Take a Peek at My Favorite Baking Science Books!

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“I wasn’t born with the baking gene, but God didn’t give me this sweet tooth for nothing.” –Shani

I need sweet treats on demand. Before I could bake, this…was problematic.

That all changed one fateful fall day in 2013, and I haven’t looked back. I made some splendidly mediocre sugar cookies over a feverish and sleepless night, and that was it, Friends. I was HOOKED on baking. HOOKED.

At the beginning, I worked with simple, go-to recipes that never failed. Those recipes helped me build confidence during those early days.

Alas, friends, I am a creative by nature. So, while it was fun to make someone else’s recipes, I yearned to create my own.

I didn’t have money for pastry school, but I had an unquenchable desire to learn, so I bought the books and dedicated myself to study and practice. I’m happy today to share the books that I’ve found most useful as I’ve gone on my journey.

I’ll link to the books on Amazon in case you’re interested. I make no money from these recommendations; I just find these resources helpful. Let me know if you do too!

In this post:

Let’s do this.

The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

There are not enough lovely words to describe this book. It is a textbook, to be sure, but it is also literally the first baking resource I ever check when I’m looking for a definitive answer about something.

As the name suggests, this book is written for pastry students, but it is an incredible, comprehensive resource for anyone looking to up their baking game. It contains concise, easy-to-follow baking science, conversion charts, baker’s percentages, and clear-cut explanations for so. many. pastries.

Oh! And diagrams! I love diagrams and this book has them in spades. Diagrams teach you the method for working quickly and efficiently, while producing pastries worthy of a high-end pastry case. We love diagrams.

This book is how intermediate bakers become advanced bakers. How those looking to truly understand baking science learn that knowledge.

For the petty, this book is how those looking to dominate the dessert scene at Thanksgiving put the debate to bed forever and ever. Going forward, that will be [insert your name here]’s dessert table. Picture it.

The recipes in this book use weight measurements, and the yields are for professional kitchens, but if you’re using weight measurements, it’s easy enough to scale these recipes down to suit your needs. And, of course, there are instructions in this book for how to do that without ruining the the integrity of whatever you’re making.

The new edition of this book comes out in September, and while I’ve preordered it, this version has a very special place in my heart.

Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

Super fun fact: if you don’t know what you’re doing with basic baking ratios, it’s extremely difficult to create your own recipes without tons of food waste.

You see, the baking recipes that you see in cookbooks and online are generally based on basic ratios (formulas). That means, for example, knowing that for every cup of flour, you need x amount of sugar, x amount of fat, x amount of leavening, et cetera, et cetera.

These basic ratios are the foundation of baking recipes; they are time-tested to produce consistent texture, taste and color for your baked goods. Recipe development, then, depends mostly on knowing the ratios and making slight modifications to produce different variations. Once you know the ratios, you can let your creative flag fly!

This book cracks the code about ratios. For intermediate/advanced bakers who are ready to flex their creative muscles, this book will teach you basic ratios for baking that you can use to start your creative journey. Bonus: this book is not just for bakers! It is actually mostly dedicated to savory, but the information about baking is invaluable. (psst….the savory stuff is well worth the read too).

Not only will this book teach you about ratios, it will give you the industry-accepted ratios that pros use. If you’re ready to truly learn how to build baking recipes of your own, then this book is it. It’s a power-packed short read and a great resource.

The Great British Bake Off: How to Avoid a Soggy Bottom: And Other Secrets to Achieving a Good Bake by Gerard Baker

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

This book-with-a-long-title is an amazing resource for quick answers about nagging baking questions. It’s broken into short, easy-to-find information.

Family, this is the book you need when you want a quick answer…like when you’re in the middle of a baking project and something is about to go horribly wrong. When you need a plainly-written, effective answer to help you get back on track (hopefully). Or when something goes horribly wrong and you want a quick resource to troubleshoot how to avoid the mistake in the future. This book is that book.

This book also has adorable history lessons (like about the history and use of baking powder and baking soda, and the cookie/biscuit distinction in American and British baking). Sometimes it’s fun to just get lost in this book for those cute history snips.

Of course, the writing is fluid and fun and you can absolutely kick your feet up with a cup of tea and just read straight through as well. While the sections in this book are a quick read, it is an excellent resource for learning bite-sized baking science in a Q&A style.

The Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life by Kate McDermott

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

Friends, when I say that I saved pie making for the very last thing I ever learned about baking because I was so intimidated about pie crust? Because the humble pie will HUMBLE YOU.

Then this book came along and changed everything. Kate McDermott calmed my fears in the first five pages and made me realize that “it’s just pie.” Those words changed everything. I also felt quite silly because what was I freaking out about?

Then I got overconfident and underbaked my first pie by a mile. But this book helped me realize that pie, like life, is about growth. So I just kept making more pie.

Lucky for me, this book has easy-to-follow pie crust recipes and techniques that made me feel very accomplished very quickly. There are also a crazy number of filling recipes to choose from.

After working with this book for a while, I tried several online pie crust recipes and I have yet to find one that I love better than the all-butter crust on these pages. And the fillings are always on point. Considering my book’s overall worn appearance, you know that it’s been well-loved over the years.

Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Ken Forkish

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

Let me apologize in advance for the overall beat up appearance of this book. At least the book jacket is still on it. I consider that more than a minor miracle.

This, Friends, is the tome for advanced bread makers. This book is based on the premise that bread only needs four humble ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast.

Don’t be fooled though. This book shows that the secret to transforming those humble ingredients is in your technique. If you take the gentle hand this book extends and take a walk through the pages, you’ll see that those ingredients can be transformed in any number of ways.

In addition to more common straight doughs (bread doughs that use yeast only), this book offers the advanced baker a primer on those types of sourdough “starters” (biga, levain and poolish) that add are used to create spectacular, bakery-quality loaves. This book primarily uses baker’s percentages in place of “recipes” that you might be used to seeing online, so it really appeals to my nerdy heart.

This book also does a tremendous job of explaining, in simple terms, how external factors (like humidity and air temperature) impact your bread. It gives practical tips for addressing those external issues to help you get the best loaf possible. The loaves in these pages are a lot of work, but they are more than worth the effort.

This is a tremendous, tremendous book.

The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Herzberg and Zoë François

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

For beginning bread makers, and intermediate/advanced bread makers who don’t want to babysit loaves all day, this book has the answer. Bread dough in five minutes that lasts in the fridge for several days.

These recipes are amazing because you can have fresh bread whenever you want it, with minimal effort. The recipes in this book are unfussy and can make anyone feel accomplished with just a few ingredients. The directions are clear-cut and easy to follow.

This book promises bread dough in five minutes and it delivers in a big way. It’s extremely accessible for home bakers who have a million things going on but still want to make good loaves with whole ingredients. For those intimidated about working with yeast, this book is a way to gain quick confidence for more ambitious bread projects!

The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

There some bakers who look down on bread machines because they feel that there’s too much sacrificing of quality for convenience.

I honestly think that’s unfortunate and don’t subscribe to that kind of thinking at all. We celebrate all bakers here. #PositivelyBetterBaking

There are a million reasons why someone might want to use a bread machine to make homemade bread. I, for one, truly appreciate any effort to make bread from scratch. And bread machine sandwich loaves > store bought sandwich loaves any day of the week.

My point is that there is no one true way to make bread. And again, for busy people who don’t have the time to babysit sandwich loaves, I support you! Get yourself a bread machine and some ingredients and have the best time. Seriously!

This book works for any baker with a bread machine. Whether you’re an advanced baker who wants a “throw and go” recipe that allows you to toss ingredients into a machine while you’re off to the market, or you’re brand new to working with yeast, there are tons of great recipes to experiment with and enjoy. I’m partial to the Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Walnut Whole Wheat bread recipe (sans nuts) myself.

The point is that there are a ton of well thought-out, truly delicious recipes in this book that are supported by baking science. Go for it! Have fun! It’s an amazing time saver and you’ll get bread with whole ingredients. Win!

Final Thoughts

I like to think that I graduated summa cum laude from the Culinary School of Hard Knocks. Mine has been an exceptionally worthwhile education, but it can be lonely trying to learn all of this stuff on your own.

I created this blog as a place to share what I’ve learned over the years. A place where you can find everything you need in one nice, neat baking blog package. For those of you who want to take supplement what you’re learning here with my favorite resources, feel free to check out one or all of these books and let me know how they worked out for you!

Until next time!


