A Beginner’s Guide to Baking: The essential basics

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

I only started baking last year. Prior to that, I didn't even want to try because I was convinced that I simply could not bake.

During the pre-internet days, we could only rely on books and recipes to guide us on a lot of things. When the first two cakes I attempted to bake in my teens fell flat and remained watery even after the required baking time, I was so discouraged because despite following the recipe stated to the letter, the end results looked nothing like the accompanying photo in the book. I don't even want to start on the taste, because I couldn't bring myself to sample the mushy mess.

Little did I know, back then, that baking involved a lot of other factors. It is almost a science, and ingredients mixed in the wrong sequence can result in a failed bake. Oven temperature, substitution of, the adding and subtracting of components also plays a part. There is a method in the madness, so to speak, and there are things like the way to beat eggs and butter, folding in egg whites and sifting the dry ingredients - that recipe books usually don't mention.

In May last year, I decided that I have to get over the 'cannot-bake' business, and try again. I owe this entirely to my good friend Diana, who can not only keep house and look after her kids, but cook and bake in her sleep. She maintains her award winning blog, The Domestic Goddess Wannabe, where she posts recipes with the accompanying method listed step by step in pictures, and always makes things look too easy!

So I tried. The first successful dessert I ever baked from scratch, without any help, was this.

Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies from Diana's blog. It was a triumphant moment for me when I took them out of the oven. They were crispy on the edges, and chewy in the middle, just the way Caden likes it. With encouragement from the way the little one's eyes lit up when he first savoured that cookie, I was determined to bake, and bake well.

Prior to being hit by the baking bug, I didn't know where to start even if I wanted to bake. Like me, many people usually get discouraged when they read the list of ingredients required, and the unfamiliar methods used to bake a cake, Then they totally write off baking completely when they find out the list of tools required in order to prepare a baked good.

So because I really, really wanted to get over the fear of baking (and prove to myself that I can!) I went on to build my modest baking collection with a lot of help from Diana.

There are so many choices and different tools that it can be overwhelming, so I've shortlisted a few items that you would need if you're a beginner baker. Once you have these basic things, you can go on to make simple cakes and desserts, and when you get the hang of things - experience will tell you exactly what are the other enhancing items which will simplify and assist in baking more complicated cakes.

Trust me - you don't need that many stuff to produce drool-worthy bakes. Once you've started baking, you won't ever want to buy a muffin or a tea cake from anywhere else again.

The Baking Pantry

Essential Ingredients

Dry Ingredients
  • All purpose flour
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Brown Sugar
  • Caster Sugar
  • Chocolate Chips (Semi-sweet)
  • Cocoa Powder, unsweetened
  • Salt
Wet Ingredients
  • Butter (unsalted)
  • Buttermilk (not essential, but does wonders in baking moist cakes!)
  • Eggs
  • Milk (whole)
  • Oil (Non-flavoured, vegetable is best)
  • Vanilla Extract (NOT essence!)

Once you have these in your arsenal, you're all set to bake! You'd be surprised that the base ingredients of most cakes, even the complicated ones, are listed here. Perhaps you may even have all these in the cupboard already.

Essential Tools and Equipment


  • Oven
Different brands of oven differ from one another in many ways. Have you ever wondered why ovens can sell for between $80 - $3000, apart from the difference in capacity? Why is it that some people swear by a certain brand, while others are happy with an off the shelf basic model? 
Heat distribution, preheating, baking time and oven temperature are different from one model to the next. There is the fan assisted oven, and conventional ones. There are steam ovens, microwave ovens, and water ovens. Do read up about the type of oven which will suit your family's needs, because you wouldn't want to get a model which may be cheap but is not versatile enough to be used apart from baking desserts. A few hundred dollars can mean the difference between getting two appliances for the kitchen, and one which will serve two purposes. 
Whether you are new to the world of baking or adept at it, do remember that the more you use your oven, the more familiar you are with it. No oven is perfect, but after awhile, if you know your oven's temperament well enough, you can adjust baking temperatures or avoid areas of uneven heating so that you can produce that perfect bake. 
My oven is a Sharp Healsio. It can bake, grill, steam and roast effectively - and I have no complaints about it apart from its small interior, which has made it rather difficult for me to find muffin pans and cookie sheets off the shelf. Oh well... more excuse to shop online! :)
  • Mixer
I use a KitchenAid stand mixer, which was an early Christmas gift last year from the ever supportive husband. It's in a limited edition Raspberry Ice colour, and I love that it was produced by Meyer in support of Breast Cancer awareness.  
Having said that, you do NOT need a stand mixer to be a successful home baker. A simple handheld mixer will do, and will yield the same results. In fact, I prefer to use a hand held mixer for better batter control, especially when mixing icing and buttercreams. 
Most basic and simple cakes do not even need a mixer to begin with. Electric mixers are a muffin's worst enemy, because overmixing can cause the dry ingredients to react too much with the wet ones and produce gluten, which will render the muffins hard, doughy and dry.



