Traditionally, in India, ovens have not been part of our cooking tradition (except for the tandoor which is a is a clay oven), a throwback to days when there was little or no electricity and we had to do all our cooking over a stove. But baked goodies are now a favourite snack or treat, and corner bakeries are all over our cities and towns. The craze for cakes, puffs and biscuits for tea, snacks or desserts came with the British and is here to stay.
Here are a few benefits to baking:
- It’s easier to bake in an oven than cook standing over a hot stove!
- Operating an oven is actually easier than operating a microwave
- When you bake you know the quality and quantity of the ingredients you are using
- You can vary/reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt you bake with and can experiment with whole grain flours.
- You can do away with artificial food colours and preservatives.
- You can actually cook with little or no oil/fat
- It’s a great way for kids to learn to cook since the cooking process is fire-less
- Baking is a science. If you follow a recipe with precision, you rarely will go wrong.
WHY HOME BAKING IS GOOD FOR HEALTH
- Baked goodies are generally delicious – and if you control the amount of fat, sugar and salt, they can be healthy as well.
- One advantage of baking over deep-frying is that you can cook with little or no oil. One tablespoon of oil is 15 grams of fat and equals 120 Calories, so any attempt to reduce this is good.
- Most store-bought biscuits, commercial cakes, bakery biscuits and pastries are made with refined flour, and they use vanaspati/dalda/margarine (which is a trans fat/hydrogenated vegetable oil for which is there is no safe limit) instead of butter or oil, since its much cheaper. Some already sweet cakes are then covered with icing! Which is why it’s better to bake at home.
- Instead of buying from a store or bakery, you can bake a range of healthier cakes (think banana, apple, carrot, date and nut etc), muffins, whole grain cookies, granola bars, muesli and puddings.
- Baked goods don’t always have to be sweet.You can make a range of healthy savoury dishes as well – breads, crackers, vegetable bakes, tarts, oven fries, pizzas etc.
TIPS FOR USING AN OVEN
Using an electric oven, especially an Oven Toaster Grill (OTG), is not much different from a microwave – in fact it’s easier, because it doesn’t have all those multiple settings. Once you understand how it works, it’s just about
- Preheating the oven for 15 minutes using top and bottom heat
- Turning a knob to select function (top and/or bottom heat or grill)
- Setting the temperature, usually 180°C
- Setting the baking time (use a timer if you are going to be away from the kitchen)
- Placing your dish in the oven to bake. Test to check that it’s done. Remove and cool on the heatproof surface.
They say cooking is an art and baking is a science, and that is so true. Once you learn how your oven works and you follow the recipe with exact proportions, there is little that can go wrong. Don’t get discouraged by the occasional failure or kitchen disaster – it’s a learning process that even your kids will understand. The easiest thing for a novice baker or kid to start baking with is muffins. They’re easy to mix, don’t take too long to bake, and are always popular. Here’s my foolproof recipe for whole wheat banana muffins.
This recipe is pure goodness. The combination of atta, buttermilk, brown sugar, chocolate/butterscotch chips and bananas is a huge energy booster – and tasty. Adding nuts and seeds only up the health quotient. All in all, a cracklingly healthy, wholesome breakfast food or anytime snack!
1½ cups atta (wholewheat flour)
1/3 cup white or brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
¼ cup chopped walnuts or cashew nuts
¼ cup dark chocolate or butterscotch chips (optional)
1 large egg (see tip below for eggless muffins)
2 ripe bananas, well mashed (a little more than ½ cup)
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk or buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 tablespoon chopped nuts, sunflower seeds or demarara sugar for topping (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a muffin pan.
- Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg until frothy, then blend in the banana and the rest of the wet ingredients.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients, and pour in the wet mixture. Gently mix the batter with a large wooden or metal spoon until just evenly blended. Remember not to over-mix.
- Spoon into muffin cups, using an oiled serving spoon or ice cream scoop, filling each about 2/3 Sprinkle with toppings, if you wish.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes until the muffins test done.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for a bit. Serve warm or store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Food Fact – Bananas are a super-food. They contain fibre and high levels of potassium, which help with nerve and muscle function and in lowering blood pressure. Their natural sugars help to regulate blood sugar levels, and they are an unexpected source of protein and calcium. Bananas are a perfect anytime snack, especially for active kids.
SOME ALL-IMPORTANT BAKING TIPS
- For eggless muffins or cakes, replace each egg with 3 tablespoons of yoghurt or milk. You could also replace each egg in a recipe with 1 tablespoon of finely ground flax seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons of warm water, and let it sit for 15 minutes to thicken. Ground flax seeds can be stored in the fridge or freezer for months.
- Many muffin and cake recipes call for buttermilk. An easy way to make it is to dilute ¾ cup of yoghurt with ¼ cup milk or water, or add 2 teaspoons vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let it sit for 15 minutes before using.
- Don’t ever over-mix the batter for muffins or any quick rise baked goods. That is the secret of their lightness.
- Muffins are ideally served warm but you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Microwave a refrigerated muffin for 10 seconds before eating. You can store muffins and cake in an airtight container in the fridge for several days or freeze it for weeks. Don’t slice cake before storing it. It will dry out.
- When I store muffins and cakes in the fridge, I place a clean paper napkin at the bottom of the container, place the muffins/cake on it, and then place another napkin on the top. The napkins absorb the extra moisture and keep the baked goods fresh and flavourful.