Baking is the technique of prolonged cooking of food by dry heat acting by convection, 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, cookies and crackers. 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 casseroles and pasta dishes such as lasagna, and various other foods, such as the pretzel.
Many commercial 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 also be baked, but this is usually reserved for meatloaf, smaller cuts of whole meats, and whole meats that contain stuffing or coating such as breadcrumbs or buttermilk batter; larger cuts prepared without stuffing or coating are more often roasted, a similar process, using higher temperatures and shorter cooking times. Baking can sometimes be combined with grilling to produce a hybrid barbecue variant, by using both methods simultaneously or one before the other, cooking twice. Baking is connected to barbecuing because the concept of the masonry oven is similar to that of a smoke pit.
The baking process does not require any fat to be used to cook in an oven. Some makers of snacks such as potato chips or crisps have produced baked versions of their snack items as an alternative to the usual cooking method of deep-frying in an attempt to reduce the calorie or fat content of their snack products.
The dry heat of baking changes the form 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. However, the moisture is never entirely "sealed in"; over time, an item being baked will become dry. This is often an advantage, especially in situations where drying is the desired outcome, like drying herbs or 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.
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