a beginner or an amateur baking hobbyist.
In our Ultimate Guide to Baking, we are going to help you to begin your baking journey with a generous helping of essential tools and ingredients, a dash of measurement conversions mixed in with some of the science behind baking, and all topped off with some delicious recipes.
So, grab your aprons and oven gloves, get that oven preheated, and let’s get baking!
Preparation and Organization
Being organized and prepared is one of the first challenges you are presented with when it comes to baking. It is important that you take the time to get yourself set up with all of the essentials you will need for the particular recipe you are baking. This includes ingredients, tools, and equipment.
You also need to be on top of your time organization. Each recipe should state how long it needs to be baked for. Do not just rely on your sense of time for this. Get organized and set a timer on the oven, on your phone, or on a manual food timer.
As well as being organized and prepared, there are also some other considerations to keep in mind when you begin baking. If you are a beginner, it can be easy to just throw yourself into it without really paying attention, and to some degree this is fine, but you may find that this is where mistakes happen, leading you to feel impatient and lose that creative spark. We will be exploring this in more detail below.
Pay attention to Detail
When you are following a new recipe, especially as a beginner, it is best to stick to the recipe completely. Do not guess or estimate the amounts needed. Use a weighing scale, cup measures, and spoon measures to make sure you get everything right. Even just a little too much or too little of something can ruin the recipe. Pay attention to every detail and read the recipe thoroughly before you begin.
Baking takes time, in many different ways. Kneading dough takes time, hand whisking takes time, baking takes time, and perfecting a recipe takes time. All of this requires patience. You should not feel sad if your first few attempts of a recipe are not perfect. Just keep trying and be patient with yourself.Likewise, do not let your impatience get the better of you when you are waiting for something to bake. Keep it in for the specified time, and resist the temptation to open the oven every 2 minutes!
Explore Your Creative Side
Get creative! When you have mastered some of the basics of baking, you can begin to experiment with your creative side. Team up different flavors, add in food coloring, practice piping icing to achieve a showstopping look. Baking truly is an art form – and a mighty tasty one at that. The world is your oyster when it comes to baking!
Essential Baking Ingredients
When it comes to flour it is not a one size fits all deal. In fact, there are many different types of flour, all suited to different things. We recommend that you stock up on all types of flour because many of your favorite and most common recipes use different types of flour.
When baking bread you may need either strong white bread flour, whole wheat flour, or white whole wheat flour (do not confuse this with bleached white flour)!
Cakes will call for cake flour, whereas all-purpose flour may be used for a variety of different bakes thanks to its versatility. You can even get pastry flour which is flour that has been formulated especially for making the different types of pastries such as shortcrust, pie crusts, cookies, muffins, and quiche crusts.
You may also come across self-raising flour, which is flour that has added baking powder. This is great for recipes where getting them to rise in the oven is key, such as thick pancakes and muffins. There are even healthy flour substitutes out there for you health-conscious cooks!
Cornstarch is typically used as a thickening agent in things like sauces, gravies stews, and even chocolate mousse. However, it also has another use in baking – to soften the flour!
We simply could not do without cornstarch in many of our favorite recipes such as cookies, cakes, and pies. The reason for this is because of how much softer and more tender it can make the crumb of these bakes.
The cornstarch breaks down the harsh proteins in flour, providing an overall softer bake which is particularly noticeable in sponge cakes. Do you know that delicious crumb that makes you want to lick up every last morsel of cake from the plate? Well, that’s what cornstarch does!
Make sure you always have some in your store cupboard, whether you use it for baking, as a thickening agent, or for whatever else you want to use it. It really is an essential component of your baking repertoire!
Leavening agents, also known as Fairy Dust to bakers. Ok, maybe that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but we’re not kidding when we say they work like magic! Leavening agents are the key ingredients in recipes that need to rise. They cause a reaction within the recipe that encourages the volume to increase significantly.
The two main types of leavening agents are baking soda and baking powder. Now, with baking soda, you typically need to add in a second ingredient in order for the reaction to occur, such as lemon juice (or any other acidic ingredient). The sodium bicarbonate of the baking soda is what reacts with the citrus (or buttermilk, or cream of tartar). Without the acidic ingredient, there will not be any carbon dioxide produced to raise your recipe.
