Top 10 Baking Tips

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How to make Black Forest Cake cake batter

Welcome to your Baking Basics lesson #1! With every recipe I publish, my goal is to help you become a better and more confident baker. Baking from scratch doesn’t have to be intimidating or difficult. Let’s reverse that connotation and put the FUN back into our kitchens. Dirty mixing bowls and all!

As a cookbook author and home baker turned food blogger, I have made THOUSANDS of mistakes in the kitchen and here’s what I’ve learned along the way. Let’s kick off my Baking Basics Series with my top 10 baking tips!

The best flaky all butter pie crust recipe is super buttery and easy to work with! Recipe and video tutorial on sallysbakingaddiction.com

1. Always Have the Correct Butter Consistency

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 consistencies of butter that baking recipes typically call for: softened, chilled (or frozen like in scones), and melted.

  • Most recipes calling for butter call for room temperature/softened butter. Room temperature butter is actually cool to touch, not warm. When you press it, your finger will make an indent. Your finger won’t sink down into the butter, nor will your finger slide all around. To get that perfect consistency and temperature, leave butter out on the counter for around 1 hour prior to beginning your recipe.
  • Short on time? Soften butter to room temperature quickly with this trick!

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.

Unless otherwise noted, melted butter should be liquified and lukewarm. If melted butter is too hot, it can cook the batter and eggs. I prefer to use melted butter in brownies and ultra chewy cookies.

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 much easier into batter, which creates a uniform 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. They add much more volume to the batter at room temperature. So yes, temperature is imperative!

3. Read the Recipe Before Beginning

This sounds sort of silly to 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 and could save you from wasting your ingredients (and money!) on a failed dessert.

4. Always Have Ingredients Prepped

Measure your ingredients before beginning a recipe. 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.

5. Learn How to Measure

Baking is a science. Excellent baking requires precise ratios, proven techniques, and successful recipes that have been tested for taste. Unlike cooking, you can’t just bake something by throwing some ingredients together, mess it up and eat it anyway! One of the most crucial parts of baking is measuring ingredients properly.

Problems are common if measurements are incorrect. Having a firm grasp of measuring techniques is essential. Measure dry ingredients in measuring cups or spoons– these are specially designed for dry ingredients. Spoon and level (aka “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 a clear liquid measuring cup.

6. Weigh Your Ingredients

A small kitchen scale is priceless! 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– she tried to bake a cake without realizing how OFF her oven temperature was. The resulting cake was dry and lacking flavor 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. An inaccurate oven 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. Best to 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 a recipe calls for chilling the cookie dough, don’t skip that step.
  • If a recipe yields super sticky cookie dough, chill it before rolling and baking.

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.

This tip is so important that I wrote a separate post about it!

Read more: 10 Guaranteed Tips to Prevent Your Cookies from Spreading

10. Here is my Cookie Trick

Last one! It’s about cookies. Again. 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 cookies will absorb all of the bread’s moisture. Bread will be rock solid and the cookies will be soft FOR DAYS. Best trick ever.

Deliciously soft salted caramel pecan chocolate chip cookies! Cookie recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

When it comes to baking, it pays off to be a perfectionist. Hopefully these 10 tips will help you along!

More Baking Tips:

See all my Baking Tips posts. Bake on, friends!

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273 Comments

  1. hello, why does my pie crust from cookies & butter fall apart, i use 9″ pie plate, i use 2 cups of cookies, & 5 tablespoon melted butter & i warm it for 8 minites , what am i don’t wrong

  2. To answer the question in the email, the recipe that intimidates me the most is the one for FRENCH MACARONS!!! My lord, those things have caused me no end of grief. They always taste great, but they just end up as a little flat, drop cookie looking thing. No legs. No crispy outer shell and gooey interior. Flat.As.A.Pancake. If I can learn to finesse French macarons, that would be a minor miracle.

  3. Love your new primer for baking. I have been baking and cookie making for 50 years
    and have run into a problem I have never had before. The middle of my cakes do not
    finish baking while the rest is done. I have calibrated my oven, put in a thermometer
    to be sure the temp is right, and I have tested the oven for ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ spots and
    surprisingly there weren’t any. I test the doneness of the cake with a wooden skewer
    close to the edge and also more toward the middle and it will come out with no, or just
    a few crumbs on it. Take the cake out and soon the middle collapses and it is doughy
    inside. I have never had this problem, even as a young wife 50 years ago, and it is
    driving me crazy!! Do you have any ideas for me that I haven’t already tried?
    Thanks so much again for your baking tutorial.
    Terri

    1. So strange, Terri! My suggestions for fixing this oven issue are to (1) lower the oven rack, (2) tent the cake with a sheet of aluminum foil halfway through bake time, and (3) bake for a few extra minutes. These should help improve the texture and appearance of the cakes!

    2. Sally’s suggestions may have already solved your problem, but I wondered if you had possibly moved to a higher altitude, because that can affect baking. You didn’t mention a move, so this probably isn’t the case; but I thought I’d mention it, just in case the temperature, time and ingredient adjustments for high altitude might help.

