Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Baking Day

I know this post isn't going to be relevant to too many people, but I'm putting it out there because I couldn't find much of anything about it when I Googled "How to Plan a Baking Day."
My kitchen on Baking Day.

I was a professional cook for a number of years, though my only baking job was making bagels, and that doesn't provide a skill set relevant to home baking. So, though I cook all of our meals at home, I only started making all of our baked goods at home this year. Doing all of the baking in one day assures that it gets done - trying to make these things over the course of a week requires doing set-up, warm-up, and clean-up every time, and that is a sure recipe for failure. Baking Day is not flexible. Things can't "come up." So best to reserve a day solely for the job (and it's a job) of baking.

Here are the steps and tips that get me through a Baking Day:

#1: Ignore everything I say if you have a job. Baking Day takes an entire day, and people who work will not appreciate using a weekend day to stand in a hot kitchen looking at crackers.
#2: Find all of the recipes you want to use and put them all in one location. Typically, this means finding recipes on the internet and printing them out. I don't have a printer, so I copy them into my recipe book.
#3: Have your ingredients on hand before you start baking. Make a list of everything you will need, check your stocks, and purchase on Shop Day. My Shop Day is Friday, and "Yes" it gets its own day because I live 20 miles from town and I carpool because I'm too cheap to buy gas for even one trip per week. Buy at least as many cookie sheets as you need for your recipe that requires the most cookie sheets. I have 8 because that is how many I need to make Wheat Thins, though I have small ovens, so you may not need that many. If you are going to make crackers, you will need to buy a docker, making cracker holes with a toothpick doubles prep time.
#4: Clean your house the day before Baking Day, especially your kitchen. I clean Monday and bake Tuesday. Do not plan to accomplish anything else on Baking Day. You won't.
#5: On Baking Day, clean the kitchen again and be sure every dish is washed, dried, and put away. If you have containers like jars that you put your baked goods in when finished, make sure they are clean and dry before you start.
#6: Take out every utensil you will need and put them on a large plate on your prep counter. For me, this is - measuring cups/spoons, pizza cutter, docker, knife. Put your rolling pin and rolling board on the prep counter. Put all the bowls, cookie sheets/etc., cooling rack, trivets you will need in appropriate places. Basically, get everything you will need in the place you will need it so you don't have to rummage with dough fingers in the middle of the bake.
#7: Grease anything that will need to be greased. Margarine, butter, and lard grease better than anything else. I'm sorry to say it, but I found out the hard way.
#8: Start with the bread. Bread has to rise twice, and rising times vary greatly on the weather. Get it out of the way and see how it's rising between the other recipes.
#9: Stagger things on cookie sheets with things that are not on cookie sheets if you have a limited number of cookie sheets, giving you time to cool and clean them off between recipes.
#10: After bread, make the thing that has the longest prep time. For me, that is Wheat Thins, which take about an hour to have completely ready for the oven.
#11: Do not turn on the oven until you have something to put into it. While you are waiting for the warm-up, mix up the next baked good. Do not leave the oven on if you aren't using it, but don't open the door when not using unless you are done for the day.
#12: If you make an item like thin crackers that have a bake time of about five minutes, do not try to do anything else during that 5 minutes. Anything that cooks in five minutes probably has about 90 seconds between being underdone and burnt.
#13: Wash dishes as they become dirty. This doesn't apply for measuring items unless they become really gross.
#14: If you have sticky or wet stuff in your measuring cup, put it in a dry item from the mixing bowl like flour. The sticky stuff sticks to the flour and you can scrape it off with your finger or spatula.
#15: Once your cookie sheets are greased, you can reuse them until goo starts to bake onto them.

My Baking Day:
Clean kitchen, 6 a.m.
Take out all necessary items
Grease all necessary dishes
Prep Bread, 8 a.m.
Prep 2 batches Wheat Thins
Turn on oven
Prep Brownies
Cook Wheat Thins
Prep Granola Bars while baking Brownies
Prep 2 batches Oatmeal Cookies while baking Granola Bars
Prep Banana Bread while baking Cookies
Prep 2 batches Cheese Straws while baking Banana Bread
Prep 2 batches Tortillas while baking Cheese Straws
Cook Tortillas while baking Bread
Make leftover tortillas from last week into baked tortilla chips
Clean kitchen, 4 p.m.
Start cooking dinner, 5 p.m.
This amount of baking provides baked goods for one adult male construction worker for one week, plus a few crumbs for the baker.

I have a few other tricks, myself, but they may not be generally relevant:
  • You can substitute light or dark brown sugar in pretty much any recipe that calls for regular sugar. You can make your own brown sugar on-the-cheap by using a tablespoon or two of molasses per pound of sugar in a food processor, or to the recipe. I don't use vanilla because the molasses adds some extra flavor.
  • Crackers and pie crusts turn out better with cold butter and ice cold water. They will spend less time under your warm fingers if you use a food processor.
  • Cracker dough is harder to work with when it's warm. This may also be true for pie crust, I wouldn't know.
  • Save hassle by cutting nuts, shredding cheese, etc. the night before, or at least before the bake.
  • King Arthur whole wheat flour really IS better than Gold Medal. I haven't started grinding my own flour yet, but I'll let you know what I think when I do.
  • Baked goods like white cake and sugar cookies really aren't quite the same with the whole wheat flours I have used. Choosing recipes that contain cocoa, coffee, oats/whatever to mask the whole wheat taste and texture isn't a bad idea.
  • Homemade baked goods don't contain preservatives, so don't expect them to last as long (though I've not yet had a problem with anything going bad. How do you know when they are bad?) Store in airtight containers for best results.
  • Use refined white flour or King Arthur whole wheat on your rolling pin and board if you are trying to really roll anything out super thin. The chaff or whatever it is in most whole wheat flours doesn't do much for making the dough not stick, and it adds a lot of dry fiber.
  • The cheapest things I have found (per CUP, not per pound) for "whole foods" baking: homemade brown sugar, peanuts, oats, canola oil, butter, cocoa, whole flaxseed, raisins. If you bake every week, you can buy in bulk. 
  • Home ground flour is super cheap - we can get whole organic white winter wheat, locally grown, for about $.40-.50 a pound. There are 3 cups of flour in a pound of wheat.
  • I put links to the recipes I use on my Pinterest page and make notes in the comments after I try them. This way, I can share recipes that I have tried and easily find any recipes I wanted to try but haven't.
  • My personal opinion about sugars and oils - Sugar isn't particularly good for you. I make sweeties because I have to feed a construction worker who burns through an insane amount of calories, but many people have a problem fitting in all of the vitamins/minerals/fiber/whatever that they are supposed to have in a day, and sugar and refined grains are just empty calories. People who debate which sugar is best are really voting with their dollars for sustainable processing. Adding blackstrap molasses to recipes will make them a little healthier, but not much. For oils, the best argument I've heard is that processed veg oils like canola contain Omega 6 oils bad,) while butter has Omega 3's (good.) Butter is less likely to be rancid, which is a big concern with a lot of whole foods people. I have no opinion on sprouted grains and store bought yeast at this point because we don't have any gastrointestinal issues.

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