Baking is a technique of cooking food that uses dry heat for conduction. Baking dates back to 3000 BC and the ancient Egyptians are credited with being the first to use this technique to cook bread. Today baking is done in ovens, but in earlier times hot ash or stones were used for baking.
How Does Baking Work?
During baking, dry heat changes the structure of starch in the food and causes its outer surface to brown. The browned surface acts as a partial seal and helps in trapping the food’s moisture. The browning is largely caused by caramelizing of different sugars and the Maillard reaction. Once a food item is baked, however, over time it becomes dry. This is primarily due to the reorganisation of the way in which water and starch are associated, and is a process similar to recrystallisation.
To bake, one just has to place food in a pan or a dish so as to ensure that it is surrounded by an oven’s hot, dry air. In some traditional ovens, food can be directly placed on the heat. Food can be baked covered or uncovered and virtually anything can be baked — from breads, cakes, vegetables and fruit to seafood, poultry and meat. Baking is a healthy way to cook food as it does not generally require adding fat to aid cooking. Apart from cakes and desserts, one just has to baste or braise the food to keep it from drying up. This process uses the juices of the food that is being cooked. This is a nutrient rich and healthy way to cook food.
Though baking is a popular cooking technique, it is amongst the least energy-efficient ones; this is especially true for modern-day electric and convection ovens as they consume huge amount of power. Gas ovens, baking on stoves, or toaster ovens are more efficient. However, if you are using an electric oven, here are some simple techniques that will help reduce your energy bills.
- While baking, use oven-proof glass or ceramic dishes and opt for a wider dish as this hastens cooking. Also, lower oven temperature by 25°.
- When you need to roast something in small quantities or for half-an-hour or so, use a toaster oven as these use substantially less power than conventional ovens.
- It always helps to defrost food well in advance before baking.
- Clean the oven just after using it. It is be far easier to clean when it is hot, and a clean oven works more efficiently.
- Preheat an oven for just 10 minutes prior to use.
- Bake a couple of dishes together in the upper and lower racks when using the oven. That way more cooking gets done and the oven is used to its full potential. Also, reheating requires less energy.
- Make sure that the oven is in good working condition. Even a tiny gap in the door seal leads to energy loss. A clean seal is essential for better heat retention. The thermostat should be regularly tested to ensure that it measures the temperature accurately. If it is consistently heating more than what is required, energy is being wasted.
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