Addictive Recipes from a Self-Taught Baker

Top 10 Baking Tips

Happiest of Mondays to you! I’m just getting back from my trip to Riviera Maya and with no time in the kitchen the past week or so, I decided to post a little something different for you today. I’ve been wanting to begin a how to series on my blog for over a year, and I’m fiiiiiiinally getting around to it.

Become a Better Baker with these 10 helpful tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

Readers, welcome to my Baking Basics series! I have over a dozen posts planned for the next coming months where we can talk about anything and everything related to baking. My goal is to present you with the baking basics I’ve learned from stocking a baker’s kitchen and rolling cookie dough to the difference of flours and why room temperature eggs are crucial. While I often touch on certain “hows and whys” in my recipe posts, I want to provide you with a continuous series with basic baking knowledge so that nothing is left to the imagination or guesswork. And when it comes down to it, I want you to recreate my recipes with confidence.

So yeah. I’m forcing you to learn. On a Monday nonetheless. Are you even still reading this? Hello?

(crickets)

In hopes that you’re there, let’s kick off the series with my top 10 baking tips. Totally basic, but completely imperative knowledge in the world of baking.

Become a better baker with these Top 10 Baking Tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

#1 Always have the correct consistency of butter.

Butter is the starting point for an immense amount of baked goods, so it’s important to have it prepped as the recipe suggests. The temperature of butter can dramatically affect the texture of baked goods. There are three different stages of butter that I typically call for in my recipes: softened, chilled (or frozen like in scones), and melted and cooled.

Most recipes calling for butter call for room temperature/softened butter. Room temperature butter is often beaten with sugar, either granulated or brown, into a light and airy creamed texture. This helps leaven the baked item and creates a more tender texture. Room temperature butter should be cool at room temperature– not melty or greasy in the slightest. Butter that has been partially softened in the microwave will, more often than not, yield a greasy baked good. Always leave it out on the counter for around 1 hour to yield the perfect consistency. Softened butter should give slightly when pressed but still hold its shape, like this:

Become a better baker with these Top 10 Baking Tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

Chilled butter is butter that has been well chilled in the refrigerator or freezer so that it does not melt during mixing. This helps create flaky pockets in recipes like pie crust.

Melted and cooled butter should be liquified and lukewarm. If melted butter is too hot, it can cook the batter and eggs. Who wants scrambled eggs in their cookie dough? I like to use melted butter in brownies and ultra chewy cookies.

Become a better baker with these Top 10 Baking Tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

#2 Room Temperature is KEY

Speaking of temperature, if a recipe calls for room temperature eggs or any dairy ingredients such as milk or yogurt, make sure you follow suit. Recipes don’t just do that for fun– room temperature ingredients emulsify so much easier into batter creating a uniform structure and texture throughout your baked good. Think of rock hard butter– it’s not so easy to cream that into a soft consistency is it? Same goes for eggs, especially the egg whites. They give so much more volume to the batter at room temperature. So yes, temperature is imperative!

Become a better baker with these Top 10 Baking Tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

#3 Always read the recipe in full before beginning.

This sounds sort of silly to even type, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a complete and total disaster in the kitchen because I didn’t realize a certain step was coming up. Reading ahead will help you know the how, why, where, and when of what you are about to do. It will take you 1-5 minutes max and could save you from wasting your ingredients on a failed dessert.

#4 Always have your ingredients prepared.

BEFORE beginning a recipe. So, read through the ingredients, get them prepared and ready on your counter, then read the recipe in full. There is very little room for error when you begin recipes this way. Trust me, trust me, trust me.

Become a better baker with these Top 10 Baking Tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

Become a better baker with these Top 10 Baking Tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

#5 Learn how to measure.

Surely by now you know the importance of precision in baking. Precise temperatures, precise preparation. Well, one of the most crucial parts of baking is to measure your ingredients properly.

Much of baking depends on precisely measured ingredients and, unfortunately, problems are common if measurements are incorrect. Having a good grasp of measuring techniques is essential when it comes to baked goods. Measure dry ingredients in measuring cups or spoons– these are specially designed for dry ingredients. Spoon and level (or “spoon and sweep”) your dry ingredients. This means that you should use a spoon to fill the cup and level it off. This is especially important with flour. Scooping flour (or any dry ingredient) packs that ingredient down and you could be left with up to 150% more than what is actually needed. A recipe calling for 1 cup of flour and baked with 2 or more cups instead will surely result in a fail. And a rather dry baked good.

And for liquid ingredients, I always recommend measuring them in a clear glass or plastic measuring pitcher. Here is much more information on measuring ingredients properly.

Become a better baker with these Top 10 Baking Tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

#6 Weigh your ingredients.

I own a small kitchen scale and it is, by far, the most used tool in my kitchen. A gram or ounce is always a gram or an ounce. But a cup isn’t always a cup. This is why I offer gram measurements with my recipes. Again, precision is everything.

