Baking is the technique of prolonged cooking of food by dry heat acting by conduction, and not by radiation, normally in an oven, but also in hot ashes, or on hot stones. It is primarily used for the preparation of bread, cakes, pastries and pies, tarts, quiches, and cookies. Such items are sometimes referred to as "baked goods," and are sold at a bakery. A person who prepares baked goods as a profession is called a baker. It is also used for the preparation of baked potatoes; baked apples; baked beans; some pasta dishes, such as lasagne; and various other foods, such as the pretzel.
Many domestic ovens are provided with two heating elements: one for baking, using convection and conduction to heat the food; and one for broiling or grilling, heating mainly by radiation. Meat may be baked, but is more often roasted, a similar process, using higher temperatures and shorter cooking times.
The baking process does not add any fat to the product, and producers of snack products such as potato chips are also beginning to replace the process of deep-frying with baking in order to reduce the fat content of their products.
The dry heat of baking changes the structures of starches in the food and causes its outer surfaces to brown, giving it an attractive appearance and taste, while partially sealing in the food's moisture. The browning is caused by caramelization of sugars and the Maillard reaction. Moisture is never really entirely "sealed in", however; over time, an item being baked will become dry. This is often an advantage, especially in situations where drying is the desired outcome, for example in drying herbs or in roasting certain types of vegetables. The most common baked item is bread. Variations in the ovens, ingredients and recipes used in the baking of bread result in the wide variety of breads produced around the world.
Some foods are surrounded with moisture during baking by placing a small amount of liquid (such as water or broth) in the bottom of a closed pan, and letting it steam up around the food, a method commonly known as braising.
Over time breads become hard in a process known as going stale. This is not primarily due to moisture being lost from the baked products, but more a reorganization of the way in which the water and starch are associated over time. This process is similar to recrystallization, and is promoted by storage at cool temperatures, such as those of a domestic refrigerator.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the early Egyptians first made bread in 2600-2100 B.C. It is believed that the Egyptians learned the skill from the Babylonians. The royal bakery of Ramses featured bread and cakes, some of which were shaped in the form of animals and used for sacrifices.
Other early records show that a Greek scholar, Aristophanes, first created honey flans and tortes, a type of dough nut made from honey and flour in a ring-cake like shape that was covered in wine and served hot. The Roman Empire boasted the first pastry cooks association in the fourth century A.D.
Around 1800 in Grantham, London, in contrast with the ordinary bread merchants, some men sold bread from hand-carts, which they used as a shop on wheels. They earned the nickname “Gingerbread Merchants.”
Ingredients often used in baking
- Butter, margarine or other shortening
- Leavening agents: