Monday, December 02, 2013

Baking vs. cooking

Evidence of cooking or baking?
The world may never know.
(It was baking.)

I know we have more pertinent things to discuss.  

It's, like, December 2nd!  

Christmas is a mere 23 days away!

The Christmas season snuck up on me this year.  But we'll get there, all in good time.  For now, we have a question for the ages:  is there a difference between cooking and baking?

I know, fundamentally, there is a difference.  But do YOU distinguish between them?  I know quite a few people who claim they are good bakers, but not good cooks, or visa versa.  This is baffling to me.  How could you be good at one, but not the other?  Also, there are "cooked" items that need to be baked, such as a casserole/hot dish.  What category does that fall in?  When others have tried to explain this phenomenon to me, they've summed it up as such:

Pro-cooks:  with baking, you have to be exact.  You need to measure things precisely, or else it won't turn out.  There isn't room for experimentation.

Pro-bakers:  I burn things.  I don't know what taste good together.  I can't pull together a meal.

To both I say: you just need practice!

Pro-cooks, once you've made brownies for the umpteenth time, you don't need to measure as precisely.  You can throw in extra spices, or floral notes, or make your own flavor profiles.  There is plenty of room for experimentation in baking, or else there wouldn't be anything else to bake!

Pro-bakers, I'll grant you, putting together a complete meal is hard.  It's something I'm still working on.  But if you aren't sure about what to cook - follow a recipe!  There's no shame in that.  Slowly, you'll figure out what tastes good together.  You'll be more apt to throw a little of this, a little of that.  You've done it before, and you'll do it again!

Cooking or baking isn't easy.  Not everyone is going to be Julia Child.  But just like anything worth doing, it takes time and practice.

Anyway, if you make a distinction between cooking v. baking, tell me in the comments!  I'm very interested in where you see the division.


  1. I'm definitely much stronger in cooking--probably because I like the food produced by cooking better--I'm not the biggest fan of baked goods on the eating side, and my skills there are much more basic: I actually follow recipes and I've never attempted more complicated or fussy baked goods, while I'm more confident with cooking. So yeah, I tend to see a bit of distinction between the two.

  2. I think of cooking as making food and baking to be sweets. So even if I make a casserole, I guess I lump it into the cooking category. I personally enjoy cooking way more than baking. But that has to do with the fact that I would much rather engorge myself in food than sweets. Also, I am not great at following recipes and think baking requires that. I do bake sometimes (like for kids birthdays and cookies or muffins every once in a while), but truly enjoy cooking.

  3. I tend to see baking as sweets and cooking as meals. I like to do both, as long as it's a simple recipe. ;-) I almost always embellish when cooking, sometimes when baking. I can't just leave a recipe as is... :-)

  4. As someone who loves sweets, I didn't consider that someone wouldn't have practice baking because they almost never make it. But it makes a lot of sense! I assume everyone has a sweet tooth like me.

  5. In cooking, your end result looks like each of the ingredients you put in. In baking, you've physically changed the appearance of the ingredients to look like one, new item ( there are some crossovers, especially in the area of pie fillings). Baking often takes a chemical reaction, whereas cooking usually involves mostly just hearing things up in various ways, to varying degrees, with varying companion- ingredients. Therefore, cooking is easier to experiment and stray from prescribed ingredients (and sometimes, technique, though not always with successful results), but baking NEEDS the base to consistent (a few minor ingredient changes, substitutes, or enhancements are okay, as long as they don't too much alter the consistency) or they won't turn out the way they should. Usually baking happens in the oven. Cooking is done on the stovetop, or other open, directed heat source.

    I love to do both. I love the precision of baking, and the anticipation of seeing something new being created. I love the adventure of cooking, and the instant gradification of being able to test as I make.

    1. This is an excellent distinction. Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

  6. I'm still learning to make my way around the kitchen and figure things out for myself...even after being on my own for over 10 years! I don't mind using recipes, I feel like if it's out there, someone has experimented with it enough to know what is the what and I'll just blindly follow along until I feel confident enough to make spice changes or whatever. For each meal I make, I like to combine a protein, a starch and a vegetable (yep, I'm a classic meat, potato and veggie girl, but Joel likes to mix it up so sometimes that looks wildly different than the typical meal- something like hummus with roasted veggies and cous-cous or something). Also, I like simple dishes with lots of flavor, so that helps keep it easy for me.

    Baking seems easier to me because everything is exact and it's harder to mess up if you follow the recipe correctly. The trouble with my baking is that I tend to trust temperatures of ovens and bakeware to be uniform and it's not true. Making those types of adjustments has been hard, but there's fun in it, too. :)

  7. So, there is an important distinction that I feel must be made. Like lots of stuff in life, there's the ideal version and the practical reality. For instance, lots of the stuff we do is limited by our current life situation with small kids,etc. However, as an example, I'm happy with our car (a Honda Odyssey ?! Me in a van? Really?!). It works and suits my needs. No, it's not the car I would buy in a perfect world and if I had unlimited funds. So in the food scenario, there's the ideal version (both what interests me and what I am capable of and would do with more time, etc!) and the practical reality (hmmm, let's see all my time today was taken up with work, laundry, kid wrangling and dinner is a sadder version of Chopped tonight). The other bigger distinction in my mind is that baking is where you have to follow the rules, cooking is more free-form. However, I think to be really good at both, you have to master basic technique and REALLY master a few recipe types, before you are allowed to become a Picasso in the kitchen (and, I am not a Picasso or claiming to be). Cook's Illustrated is a really good example of the perfect technique, but some of the recipes are so ridiculously steps-intensive, I just can't manage it with my life right now. So, I do the easy version and have to let go of perfectionism. With baking, you can't usually skip steps and still get good results, whereas with many kinds of cooking, you can. I like to comfort myself by thinking about how the amazing cuisines of the world were born in and around the kitchen/tandoor/firepit/oven/tagine of busy parents/mamas/grandmas---people like me, who just cooked it up with what their resources allowed. Since I am detail-oriented, many things about baking appeal to me. But since I am also often in a rush but also love creativity and experimentation, cooking is probably more appealing and less pressure at this stage in life.

  8. Easy: I bake, Matt cooks. =)

    That said, I really like Laura's definition, I think she's nailed it. I do chemistry, and Matt does improvisation. Another illustration is how I'm the measure-twice-cut-once maker in the house, and Matt is the dancing lead. Given his engineering background and my creativity, this seems backwards, but whatever.