Tales from the Test Kitchen: Baking vs Cooking

I enjoy tinkering and experimenting in the kitchen. Some of it is driven by my desire to maintain family recipes for apple pie and pierogies. Most if it is a desire to find ways to improve upon some of my favorite foods such as chocolate chips cookies, guacamole, and pasta. I also like to help Lisa cook a new dish for dinner every now and then, although it’s been a lot more ‘then’ than ‘now’ as of late.

When I tell people about my hobby, they tell me that I must like to cook. When I tell them I prefer baking, the typical response is, “aren’t they the same thing?”

While it might seem that way, they are two totally different things. Allow me to explain.

Baking vs Cooking

Baking is a science, with some art mixed in. When you bake, the recipe is your blueprint. You want to follow it as close to the letter as possible.

Cooking is an art with some science. When you cook, the recipe is a guide. There is a lot of room to vary the recipe and tailor a dish to suit your taste. Like garlic? Add more. Watching your salt intake? Use less. It’s your call.

Scientists vs Artists

You see, bakers are scientists. A baker understands the chemical interactions between ingredients, why ratios are important, and how ingredients react to heat. Since even small variations can make the difference between disaster and perfection, a baker’s experiments are calculated. Bakers measure ingredients precisely and document outcomes to get consistent results batch after batch. While there is some room for creativity, it is limited in nature. And once the baking process starts, there’s no room for change. You are more or less going to get what you get.

Cooks, on the other hand, cooks are artists. A cook understands how ingredients compliment each other to enhance flavors. A cook uses experience and feel. They are comfortable changing up a recipe to meet their tastes. If they don’t have something on hand, they’ll substitute or adjust a recipe as needed. The cook relies on their senses and will adjust a dish in progress based on what they see, smell, taste, feel, and hear. A cook is able to make adjustments throughout the cooking process, sometimes right up until the end.

The Lesson

So is one better than the other?

No. They’re just different, which is important to recognize when you’re in the kitchen. When baking, be precise. Understand the recipe and the process to get consistent results. When cooking, be creative. Experiment with ingredients and flavors to get the results you prefer.

Bottom line, when you grasp the difference between baking and cooking, you’ll be able to enjoy your time in the kitchen and have more fun. And best of all, the results will show.