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Baking basics for Beginners | How to bake easily at home

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It has been long I have not blogged a recipe and the last one was this Chocolate sponge cake that I had posted on Feb 6th. It was a special cake close to my heart (many reasons that this page won’t be enough if I start writing about it πŸ˜„) and I had posted it with so much love. ❀️ How glad I am now that many of my readers have tried and loved it too. Thank you dear readers. Your feedbacks make all the efforts of blogging worthwhile. πŸ™

Along with the feedback messages that I keep receiving, if there is something I get regularly, it is doubts regarding baking. Since I have been baking for about a decade now, I can understand what went wrong when readers message me. So I try my maximum to help them as much as I can. Helping people gives me a kind of peace and happiness which nothing else can give (simple but precious joys of life). ❀️

So, no matter what doubt you have, even if you feel it’s a very silly one, Ask away.( I get that quite often that people think their doubt is very silly). I would not mind at all and will surely reply when I find time. No doubt is small and clearing it will ensure you get the recipes well and your ingredients/ time is not wasted.

Today, I got a baking doubt from my reader and after I replied, she asked me if I have written a blog regarding oven basics. That’s when I realized I had not blogged an article dedicated to it and how helpful it would be for all of you if I write a detailed one explaining what all I have learnt in these 10 years of baking. Have a long way to go and so much to learn but still will try to jot down whatever I know.

So, here goes the article. I will write as Q and A so that it’s easier for you all to read. Also, will keep updating whenever I get new doubts and I feel it will help you all.

My Oven –

Q : Which oven do you use?

A : This is the picture of the oven that I use. It is an OTG and I have not bought it. Since we live in a company provided accomodation, we were provided with all electronic appliances too and this came along with it. It is a INDESIT oven plus glass top cooking range. I have been using the same since 10 years now and very happy with it. I can say it is my best friend and my favorite appliance in the kitchen since I both cook and bake in it. 😍😍

Q : Which oven is better to buy? OTG or conventional oven?

A : As I mentioned above, I did not buy the oven. But I have always baked in this OTG only and love how evenly it bakes. My parents have a microwave with conventional mode oven and I love how user friendly it is. Yes, the space inside is less when compared to OTG which brings to the point that if you want to bake in large batches, OTG is for you while if you want to bake just for your family, microwave with conventional mode oven is very easy to use. Here is the inside picture of my OTG. Love how spacious it is.

Q – Which rack to use in my oven for baking? It has three racks.

A – I have always used only the center rack as shown above in the picture for all my bakes. This ensures even baking and I get good results with it. But it sometimes depends on your oven. Some readers say they only have two racks. In that case, place in the bottom rack and bake longer (it’s better than keeping in the top rack which can cause the cake to burn). Once you start baking, with experience you will know which rack of your oven works best for you. (For people owning microwave conventional oven, this is not for you as you have just one rack to place your bakes. In your case, just bake in conventional mode or with two rods on as per your type of oven.)

Q – How to preheat the oven?

A – Preheating the oven to the mentioned temperature is very important to get perfect bakes. Almost all of my recipes require pre heating to 180 C for 10 mins atleast. This ensures you are placing the cake batter or cookie/ bread dough in a hot oven which is the first important step in baking. So before you start making the batter or while making, don’t forget to preheat the oven. Most cake recipes need only sifting the dry ingredients, mixing the wet ingredients and then the batter is done which hardly takes 10 to 15 mins. So preheat the oven during that time. Here is the picture of the knobs from my oven.

My Baking accessories –

I am someone who believes in not hoarding stuffs unnecessarily and all my baking equipments are from the time I started baking. I am happy that these bake wares have lasted all these years inspite of me using them so often. Here is a picture of some of my most used ones.

The nonstick loaf pan and the colourful measuring cups were my first buys when I started baking.

Measuring cups are the most important when you bake as no matter what anyone says, baking is definitely a science. You can’t just add ingredients in any ratio blindly and expect perfect results unless you are that experienced a baker. As for me, I can’t imagine baking without measuring cups. I have also been getting requests from readers for measurements in grams and I am planning to buy a kitchen weighing scale soon for this purpose. Weighing scales gives even better results as measuring cups comes in various sizes. Mine is a 250 ml one but it also comes in 200 ml cups.

Nonstick loaf pan that I use measures 20 cm in length and 4 cm in width. I have baked all my cakes, bread and pav in it. I also don’t use parchment paper. I just grease it with oil or ghee and the bakes come out clean. One of the best baking buys ever!

