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Reading Recipes

Reading Recipes There is an old saying that goes: "if you can read, you can cook". Whoever said this obviously never tried to read a recipe! Recipes are written with precise language, and you must learn that language before you can become a successful cook and baker.

Did you know that baking and cooking are two very different activities? It's true, baking is really a science, with precise measurements of ingredients that are assembled and baked in specific ways. Baking recipes include those for cakes, breads, cookies, pies, muffins, and bar cookies, etc.

Cooking recipes include those for main dishes, soups, salads, side dishes, and many desserts. These types of recipes allow more leeway. Adding another 1/2 cup of liquid to soup isn't going to affect the outcome. And using 6 chicken breasts instead of 5 won't ruin a chicken picata recipe.

So read through these directions for reading recipes. Even if you're a pro, you'll probably learn something new.


Baking Recipes

Baking The very first step in cooking and baking is to read the recipe all the way through, from beginning to end, before you begin. This way you will know that you have all the ingredients and tools on hand. You will also be able to look up terms you don't understand so cooking proceeds smoothly.

Most good recipes start with the ingredient list, and the ingredients are listed in the order they are used. In this case, the topping is mixed first because breads and cakes that use baking powder need to go into the oven quickly after being mixed. If batters sit at room temperature before baking, the baking powder will keep reacting and the carbon dioxide produced can't be captured by the unbaked batter. And the cake or bread will not rise as high.

Measurements in baking recipes are critical. When a recipe calls for a tablespoon or teaspoon, the author means for you to use actual measuring utensils, not spoons that you use for eating and serving. Here's a basic chart of measures and equivalents. For our purposes, these are the abbreviations I use that are fairly standard. For more baking and cooking definitions be sure to check out the Definitions page.

  • tbsp = tablespoon
  • tsp = teaspoon
  • oz = ounce

After you have read the recipe, gather all the ingredients, pots, pans, bowls, and measuring utensils you will need. Go slowly and double check all the steps and ingredients.

When you are baking, dry ingredients and liquid ingredients are measured using different sets of utensils. Dry ingredient measures are usually plastic or metal. Liquid ingredient measures are usually glass, with a pouring spout and marks along the side of the cup. It's important to use the correct measuring utensil when baking.

So let's look at the recipe below for Quick Coffeecake. The words in bold are explained in the text below the recipe.

Quick Coffeecake

    3/4 cup packed brown sugar
    2 tsp cinnamon
    6 tbsp butter, softened
    1-1/2 cups chopped nuts
    2 eggs
    1 cup milk
    1 cup sugar
    1/4 cup salad oil
    2 cups flour
    4 tsp. baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375°degrees. Grease a 13x9" pan and set aside.

In medium bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon and butter and cream together until blended.

Crack eggs into large bowl and beat with a fork until combined. Add milk and mix well with wire whisk or eggbeater. Add sugar and oil and mix with a whisk until blended.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add to egg mixture and mix with a spoon for 20-30 strokes just until combined and all dry ingredients are moistened. Pour batter into a prepared 13x9" pan.

Bake at 375° degrees for 25-35 minutes until puffed and golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.

The body of the recipe contains the instructions about combining and heating the ingredients. In the coffeecake recipe above:

  • Packed brown sugar. Brown sugar must be pressed firmly into the measuring cup, then unmolded. The sugar should hold the shape of the cup when it's released.

  • Butter is so