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Getting Started

If you’re new to the world of baking, you’re no doubt looking forward to creating a wealth of goodies for your friends and family, from homemade breads and scrumptious cakes to hearty muffins and ornate holiday cookie creations. Baking opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the home chef and can be a ton of fun when approached with an open mind and plenty of imagination.

Mastering the art of baking often takes time but starts with just a few simple things, like learning to follow directions and having the right ingredients and equipment on hand to ensure that your masterpiece turns out as planned. So, before you dive in with both feet, consider some important aspects of what it takes to be a successful baker.

Choose your recipes according to your skill level – If you’re just getting started and haven’t done much baking, look for recipes that will allow you to hone your skills a little at a time. Don’t jump right into Baked Alaska and 7-Layer Cakes. Look for recipes for items that are versatile, like pound or sponge cake, butter cookies, or basic white bread. Some cook books note the difficulty of the recipe; if it says “hard” or “difficult”, chances are it might contain some skills you haven’t used yet and those that may result in a less-than-perfect result.

Allot enough time for your project – If you’re a beginner baker, never start a project if you’re going to be pressed for time. Allow yourself enough time to do things carefully and to correct any mistakes you might make. Some recipes, especially those in cooking magazines, often list a preparation and cooking time at the top of the recipe. Check out the prep time and add another 15 minutes just to be certain you’ll have enough time to do the job well. That way, you won’t be disappointed with the result. And try to avoid answering the phone or doing anything else that might be distracting.

Buy good bakeware – While it might be tempting to take possession of Aunt Ida’s hand-me-down cake pans and cookie sheets, it’s usually worth it to buy your own new bakeware if you’re just starting out. Good quality bakeware isn’t terrible expensive and you don’t need to buy a lot of it. Basically, it’s a good idea to invest in 2 or 3 non-stick cookie sheets, a Bundt or tube cake pan with a non-stick surface, an 8x8 square pan, a 9x13 rectangular pan, and perhaps a few cupcake/muffin pans. (While it might be tempting to buy the colorful silicone stuff, stick with metal or glass for now.)

Assemble a collection of utensils – You’ll need a variety of good utensils for most baking projects. Consider purchasing items like measuring cups and spoons, a whisk, a few wooden spoons, a rubber spatula, and a set of stainless steel mixing bowls in 3 different sizes.

Electric mixers – If you plan to do more than mix up a batch of cookies or brownies, you’ll definitely need an electric mixer. A portable one will do for light recipes but a stand mixer is best and will probably last for years or even decades. If you’re pretty committed to this project, shop for something heavy duty that includes various beaters and paddles and will accommodate a huge variety of recipes.

Follow the recipe carefully – This is undoubtedly the place where most new bakers trip up. Remember, it’s always best to re-read the recipe first before starting, considering all the ingredients and tools you’ll need for a successful outcome. Make sure you have everything on hand and don’t attempt any short cuts. Pre-heating the oven, for example, is necessary, measurements need to be accurate (no guessing!), and substituting ingredients is not a good idea for the novice baker.