In the two years that I’ve been baking and cooking, I’ve gone from not knowing how to make an egg to making pie on the weekends. And in the process, I’ve learnt a lot.
I’m including some of my favorite basic discoveries below, but perhaps the most important one is that anyone can cook or bake. It’s as simple as finding a good recipe and following the instructions.
Our food page is full of classic, tried and true recipes that we’ve scoured from all over and all they require is a little know-how. So read on for these tips and get cooking!
1. Mise en Place
This is a french term meaning “everything in its place”. It refers to organizing and setting up your kitchen before beginning a recipe. For me, that means researching a recipe before beginning, having clean counters, measuring out flour and sugar beforehand and checking to make sure that if the recipe calls for room temperature butter, I’ve taken it out. Not only does this save time during the actual prep, you’ll usually have less cleanup to do as well.
2. Oven Perceptions
Many times, a recipe will give you varied baking times, e.g, bake for 15-20 minutes. Five extra minutes in the oven can mean the difference between a moist and dried out cake/roast, so make sure to keep a close watch on your food. Over time, you’ll notice whether your oven requires longer baking time or less. In my oven, I usually need to keep things in for two extra minutes. Be vigilant.
3. Yeast Dilemmas
I remember my first time using yeast. I naively substituted active dry yeast, which needs to be proofed, for instant yeast, which doesn’t. The results were less than satisfactory. Now, I make sure I’m using the right type of yeast. I make sure to buy new yeast every three months and store it in the fridge. When proofing (activating) it, I combine the yeast with a little sugar and pour it into water or milk that’s warm to the touch. I stir the yeast mixture until dissolved, cover it with a towel, and let it proof for ten minutes. If I’m using instant yeast, I make sure it’s relatively new, and use a recipe with good reviews. Instant yeast bread dough: homemade pizza.
4. Pie Party
Having made pie dozens of times, I can tell you it’s practically foolproof- given that you follow these simple rules: 1. Don’t use shortening. It will make your crust lack flavor, big-time. 2. Keep your butter cold. This keeps you from overworking the dough. 3. Cut your butter into your flour in uneven pieces– you should have pea-size and coin sized pieces of butter. This butter will rise and expand in the hot oven, creating a flaky, crispy crust. 4. Don’t mess around with your fruit fillings. A little sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon or cornstarch will go a long way. Let the fruit shine. 5. When using an egg-wash, use only the egg yolk, mixed with 1 tablespoon water. Sprinkle it liberally with raw sugar before baking. Flaky single crust pie dough: peach crostata.
5. Seasonal Savvy
I’m all for strawberries, rhubarb or mangoes, but the fact is, these fruits just don’t taste as good in the winter. Instead of using frozen fruits or vegetables as a substitute, I make use of seasonal ingredients. That means figs, pumpkins, and pears in the fall and lemons, apples, and squash in the winter. Save the strawberry shortcakes for spring and summer. It’s tastier, and budget-friendly, too.