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!
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!
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!
- Read more: Why Room Temperature Makes a Difference
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.
- Read more: Measuring is EVERYTHING
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.
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.
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!
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.
When it comes to baking, it pays off to be a perfectionist. Hopefully these 10 tips will help you along!
More Baking Tips:
- Baking Powder Vs. Baking Soda
- 14 Kitchen Tools Every Baker Needs
- Dutch-process Vs. Natural Cocoa Powder
- 10 Tips for Baking the Best Cupcakes
- 10 Best Cookie Baking Tools
- Piping Tips 101 (VIDEO)
See all my Baking Tips posts. Bake on, friends!