Baking may seem intimidating as it requires accurate measuring and baking times. Unlike cooking where you may add a little more of this and a dash more of that, baking is not quite as forgiving. With that said baking is also a wonder experience, filling your kitchen with wonderful aromas, and producing delicious treats that everyone enjoys.
Have you ever noticed that many cooking magazines feature a baked dessert on the front cover? Photos of beautifully baked cakes, cookies, and pies are used to entice people to open and buy the magazine.
Baking is for everyone, young and old, experienced and novice. As with everything there are basic rules to follow for the best results. Use these hints as basic guidelines, and you’re bound to fall in love with baking and be inspired to bake often.
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- Clear your workspace so that is free of unnecessary clutter, remove any packages, paper, pens, equipment, etc. that are not needed.
- Clean the countertop before starting and always wash your hands.
- It is helpful to keep a clean, damp towel nearby to wipe sticky fingers or messy counters as you work.
- Always read the recipe directions from beginning to end before you begin baking, especially if this is thefirst timefor making a recipe.
- Make sure you understand all the directions and have the basic plan in your head. You still want to follow the written recipe as you prepare your baking project, but knowing the directions beforehand helps prevent errors.
Pre-Check Ingredient List:
- Make sure you have all the ingredients before beginning baking. You don’t want to get to the middle of your baking project and realize you need to make a quick run to the grocery store for more eggs!
Buy Fresh Ingredients:
- All ingredients you are using should be fresh. Buy the finest quality ingredients for the best flavor in your baked items.
- Buy fresh eggs, dairy items and fresh spices. If ingredients have been sitting for months and years the qualityof your baked items may be compromised.
- The bulk foods section of your grocery store carries many baking ingredients and can be less expensive than buying pre-packaged. If you only need a small amount of an ingredient it may be easier to purchase from the bulk section rather than buying a larger pre-packaged amount
Room Temperature Ingredients:
- Unless otherwise specified in the recipe, all ingredients should be at room temperature, normally 68 to 70 degrees.
- If ingredients have been refrigerated, such as milk, eggs, and butter, let them sit out at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before using.
- When ingredients are at room temperature, butter and sugar will cream properly and hold more air, eggs will blend well into the batter to act as an emulsifier, egg whites are easier to beat, and dry ingredients will combine easier
- It is helpful to set out all the ingredients you will be using before you start a recipe.
Give the butter time to soften to room temperature.
Toast and chop the nuts. See Toasting Nuts and Seeds for help.
Melt the chocolate and let cool.
Sift and measure the flour and dry ingredients.
Measure the wet ingredients.
Set the milk out to warm.
Place the eggs in a bowl of warm water to take the chill off.
- Substituting ingredients can affect the texture and taste of your finished baked creation.
- Limit food substitutions in a recipe, but do not be afraid to be creative; that is how new recipes are born.
- See Ingredient Substitutions for common baking substitutions.
Gather Pans and Equipment:
- All pans, measuring cups and spoons, and tools should be clean and dry and at room temperature.
For example you don’t want to put butter into a mixing bowl fresh from a hot dishwasher as the butter will start melting in the hot pan. There may be exceptions to the room temperature rule, such as chilled beaters and bowl is best for whipping cream.
- Assemble all the mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, baking pans, and any other tools the recipe requires; set them on your countertop so they’re available when you need them.
Select the Right Baking Pan:
- Use the size baking pan called for in a recipe to help ensure good baking results.
- Pan size substitutions can be made if necessary, but you may need to adjust the bakingtime.
- Baking pans are measured across the top, not the bottom, from one inside edge to the other.
- See Baking Equipment for types of baking pans.
Prepare the Baking Pan:
- The recipe directions should tell you how to prepare the pan.
- You may need to grease and flour a cake pan, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat, or line a cupcake pan with paper cup liners.
Preheat the Oven:
- Turn the oven on, and select the temperature called for in the recipe at the beginning of your baking project.
- Unless a recipe’s directions call for a cold oven, always have the oven hot and ready to go as soon asthebaking pan is ready to be put in the oven. It usually takes 15 to 20 minutes to preheat an oven.
- Check your oven’s temperature with an oven thermometer. An oven thermometer is an inexpensive and an easy way to find out what temperature your oven really is heating to. If the oven thermometer indicates your oven is hotter or cooler than what you have it set to, then adjust your temperature setting accordingly. For example if your temperature setting is set at 350 degrees F, but the oven thermometer is registering 375 degrees, then lower yourtemperature setting by 25 degrees to compensate.
- Use liquid measuring cups for liquid ingredients, and dry measuring cups for dry ingredients.
- Accurate measuring is one of the most important elements of baking. It helps to count out loud if you are measuring three or more of an ingredient, then if you are distracted by something it is easier to remember how many you already measured. For example when measuring three cups of flour, count out loud: "one, two, three."
- See Measurements and Weight Conversions for measuring help.
Post-Check Ingredient List:
- Before putting your creation into the oven, read through the list of recipe ingredients one more time to make sure an ingredient has not been left out.
- If you missed an ingredient the directions called for in the beginning of the preparation, go ahead and add it now. Better late than never!
Use a Timer:
- A kitchen timer is indispensable. Don’t guess at how long something has been in the oven.
- Use a kitchen timer to accurately time the baking time. The kitchen timer’s handy bell is also a reminder that something is baking in case you get distracted. I like to use my microwave’s built-in timer.
Don't Burn Your Fingers:
- Use a good hot pad or oven mitt to remove hot baking pans from the oven. A kitchen towel may be handy butdoes not offer good protection.
- The silicone non-slip pads are wonderfully heat resistant and give you a good grip. I once dropped a beautiful apple pie on the floor when taking it hot from the oven and learned my lesson about using a good pad.
- Keep some Aloe Vera handy for small kitchen burns.
Cool Before Serving:
- Most baked goods are cooled before you eat them.
- Placing the hot baking pan on a wire cooling rack is best for cooling as the air is allowed to circulate completely around the food as it cools.
- Foods such as cookies and breads can be transferred directly from the baking pan to the wire rack to cool.