You will go broke and run out of storage space if you were to buy the entire range of baking tins and pans available. Most recipes call for some standard sizes, and here is a general guide of some of the pan sizes useful to have on hand.

I like to use stainless steel ones (all of the dark coloured pans I have were gifts or handed down) because I find that cakes baked in them tend to brown and cook more evenly.

  • 9 x 5-inch loaf pan
  • 8 x 8-inch square pan (or a 9 x 9-inch, or both!)
  • 9 x 3-inch round pans (you need at least 2 if you intend to bake layer cakes)
  • 10 x 10-inch sheet pan (2 of these, so they can be used as a cookie sheet)
  • 10-inch bundt pan
  • 12-cup standard muffin pan
The Wiltshire loaf pan is 20 odd years old. It belonged to my Mum!

Some 'burn' marks are inevitable with stainless steel pans. I love that it looks 'rustic' after repeated usage, though.
I LOVE this set of muffin pans from Nordic Ware. Due to the high sides, it gives me straight sided, fluffy, bakery style muffins!


There are some tools that will not only assist you in baking, but are essential to ensure even mixing and uniform ingredient distribution. These items are what I had when I first started baking, and the collection hasn't expanded all that much, apart from a rolling pin, a pretty spatula (which I won!)a microplane zester and measuring cup and spoon set which an indulgent friend (thanks, D!) gifted me last Christmas!

  • Cooling Rack
I use a large cooling rack for cakes and muffins, and a Wilton three tier condo cooling rack (thanks again, D!!) for cookies. It's important that muffins and cakes get cooled all round, otherwise you'd end up with soggy cake bottoms due to the moisture released as it cools.

  • Digital Scale
A Digital scale is a worthwhile investment, especially in baking where every ingredient needs to be in precise quantities. Get a mid-range scale which measures in grams and ounces. Most recipes state the measures either in metrics or in cups (which you can easily convert to grams if you do a Google search)
  • Liquid Measuring Cup
A liquid measuring cup measures wet ingredients effectively. I use a Pyrex measuring cup, but this angled set from OxO is on my wish list!
  • Measuring Cups
Most American recipes call for the dry ingredients measured in cups. A set comes in 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup and 1/3 cup measurements. Just be sure to scoop the dry ingredient into the cup and level it off with a knife or a spatula for optimum results and to ensure accuracy.
  • Measuring Spoons
A set of these range from 1/8 of a teaspoon (tsp) to 1 tablespoon (tbs). These are used to apportion out things like baking powder, soda, salt, flavourings and colourings. I have two sets which I use concurrently, one for measuring dry ingredients, and the other for liquids. Only because I'm too lazy to wash and dry and reuse while I'm in the baking process.

I love the spoons and cups from Farberware. My digital scale is from IKEA and it's well worth the price I paid because it measures in grams and ounces!
  • Mixing bowls
Stainless steel bowls are the most versatile, because they warm up and cool down quite quickly, especially useful when you are using them to melt chocolates over simmering water, or whipping up buttercreams over ice, bain marie style. Have a few different sizes on hand - nested bowls sold in a set of 3 is great if you're starting out.

Small, Medium, and Large mixing bowls. 
  • Parchment (Baking) Paper
Parchment paper is necessary for lining tins and trays if you want a mess free, non-oily baked product. It's especially useful for cookies because it saves you the trouble of having to scrape cookies off the tray and risk breaking them in the process. Get a good quality one - I swear by Glad Bake - because the cheaper ones aren't lined with silicone and are not grease-proof.
Similarly, do get good quality, grease proof muffin liners. They make a difference between muffins and cupcakes encased in cups with greasy blotches and pretty bakes! In addition to that, cheaper ones can impart a 'burnt paper' smell onto the muffins and cupcakes.
  • Scoops (Ice-cream)
I don't know how I survived the first two months baking without my ice cream scoops! I use them to apportion out batters so that I get an equal amount in each muffin liner, and to ensure that cookies are of a uniform size (yes, I'm OCD that way). A spoon or a ladle works fine, but it's much easier to use a scoop with a mechanical bail that easily slides the batter out from the scoop to the cases or trays. I have three sizes - a small one for cookies, a medium one for cupcakes, and a large one for sky high muffins!
  • Spatula / Spoonula
A spatula is used for folding ingredients and / or scraping batters off the sides of bowls. I personally prefer silicone ones which are pliant and scrapes easily, yet remains firm enough to fold batters. My set of three is from Oxo, and I use them for practically everything! The spoon shaped silicon scraper (spoonula) is especially useful for folding in egg whites in batters, while the small sized one is great for scraping contents from odd shaped jars with narrow necks.
  • Sieve
A sieve is necessary for sifting flour and cocoa powder (which tends to get lumpy in storage). Get a fine meshed one, so that air is incorporated evenly and particles get effectively siphoned out.
  • Whisk
You will most probably need two. A long handled narrow whisk (also called a French whisk) and a balloon whisk. The narrow whisk is great for sauces as you mix it over a stove top, while the balloon whisk is used for whipping creams and egg whites (things which need to be creamed and frothy, with as much air introduced in as possible).
  • Wooden Spoon
Useful, but not necessary if you have a spoonula. It's used to mix batters lightly, especially for muffins.

These are always within reach in the kitchen!

Get sturdy, grease proof liners. The thinner ones do not hold their shape very well and does not peel off muffins and cakes easily!

That's it! You don't need more than what's listed for simple bakes. There will come a time, however, when you have baked often enough to know what other items will simplify the process, and invest in other items which will suit your purpose. That's when you build your "I'm a baker, I've earned these" collection!

Baking is not as daunting as it looks. The most important thing is to believe that you CAN, because that's when you would have won half the baking battle. Always, always read through a recipe before deciding on baking a particular product - you would not want to be caught in the process missing an ingredient. Along the same vein, do your misc en place (preparations), measure and lay out your ingredients before you start the mixing, because it's no fun to have a cake in the oven and the required eggs or sugar still on the counter!

Point to note: NEVER start a baking process believing that you would fail, because that's when you WILL fail. Baking, like cooking, is best done with heart and soul - people can always tell when your passion goes into even the simplest product you've baked.


When I first started baking, my Mum-in-law lent me her Philips hand held mixer, and I've had countless of successful bakes with its help. Even now (yep, she's given it to me!) I use the mixer for simple butter and sugar creaming, because it's extremely handy and easy to clean.

The start to a baking journey begins with a simple step - so if you're thinking of starting to bake, here's a little motivation to help you along!

TWO lucky readers stand a chance to win this Philips Hand held mixer! (model HR 1459)

I'm also holding a joint giveaway with Diana of The Domestic Goddess Wannabe, and if you hop over to her blog, you will also stand a chance to win a set of bakeware!

Please click on the picture to be directed to the giveaway post
There's also a recipe for a banana cake when you follow the link, It's so simple to do, but will yield the most perfectly moist banana cake ever. It's the perfect cake to bake to not only impress your friends and family, but will also get them begging for seconds! If you're hoping to win one of the mixers up for grabs, this is a cake you can bake in the meantime because you do not need a mixer to prepare it!

The Philips mixer giveaway is only open to readers residing in Singapore, and prize has to be self collected from VivoCity. To participate, leave me a comment detailing what's your worst fear when it comes to baking, along with your name and email address. Do carry out the rest of the options in the Rafflecopter to increase your chances of winning!

Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Contest ends on Friday, 10 October 2014, at 2359hrs. Winners will be selected via Rafflecopter, and notified via email. They have up to Tuesday, 14 October 2014 to respond to the notification email. Should there be no response, the winning entry will be rendered null and void, and another winner will be chosen.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a sponsored post. I'd like to share how happy baking has made me, and hope that you will find the same simple joys in baking for the ones you love - as I have!


  1. My worst fear is it doesn't taste nice and it will be such a waste!

    Irene Fock

  2. My worst fear when it comes to baking is when it's turns out raw and uncooked! =_=

  3. My worst fear of baking is the cake not rising at all. :x

  4. My worst fear..after all that hard work..its burnt and cant be consume :(

  5. My biggest fear is worried that my cake/cookies turn out not as good as I expected it to be,it really can break my heart....but I still love to bake.hope to win this cos my mixer is already super old,thank you :)
    Umi solikah

  6. my biggest fear is that the end product is a flop where it cracks at the wrong place or overbake or underbake... it can be quite disappointing and time wasting....

  7. worst fear is having to beat into the mixer by hand! uh...

  8. the end product is not edible

  9. I wish to win this for my mother, sure can surprise her =D

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. My biggest fear in baking is the fear of the unknown. Making a mixture of a certain consistency that i'm not sure of and putting it into the oven, to allow a series of heating and other reactions to produce a baked good that's edible. I worry about the baking process all the time.

    Name: Yeo Sze Min
    Email: istophere@gmail.com

  12. Praying hard that I will win this so that I can bake for my boy!! :D

  13. Worst fear is that the batter didnt rise as much as it should be

  14. My biggest fear is that my finishing product are burnt and tasteless . And nobody will eat them and all my effort will goes down the drain.

  15. My biggest fear is that mother in law will scream at me for messing up the kitchen. :p

  16. My biggest fear is that the cake/product turns out horrible and I have to throw the whole batch out and waste food!

  17. My worse fear when it comes to baking is the cake not rising/comes out dense & heavy, esp if I'm baking a huge portion and the entire thing is sort of gone to waste :( Hoping will get this 'cos I need an extra mixer!

  18. The bake stuff don turn out well.

    Kwang Hui Neo

  19. My worst fear when the my bake stuff didn't turn out the way it's suppose to

  20. My worst fear is the temperature setting difference in various baking appliances like ovens and airfryers which caused my product to turn up not as good as expected. In the end, all my hard work will go to a waste!

  21. my worst fear is too source for both sugar and butter alternative as my grandparents and myself don't touch both ingredients anymore.
    Till now, I've found it but I'm also fearful of the end-result of baking, afraid the taste doesn't suits everyone in my family);
    minghui - joyce_virgo@hotmail.com

  22. My worst fear of baking is when the cake or cookies did not turn out as expected.
    Cake didn't rise high enough or cookies are over baked.

    Baking must be a passion where one try n try n never give up!

    Noiserene @yahoo.com

  23. my worst fear is that it doesn't turn out the way it's supposed to - that will be a waste of time, energy and good ingredients!

  24. My worst fear is when the cake sinks when I take it out from the oven!

    Summer Joy

  25. My worst fear is the cleaning up part. I have a 14mo boy who can't sit still. So, cleaning up the kitchen after baking is always my biggest enemy.

  26. My fear will be that my effort will be wasted as my bake did not turn up to my expectation (nobody want to eat) plus the washing of the equipments.

  27. Hi Regina,

    I was totally hopeless with cooking and baking before moving to Australia. I was a little helper but never the cook in charge at home :p Years back, my husband said that he can cook better than me but now, I told him to step aside... LOL!!!

    Sad that I don't qualify for your giveaway but love to share my worst baking fear... My worst fear is to not knowing what goes wrong when something is so wrong... I usually wouldn't give up and keep trying until I find the answers or reasons :p

    Great post! You are a great inspiration!


  28. Because im using a gas oven, my worst fear is the gas finished in the middle of my baking! Oh my, it happened to my twice =( -Sondang- sondangsitanggang@yahoo.com

  29. My worst fear is getting an inedible cake. All the work gone down the drain. The cleaning part is another nightmare for me. :D

  30. My worst fear is that noone will eat them after i bake and I'll have to eat them all alone! !

  31. my worst fear: little time to cook, about to put it into the oven, then realize i forgot to put one single ingredient :))

  32. My worst fear is after stealing the precious time from the kids to bake them some yummy treats but it was a failure such as unrise cake or hard rock bread and the disappointed face from them.