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The Best Bowls for A Home Baker’s Kitchen

Home » Featured Recipes » Equipment » Page 2

When you’re first starting to bake, it’s difficult to know what you want vs. what you need. And it can be really, really tempting to just GO OUT AND BUY IT ALL.

These beautiful kitchenware designers and manufacturers don’t help. I mean, Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings line? Just come on and take my money. All of it!

But the truth, Friends, is that you really don’t need a whole lot of stuff to start baking. One thing you absolutely do need, though, is some reliable bowls.

Because you can’t make much of anything without a bowl.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

In today’s post, we’re talking about the bowls that I use in my kitchen, and some pros and cons that I’ve found in each type. If you’re new to baking and you need equipment, I hope the information in this post will help you pick the perfect set of bowls to get started on your baking journey.

In this post:

Introduction

Bowls come in many, many different types of material. Because this is a baking techniques blog, and not a warehouse club, I’m going to focus on the types of bowls that I find most useful for baking specifically.

Put your grandmother’s antique ceramic and porcelain bowls away, Friends. Y’all know that those bowls are just for finished macaroni salad and potato salad. But it must be said that those bowls are NOT for baking. They’re much too delicate for mixing dough and batter.

I have too many types of bowls in my kitchen, but only three that I use for baking: stainless steel, glass, and plastic.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel bowls are the undisputed Queen (as in, reigning monarch kind of Queen) of the kitchen bowl. They’re a universal favorite among savory and pastry chefs because they don’t break (in a busy commercial kitchen, this is key) and they don’t absorb food odors.

The Queen. Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

Stainless steel bowls are amazing for baking because they are extremely durable and lightweight. They come in multiple sizes, from spice jar to triple-batch bread proofing, and they are non-reactive.

Non-reactive just means that the metal of the bowl will not chemically react with the food in it. You don’t want this because it could lead to a metallic taste.

While stainless steel bowls are the undisputed Queen of the kitchen bowl, they are also the undisputed Queen of conducting heat. These will get as HOT as a stainless steel pot on your stove if you use them for a double boiler, so just be careful!

Some people don’t love the look of stainless steel bowls, because they are…industrial, but if you’re not concerned about design, they’re a great place to start. They’re a great kid-friendly option too, because did I mention that they don’t break?

Last thing: stainless steel and aluminum are NOT the same thing. Aluminum bowls are reactive, which means that you could end up with a metallic taste or discoloration in your food. The labels should clearly state whether they’re aluminum or stainless steel, though, so this shouldn’t be a huge deal.

Glass

Glass bowls are sleek, beautiful, and non-reactive. They also come in many sizes (as many as stainless steel) and they can help you see how well your batters and doughs are actually mixed. This is key for beginning bakers.

Glass is my personal favorite of mine, but there are some drawbacks. Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

Weight-wise, they tend to be heavier than stainless steel. And, in my experience, a little more slippery when wet. This leads me to my next point:

They can break into roughly a billion flying pieces. And the inconvenience of this cannot be overstated. I’m guessing this is probably the reason that every author of every baking textbook I own (don’t judge) despises the thought of a glass bowl in the kitchen.

But I dunno for sure.

To reduce the possibility of sharp glass shards in your kitchen, it’s important to look for tempered glass when you’re buying glass bowls. Tempered glass is simply glass that’s been heat-treated to do two things: 1) break into small, pebble-looking pieces if it does break, and 2) resist extreme temperature changes (like from freezer to oven, which, honestly Fam, I would never recommend anyone do).

All that said, I prefer glass bowls for day-to-day small-batch mixing in my kitchen. If I’m doing really large quantities of an item, though, I’ll default to stainless steel, because large quantities means mixing more aggressively, and more aggressive mixing increases the likelihood of a bowl slipping and moving around the countertop.

Plastic

Several years ago, when my family went to Williamsburg, Virginia for a trip with extended family, my husband decided to make healthy cookies. So he went to the local grocer and bought all of the ingredients, as well as a set of plastic bowls. I keep those bowls because they remind me of my family and that amazingly fun trip.

I use these very rarely, even though they are BPA-free. Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

When my children were really small, they learned to crack eggs into the big red plastic bowl. Now, though, they use stainless steel bowls when they’re in the kitchen with me.