Muffin pan is useful if you like baking cupcakes. I use it while making cupcakes for my kids.

Sieve is essential in baking for me as I bake without eggs and using whole wheat flour. So to make the batter airy and light, I sieve the dry ingredients using the sieve shown above.

Spatula – While mixing the dry and wet ingredients, a spatula is required as you can mix without the batter sticking on it and also ensures that you don’t over mix the batter.

If you are my regular reader, you must have noticed this baking plate on which I bake my cookies, pizzas and also my falafel bread. It has been 10 years I am using it and so it’s not as beautiful (πŸ˜¬πŸ˜…) but still I love how my bakes do not stick on it with very little greasing with ghee and bakes evenly. Can’t count the number of times I have baked on this plate. My best friend in baking for sure. 😍 It is a oven proof plate/ tray available in any bake ware stores.

Healthier Ingredients that I use –

Q – Which brand of wheat flour do you use?

A – This is the question I had been getting a lot of times. So I started mentioning the brand that I use which is Pillsbury Atta in my recent posts. I have used many brands of wheat flour but the flavours and texture that Pillsbury gives is the best. I get queries specially with whole wheat bread and whole wheat Pav that they did not get the desired taste nor softness even though they followed the recipe properly. When I ask them, I find they have used some other brand of Atta. So if you can find, use Pillsbury only as that is what gives the best results from my recipes.

Q – Which brand and kind of jaggery do you use? Also, can I use liquid jaggery?

A – I used to buy jaggery blocks, melt in water and then use in my initial baking recipes. After that, we started getting Jaggery powder from Goodness foods company ( here in Qatar) and my life changed. It is so easy to add to cakes and cookies. Apart from being healthier than refined sugar, it is also a lot more flavourful which gives amazing bakes.

About liquid jaggery, I have never used them in my bakes but you can add with wet ingredients a little lesser in quantity as liquid jaggery is more concentrated in taste.

Baking soda and Baking powder –

Do make sure of two points with these:

1. Make sure to check the expiry date as the bakes won’t come out as soft and spongy if the baking soda or powder is expired.

2. They usually form tiny lumps even if stored in a dry place. So do sieve before using in cakes and cookies. Else you will get those tiny lumps in the baked goodies which spoils the taste.

Same is the case with Cocoa powder too. I freeze my cocoa powder as it lasts well for many months that way. Sieve to remove any lumps that form.

Ghee or Butter instead of Oil –

I use Ghee or Butter in my bakes instead of Oil as I mostly bake for my kids and they need the fats since we are Vegetarians. Another reason why I don’t use oil is the flavour and aroma of the oil in the cakes which my kids don’t like. You can substitute with a neutral flavoured oil like Sunflower or Canola oil if you want to make the bakes free from Ghee or Butter. Using Olive oil or Coconut oil means the bakes will taste and smell of the oils as they have their own strong aroma and flavour.

I use Amul Ghee and Lurpak salted butter which are readily available here in Qatar.

Tips while Baking – Cakes

* Always preheat the oven at 180 C for atleast 10 mins (unless it is mentioned to preheat at a higher temperature).

* Sieve the dry ingredients to remove lumps and to ensure the flour mixture is airy and light.

* Always use all wet ingredients like milk and curd at room temperature unless otherwise mentioned like hot milk or hot water.

* Mix both the dry and wet ingredients using a spatula till the mixture is free from flour specks. But do NOT overmix as it leads to dense cakes. Just mix with light hands till the ingredients combine and you are done.

* You can use parchment paper to line your cake tin and cookie tray but I grease them with ghee or butter. It ensures that the cake comes out clean and cookies do not stick to the plate after baking.

* Do NOT open the oven door atleast till three fourth of the bake time. If you keep opening the door, the temperature varies drastically and it will lead to imperfect bakes. So if the bake time is 30 mins, open the door only after about 20 mins.

* Check for doneness using a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center of the cake. If it comes out clear or with little crumbs, the cake is done. If it comes out sticky and with batter in it, bake for 5 mins more and then check again.

* When you check and see that the top portion of the cake is done and turning dark brown but inside has to bake, cover the tin with aluminum foil during the last 5 to 10 mins of bake. This is ensure that the cake does not burn or turn black on surface and the inside with bake well too.

* Allow the cake to cool completely before running the knife along the sides and trying to unmold it. Best is to leave the cake covered at room temperature overnight. I have noted that cakes always taste best the next day.