  33. My worst fear is unedible cake after baking

  34. My worst fear is actually it not looking nice aesthetically. heh, I'm a perfectionist. :/

  35. My worst fear when it comes to baking is the cakes and cookies being underbaked or overbaked and also, cakes being too hard which tastes like cookies.

  36. Hi,

    My worst fear about Baking is ..after all that hard work..my cake won't rise properly & feel sticky & uncooked..especial the fear is of disappointment which my little princess will go through..as she loves cake..

    Thanks for amazing tips & awesome giveaway..

  37. my worst fear is a burnt cake which happened to me before... :(

  38. My worst fear is my cake sank!

    1. my email address: cremedelecreme@hotmail.com

  39. my worst fear,cake not cooked,n harden,

  40. Worst fear is baking macarons. They are so difficult to perfect!


  41. My worst fear for baking is failing so terribly that even my husband won't eat it (and he ate the raw potatoes I made in a not-so-successful meal)! If I have to toss it out because it is completely inedible, my heart cries for all the ingredients that was wasted! And most of the time, I'll develop a phobia for that particular recipe...


  42. My worst fear is when the "product" turns out to be completely different from the recipe yet my kids insist to eat it! "The experts" complained that I didn't beat e eggs well, or mixed the mixture smooth enough, perhaps even e ingredients are not measured well, portion wrong! Hmm my fear for them to "lose" their standards, thinking yucky cakes are good too

    KW Woon

  43. My worst fear is forgot to add certain ingredients and the end result became a disaster

  44. My worst fear is it does not turn out tasty.
    Cynthia Lau

  45. My worst fear is when my children refuse to eat the food after all my hard work!


  46. My worst fear is the use of whipping cream. I always always nearly overwhip it by just THAT 1 minute :( And then sometimes the egg white also cannot whip up also. Hence i have never dared to try baking cake although i am quite successful in cookies and nonbake cheesecakes.

    Shirley Yong

  47. Over or under mixing the cake batter! Yikes!

  48. My greatest fear when baking is that the cake won't rise! Always not sure if the cake will rise perfectly! Lol!

  49. My worst baking fear is my cake doesn't rise.

    Elsie Wong

  50. This comment has been removed by the author.

  51. Thank you for the generous giveaway which gives joy to other

  52. Because i do not own a mixer, my bigger fear is meeting baking receipes that require a mixer.
    Venetia Ngin

  53. My worst fears is whatever I am baking got burnt!

    Thankful for this post! I so so so need it! I went to ikea twice already.. They don't have the digital scale. So sad!

  54. My worst fear when it comes to baking is that the insides are uncooked/raw when the exterior is already very brown.

    Thanks for the very detailed post on what a baker requires and thanks for the giveaway!

  55. when my muffins come out too hard =\

    1. my email address is littledetour@hotmail.com

  56. My worst fear is my bake is under baked or too dense.. i always failed in pound cake and cheese cake. Making me afraid of baking them.

  57. Worse fear in baking is the result of my master piece. Crater cakes, soggy muffins, lifeless loaves are definitely not something I wish to see often.

  58. My worst fear when it comes to baking is my kids' verdict. They are honest with their opinions. :)

    Nancy Koh

  59. My worst fear when it comes to baking is when the finished product doesn't taste as good as I thought it would be. Yes, I am my worst critic!


  60. My worst fear when it comes to baking is whenever I'm trying on chiffon cake recipes. It always doesn't raise or raise nicely coz I avoid using tartar all together. My family will started to laugh at me (and the cake).

    Yen Cheng

  61. Worst fear is having no time to bake and rushing through the whole process.....


  62. My worst fear is it did not rise, only half cook and out of shape.

  63. My worst fear is that it turned out burnt and have to dump all away.
    Andrew Wong

  64. My biggest fear is that it didn't rise and turn out of shape!

    Lim Yin Ping

  65. My biggest fear in baking is seeing my three kids sad and disappointment look on their face if my bakes attempt turn out burnt, not delicious and what kids wanted it to be. I will start everything again and if next attempt turns out to be successful so happy to see my kids contented look and enjoying the bakes. Baking for your love ones is such a contented and fulfillment thing as food is a universal language no barrier of sharing with others your delicious bake.