Baking powder, on the other hand, is the star of the show! This wonderful little powder already has everything it needs inside to raise up your bae, without the need for a second ingredient or anything acidic. See – it’s fairy dust!
Yeast is also a leavening agent in that it causes a reaction that makes your bread rise. Yeast is essential for fermentation which is the process that makes your bread rise whilst it is proving (more on this in our science section later!).
Eggs are a binding ingredient, as well as something to help form structure in your bakes. As if that wasn’t enough they also give many bakes that recognizable golden color. Think of a plain sponge cake. It looks deliciously pale-yellow. That is all thanks to the egg yolk!
Eggs will undoubtedly feature in the majority of your recipes, whether you are making a simple batch of brownies, a traybake, a quiche, or a birthday cake. Eggs can also be used in many other sweet bakes such as meringue, flan, mousse, and as a ‘wash’ on the pastry to give a shiny, golden-brown appearance.
Always make sure you have some fresh eggs in your store cupboard, because trust us, you’ll need them!
Sugar is the typical sweetener used in sweet baked goods. By sugar, we are referring to the many different types. These are granulated white sugar, superfine sugar (or castor sugar for our British readers), demerara sugar, soft dark brown sugar, soft light brown sugar, dark muscovado sugar, and confectioners or powdered sugar (this is the same as icing sugar for you Brits).
All of these sugars are suitable for different recipes but do not fret, because each recipe you use should state what type of sugar you need. Using the right sugar is important as the flavors differ slightly. For example, soft dark brown sugar has a far stronger, more caramelized taste than, say, plain granulated sugar.
Baking is synonymous with sweet foods, but don’t forget that there are also some very popular savory bakes out there too. From bread to pizzas, from pies to quiches, there is always something out there to whet the appetites of the savory foodie. For this reason, salt is one of the most essential ingredients to have in your store cupboard when you are baking.
Salt is essential in the baking of bread. So much so that your bread dough is unlikely to rise without it. Just imagine how bland your pizzas and pies would taste without salt – it would be like a sugarless cupcake!
Speaking of sweet recipes, as contradictory as it seems, salt can actually be vital in many of your favorite sweet bakes. This is because it enhances sweet flavors. This is especially true in chocolate desserts such as brownies. It is also very common to find salt listed as an ingredient in cookies and sweet pies.
Always keep salt in your store cupboard – I mean, if you don’t already have some there then I am seriously worried about how bland your food must be!
Must Have Kitchen Tools
Get yourself a set of measuring cups that can accurately measure out a ¼ of a cup, a ⅓ of a cup, ½ a cup, and ¾ of a cup. This will take all of that pesky guesswork out of it for you, and make sure you are as accurate as possible.
Just like the measuring cups, it is a good idea to get yourself a set of measuring spoons. Get a set that will tell you all the halves, quarters, and thirds you will need. This way you won’t accidentally put in too much (or too little) of those all important leavening agents.
One of the most versatile spoons to have in your repertoire. From mixing cake batter to stirring hot fudge sauce to be poured all over your brownies, a wooden spoon can do it all.
A rubber spatula is excellent for getting all of the mixtures out of the bowl and into the baking pan or tray!
Metal spatulas are a great tool to use after the bake is done. Use it to transfer your cookies, cakes, and pastries from the baking tray and onto your cooling rack.
If money is not an issue, invest in a high-quality cooking aid. These eclectic stand mixers can have attachments for whisking, kneading, and much more. However, if these are out of your budget you can get a handheld electric whisk, or even go old-school with a manual whisking tool. There is no right or wrong when it comes to whisks, just choose what makes you comfortable.
The pastry-making essential! You should definitely get yourself a rolling pin. You can choose marble, plastic, wooden, or glass – whatever you prefer is absolutely fine.
There is nothing worse than biting into a slice of cake or a cookie to find a clump of flour, cocoa powder, or icing sugar. Get yourself a sieve (preferably metal) to ensure that all of your powdered ingredients are lump free and your bakes are super smooth.
You may not use it all the time, but a good quality chef’s knife will be essential when you need to chop nuts, fruit, chocolate, and other ingredients.
Assortment of Sheets and Pans
All baking sheets, pans, tins, molds are good! Choose whatever shape and size you wish. You can experiment with some fun heart shaped tins, or stick to the classic round and loaf tins. You can get yourself lots of cheaper pans, or invest in just a few high-quality pans. There is no right or wrong, just choose what you like!
