Baking: It’s not easy for everyone. In fact, it may be one of my greatest enemies in life. So, it’s a little inconvenient that a large portion of my job entails coming up with recipes. Cooking? I can do that all day. Crafts — no problem! But when it comes to flour, sugar, butter and cream and the scientific combinations thereof, I’m not so adept. I have to work really hard and be really patient to accomplish the projects I take on.
But every challenge is really just a learning opportunity, right? Through trial and error (so much trial and error) and an obscene amount of internet research, I’ve learned some basic baking tips that can help any amateur.
Learn from my mistakes. Your sanity and bank account thank you in advance.
Baking Tip 1: Use most ingredients at room temperature.
Yes, even the eggs. It’s all about consistency. Did you know the temperature of the eggs can actually alter the baking time? When eggs and batter are around the same temperature, they mix much more easily and rise quicker in the oven. I had no idea.
Baking Tip 2: Just buy the damned frosting bags.
Gone are the days of spooning frosting into a Ziploc bag and using scissors to cut off a little corner; frosting bags are where it’s at. You can buy a whole roll of them for less than $10 on Amazon. Reducing your plastic usage? Invest in reusable ones. Real frosting bags are thicker than Ziploc bags and allow more control over the decorating. Plus, all those frosting tip tools are so fun and can make your desserts look like they were made by an experienced baker — with almost no extra effort or actual skill on your part.
Let’s paint a picture: You just spent 30 minutes perfecting your batter, then another 15 letting the cookies bake. You smell the sweet, sweet aromas of chocolate and sugar taking over your kitchen. The timer goes off. You remove the cookies from the oven and using a spatula, try to transfer them to a plate. But suddenly, a harsh realization runs over you: You are never getting those damned cookies off the pan. They’re stuck. Forever. You ruined them. And the cleanup is going to be even worse.
That’s been me more times than I can count. For $5, you can eliminate this frustrating, disappointing scenario from your life forever. Trust me: It’s worth it.
Baking Tip 4: Mixing is not the same as beating.
This is that “be patient” thing, again. Beating is a much more intense process than mixing. It means really combining the ingredients until no clumps remain. If you can still see cake mix, you’re not done beating.
The process of beating also introduces air into the mixture, which is especially important for breads and pies. This is what gives baked goods that light, crumbly, so-good texture.
Baking Tip 5: Speaking of mixing, invest in a standing mixer.
Baking is supposed to be fun — not a sweaty-messy workout. A standing mixer does all the work for you. Typically, you should use only a slow-medium speed, unless you’re trying to beat egg whites until they’re frothy. Then, by all means, amp it up!
Baking Tip 6: “Folding in” ingredients doesn’t mean you just pour them in.
Typically, folding an ingredient into a mixture means adding a lighter mixture to a heavier one. But after doing this, don’t just move a spoon around in a circular motion to mix the two together; that destroys all the air bubbles that give baked goods their lightness and rise. Instead, use a spatula to gently push the lighter mixture down through, across and then over the top of the heavier stuff until all the ingredients are combined.
This really comes into play when making macarons. Learn all the tips & tricks to successfully making macarons in the video below.
Baking Tip 7: Melted butter is not softened butter and vice versa.
Hard butter is impossible to work with, which is why so many recipes call for softened butter. You can buy already softened butter at the store, let hard butter sit out for a while, or pop it into the microwave for 10—15 seconds. But be warned: Melted butter and soft butter are not equal. Melted butter will give you chewier cookies; Cold or room-temperature butter will deliver a more cake-like consistency.
Baking Tip 8: Don’t take a walk on the wild side.
Look, I get it: I don’t like being told what to do and how to do it, but if you’re going to fork out the bucks to make a dessert at home, quiet that inner rebel voice who thinks she knows better. Follow the recipe. Each and every step. There’s nothing worse than baking for an hour, only to end up with something inedible or less than impressive. Sometimes, it pays to follow the rules.
Baking Tip 9: There’s an actual amount to “a pinch.”
When a recipe calls for “a pinch” of salt or spice, that actually means about 1/8 teaspoon. You don’t have to measure it out; just use your thumb, index finger and middle finger to get the right amount. I always just used my thumb and index finger and — no surprise — I was wrong.
Like I said: I’m not the most patient person in the world. But if you’re like me, you have to mindfully begin a baking project. Accept that it’s going to take time, and set a goal to enjoy the process and bake something you’re proud of. If you get rid of time constraints and pressure, baking can actually be cathartic and a lot of fun. Pick some recipes, and if at first you don’t succeed, try again. The worst that can happen is that you have an extra spatula to lick.
Check out my crash course in making sugar cookie cakes for Father’s Day with Danielle O’Day from Sweet Dee’s Bakeshop.