    Lim Geok Ling

  66. That the oven might explode! Yes I am THAAAAT irrational! Hahaaha!

  67. That the top of the bakes are too charred but the inside is still not cooked through yet!!

    Robert Sim

  68. That my bakes are not sucessful and inedible!

  69. My biggest fear is I over bake till it's too hard to eat!
    Lu Siu Ching

  70. Worst fear : Taste good by my standard but not good enough by others. And when as give-away, worry may caused stomach upset to others especially the kids ... ��

  71. My worst fear, is the lumps in the final products!
    My nice kids would polished off everything, but I wished I could bake better cakes.
    I am not baking as frequent as I used to, coz I felt my cakes' texture are not as good..

    Email: prectitude@yahoo.com

  72. My worst fear in baking if I overcooked or I undercooked the cake.

  73. My worst fear is getting my cookies or cakes burnt. :(

  74. My worst fear of baking is trying out new recipes. Never know what you will get at the end.

  75. My biggest and worst fear is that my cake is hard and not spongy.
    Very useful blog with good explanation about baking needs

  76. My email:sindmansing@yahoo.com

  77. My worse fear is when the cake or bread doesn't rise enough and all go to waste !

    Evelyn Lim

  78. I'm totally new to baking. Yes, I started only about 2 weeks ago! I love your introduction to all the equipment and bakeware needed for baking! Thanks! This is an awesome read.

  79. My worst fear: Well, not having the ingredient or bakeware that I need on hand, and not being able to find it in the shop! Isn't it a breeze to have everything and bake right through to the finish product?! :)

  80. My worst fear is that the cake will be burnt, putting all my efforts to naught! I don't have an electric mixer so I use an egg beater and after beating the mixture for 15 minutes, your hand aches and you feel like giving up. I do not mind if the cake turns out edible but there was once when it was burnt! ;( That experience was really demoralising, but your entry gives me some hope! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  81. My worst fear is when the cake does not rise when it supposed to and all my efforts goes to waste. Though the taste is there, it doesn't look presentable. Experienced this the last time I bake cupcakes and my mom advised to beat the eggs properly. Shall try it on my next attempt!

    Munirah Beevi

  82. My worst fear is no-fear-at-all. I enjoying the baking time. I just love to bake for my family and friends. I really hope to win this for baking more and more. And I am happy my daughter love to bake with me. She love it! We are enjoy every baking sessions. Thank you for holding this giveaway. *fingers crossed*
    Tay Hui a Yu

  83. This comment has been removed by the author.

  84. My worst fear is the cake will turn out hard and dense and not moist

    Irna Ahad

  85. My worse fear is when the bake turns out burnt and nobody in the family likes it.

  86. my worse fear is having the center uncooked while the outer edge is burnt


  87. My worst fear is when my bakes did not turn out tasty and presentable, and uncertain if my family will like it and support me in baking. Thank you!
    Shermin Tan - shermin_81@hotmail.com

  88. my biggest fear is the washing up part after the baking session.
    Yee Ming

  89. my biggest fear is the cake burnt and not tasty.

  90. I always fear that the cake might not rise up well enough or it might just burn at the bottom.
    Name: Terry Jude Mascarenhas
    email id: terry1070@hotmail.com

  91. My biggest fear is the cake or cookies getting burnt and tasting smoky :(

  92. My biggest fear is no one wants to eat my bakes.

    Thanks for the giveaways.

  93. Liked and shared
    it encourages me for baking

  94. Liked and shared
    it encourages me for baking
    Name- Shweta srivastava
    Email- sshweta1nov@yahoo.com

  95. My worst fear is of the baked item being undercooked on the inside!

    Claire - clairestelle (at) gmail (dot) com

  96. fear the cake won't rise!

    ednling (at) yahoo (dot)com(dot)sg

  97. I just started learning for baking, I always encourage myself not to give up even I already failed 2 times out of 5 times. Hahaha.. My worst fear is my hubby stop me or not encourage me for baking. I Hope this will not happened. Thank you for sharing!




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