* For easy frosting recipes without whipping cream, you can check my Ragi Chocolate Cake and Dates Chocolate Brownie recipes.

* You can keep the cake at room temperature for 24 hours and then leftovers can be refrigerated in a airtight container. Microwave before use and get the same softness when you eat each time.

Tips while Baking – Cookies

* Remember to refrigerate the cookie dough for atleast 10 mins so that the cookies can be shaped perfectly.

* Also, remember to grease the tray well with ghee or butter so that the cookies don’t stick on it.

* Don’t make the cookies very thick and pat them into thin discs. Else the insides of the cookies can remain underbaked.

* Space the cookies with some distance in between them as they increase in width after baking.

* Cookies get baked very quickly than cakes. Takes only about 15 mins. So keep an eye after 10 mins so that the cookies don’t burn.

* When the cookies get slightly brown streaks, it means they are done. If they turn too much brown on the surface, they turn very crispy. So if you want soft cookies, remove as soon as it starts turning dark brown. Else it turns crispy.

* Store in an airtight container at room temperature and the cookies last well for atleast 5 days.

Tips while Baking – Pizza and Falafel bread

* The main point to note while baking both the pizzas and Falafel bread is to grease the plate well and spread the dough as thinly as possible so that the dough cooks inside and bakes evenly.

* Here are all 4 recipes. I have mentioned the tips in detail with step by step pictures in all the four recipes.

** Whole wheat Vegetable Pizza

** Gluten Free Oats Pizza

** Whole wheat Cheesy Garlic bread

** Vegan, Gluten free Falafel flatbread

Tips while Baking – Whole wheat Pav and Breads

I have made a step by step pictorial with tips in notes in these posts below. You can check to make soft wheat Pav and assorted wheat breads at home easily.

** Whole wheat Pav

** Whole wheat Bread

** Whole wheat Tutti Frutti Bread

** Easy Semolina Bread

Also, here is the compilation of all my Healthy cakes and cookies recipes in one page.

Okay, so finally ending this post as I think I have finished noting all the points (had put up a huge thinking cap on πŸ˜‚). Though this turned out to be a very long one, I know it will very useful for beginners. Do let me know here in comments or on my Facebook page or Instagram if you still have any doubts. Happy and healthy baking! ❀️

On request from my readers, here is the post on Pinterest. Find the Pin here.

Memoirs of two beautiful souls | A tribute to my grandmother and Sasidharan Uncle

I never thought I would be penning this as an article on my blog but today, I can’t seem to sleep without writing down my thoughts.

I lost two important people in my life last week.

First was my grandmother who was seriously unwell since a month and finally her illness took her away from us on March 9th. Looking at her through the mobile screen, lying lifeless is something I won’t forget ever in my life. Though I know she is at peace now as she has been relieved from her suffering, it is difficult to believe that I will no longer see Annama (as I call her) when I go back to India.

And look at destiny’s play here. I was supposed to travel back to India this month but due to some major situation change, our plans were cancelled. The day it was cancelled, it had left me shattered as I was really hoping to see her and my Amma too. We had even finished most part of the packing. But life is really unpredictable and these past few months have shown that to me. So here I am, still in Qatar, with just memories remaining of my Annama to share with all of you.

Annama has been the inspiration behind all my Konkani recipes as that is what she made for us when we grew up. I still remember the way she used to say in her typical style, “Khavnu pale!!” meaning atleast taste and see, when I used to make a face at some not-so-favorite dishes of mine. Thinking of it does bring a smile on my face now. 😍

She was an expert at making sweets and her Churmundo (wheat flour ladoos) and soyye khadi (coconut burfis) are my favorites. She always made it and kept for me when I went on vacation. She would keep those along with a packet of tingalavro (white beans), some cotton towels, a small purse and a bottle of Ponds talcum powder, all ready for me to take back to Qatar. That love filled bag will definitely be missed next time. ❀️

Another memory of my Annama which I am remembering continually is her expression when I used to show her my newly bought artificial earrings during my school and college days. She used to tell me why are you wearing all these “santheche” (market ones) as she always believed in wearing gold and not other materials which she considered cheap. I wish I could show her that I now wear only gold earrings which my Amma gifted me during marriage. This woman now is no longer the girl who used to love those fancy earrings. I have become the woman you wanted me to become, Annama. ❀️

Also, she always believed in eating healthy homemade food and hardly ate bakery or restaurant foods. That is the sole reason that she was free from any disease even after being more than 85 years of age. I wish I had started following her way of life much earlier but as they say, better late than never. Her lifestyle is definitely an inspiration for me.

