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.
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?
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.
#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:
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.
#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!
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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!
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!