ORANGE Baking Basics

In the age of pre-made baking mixes and desserts, processed sweets are easy to come by and even easier to scarf down. While I will admit that the convenience of these modern desserts is appealing, simpler does not necessarily mean superior. Baking from scratch may seem like an intimidating alternative to pre-packaged brownies, but the method has many benefits. Baking without the help of Betty Crocker can be tastier and healthier, and there is something satisfying about eating a cake that moments ago was just a messy mixture of ingredients on the counter.

By Darby Kendall

5 Tips and Tricks:

There are a few gems of information that are useful almost every time a cookbook is opened and a dessert is made. ORANGE suggests that you keep these tips in mind when baking.

  1. Measure flour by spooning it into a measuring cup and then leveling out the top with the flat edge of a knife. Just scooping the flour up with the cup can lead to compacting and make a dessert too dry.
  2. Set cold ingredients out while the oven is preheating so they become room temperature. Cold eggs, butter, milk, etc. can cause batter to mix poorly.
  3. Put pans in the center of the oven rack. Placing a dessert in the middle of the heat allows for even baking.
  4. Add a pinch of salt. The ingredient is not added to recipes to make them taste salty, but to make the other flavors stand out. Salt can enhance tastes of vanilla and almond, making a dessert even more delicious.
  5. Keep an eye on the timer. Although recipes do give baking times, they often have a range of five minutes, depending on the efficiency and power of the oven. With new recipes, set the timer for the minimum amount of suggested time, and then if the dessert looks unfinished, add a couple of minutes and check regularly.

The Essential Equipment:

Even those who live in a small apartment can practice baking from scratch if you have the essential equipment. This is a small list of items that do not take up much storage space, but are very versatile. All of the equipment costs less than $50, and these baking tools will last for years.

  • 2 large, dishwasher safe mixing bowls
  • An electric hand mixer
  • 1 set of measuring spoons
  • 1 set of measuring cups
  • 2 soft spatulas
  • 1 cookie sheet
  • A 9x13 pan
  • Non-stick baking spray

One-bowl Brownies Recipe

This simple recipe, originally taken from the back of a baking chocolate box and given a few adjustments, is a foolproof way to make great brownies without a pre-packaged mix. Yields 24 brownies.

Ingredients: 

  •     4 squares of unsweetened baking chocolate
  •     1 ¼ sticks of butter
  •     2 cups of sugar
  •     3 eggs
  •     1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  •     1 cup of flour
  •     A pinch of salt
  •     ½ cup of chocolate chips or chopped nuts (optional)

Directions: 

  1. Heat oven to 350°F
  2. Microwave baking chocolate and butter together in a mixing bowl for two minutes, or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted.
  3. Add sugar to the mixture and stir well. Stir in the vanilla and eggs. Lastly, add flour and chips/nuts until well blended.
  4. Spread in a greased 9-by-13 inch pan.
  5. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Brownies are done when a toothpick inserted comes out with chocolate crumbs.

Sugar Cookie Recipe

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These sugar cookies are sweet, easy to make and exceptionally chewy. Yields 2 dozen cookies.

Ingredients: 

  •     2 sticks of butter
  •     1 cup of sugar
  •     ½ cup of brown sugar
  •     4 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  •     2 eggs
  •     3 cups of flour
  •     1 teaspoon of salt
  •     ½ teaspoon of baking soda
  •     1 cup or coarse sugar or sprinkles to top the cookies (optional)

Directions: 

  1. Heat oven to 375°F
  2. Mix butter and sugars for one minute. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
  3. Add vanilla extract and beat for one minute.
  4. Add eggs and beat for one minute.
  5. Add flour, salt and baking soda. Beat for a couple of minutes.
  6. Using a spoon or a small ice cream scoop, make balls of dough. Drop them into a bowl of the coarse sugar or sprinkles meant to go on top.
  7. Place the balls of dough onto a cookie sheet, leaving 1-inch of space around each. Do not press the balls down, as their height is what creates the chewy middle.
  8. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the bottoms of the cookies are lightly golden.