Annama, you will be missed a lot but I know you will look at me from above and will be happy to see me cooking just like you. Hope I can share more of your dishes and take your recipes forward to the next generation. Loads of love. ❀️

The second person that I lost is my college mate Rajath’s father, Sasidharan Uncle on March 10th. Even though Rajath was from the same college as mine, I had hardly talked to him once or twice as I only knew him as my best friend Taniya’s friend. So it was just a formal kind of relation.

But after I came to Qatar, Taniya gave me his number saying Rajath and his family are here too. From then started our friendship which is not only a mere friendly relation but definitely a family bonding. It would not be wrong if I call Rajath my elder brother as he has always fulfilled his duties of being one.

When blockade was imposed on Qatar and we hardly had any veggies available here, it was Rajath who drived all the way amidst his work schedule to bring us about 10 varieties of vegetables which lasted more than a month for us.

After that, when I was supposed to travel back to Qatar post delivery alone with my newborn son and daughter, he booked his and his wife’s tickets such that we were on the same flight and he could take care of us. He and his wife Malavika (who’s a beautiful girl inside out ❀️) made me feel so comfortable that I forgot all the tensions of travelling with a one month old baby.

All these good nature of Rajath is credits to his parents. Both Sasidharan Uncle and Geetha Aunty are gems of human beings. Even as I write this, I still can’t believe uncle is no more. His talks, jokes and the way he shared his stories about his experiences in life is what I enjoyed always.

Uncle always considered me as his daughter and used to call me lovingly as “Mole..” which means daughter in malayalam. So I always felt he was like a father figure and someone whom I looked up to all these years, living away from my own family.

Ever since Covid started, we hardly met but last month, on Feb 9th, I got Rajath’s message asking if they could come to our house that evening. He knew I was excited to meet his little boy and we were planning since long. So that day, since my husband too was home, I said okay. I confirmed if uncle and aunty were coming too and he said yes.

It made me so happy and I made Almond cookies and Churmundos for them. Had shared it on my Facebook page that day. Here is the picture.

They all loved it so much that none of these were left. It had me so happy and it was one of the unforgettable days of my life.

Who knew that it would be the last day that I would see and talk with my dearest Uncle.. His last words as he sat in the car are still in my ears. He had said, “Mole, Mannarkkad endayalum varanam.. Kaanan pattiya sthalam aanu.. endayalum varanam ketto..” (Dear daughter, you should come to Mannarkkad (his hometown), it’s a must visit place.. do come..)

As these words echo in my ears, I have promised myself that I will definitely visit Mannarkkad sometime in my life. That will be my true tribute and my way to offer respects to his soul. πŸ™

So these are my memoirs with both these beautiful people whom I lost physically but they are always in my heart as precious memories which no one can take away. These past few days made me realize how unpredictable life is and all that remains is the love we have shown on everyone. So, love truly and unconditionally with all your heart. That love remains a lifetime to be cherished forever. ❀️

My weight loss journey – How I fought infertility/ health issues by walking and healthy eating

I dedicate this blog to my best friends Taniya and Sunanda who have been motivating me to pen down my weight loss journey since a long time. But yesterday while chatting on our mini whatsapp group (of only the three of us πŸ˜…), I was so inspired by their talks that I decided to write as soon as possible (the moody me who gets this sudden burst of energy πŸ˜†). So thanks my dearest Tanu and Chu for encouraging me so much. If I know true friendship, it is because of both of you. Thank you for being there for your Ladoo (😍) all this time (more than 12 years) and I know we three will be there for each other forever. ❀️❀️❀️

Now to my journey. It started when I was trying to conceive for a baby from 2011 to 2014 (Though I was only 21 to 24 years then, I love babies and was eager to have mine too). I did not have any major health issue nor was over weight. Still it took me three years to conceive my daughter. (Sometimes there are no reasons medically, yet you can’t conceive. It’s the hardest kind of infertility.) I had many sleepless nights and used to cry a lot as I had lost all hopes of becoming a mother. (One of the most difficult phases of my life.) As I was about to fall into depression, a friend of mine suggested a famous Indian infertility doctor here in Qatar – Dr Khudsiya Begum. Couple of months of consulting with her and with God’s blessings, I conceived. It was the happiest moment of my entire life. 😍

So from a girl, I became a mother in Feb 2015. Motherhood made me so excited that I gave it my all, neglecting my health, mindless eating and with lack of exercise, I gained a lot of weight. Still I did not realize I was gaining as I was busy bringing my baby up in the best possible way (love is blind and I was so blinded by my daughter’s love that I could not see anything else, not even myself πŸ˜…).

