Baking Tips

[marbled frosting ftw]

I have been baking since I was probably six or seven, helping my mom at first and then tackling simple recipes alone soon after. We had an actual recipe box full of tried and true recipes, as well as some well-loved cookbooks, with splotches of batter and dustings of flour on many pages. To this day, I probably bake something from scratch three times a month, sometimes to take to work, sometimes for friends, sometimes just to have here at home. I'm always surprised at how many people will tell me that they "can't bake" or "am more of a cooker, not a baker." 


Stop denying yourself freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, deliciously frosted cakes, and the buttery, flaky crust of a pie. Follow these tips that I've really come to appreciate and practice over the years and you too will baking like a champ:

1. Read every word of the directions, and then read them again- Often there are hints in the intro or the cook's notes, as well as rationales as to why things are being done a certain way. You'll also know what to prepare ahead of time and the order in which you will need ingredients. 

2. Measure precisely- Baking is chemistry, really. Sure, you can mess around with things like subbing chocolate chips for raisins, but when it comes to the core ingredients like flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, butter/oil and baking powder you have to be precise.

3. Buy parchment paper- Parchment paper is key for lining pans that you need to carefully remove things from (like cake rounds). Don't stop here, though. Use a thin layer of shortening and then a dusting of flour (that you tap out), and then place the carefully cut parchment paper on (I trace the pan and cut the circles out). It's seriously a lifesaver and worth the step, especially with cakes.

4. Pay attention to temperature- Remember the chemistry comment? Temperature is important when it comes to the ingredients, so if the recipe calls for room-temperature then make sure to set out the butter or eggs ahead of time. Pay attention to cooling directions, too, since many desserts tend to need to set or cool before another action can be taken. Consider investing in an oven-thermometer as well, since a lot of ovens are off or heat unevenly.

5. Don't be afraid of yeast- I have heard this SO many times! Yeast is awesome and opens up a whole new category of baking. Most recipes will have you activate the yeast ahead of time, with warm water and maybe a little sugar or honey. A trick I've learned with the temperature of the water is to the temperature right before you get steam. If the yeast mixture doesn't start foaming, just start again (yeast tends to come in three-packs, so you'll have extra). 

6. Don't overmix- This is a common mistake, I think, because we just want to make sure everything is incorporated. This can cause major texture issues, though, since you let too much air into the batter, and you also mess with gluten development. When I stop seeing individual ingredients (like flour) I mix for another five or ten seconds and then quit. 

7. Try not to omit or substitute- I know a lot of times we'd prefer not to jump in the car and run to the store when we run out of something, but a lot of times it's worth the thirty minutes. There are a few that work, like making buttermilk from regular milk and vinegar, but try to avoid it if you can.

8. Crumb coat your cake- When frosting your cakes always use the crumb coat strategy. I'll assemble my coat and do a quick, think coat in frosting and pop it in the freezer for ten minutes while I'm getting the rest of my supplies ready. When I take it out the cake has been sealed up and all those pesky crumbs are suspended in that original layer so that you can decorate without worrying about them getting in the way. 

9. Clean as you go- This one sounds silly, but I think another deterrent from baking is the mess. I try to put ingredients away as I go, wipe down counters between steps, and completely clean up the kitchen while my dessert is baking.

No go forth and make something delicious! 

1 comment:

  1. So true on all of these! I used the buttermilk trick the other day. Thank you!