Fun Fact, in a previous life I was a classically trained Pastry Chef. I graduated from culinary school then held a multitude of jobs in the industry, including my own baking business, and I want to share some pearls of wisdom I learned along the way. The goal is to help you work smarter, not harder friends. I have so many tips and tricks from my 12 years of professional experience it’s criminal for me not to share them!
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- Baking is all about timing. From the actual cook time, to any rest requirements for an item, minutes matter! A few minutes under and your product is still raw, if you leave them in the oven a little too long, they can taste burnt. Timing gets more complicated the more ingredients you have. Do yourself a favor and mise en place everything you need before you start actually combining them. This ensures you will have prepped everything you need, and allows you to streamline the baking process when you are actively combing ingredients for a recipe.
2. Sifting can make a difference. If you are using Powdered Sugar or Cocoa Powder, definitely sift. I like to sift all my dry ingredients together in general to make sure there are no clumps and that everything is evenly distributed. My preferred method for sifting is to use a wire strainer and a rubber spatula.
3. Measure everything correctly. Did you know there is a difference between liquid measure, and dry measure? Dry measures are typically opaque and come in a set with different predetermined amounts that stack into each other, where liquid measures are see-through containers that have a tiny pour spout on the lip and have markings on the sides to indicate how much is being used. When using dry measurements it is imperative that you level measure the cups. This means taking something, like the back of a butter knife, and dragging it across the top to remove any access product that is domed over to insure you are accurately measuring the proper amount. Fun fact, brown sugar needs to be “packed” while flour should not be! When in doubt, weigh your ingredients with a kitchen/gram scale. This is how the majority of professional recipes will list measurements for ingredients because it has less room for error.
4. How to easily scale recipe yields. Want to makes cookies but the recipe you have is for 10 dozen?! You can reduce any recipe down to the lowest egg. Ex, 4 eggs, you can reduce everything by 3/4 to scale down a recipe. Again, remember that a large egg = 2oz, 1:1 yolk to white. This allows you to do the math if a recipe only calls for one part of the egg, or measures in weight.
5. Trust the toothpick method for testing doneness. Nothing worse then spending all that time preparing your baked good to have it be still raw in the middle after baking. For those who have never heard of the toothpick test, it is the simple process of taking a toothpick and poking it into the center of an item, and seeing if it comes out clean (done) or if there is still raw batter below the surface (needs more cook time).
6. There is something called “carry over baking”. Which is the process of the baked item continuing to cook once removed from the oven, but still in the pan/dish. Take this into account if your item is more on the well done side as you should try to remove/cool asap once out of the heat source.
7. There are some staple ingredients that you should always keep on hand. Having these items already in your pantry will allow you to bake most things on the fly, without a trip to the store. With the exception of the last item (eggs) all the food stuffs on this list have a long shelf life, making them perfect to stock up on when they are on sale.
- White Granulated Sugar
- Brown Sugar
- Powdered Sugar
- All Purpose (AP) Flour
- Vanilla Extract
- Cocoa Powder
- Chocolate Chips
- Baking Soda
- Baking Powder
8. TASTE, TASTE, TASTE! Taste everything before you bake it in the oven. You can make adjustments to raw product, or know if something is off before it is cooked by simply tasting. Whenever you are working with a flavor especially, it is important to remember You can always add more. Taste each bit of your raw mixture as you add flavor. It can quickly go from not enough to too much.
9. The freezer is your friend. Freezing items after they have been baked is a great way to lock in their freshness and elevate the flavor. Renowned Chef Thomas Keller swears by freezing his Parisian macarons for 24hours – 2 weeks. I recommend chilling cookie dough batter for a few minutes before portioning and baking off to firm up the butter and allow for better finished product. I use the freezer the most when I am doing cake decorating. Once the cake comes out of the oven, let it cool to room temperature before placing it in the freezer. In addition to locking in flavor, putting cakes in the freezer allows them to firm up so they are easier to cut and cover in icing.
10. Read the recipe. This sounds like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how easy it is to forget an ingredient or accidentally skip a step. Cooking and baking is really just about how well you can follow instructions and accurately execute a dish as it was intended. Pay special attention when a recipe calls for items to be at room temperature or cold, they mention that for a reason. This is legit science people! One thing I do, especially if I am working with a new recipe, is I write it out. That way I can check off things as I go, and it allows me to make notes/adjustments as needed. Once I am finish, and I deem it a worthy recipe, I add it to my repertoire.
11. Butter consistencies matter! Adding melted butter from the microwave is usually a sure fire way to ensure your baked goods are not fluffy and flakey. Unless your recipe calls for melted or chilled butter, it usually wants it at room temperature. With chilled butter, usually the colder, the better. The purpose is so it doesn’t melt when being mixed in with the other ingredients. For example, when making a pie crust or biscuits, I like to cut my butter into small cubes then freeze it. When working with melted butter, it should not be hot, but liquid and lukewarm. Hot butter can start cooking your eggs in your batter, and that is no bueno. Butter is far easier to mix in and get the correct consistency when it is prepped ahead of time. I also leave out a couple sticks of butter and let them get to room temp the day before so it is easier to work with when a recipe just calls for regular butter.
12. Keep track of recipes that you like. Keep a notebook or a binder for a hard copy version, then snap a picture and have a digital version as well. The pictures allow you to have access to your recipes while on the go and also the ability to share them easily with friends and family.
13. Oven temperatures matter. Get a hanging oven thermometer to ensure your cooking temperatures are accurate. Also, make sure that you keep the oven door closed as much as possible while in use to keep the heat in. Maintaining heat in the oven is one of the most important things during the cooking process. Baked goods can get messed up many different ways in the oven, and it is a shame to ruin your efforts in the final stretch.
14. Line your baking sheets. Putting down some parchment paper, or a silicon mat, makes for easy release and even easier clean up. While used mostly when baking cookies, I also use parchment to line the bottom of my cake and brownie pans before I pour the batter in. *PRO TOP* There is something called the *Spray, paper, spray* method. This means spraying your pan, then putting down parchment, then adding anther layer of easy release spray. I do this EVERY time I bake a cake. This allows for them to easily come away from the pan and almost always prevents ripping or tearing of the finished product.
15. Coat heavy mix-in items with flour before adding. With heavy ingredients, like chocolate chips, fruit, nuts, etc. it is best to lightly coat them in flour/flour equivalent. It helps to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of your batter, and allows them to be more evenly distributed in the batter.
Looking for further reading materials on cooking & baking? Wanting to try out new recipes from master chefs? Check out some of my favorite cook books below!