Aside from the comfort it provides to the senses, baking is notable for its versatility; suitable for desserts, reheating foods, as well as a go-to for healthful cooking. Unlike pan- or deep-frying, which can use some not-so-healthy oils, you don’t have to use much, if any, oil to bake. This cuts out unhealthy fats while also cutting down on cholesterol and calories. Plus, baking browns the exterior of food, adding a crispy texture and delicious flavor.
So what’s happening when you bake? You’re surrounding food with hot dry air in an oven. Typical temperatures used for baking are usually 350° to 375°F. When you cook at 400°F and above, that’s technically considered roasting. So, baking is best when you want to cook with moderate heat, while roasting requires higher heat, a method used more for food with solid structure, like vegetables and meats. Conversely, you typically use moderate heat when cooking foods that don’t have a solid structure, but that will once cooked. For example, you’d bake casseroles, lasagnas, cookies, cakes, breads, and countless other desserts. If you tried to prepare cookies at 450°F, they’d probably burn—it’s just too much heat!
The best part about this technique is that it brings people together. You don’t sauté with your kids at the holidays, do you? No! You bake together. The next time you bake chicken or bread or brownies, invite someone special to join you in the festivities. Or share your baked goodies with some neighbors or coworkers—it’s the culinary equivalent of a warm hug.
- Turn it up. Preheat the oven to the desired temperature. Depending on the recipe, it will probably be somewhere between 350° and 375°F.
- Follow the recipe. Whip up your batter, season your fish, or chop your vegetables.
- Get set. Place your food or mixture into an oven-safe tin or dish (you may need to grease it first). Cover, if required.
- Wait it out. When the oven registers the appropriate temperature, insert the tin or dish onto an oven rack.
- Maintain the golden rule. Cook until done. Most baked foods are finished when they are cooked through or golden brown. Remove carefully with oven mitts.
- Taste test. Test the doneness of meat with a thermometer. Check baked goods, like cakes, by inserting a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean, it’s ready to cool and enjoy!