Become a better baker with these Top 10 Baking Tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

#7 Get an oven thermometer!

I was just talking to my friend about this on vacation (that’s normal right?!) — she tried to bake a cake without realizing how OFF her oven temperature was. The resulting cake was dry and lacking flavor (from drying out) because her oven temperature was much higher than what the dial read.

Unless you have a brand new or regularly calibrated oven, your oven’s temperature is likely inaccurate. When you set your oven to 350°F, it might not really be 350°F inside. It could only be off by a little – 10 degrees or so. Or more than that – 100 degrees or even more! Do you know what that will do to your cookies, cinnamon rolls, and cakes? While this might not seem like a big deal to you, it is a LOADED problem for baked goods. As you know, when it comes to baking accuracy is everything; there is little room for error. Having an oven whose temperature is off can ruin your baked goods, the hours spent on the recipe, the money spent on ingredients, and leave you hungry for dessert. The inexpensive remedy to these baking disasters is an oven thermometer. While cheap, they’re irreplaceable in a baker’s kitchen. Place it in your oven so you always know the actual temperature.

If you use a convection oven, always reduce the oven temperature by 25°F. I usually reduce the baking time as well– for cookies, it’s around 1 minute less. For cakes, cupcakes, bread, brownies, bars, etc (items with longer bake times)– it’s usually reduced around 5 or so minutes.

Become a better baker with these Top 10 Baking Tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

#8 Keep your oven door closed.

You now know how the oven’s temperature can ruin a recipe. But what can completely throw off the oven temperature is constantly opening and closing that oven to peek at your baking cupcakes. I mean, I get it. It’s tempting to keep the oven door ajar to see your cake rising, the cookies baking, and the cupcakes puffing up! But doing so can let cool air in, which greatly interrupts your baked good from cooking. Or worse– affects how your baked good is rising. If you need to test your cakes for doneness with a toothpick, do so quickly. Remove it from the oven, close the oven immediately, test for doneness, put it back in as quickly as you can if more bake time is required.

#9 Chill your cookie dough.

If the recipe calls for it OR if you find the cookie dough incredibly sticky and soft OR if you want to bake the cookies at a later time. Chilling firms up cookie dough, decreasing the possibility of spreading. Chilling cookie dough not only ensures a thicker, more solid cookie but an accentuated flavor. In chocolate chip cookies, for example, it helps develops a heightened buttery, caramel-y flavor. After chilling, let your cookie dough sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes (or more, depending how long the dough has chilled) before rolling into balls and baking. Alternatively, sometimes I chill the cookie dough for 2 hours, roll into balls, and then chill the balls on a paper plate for 1 day. The cookie dough is quite hard after being chilled after the 6-8 hour mark, so that way is a little easier.

Become a better baker with these Top 10 Baking Tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

#10 Cookie Trick!

Last one! It’s about cookies. Again. And obviously. To keep leftover cookies extra soft, store them with a piece of bread. Have you heard this before? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. If storing cookies in a tupperware or cookie jar, stick a regular piece of bread in there as well. The bread will give out all its moisture and dry up while the cookies will stay moist, soft, and tender. It’s the BEST TRICK EVER.

Super soft cookies for days!

Become a better baker with these Top 10 Baking Tips from sallysbakingaddiction.com

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When it comes to baking, it pays off to be a perfectionist. Hopefully these 10 tips will help you along! Stay tuned for more lessons in my Baking Basics series. Bake on, friends!

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214 comments

  1. Your tips are extremely helpful.  Keep doing this I love it!

  2. Hi Sally ,  I understand the importance  of room temperature fully.  I still have problems?   I live in Arizona  and the temperature is still80 degrees in my home .  I think when a bake I should  drop the temp. Down to maybe 78. I value your thoughts and  hope you can help me out.  I read all your comments but never comes up . Can I be the only one with this problem that is so silly?   Help ???carm

    • No no no, you aren’t the only one! 80 degrees is a bit warmish for room temperature ingredients. 78 would be ideal. What type of problems, specifically, are you facing? Is your butter too soft? If so, just leave it out for slightly less time.

  3. Thanks for your reply.  No I don’t think the butter was to soft.  I followed. Your advice and heated water in the microwave took it out  then put butter in for 10min. That was great.thanks for that tip.  The problem I.  Think was when I cut the cutouts . I think they might have gotten over heated waiting for all the cookies to be cut.I will try when our heat wave is gone. I hope it’s soon. Have a great holiday Sally. Carm

  4. What type of salt do you find works best when baking?

    Thanks!

  5. I’ve never baked before but have.becime inspired watching the Grwat American Baking show. 
    I stopped by here to get some basics. Thanks much. I hope I have some success!!!

