Many of my friends tell me they are intimidated to bake from scratch. Whether it is the ever-growing blob of bread dough on the counter or the tricky cake recipe that seems like it will fall at any moment, scratch baking just seems overwhelming.
Such feelings are understandable because the last thing someone wants to find is a burning batch of cookies in the oven (I’ve been there…it’s not a happy place). But fear not, with a few simple baking tips, the next baking recipe will seem like a breeze and your closest friends and family will be hounding you for the recipe.
Here are the Ten things you can do to improve the chances of baking success on your next kitchen adventure…
1. Carefully read the entire recipe before baking. This may seem obvious but it will ensure you have enough time and all the necessary ingredients to ensure baking success.
2. Do not overmix or overbake the recipe. One easy way to overcome this is to use a kitchen timer to track how long you’ve mixed a particular step. To help with overbaking, I often set the oven timer for 5 minutes less than the expected bake time. This builds in a cushion for any oven temperature fluctuations.
3. Always preheat the oven. Be sure to allow enough time to preheat the oven for at least 45 minutes before baking. This is key for great taste, color and texture.
4. Adjust oven shelves as necessary; especially if using more than one pan. Make sure there is enough space above and below the pans to allow air to circulate around the pans.
5. When measuring brown sugar, be sure to firmly pack it into the measuring cup for accurate measure.
6. When baking cakes and cookies, be sure to sift the dry ingredients before use, even if the flour says pre-sifted. This is important because the flour will compact and settle during shipping and storage.
7. Cold ingredients produce the flakiest crust. Be sure to use very cold fats if making pie crusts, puff pastry or croissants.
8. Bleached and unbleached flours are interchangeable. The real difference comes down to taste and subtle texture. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter whether you use bleached or unbleached flour.
9. Unlike flours, baking powder and baking soda are NOT interchangeable. Baking soda does not contain any acids to activate it during baking. In recipes, it is typically paired with buttermilk, yogurt or molasses to make baked goods light and airy. Baking powder is a combination of baking soda and acid. “Double-acting” baking powder works twice; once when mixed with wet ingredients and then again during baking.
10. Try not to make any changes or modifications to the recipe until you’ve made it as written at least once. I’ve been there…going along and thinking how cool it would be to add this or that. But believe me, there is nothing more disheartening in the kitchen than changing a new recipe and watching it fail miserably when it comes out of the oven.