Bake like a pro with simple tips from ‘The Clueless Baker’

Cookbook author Evelyn Raab is shown in a handout photo. Potential bakers, no matter what their age, will find Raab's "The Clueless Baker: Learning to Bake from Scratch, " a godsend. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

TORONTO – With decent recipes, a good attitude and a plan, Evelyn Raab thinks novice bakers can turn out delicious treats and have fun doing it.

In The Clueless Baker: Learning to Bake from Scratch Raab reveals the secrets she says will lead to scrumptious cakes, cookies and breads, with a dash of humour and a cup of down-home sense.

RECIPES: Gluten-free banana muffins and no-knead bread from The Clueless Baker

“I feel like my mission in life is to get people to cook from scratch despite the fact that the world would like you to think it’s too difficult and you should buy it already prepared,” Raab said in an interview from her home in Millbrook, Ont., 20 kilometres southwest of Peterborough.

Raab wrote a column devoted to cooking with kids for about 25 years for Today’s Parent magazine but has turned to other freelance writing and recipe development projects now that her two sons are grown.

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“I loved it because I’ve always put a lot of value on home cooking and having the table as being the centre of the family, so that was something I really wanted to get across,” she said. “And so I always worked in how to get your kids involved in cooking and how to make it fun and get things that were easy. I knew what it was like to be raising little kids. I wanted things to be easy but still homemade.”

As her children and their friends grew into teenagers, she noticed there weren’t many resources to help them learn to cook.

“There’s always little kids’ cookbooks where you make the funny-face pizzas and stuff, but that wasn’t what I was interested in. I was seeing a lot of young people who were either out on their own for the first time or left at home for a long time and having to prepare meals and they didn’t really know where to go.

“Both parents were working and they’d come home frazzled. Something would get thrown on the table. It wasn’t necessarily homemade, so they weren’t learning it at home.”

She penned Clueless in the Kitchen: A Cookbook for Teens and The Clueless Vegetarian: A Cookbook for the Aspiring Vegetarian, both of which offer basic advice and easy recipes, then later turned to baking. She has recently revised all three cookbooks. The new editions, published by Firefly, are also available in e-book format.

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In The Clueless Baker, Raab’s step-by-step advice provides neophytes with enough knowledge and comfort to bake like a pro.

“Everything had to be simple enough that it could be done by a beginner,” she said.

When creating the more than 100 recipes for the book, she considered a range of examples for each category – quick and yeast breads, muffins and biscuits, cookies, cakes and frostings and pies and other pastries.

She offers more gluten-free recipes in the revised edition, as well as suggestions on how to convert conventional recipes to be gluten-free. There are gluten-free banana muffins, peanut butter cookies, chocolate cookies and a couple of cakes made without gluten.

There are more recipes using whole-grain flour and new recipes, like Red Velvet Cake and Key Lime Pie. “I’ve even got a recipe for chocolate lava cakes in there, the ones you get in restaurants, and they’re actually ridiculously easy to make.”

The biggest mistake people make is not reading a recipe thoroughly ahead of time, she points out.

“Especially with baking that’s important because everything has to come together more or less in a certain order and all of a sudden you get to step 3 where you add the flour and the baking powder and you go, ‘oh, I don’t have baking powder.’ Or they don’t read the ingredient list and make sure you have everything that you need.

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“I’ve done that myself. ‘I’m going to make these oatmeal cookies’ and you suddenly open the jar and there’s no oatmeal. So it’s basically being organized, reading it over thoroughly.”

Raab includes myriad tips, such as uses for a food processor besides shredding cheese and how to easily chop nuts (place in a self-sealing plastic bag and roll with a rolling pin until desired consistency is reached).

She calls baking parchment paper “a miracle.”

“And every time I don’t use it because I’m lazy or I don’t have some, I think ‘aaargh, oh, really, that was stupid.’ It’s non-stick and it makes your cleanup in like a minute.

“And if you use it to make cookies you don’t have to grease the pan and you can use it over and over again so one sheet of parchment can do an entire batch of cookies, so it’s not really that wasteful. I try not to have too much that you throw away, but that’s worth it.”

The cover of Evelyn Raab’s cookbook “The Clueless Baker: Learning To Bake From Scratch,” is shown in a handout photo.
The cover of Evelyn Raab’s cookbook “The Clueless Baker: Learning To Bake From Scratch,” is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

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