March 2017 was when that blindfold got opened by a friend here who mentioned to me how much fat I had become (much more than in the above second picture 😬). Though I felt sad then, I thank her with all my heart now as that was the reason I got motivated to start losing weight (Thus began my fight with fat to become fit.) That rhymed! πŸ˜„

Then, from March 2017 to November 2017, I lost almost 9 kgs of weight. Will share how I did it as pointers so that it’s easy for you all to read.

* Followed “3 miles walk by Leslie Sansone” video on YouTube which is a heart healthy walk while standing in a place. I do this even now when I don’t get time to walk outdoors. I keep the video and follow her for atleast 30 mins which covers 2 miles in a day. I found time for this when my daughter slept and did it everyday without fail.

* Along with this, I did an hour of brisk walking outdoors in the evenings while pushing the stroller with my daughter in it. It not only gave me the much needed fresh air but also sunlight to my body.

* Started portion control while eating healthy meals instead of eating out and eating late at night. I saw how that helped in my weight loss too. Eating dinner before 8 is what I follow even now. Gives us ample time to digest the food before sleeping.

* I also stopped sitting in a place and forced myself to move throughout the house when I felt like sitting idle. Sitting in a place was one of the major reason that I had gained weight. So this helped me maintain my weight loss.

* Lemon juice has really helped me in my weight loss journey. Just squeeze one Indian lemon and add little water making it to a glass. Don’t add anything else. Drink it on empty stomach or anytime of the day when you remember. It will not only aid in digestion and weight loss but gives you the much needed Vitamin C boost to the body.

* I also want to add that the first couple of kgs took the longest time. After that I lost the rest of the weight very quickly. So don’t get disheartened within a week. Atleast do these walks for two months and you will definitely see the result.

And as I lost those 9 kgs, I conceived my son in November 2017 which was a great surprise and a miracle too. It showed me how the walking and healthy eating had affected my body and I conceived naturally without any medication this time. The third picture is just before conceiving my son. See how much I had reduced.

During my second pregnancy, I was much more aware of my body due to Birth Village – The natural birthing center where I consulted and delivered my son. It was a natural VBAC which is “Vaginal birth after C section”. Though it is considered risky, my confidence in the Birth Village team was so much that I was not worried at all.

I ate healthy and walked throughout my pregnancy, even took part in the pregnancy workouts and dance sessions, making it a very happy kind of pregnancy. 😍 All thanks to the BV team!

I delivered my son in August 2018. This time around, I knew I had to take care of myself too post partum and took time everyday for some walks. Again, the “3 miles walk” video became my best friend which helped me reduce my postpartum weight.

In the above pictures, the first one is when my son was about an year old in 2019. The second picture is on his second birthday in August 2020 followed by this recent picture during my daughter’s bday in Feb 2021.

The second picture is when I had again lost focus on myself and got so busy taking care of both the kids that I hardly ate. This led to a massive weight loss which can be seen from my face. I realized if I go this way, it will affect adversely on my health (All thanks to my Amma this time who realized on video calls that I was reducing much more that I should be and neglecting myself. Mothers’ always know us, no matter how far they are. ❀️).

So now, I am eating well but eating healthy along with brisk walking daily for atleast an hour (combining outdoors and indoors) and also not sitting for long in a place. I make sure I walk inside the house whole day while listening to my daily shlokas and favorite songs. Also, after finishing cooking and household chores before 5 in the evening, I dedicate the rest of the time till night to walking. My son has been keeping me active too by asking me to play football with him and also since he loves dancing, he asks me to join him as well (even though I am the world’s worst dancer, it does make my little boy happy and that is all that matters. 😍)

So this third picture is the me now and I feel really good about myself. Though not the ideal kind of “slim and trim” body or face (and have those chubby cheeks too πŸ˜„), I am healthier and fitter now than ever before as I am taking care of myself well. Though late but as they say, better late than never, I realized that I should take care of myself too and not get drowned in becoming a wife or a mother. So, self love is very important as well. ❀️

Hope you all enjoyed reading this long writeup and hope it will be helpful to atleast some of you. Happy and healthy cooking – with walking! πŸ˜„