If you are an experienced baker, the tips following may be old hat. People in real life, as well as on this blog, ask me for advice about their baking troubles fairly regularly. This blog post cannot address the millions of tiny issues that may occur in all recipes, however these hints will hopefully help to prevent some problems from occurring at all.
I’ve baked a lot. Tons. There is not a baking technique that I have not attempted, flubbed, and eventually succeeded at. For years I ran a small business from home, baking cookies and cakes. Tens of thousands of cookies. Yes, it was good to live in our house.
Aside from that, I geek out a bit at food science books such as Cookwise , or I’m Just Here For More Food. (Ahh.. Good Eats.. sometimes I do miss cable tv..) I like to understand the cause and effect of ingredients in a recipe. If you are curious as to the hows and whys recipes work I highly recommend these sort of books.
No worries, I won’t bore you to tears with science here. Even without understanding any of it, there are some basic steps you can take with any baking recipe to ensure you succeed.
1. Weigh Your Ingredients.
I really could whittle this list to just one piece of advice, weigh everything. For an instant 100% improvement in all baking endeavors, invest in a simple kitchen scale. Here’s mine.
She is a workhorse in my kitchen, used multiple times daily over the last decade or so.
I’m sure you may be thinking, what is the big deal? Well a cup of flour can grossly vary in weight depending on who is measuring. A gently scooped and leveled cup of flour will weigh approximately 4 to 4 1/4oz. That same cup, if dipped into the flour or mounded or even ..gasp…packed into the cup can weigh over 5. Multiply that by 3 cups in your cake recipe and you have a dry result.
King Arthur Flour has a great video illustrating this point.
Unfortunately, most recipes are still not written with weights. It helps to refer to a handy chart like this one, listing common ingredient weights. I only make my recipes by weight, so you always find the ingredient weights listed on my recipes, along with traditional measurements.
2. Check Your Oven Temperature.
Understanding how accurate your oven is can have a big impact on your baking. Many ovens run hot or cold, the only way to know for sure is to use an oven thermometer. If it is off, make the appropriate adjustments when setting the temperature.
Did you know each time you open the oven door the temperature drops dramatically? So try not to open the door during baking unless absolutely necessary. If you do need to, be super quick and get that door shut as soon as possible!
Lastly, preheat the oven to the correct temperature at least 15 minutes before you are ready to bake.
3. The First Time You Try a Recipe – Don’t Substitute.
I always recommend trying a recipe at least once before you start playing around with it. Why? Well, to find out if the basic recipe is any good. If it comes out not as expected, it’s hard to know if it is the changes you made or the original recipe. Or vice-versa, was it awesome only because you made the change?
This includes reducing or increasing ingredients as well. In general, a good recipe will have the right ratios of fat to sugar to flour. Once you are familiar with a recipe, if you want to make changes, I suggest baby steps, reducing no more than a quarter cup of any ingredient at a time.
4. Patience, Practice, and Perseverance.
Take time to read the recipe all the way through. You don’t want to be surprised that your batter has to chill overnight when you are expecting guests in an hour. If there is something in the recipe you don’t understand, consult professor Google, some kind soul probably made a you tube clip demonstrating the technique. Likewise, never give up on a recipe midway through even if you’ve made a mistake. Google your mistake, you’ll be surprised how many other people have done the same thing and posted about how they fixed it.
Have patience and try not to rush or multitask. I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten a crucial ingredient- even with a recipe I’ve made a million times!
If the first cake you make comes out dry, it’s silly to say you are not a good cake baker. Practice and experience are the only sure ways to improve at something.
Don’t be intimidated by the cookbook or blog’s pictures. Guess what- it’s their job to only take pictures of the best and most perfect. The ugly ones are hidden underneath. Or in the belly of the camera person.
And if you do have a baking flop; no worries. See Tip #5
5. Use High Quality Ingredients.
The above tips can only get you so far. The end result will only taste as good as what went into it. I can’t stress this enough. Use the highest quality ingredients you can afford. King Arthur Flour, Dark Chocolate, Real Butter, Real Vanilla, Organic Sugar etc.
6. Eat Your Mistakes.
Goodness this topic could be a whole post in itself. I guess technically this tip won’t “improve” your baking, other than to help you relax and enjoy when things go awry. Around here I don’t believe in wasting food. However I generally don’t like to serve things that are less than desirable. So the solution has been to get creative.
- Overcooked cookies get ground up to become a cheesecake or tart crust.
- Crumbly cookies become an ice cream topping.
- Dry cake gets thinly sliced, moistened with a sugar syrup and filled with a delicious filling.
- Crumbly cake can be made into rum balls.
- Dry quick bread/muffins can be sliced and slathered with a moist ingredient like jam or butter.
- Briefly rewarm it. Most things taste better warm from the oven.
- Glaze it. Everything tastes better with chocolate glaze.
- Dense Bread can be turned into breadcrumbs.
I like to teach my kids to be self sufficient in the kitchen. They are getting older and can handle cooking simple things. One day they decided to make pudding, and they didn’t want any advice from mom. I was impressed because it looked great. It was the perfect consistency and they poured it into fancy dishes and put it in the refrigerator to cool. As they cleaned up, my daughter said to me,
“I think I forgot the sugar- will it still be ok?”
After a good laugh, we decided to sprinkle the forgotten sugar over the tops of the pudding. And you know what.. it was still awesome. And I don’t think they’ll forget the sugar again anytime soon (experience is the best teacher).
Shared with: Clever Chicks
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