  6. Sally I have a question. I bake cookies at least a few times a week…..after my cookies are cool I leave a few out for the kiddos to munch on for an after school snack and for me to enjoy after the kids are asleep but I freeze the rest of them. The reason I don’t leave anymore out is because I have tried your trick of putting a slice of bread in with the cookies. The problem I have is that whatever cookies the slice of  bread touches the cookies get super soft some times even soggy. I was wondering how you prevent the cookies that touch the slice of bread from getting soggy? Are you supposed to wrap the bread up a little bit so it doesn’t touch the cookies? Please help me Sally I would love to be able to have cookies out every day without having to always get them out of the freezer first. Thank you so much Sally!!! You are my go to for almost all of my recipes!!! The only recipes I use that aren’t yours are the ones that you don’t have recipes for! I just got done eating your Slow Cooker Light Chicken Corn Chowder and Honey Butter Rolls for lunch!!! So so so yummy!!! Happy 5 Year Blogging Anniversary I seriously don’t know where I would be in my baking and cooking life if it wasn’t for your recipes!!! They always always always turn out amazing for me!!! 

    • Lindsay! Thank you so much for the incredibly kind comment. I’ve never had that issue before BUT you can always layer a piece of parchment paper lightly on top of the cookies and place the bread on top. Then close the container tightly. This way it is not directly touching the cookies but still in the container. Does this make sense?

  7. I hav electric oven .it has upper and lower grills.which grill option should i use?or is should use both of them at the same time?

  8. Tip number 11: Don’t live at high altitude…

  9. wow !!!!! I have just seen this site by looking for a big cookie recipe and it is totally the best site of the kitchen of the world !!!!!!! Everything is well explained and well done !! It’s just fabulous !!!

  10. How do you store your brown sugar without it getting hard? 

  11. Love these tips! I had no idea that bread keeps cookies soft!! I’m going to have to try that out ASAP. Would you do any baking/cooking tips revolved around using lemons? I’m on a bit of a citrus kick and need some tips/facts!!

  12. Sally, To ensure that all ingredients are ready, do you use any kind of prep bowls? If so, let us know which you favor. Thanks

  13. Hi Sally, my Italian family loves pizzelle cookies for holidays and special occasions. Ever since I moved from the Northeast to Florida, they come off the iron properly but get too soft right away. I have tried storing them in airtight containers and with a little breathing room. No good. My house is air conditioned and humidity controlled but these cookies are SO sensitive. Any suggestions?

    • How about a little more breathing room? That would be my suggestion– very loosely cover. Even keep them uncovered from time to time.

  14. PLEASE CAN SOMEONE HELP!

    I cannot find an INEXPENSIVE Kitchen Timer (need 2 actually) . I cannot afford to give away a bunch of money on a timer and it breaks on me; so what is the best timers. I need 2 BUT they need to be accurate!
    Pls respoond today. Thank you all
    Linda

  15. Good morning Sally, I love baking though I have not baked a thing or any recipe in a life time. Though I need the cake Bible or cake recipe books, any recommendations for me? I live in Maryland.

  16. Hi Sally,

    What is the best way to wrap up individual or groups of cookies for the freezer and fridge? I am baking your chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookies today that I will not use until Saturday and I want to store them properly for the best results.

    Thanks for your reply

    • My favorite way to store cookies and maintain freshness is to place in a Tupperware or other container with a slice of bread. The bread lets out its moisture, keeping the cookies super soft.

  17. thank you Sally,

    Would you freeze them that way too?

  18. Sally- I love all your recipes!!! I recently made your triple layer chocolate cake (just with your pb frosting instead)… but both my cakes fell in the middle. What can I do differently to prevent this?

    THANK YOU!

  19. Hi Sally, I am new to your website. I made your triple layer chocolate cake with the butter cream frosting. It was amazing and everyone loved it. Now I’m addicted to your website and can’t wait to bake more of your recipes. Thank you!

    • Welcome, Janet! We have a great community of baking addicts here 🙂 That cake is a great place to start – let me know what you bake next!

  20. Hi Sally,
    Thank you so much for keeping things easy to understand! Hopefully you can come up with a suggestion for my my biggest baking problem… Almost everything I bake winds up with a sticky overly moist top. This makes frosting difficult and texture not so good! I have tried all types of fixes but none have been successful. Do you have any suggestions? I live in Michigan,so humidity is not a problem. Thank you so much !!!!

    • How are you storing the baked goods? I find that when I store things like muffins or quick breads while still warm, the tops become sticky because of the trapped moisture. Or, if I wait until they are fully cool, I place aluminum foil directly on top THEN put into a container. This helps too.

  21. Sally, when’s a good time to start making Christmas cookies so they don’t get stale or hard?( How far ahead of time)  How do you store them? Can you just keep them in a container in a cool place or do you have to freeze them? Thank you so much. 
    Merry Christmas 
    Kathy

    • Hi Kathy, it really depends on how many you want to make and how far in advance you can plan 🙂 I usually make at least the dough ahead of time and freeze it so all I have to do is pop things in the oven closer to the holidays. But each recipe has it’s own set of “make ahead tips” at the bottom so you can see exactly how to store it 🙂

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