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Baking Basics

All the tips you need to know before you bust out the bundt pan.

Dying for a luscious, sinfully rich dessert? We called on self-taught baker extraordinaire Judy Rosenberg, owner of five popular Boston bake shops and author of two cookbooks, Rosie's Bakery - All-Butter, Fresh-Cream, Sugar-Packed, No-Holds-Barred Baking Book and Rosie's Bakery - Chocolate-Packed, Jam-Filled, Butter-Rich, No-Holds-Barred Cookie Book to give us pearls of baking wisdom. Here's what you'll need to whip something delicious up on a whim!

1. Don't skimp on baking pan quality -- a well made, heavier pan will produce a better dessert. "The cheaper the pan, the less gently it will bake, and the less evenly the heat will distribute," notes Rosenberg. "Your dessert will come out with very dry sides and a moist middle." Nonstick bakeware is a good choice. Glass pans are fine, too, but be sure to adjust the heat 25 degrees lower than the temperature listed in the recipe.

2. Know your oven. Each oven has its own temperament, so you'll have to experiment to find the perfect baking time for various desserts. "Don't just follow suggested cooking times," says Rosenberg. "The visual description of how the dessert should look when it is done is equally important." Stick a fork in that banana bread to see if it's done early, rather than blithely ignoring the smoking, burned shard of bread in your oven.

3. Accept defeats gracefully. Like anything that takes practice, "the more you bake, the better you become." Rosenberg admits she's flubbed a dessert or two in her day, and assures us she learned everything through trial and error -- with an emphasis on error! "Don't be discouraged when things don't come out the way you want them to," she says. "I've made mistakes that I thought would be disasters, and instead, I've ended up with a new recipe."

Here are the bare essentials you'll need to get started, according to Rosenberg:

  • 1 electric mixer, stationary or hand-held
  • 2 round layer-cake pans, 8 or 9 inches
  • 1 springform pan, 9 or 10 inches
  • 2 cookie sheets
  • 1 standard pie plate, 9 x 1 1/2 inches
  • 1 set graduated measuring cups for dry ingredients
  • 1 measuring cup (2 c. size) for liquid ingredients
  • 1 set measuring spoons
  • 1 set small, medium, and large mixing bowls
  • 1 rubber spatula
  • 1 hand-held whisk
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • 1 rolling pin

Keep these essential ingredients in the pantry for when that baking bug hits:

  • Unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Cake flour
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Cornstarch
  • Granulated sugar
  • Brown sugar (light and dark)
  • Confectioner's sugar
  • Molasses
  • Honey
  • Corn syrup (light and dark)
  • Unsalted butter
  • Unflavored gelatin
  • Fruit preserves
  • Raisins
  • Peanut butter (salted or unsalted)
  • Instant espresso or other good quality coffee powder
  • Pure vanilla extract
  • Almond extract
  • Salt
  • Spices: ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, and cloves
  • Sweetened, shredded coconut
  • Semisweet chocolate chips
  • Unsweetened chocolate

-- Justin Hartung

See More: Cooking Q&A