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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
My initiation into baking was in the 70s, growing up in India. There were no electric or gas ovens and my mom made butter biscuits on a stove top. She used a heavy deep pan with sand at the bottom and a lid with a vent. A thin, greased aluminum plate held small rounds of biscuit dough. The dry heat from the sand baked the biscuits slowly but the long wait was well worth it.
My next baking adventure was with a borrowed electric oven. Craving for homemade cake made my umpteen trips to the local store to get ingredients a breeze. Alas, the cake came out looking more like a crater. One bite and my mouth was on fire. It turned out the store keeper had sold us caustic soda instead of baking soda!
I got back into baking when I took Home Economics in college. My friend and I successfully baked a sheet of chewy biscuits, but the best part was finishing the entire sheet in one sitting!
Basics of Baking
Unlike cooking, baking is more of a science. Baking involves using dry heat (convection) to cook foods. The basic ingredients in baking are flour, fats, eggs, salt, liquids and sugar. It also needs leavening agents such as baking soda, baking powder or yeast.
Each ingredient has a role to play. The flour gives structure while fats stick to the gluten molecules and make the product light and fluffy. Eggs, sugar and salt add flavor. Leavening agents make the food rise by forming carbon dioxide. Liquids help the flavorings to be evenly distributed and make the baked goods soft.
Measurements are extremely important in baking because any discrepancy affects the quality of the end product. Too much of the leavening agent results in a flat product. Too little makes it heavy or dense.
If science is involved in measurement, then mixing the ingredients is an art. Dry ingredients such as flour, baking soda/powder, and salt must be mixed together really well so that they are evenly distributed. Wet ingredients like butter and sugar must be whipped to incorporate air inside. The dry ingredients must be folded into the wet ingredients and not mixed. Over mixing makes the end product very heavy.
Bonding While Baking
Baking is a favorite summer activity for my two boys. My 12-year-old loves baking banana bread, and my 9-year-old loves to bake chocolate chip cookies. When baking with children, pick a recipe that is simple and let them explore the art of mixing and making a mess. You can always clean it up at the end. Fun is the main ingredient here.
Here are some quick and easy recipes you can try with your children:
Ginger Cranberry Banana Bread
This is a hearty snack for school, and a big hit at school bake sales.
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups light brown sugar, packed
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
6 medium ripe bananas, mashed
¼ cup dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter 2 loaf pans (9 by 5 inches).
Place the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Mix well with a whisk and set aside.
Whip the brown sugar and butter in a large bowl, preferably with an electric mixer. Add bananas, eggs, ginger, and cranberries and mix well. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Using a spatula slowly fold in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Make sure not to over-mix.
Fill the two buttered pans with the batter and bake it in the oven for about an hour or till a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before removing it from the pan.
Serve warm banana bread with vanilla ice-cream. YUM!
Vegan Corn Bread
This recipe can be adapted for any type of allergy. Substitute the 1 cup all-purpose flour with gluten-free flour in case of a wheat allergy.
1 ½ cups of soy milk /coconut milk
1 ½ tablespoons of white vinegar
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons of sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup fresh corn kernels
¼ cup red and green bell pepper,
1 small green chili (optional),
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a square baking pan.
Mix the milk and vinegar and set aside. Mix the corn meal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda with a wire whisk. Add the corn, bell peppers, green chili, cilantro and mix. Add the oil to the milk and vinegar mix. Now slowly mix the dry ingredients and wet ingredients until combined. Pour the batter into the greased baking pan and bake for about 30-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out clean. Enjoy!
My favorite snack with a hot cup of masala chai. This Indian treat is said to have been created in Surat’s Dotivala Bakery, an old Dutch bakery founded in the 16th century.
2 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of kesari milk masala
½ cup crushed pistachios
2 tablespoons crushed almonds
1 cup softened butter
¾ cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Mix the dry ingredients together and set aside. Whip the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the dry mixture and knead into dough. Make small balls and flatten and place it on the wax paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the edges begin to brown. Remove, cool and enjoy as a tea time snack.
Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the Bay Area. She was Associate Chef at Green’s Restaurant, San Francisco. She also blogs about cooking at www.rocketbites.com.
First published in August of 2009.