Many people take short cuts when they cook and don’t closely adhere to recipes. While quickly throwing things together to make weeknight meals can work well, it is not a good approach when it comes to baking. The science of baking requires you to follow the rules. Baking is precise and relies on the specific ways that the different ingredients react to each other, making it important for you to follow recipes exactly to get the best outcomes. You should always rigidly follow the instructions so that you can achieve the moist cakes, flaky pie crusts, and soft cookies that you want. Here are 11 tips that you should follow to become a better baker.
Make sure to use ingredients at room temperature
When a recipe calls for you to use room-temperature ingredients, give yourself enough time to allow the ingredients to reach room temperature. It is common for recipes to call for you to use eggs, butter, or milk at room temperature. Many baking recipes start by asking you to cream sugar and butter together. This is much easier to do if the butter is at room temperature. Using ingredients at room temperature allows them to form emulsifications so that air is trapped, which helps your finished product to be lighter and fluffier. Several hours before you plan to bake, set out your eggs, butter, or milk on the counter to allow them to gradually reach the right temperature by the time you start baking.
It is likewise important to add ingredients together that are at the same temperature. If you add an ingredient that is very hot to a cold ingredient, it can cause separation to occur. When your recipe instructs you to gradually add a hot ingredient to a cooler ingredient, do it slowly to ensure that your emulsion won’t separate.
2. Purchase good bakeware
Low-quality bakeware does not efficiently conduct heat, which can translate into pies, cakes, and cookies baking poorly. You should instead purchase quality bakeware to give you better results. Similarly, it is a good idea to stick with mixing bowls that are made out of metal or glass because they can also be used as double-boilers. Avoid bakeware with nonstick coatings. Over time, the coating can flake and find its way into your baked goods. It is better to thoroughly grease and flour your bakeware or use parchment paper.
3. Be generous with the flour and butter
When a recipe tells you to grease and flour a pan, don’t be skimpy. You should thoroughly grease the pan with Crisco or butter, making certain to cover every corner and other areas that might get sticky. After you grease your pan, add enough flour to completely cover it. Tip the pan back and forth so that it is coated before you tap out the excess amount.
4. Carefully weigh your ingredients
If you don’t have a digital scale, it is a good idea to invest in one. A digital scale helps you to eliminate some potential error by ensuring that you have exact measurements. Measuring cups can vary significantly in volume. It is best to weigh your ingredients for greater precision.
5. Replace your dry ingredients regularly
Many ingredients that are used in baking have relatively short shelf lives. The following ingredients should be replaced after a couple of months:
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
If you do not bake very frequently, buy these items in smaller quantities. If you have had ingredients for months, replace them. These ingredients can become rancid or lose their effectiveness. To see if your baking powder is still good, you can test it by pouring boiling water over a small amount. Fresh baking powder will bubble. Your flour should feel light and smell fresh. Fresh yeast will bubble and foam when it is dissolved in warm water.
6. Take your time when you bake
Many people just throw everything together and mix them because they think all of the ingredients end up in the finished product anyway. However, doing this will not give you a great result. The science of baking depends on individual ingredients reacting with others in a precise way. Follow each instruction in chronological order, and complete each one before you move on to the next. For example, you should cream your sugar and butter together with your stand mixer before you add your eggs and other wet ingredients. This is because the fat in your butter will hold air. When it is whipped, it expands. The process of creaming allows the sugar to slice through the butter, which creates air pockets to provide more lift to your pastry. If you don’t complete this step, your pastry will be dense.
You should also follow instructions that tell you to fold ingredients in gently or to mix until the ingredients are just combined. If you overmix, the air pockets in your mixture will deflate.
7. Don’t skip the salt
Baking is not a time for you to cut back on sodium. Adding a half teaspoon of salt to your cookie recipe will not push you over your daily sodium limit. If you leave it out, however, it will change how your cookies taste. Salt helps to keep your baked goods from tasting flat or overly sweet. It makes other ingredients such as lemon, almond, and vanilla stand out.
8. Don’t forget to rotate during baking
All ovens have spots that are hotter than others. This means that you need to rotate your pans halfway through the baking cycle to correct for uneven hot spots. Do not constantly open the oven to check on the baking progress because it will change the baking time. Instead, set your timer to go off halfway through the baking cycle, open the oven, turn your pan 180 degrees, close it and let it continue baking until the baking cycle is done.
9. Follow the oven temperature and cooking time
Do not try to take shortcuts by cooking your baked goods at higher temperatures and shorter times than what the recipe calls for. This can cause your baked goods to dry out or for some ingredients to burn.
Use an oven thermometer to figure out whether your oven runs colder or hotter than the set temperature. You should also set and use your timer so that you will be alerted when it is time to check your baked goods and to take them out of the oven.
10. Let your baked goods thoroughly cool
Don’t try to remove cakes and pastries from pans before they have cooled enough. Thorough cooling lets the steam evaporate so that the pastry or cake is easier for you to handle. Once it is cooled, you shouldn’t have any problem separating it from the pan or mold as long as you have properly buttered and floured your pan. Similarly, you should wait to frost a cake until it is cooled. Pay attention to the instructions, however. Some desserts have to be removed from their molds or pans upon coming out of the oven.
Take care before using substitutions
Recipes that call for specific ingredients work because of the way that those ingredients interact with each other. For example, sugar does much more in a recipe than simply sweetening the product. Sugar adds the following to your baked goods:
Since other sweeteners do not have the same chemical properties as sugar, they do not function in the same way. You should approach each recipe with the idea that the called-for ingredients each have their purposes and avoid substituting others for them.
Becoming a great baker takes time and attention. You will also need a willingness to follow the instructions, to weigh your ingredients, and to avoid taking shortcuts. By following these steps, you will be on your way to becoming a better baker and creating delectable cakes, pastries, and cookies.