    3. Hi Terry, is your baking all right now? I’m so new to baking but I have watched a video from YouTube regarding even baking of cakes. I haven’t tried it for myself, just incase could help you. He uses a belt (available in Amazon) which is being damp into the water and circled on the pan cake before baking. You may also do it by using tissue paper and foil – wet the tissue, wrap in the foil, then belt it on the pan. Again, haven’t tried this yet, just an FYI for you. Regards.

  4. Interesting how you talk about keeping cookies moist because at my home they always go soft in the pantry, especially banana cookies.

  5. I can never get the Italian Meringue frosting fluffy enough to spread. Adding the room temperature butter always causes problems for me. Can we get a lesson on frostings?

  6. Like lots of others, I can never make french macarons turn out the way they’re supposed to! I have tried lots of different recipes with no luck.

    1. Hi Donna! It’s simply the moisture from the cookies themselves. Loosely covering them, instead of covering them tight, will help keep them crisp.

  7. I’d like some advice on my cantankerous oven. Last night I used my digital food thermometer which has a steel cable and probe to check the temperature. At a setting of 325 degrees, the temperature fluctuated between 320-365 degrees. My cookies came out a little too brown, but the centers were just done enough – even slightly underdone. I’m a renter, so can’t change out the oven…

      1. Are you saying that the manual (spring mechanism) type of oven thermometer is more accurate than digital? I’ve had oven thermometers before that become hard to read because the paint fades from the heat. I also had two at one time and put them both in the oven at the same time and got two different readings; I thought a digital thermometer would be more accurate. Have you had either of these issues with the brand/mfg that you suggest? And yes of course, I do know that there’s a fluctuation every time the oven door is opened.

  8. I haven’t come across anything that seems particularly intimidating so far, but almost always burn something. whether it is two cookies or a whole pan, it almost always happens. I don’t know how, I always watch them closely through the oven the door, and it is closed. please more tips for this!!!
    XO
    Madeleine

    1. First I would check your oven temperature with an oven thermometer. Also, it’s possible your oven has hotspots. You can rotate your pans half way through the baking time to help with this!

  9. I love all baking…cookies and pie galore. My cakes, however, are another story. They are usually too dry and domed. Some say to add an extra egg. Some say not to mix it so much. I’d like some help with cake technique.
    thank you!

    1. There is a cake band that Wilton makes, and possibly other manufacturers. Amazon, for one, sells them. You wet it, Velcro it around your cake pan, and voila! – no doming. I bought one but haven’t yet tested it. Wilton calls them Bake Even Cake Strips.

  10. Flaky pasteries intimidate me the most. I know that the amount of time spent handling the dough can make or break the flakiness and it seems hard to strike the perfect balance.

  11. Thank you for the baking tips. My mom tried to baked cookies without measuring her ingredients and the outcome is horrible. I will let my mom know about these tips that you shared. It will help her a lot

  12. Pie crust can be easy to make. Your butter needs to be very cold and I make mine in a food processor. I tried a new recipe recently and hubby said it was the best and flakiest he has ever had. It came from a new book I recently bought and this one use a very small amount of apple cider vinegar, no taste in the crust. So bakers, never be afraid to try pie crust. It took me years to find the perfect recipe for me.

  13. I have trouble with pies. The bottom crust doesn’t get done. I leave in oven extra minutes and top is getting browned and bottom crust is still raw….help !

  14. Dear Sally, I have a question about the most important ingredient, Sugar. Where I live, granulated sugar is sold as crystals and is not as fine as is available in the US. So I always powder it in the blender before using it. Will the texture of this affect the butter-sugar creaming and aeration process or the quality of the final product?

    1. Hi Radhika! The size of the sugar crystals makes a difference in the creaming process, which alters the final texture of the baked good. Do not grind the sugar into a fine powder; a few pulses with the blender should be sufficient.

  15. Your tip about bread in the cookie jar reminded me of something that maybe everyone knows – you can do the same with brown sugar to keep it soft (I mean store a piece of bread with your brown sugar). Or they make small clay pieces; e.g., I have a kokopelli shaped one. You saturate it in water, let it dry out till it’s basically damp, then store it in your brown sugar container. There are a ton of them on eBay usually.

  16. 2 things (off the top of my head) freak out about baking: one is rolling out pie dough to that perfect thickness and the other is making a perfectly balanced & frosted 2-layer (or more) cake! I love to bake and was introduced to Sally’s Baking by a co-worker today; I can’t wait to learn more new stuff!!

  17. I wanted to thank you for this baking advice. You mentioned that you should always measure your ingredients before you start a recipe. It also sounds important to take this time to get any ingredients you’ll need.

  18. You asked what scares me: making bread. I would love to make challah weekly for my family, but the whole process is intimidating.

  19. I am making my first 3 tier wedding cake. The bride has chosen a cake flavor but wants the cakes to be square 16″ 14″ and 10 “. The recipe calls for 3- 8” round pans. How do I calculate the the recipe and cooking time?

  20. Hi Sally, Oh my , I have been scooping flour for years and always wondered why each time I baked the same cupcake it was different. Thank you so much for the instructions to spoon and level. Makes perfect sense!

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