I tend to avoid plastic for baking because of BPA (bisphenol A). We’ve all heard of those treacherous three letters, and how heating plastic (either in a microwave or in a dishwasher) can cause the plastic to degrade, and cause the BPA to leach into foods. There’s an amazing Mayo Clinic article here that teaches about BPA in plastic. Suffice it to say, I try to avoid plastics as much as possible for cooking and baking.

The only exception to this rule in my kitchen is my absolute favorite set of spice/butter bowls, which are made of non-BPA melamine. Because sometimes I just want a touch of prettiness while I work. I don’t heat these bowls though. They’re strictly for mise en place (cold ingredients only).

These melamine bowls are for cold prep only. Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

As much as I try, I’m sure that there’s some sneaky BPA somewhere in my kitchen/house/life. What I do know, though, is that it’s not leeching into my food from my plastic bowls.

Buying Suggestions

I hope this quick breakdown was helpful for you as you stock your kitchen with alllllllll of the bowls. I wanted to finish today with a couple of general rules that I do follow when I am looking for new kitchen bowls:

I’m never, ever going to buy an expensive kitchen bowl. There are too many well-made bowls with high quality materials to be fooled into purchasing something that is unnecessarily expensive. Bowls are vessels for ingredients and dough. They are not appliances, so they shouldn’t cost as much as one. And I always buy bowls in a set!

If I was going to buy more plastic bowls, I would definitely require them to be BPA-free (and labeled as such). I’m more likely to buy more stainless steel bowls, though.

All of the bowls in my kitchen have a very flat bottom. This makes them more steady on the work surface and gives me peace of mind that they won’t go flying when I’m making yummy pancakes.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

What’s your favorite bowl for cooking and baking? Feel free to let me know in the comments, below!

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Meet your Kitchen BFF— Your Digital Kitchen Scale!

Home » Featured Recipes » Equipment » Page 2

The most important tool in your baking repertoire is NOT that expensive stand mixer.

Family, cooking shows have ruined us.

Let me explain. In just about every baking show or YouTube video, you will see, WITHOUT FAIL, a gorgeous (probably KitchenAid) mixer on the countertop. It’s an impressive piece of equipment to be sure, and let’s be honest, it’s a bit of a status symbol for home kitchens.

It’s a misleading status symbol, since it’s not the most important piece of equipment in a home baker’s kitchen.

Seriously. It was true a hundred years ago and it’s true today: you can make an unbelievable cake with a wooden spoon, a big mixing bowl, and some elbow grease. You can live without a stand mixer.

There is one piece of equipment in your kitchen that will make you a better baker. It’s the one item that can have the biggest and most immediate impact on your baking. That item is the humble digital food scale.

Saints, you know I’d never lead you wrong. Hear me out:

1. A Digital Food Scale Helps You Become Consistent. Immediately.

With a digital food scale, you’ve now entered into a very happy place: the place where ingredients are measured by weight, and not volume.

I hear you all. “Shani, what are you talking about?”

In the United States, we customarily measure ingredients by volume (for example, “cups” of flour and sugar), and not by their weight (think…bathroom scale). Volume measurement means that you are measuring how much space an ingredient takes in a container, without regard to how much that ingredient actually weighs. It’s the way our mothers, and their mothers, and their mothers measured ingredients. It’s the way that recipes were passed onto us on 3” x 5” index cards with gorgeous, careful cursive script.

Some of our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers even have fancy, evolved ways of using volume measurement (again, “cups”).

Take flour for instance. Some swear by the scoop and sweep method. Some prefer to spoon flour into a measuring cup. Some “aerate” the flour by stirring it first, then use their measuring cup to scoop a cup of flour. Some real OGs have one specific mug in their cupboard whose sole purpose is to measure everything between an eighth of a cup and two cups. All of these aunties can bake. I’m absolutely not debating this point.

Every auntie swears by her “tried and true method” for measuring flour, just like every auntie swears that she has the one true recipe for macaroni and cheese. Using these volume measurements, you can expect to get somewhere between 120 grams and 160 grams of flour in a one-cup measuring cup. I have no idea how much flour goes in that special baking mug. That’s on another level.

But, for the measuring cup? It sounds like a big difference because IT IS A BIG DIFFERENCE.