A large wire cooling rack (or a few different ones if you envision yourself baking multiple things at once) is essential for your baking experience. Your hot bakes and cakes cool much faster on a rack rather than kept in the tin or on a plate.
I mean, it goes without saying, doesn’t it? If you want to bake, make sure you have an oven! Not the Easy-Bake kind, the real kind. Whether it is electric, gas, or fan-assisted, get yourself familiar with your oven and how it works! You will be using it a lot!
The Science of Baking
Baking, believe it or not, has some super scientific elements. Hey, don’t groan… This is cool science. In this section, we wanted to explore the science behind what we think are two of the coolest scientific reactions in baking – browning and rising!
What Causes Browning in Bakes
The browning that happens when you put your bread or other baked goods in the oven to cook is called The Maillard Reaction. The reason this happens is because of the mixture of liquid with flour. This produces a substance called gluten. Gluten is a type of protein that contains amino acids. When baked, these amino acids react with the reducing sugars that are released, browning the surface of your bread. Who knew science could be so delicious?
What Makes Dough Rise
The rising of dough is one of the coolest cooking things we can think of. The secret ingredient is that Fairy Dust we explored early – the leavening agent yeast! Yeast causes a reaction in your dough that can make it rise to the high heavens. It does this by reacting with the flour and water in the dough, creating two things – ethanol and carbon dioxide in the form of air bubbles. This is the act of fermentation and these tiny trapped air bubbles are what make the dough rise. Heat can help this to happen faster, hence why bakers often cover their dough and leave it to rise in a hot room for an hour or so.
When you start baking you will quickly find that different countries use different measurements. The most common difference is between UK and US recipes. In the UK, grams are used instead of cups. To help you overcome this hurdle we have provided you with a basic conversion chart that shows you roughly how many grams are in a cup measurement of common baking ingredients. Bear in mind that this is basic, but it will certainly suffice for a beginner.
|Flour (all types) and powdered ingredients
|½ a cup
|⅓ of a cup
|¼ of a cup
|Liquid (milk, water, etc)
|½ a cup
|⅓ of a cup
|Fats (butter, shortening, etc)
|½ a cup
|⅓ of a cup
|Granulated products (sugars)
|½ a cup
|⅓ of a cup
|¼ of a cup
Now that you have all the basic knowledge of baking and the essential ingredients and tools lined up, it is time to put that knowledge into practice. In this section, we wanted to share some of our favorite recipes suitable for a beginner.
- 1/3 cup of shortening of your choice
- 1/2 cup of light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup mashed overripe bananas (seriously, streaks of black are a good thing!)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Chocolate chips (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grab yourself a large mixing bowl and put in your shortening and sugar. Cream these together until smooth and combined.
- Beat in the eggs gently, one by one until combined.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in one bowl. Add this mixture to your wet mixture bit by bit, mixing very gently each time until they are combined.
- Add in your mashed banana and combine until it is smooth.
- Add in your chocolate chips if you are using them and then transfer the mixture to a greased and lined loaf tin.
- Place in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for around 50 minutes or until baked through. Use a toothpick to check.
Confetti Party Cake
- 3 cups of good quality cake flour
- 1 and a ½ teaspoons of baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup of unsalted butter
- 2 cups of superfine sugar
- 1 teaspoon of the best quality vanilla extract you can afford
- ⅓ of a cup of your favorite colorful sprinkles
- 1 cup of unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon of the best quality vanilla extract you can afford
- 4 cups of sifted confectioners sugar
- 2 tablespoons of milk (any kind)
- sprinkles to decorate
- Food coloring (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare 3 cake pans measuring around 7 inches in diameter. Grease and line them ready.
- In a large mixing bowl, add in your butter and sugar and cream together until combined. Add in your eggs one by one, stirring gently but thoroughly each time. You can then add in your vanilla.
- In another bowl, combine sifted flour, baking powder, and salt. You can then add it bit by bit to your wet ingredients, combining thoroughly each time.
- Divide the cake mixture between your three greased bowls and then smooth them out.
- Add your sprinkles to each of the bowls and swirl them into the mixture.
- Bake each of them for 30 minutes. Whilst they are baking you can start to work on the buttercream frosting.
- In a clean bowl cream your butter and sugar together, adding one cup of sugar at a time to your butter mixture. Add in your vanilla after the sugar and beat again until combined and creamy.
