Becoming a better baker is always possible. Learning and experimenting are half the fun & frustration when it comes to creating your own desserts. However, there are a few “what the heck” factors and silent moments of confused staring that may take you by surprise when your recipes don’t come out perfect. So, whether it be cookies, cakes, pies, or pop tarts…. these baking basics will help you along the way to Baking Success. (Woo! Throw confetti).
In my classroom, I used to teach my middle schoolers the technique of finding the Who, What, Where, When & Why in reading comprehension. So let’s add the How onto this same method. Reading your recipe in full before you start prepping your ingredients is pertinent. I’ve ended up in countless flour throwing moments where I needed an extra ingredient last minute or some random step popped up in a recipe where I didn’t prep, and my dessert flopped. Don’t just scan, but read the ingredients, method, and process thoroughly before starting.
BC Tip: You can measure the ingredients out ahead of time and set them in bowls & cups, so they’re easy to find and ready to pour when you start baking.
After you’ve read through your recipe and realize you have one last quick trip to the store or need to borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbor, lay out all your ingredients. Trust me, it not only saves time when you start mixing, but it will make your life so much easier. Instead of searching your cabinets for ingredients, and wasting time to measure vanilla extract, while your eggs are beating, you will have it all calculated and ready to add.
BC Tip: Usually I put everything out in bowls or little cups, pre-measured, so all you have to do is look what’s right in front of you before combining ingredients. Pretend like you’re on a cooking show and are showcasing for an audience =)
Butter plays an intricate role in the baking process, which is why you want your consistency to be perfect. How many of you have tried to speed up the melting process by heating your butter up in the microwave? LoL. We’ve all been there.
A majority of recipes call for butter to be softened or at room temp. Therefore, melted microwave butter will more often than not leave your baked goods greasy. I know it’s a process where you have to have the patience or think ahead of time, but your recipe will always come out better un-microwaved. You want it to give just a little when you touch it, yet still hold it’s shape. Cutting it before you mix helps also.
BC Tip: Leave your butter out for close to one hour for the perfect consistency.
A recipe calling for room temperature dairy or eggs, (anything from yogurt, milk, etc.) must be just that, room temp. The whole point of having them at room temperature is so that they emulsify into the batter. Room temp ingredients take on a uniform structure and texture when mixing for your dessert, adding volume to your batter.
BC Tip: Follow your recipe and what is instructs you to do. Recipes are written that way for a reason.
Measuring ingredients accurately are just as important as anything in baking. I’ve misread measurements before and it’s completely botched the entire recipe. Don’t let it happen to you!
Dry ingredients (like flour and sugar) should be measured using flat-cup measures. Ingredients should be level, which is possible by running the back of a flat-bladed knife across the surface. I use my frosting knife usually.
Spoon measures must be measured with the correct sized spoons. Typically with brown sugar (fall baking wee!) I compact the sugar into the measuring cup, pat it down with my spoon, and level off the excess.It’s essential to measure liquid ingredients with a clear glass, jug, or measuring pitcher. Setting it on the counter at eye level will be more precise.
Now, as for weighing your ingredients, I own a scale. If you plan on baking long term as a hobby, it’s a super useful tool to purchase and invest in. You can get one here for only $35.00.
My best friend who is a pastry chef, says she always measures everything in grams, as they taught her in Culinary School. A gram or ounce is always a gram or an ounce. But a cup isn’t always a cup.
BC Tip: Like Harry Potter in Potions Class, precision is everything in baking.
As hard as it is to resist, try your best to keep your oven door closed while baking. It seems like it’s not a big deal, however, letting cool air in, even for a few seconds can greatly affect how your desserts rise.
BC Tip: If you need to check the center of your dessert with a toothpick, do so by removing it from the oven at lightning speed, check it quick in the center to see if it’s done, and then put it back in if need be ASAP. Just pretend you are Flash Gordon. =)