Don’t believe me? Look below. I’m aiming for 128 grams:

As you can see, all of the methods yielded more than 128 grams. The typical “scoop and shake” method that is so common in home kitchens yielded 157 grams of flour, even after I aerated it! It’s enough of a difference to ensure that you’ll never be able to replicate a recipe twice, and also that you’ll consistently over-flour basically everything.

This is extremely frustrating for any baker, but I think it’s most frustrating for a beginner, who’s not likely able to pinpoint the exact point when a recipe went completely off the rails. So, as a beginning baker with dense, heavy buns, you’re left wondering both what went wrong, and why it went wrong. That’s not the way to build baking confidence.

Aunties, I love all of you. I respect every pound cake, layer cake, and rum cake you’ve ever made for me. I appreciate all of the recipes you’ve shared over the years. But I’ve found that measuring ingredients by volume creates vastly different products every time I bake, and that frustrates me to no end. Much respect to those of you who can do this. For real. I was not born with this gene.

For us mortals, using metric measurement for baking is an entirely different experience. Going back to our flour example, if a recipe calls for 256 grams of flour, you can just…add 256 grams of flour. No scooping. No sweeping. No spooning. No aerating. No flour gymnastics. Just you, your mixing bowl, and 256 grams of flour.

The next time I make the same recipe? 256 grams of flour. Every time after that? 256 grams of flour. Measuring ingredients by weight is the fastest way to create consistency in your baking.

2. Consistency Breeds Confidence in the Kitchen.

Using a digital food scale is literally the first tip I give to people who are intimidated by baking, since the first key to becoming a confident baker is to use tools and techniques to build consistency. Basically, this is the home run of consistency tips.

When you’re able to consistently recreate delicious cookies, cakes, breads and pies, your confidence builds to a crescendo. Maybe not a crescendo, because those build and then fade, but you get the point. Your confidence swells when you can make delicious baked goods consistently.

Your confidence builds even more when friends and family start begging you to make them over and over again, and you’re able to deliver. How can you deliver, you ask? By weighing your ingredients on your digital food scale.

The quickest way to consistency and confidence is a digital food scale. I purchased my first one on Amazon for less than $15.00, and it changed everything for me.

3. A Digital Food Scale Avoids Ingredient Waste.

When you use a digital food scale to weigh ingredients, you’re using exactly how much you need in a particular recipe. Taking the flour example, above, every time I used another method, I ended up with much more than one cup of flour. Not only would this lead to an over-floured product, it means that I’m actually wasting ingredients every time I bake. {insert flying money emoji here.}

I have two children and no extra money lying around. This alone is reason enough to justify a digital food scale.

4. How to Choose a Digital Food Scale.

This is honestly a matter of preference. I’ll link the three digital scales in my kitchen (I don’t get paid for these promotions and am just sharing information), but here are the most important things that I look for when considering a kitchen scale:

  1. A scale with at least an 11-pound capacity;
  2. A scale that measures accurately (you can purchase a small set of weights to test and calibrate your scale here)
  3. A scale that measures grams and milliliters (more on this later);
  4. A scale with a larger platform for measuring (so that big bowls can sit securely without the threat of tipping over and dusting your entire kitchen in a fine mist of confectioner’s sugar); and
  5. A scale that is durable enough for daily use (no glass platforms for me).

I do pay attention to scale design, because I do love sleek kitchen gadgets, but function is absolutely greater than form when it comes to this kitchen tool.

As promised, here are the three that currently live in my kitchen. They’re all high performers on my list, and I honestly think you can’t go wrong with any of them:

  1. Here’s the first digital kitchen scale that I ever owned. It’s a great scale for beginners, even though it does not have a large platform: Ozeri Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale, Silver
  2. My sister gifted me this digital kitchen scale. It’s featured in the video, below, and has been an absolute workhorse for me for several years: OXO Good Grips 11 Pound Food Scale with Pull-Out Display, Stainless Steel (I recently went on vacation and purchased the new version of this scale, found here.)
  3. This is my most recent acquisition and I love it like a shiny new convertible (electric, of course): Nicewell Food Scale, 22lb Digital Kitchen Scale Weight Grams and oz for Cooking Baking, 1g/0.1oz Precise Graduation, Stainless Steel and Tempered Glass

For more on food scales (including a hands on tutorial about how to use one, and step-by-step directions to help you make delicious snickerdoodle cookies), take a look at this video!

See you soon!