- Add in your milk and beat again. If you want to add in food coloring you can do this now. Set aside in your refrigerator until you are ready to frost the cakes.
- Remove the cakes when baked and transfer them to a wire cooling rack. Let them cool for around 1 to 2 hours, longer if possible. You can also leave them overnight if you wish, provided they are covered. When they are completely cool you can construct them with the frosting.
- Place the bottom cake down and spread on your buttercream. Then place the next layer and spread that one with buttercream. Then add the final layer and cover the whole cake (including sides with the buttercream frosting. You can then adorn it with sprinkles and candies.
- 2 ½ cups of all purpose flour
- ½ a cup of good quality cocoa powder
- 1 and ½ cups of sugar (any kind you like, but we recommend superfine sugar or granulated)
- 1 tablespoon of baking powder
- ½ a tablespoon of baking soda
- ½ a teaspoon of salt
- 1 cup of unsalted butter
- 3 medium-sized eggs
- 3/4 cups of milk of any kind
- 2 tablespoons of buttermilk
For the frosting:
- 2 cups of confectioners/ powdered sugar
- 6 tablespoons of cocoa powder
- ⅔ of a cup of unsalted butter (take it out of the refrigerator well in advance so it is soft)
- ½ a cup of room temperature milk of your choice
- 1 cup of dark or semi sweet chocolate chips
- Any decorations you want such as sprinkles, M and Ms, or any other candy you like
- Reheat your oven to 340 degrees. Line a large rectangle tray with baking parchment.
- In a large bowl, place in your flour, cocoa powder, and sugar (ensuring they are sifted). Then add your baking powder, baking soda, and salt, combining it well with a metal fork or hand whisk (not electric powered at this point).
- Add in your butter, eggs, and buttermilk all at once and then use an electric whisk or stand mixer on the lowest speed setting to beat the ingredients together.
- You can then gradually increase speed to get the batter smooth. Scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure every last bit is mixed.
- Pop your cake mixture into your lined tray and smooth it over to level it out.
- Put the tin into the oven for around 40 minutes. Whilst it is baking you can start making the chocolate frosting.
- Melt your chocolate in your preferred method (we use a microwave, on a low setting, and in short bursts).
- Combine the powdered/ confectioners sugar in a bowl with the sifted cocoa powder.
- Cream together these dry ingredients with your softened butter, adding in your milk gradually as you mix.
- When the chocolate has melted and cooled you can add this to your frosting. Mix it together to form soft peaks.
- When the cake is baked transfer it to a wire cooling rack and wait until it is totally cool. This may take a number of hours. Whilst the cake is cooling you can cover the frosting and place it in the refrigerator.
- Decorate the cake by covering it in the frosting. The frosting should be thick (almost as thick as the cake). You can decorate it with candy and sprinkles if you wish.
Easy White Bread
- One packet of instant yeast
- 2 and a ¼ cups warm water (not boiling)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 6 and a ¼ cups of bread flour
- You will also need a cast iron pot for this recipe (or a baking tray if you haven’t got one)
- In a large bowl, mix your sifted bread flour and salt until combined. Make a well and add in your yeast.
- Combine the yeast so the mixture is uniform and then add in your warm water. Using clean hands, combine the water and the dry ingredients to create a very soft and sticky dough.
- The dough will remain soft and sticky unless you knead it. For this particular recipe, we are looking for airy, rustic bread. This means kneading should be kept to a minimum.
- Dust your dough with flour and place it in a freshly washed bowl (seriously, as freshly washed as possible so there’s still heat from the water!).
- Cover your bowl with Saran wrap or a clean towel and let it rise in a warm room for as long as you can leave it, not exceeding 16 hours. You will know it is done when it doubles in size.
- Preheat your oven to around 450 degrees. Gently flatten your dough and place it inside your cast iron pot ready to be baked. If you don’t have one simply place it on a baking tray. Bake it for 30 minutes with the lid on, and then for around 10 to 12 minutes with the lid off.
- Remove it from the oven and let it cool before cutting it and spreading it generously with salted butter.
Summary: Ready, Steady, Bake!
There you have it! Your Ultimate Guide to Baking, complete with all the essentials you will need, a handy baking conversion chart, some cool scientific facts, and our favorite easy bake recipes.