Tips to Become a Better Baker

September 10, 2014

One of the reasons I love autumn so much is because it's the perfect time to do some baking. Since fall is right around the corner, and the holiday season is right on its heels, there's no better time to brush up on my baking skills. Here are a few tips I find helpful.

1. Read a recipe all the way through before starting. Countless times I've mixed in flour before sifting it with baking soda, or creamed butter with sugar before whipping it. I've even unintentionally omitted steps and changed the recipe entirely. 

2. This is kind of a no-brainer, but make sure you have all the ingredients on hand before you begin. Remember how sad Amélie Poulain was when she had no yeast for her famous plum cake in the movie Amélie? Baking is a happy sport; never be sad. 

3. If you don't have the necessary equipment called for in the recipe, make sure you have a suitable substitute. For example, you don't need a standing mixer if you have a good hand mixer with different attachments, and a large, deep bowl. Or if you don't have a cake leveler, you can use a serrated knife.

4. Start with your ingredients at room temperature to achieve the best results. This is especially important for the butter and eggs.

5. When using measuring cups and spoons for dry ingredients, use the flat side of a knife blade or metal spatula to level them off. Baking is a science, and precision is the key; under measuring your flour or adding too much baking powder could mean the difference between a moist, fluffy cake and a vanilla-scented rock.

6. Know your oven. The instructions may call for cookies to bake for 8-10 minutes, but if you know your oven tends to take longer to bake things all the way through, adjust the bake time by just a few minutes and use a tester.

7. Get familiar with baking terms. Knowing the difference between creaming and crimping, drizzling and dusting is key to getting the results you desire. Check out this glossary if you're unsure about a term you saw in a recipe.

8. To avoid getting eggshells mixed into your batter or dough, crack your eggs into a separate bowl before adding them to the mix. If you do crack them directly into the batter and happen to get eggshells in it, use the empty half of the eggshell you're holding to retrieve the pieces (they'll stick right to the shell, promise).

9. The recipe may not say it, but always use the middle rack of your oven for baking.

10. Use separate measuring cups for your liquid (milk, water, oil) and dry ingredients (flour, sugar, chocolate chips,etc). Using a dry cup measure for liquids, or vice versa, will result in the wrong amounts, which could ruin your product. And if it seems like a liquid but can be scraped with a spatula (e.g. sour cream or peanut butter), use the dry measuring cups.

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