Top 10 Practical Baking Tips Everyone Should Know
Make your time in the kitchen count with these top 10 practical baking tips that everyone should know. Are you interested in expanding your baking expertise? Perhaps you are just starting on a journey with baking cookies or cakes.
Nothing is worse than spending time in the kitchen creating what you think is a work of culinary perfection, only to see the finished product fail to live up to expectation.
These basic tips are often overlooked by those new to baking.
These pointers are easy to follow and require little extra effort. Following these basic guidelines can take your baked goods to epic levels.
Top 10 Practical Baking Tips
- Timing and temperature are not gospel
- Baking is a science
- Eggs come in different size
- Pan sizes matter
- Use unsalted butter
- Herbs and dried spices are not created equal
- Homemade vanilla extract tastes better
- Sift the flour
- Grease the pan
- Parchment paper makes cleanup a breeze
What type of baker are you?
1. Timing and Temperature
There are things we come across in life that are more suggestions than requirements. The same holds true when you are baking. Timing and temperature are not gospel. No recipe should ever tell you "cook at 375 degrees for exactly XX minutes." Reputable recipes generally say "approximately XX minutes."
Every oven is different, and depending on where you live and the altitude it can severely impact timing and temperature. Recipes are more of a guide and you the home baker are expected to adapt as needed. Timing and temperature will often need to be adapted to suit your particular equipment.
When I test out a new recipe I have found I always set two timers. I set one for 5-8 minutes shorter than the time suggested in the recipe. And I also set one for the full time suggested. This helps me in many ways:
- By checking early I can avoid overcooking my dish.
- Lets me note a more accurate timing for my personal use in the future.
You don't need to set two timers like I do, it just helps me not forget to check. I have tested several recipes in the past where I did not check it prior to suggested time-frame. And my dish was overcooked, super dry and I ended up starting over. Once you have figured out the perfect time for your use of a recipe make a note. Then you always have a more accurate recipe for yourself.
2. Baking Is a Science
Under all the wonderful flavors that bring us together as we gather around delicious dishes is science. Cooking and especially baking requires exact measurements. Sad disappointment befalls those who inaccurately measure ingredients in the kitchen.
If a recipe calls for 128 grams of flour, you need exactly 128 grams. Baking demands accuracy, if you cannot properly measure there is not much point in trying to bake. Otherwise the finished product is not likely to be as enjoyable as you thought.
Baking ingredients are best measured by volume. No, you do not need to toss your measuring cups. I still have recipes that I use those for even when baking. When I make homemade breads I have perfected my recipe by volume. As such I use a digital scale to ensure that my measurements are faultless.
3. Eggs Come in Different Sizes
Eggs absolutely come in different sizes. Most cake or brownie recipes call for "large" eggs. Be sure you are using/purchasing the correct size egg for use in your recipes. Here in the United States, we have six different egg sizes.
- Extra large
Pay attention to the sizes of eggs you are getting at the market. The size can greatly impact how a cake, for example, will turn out. Personally I use our duck eggs we raise at home in most of my baking recipes. Duck eggs make amazing cakes and even taste great scrambled, too.
Did you know eggs come in so many sizes?
4. Pan Size Matters
Most recipes will tell you what size of a pan you need. It does matter what pan size you use. Altering the pan dimensions means you need to alter the recipe as well. Pan size does matter and they are not readily interchangeable.
A brownie recipe, for example, may call for an 8x8 inch pan. If you do not have one, this recipe is not suited for substituting a 13x9 inch pan. In fact, a 13x9 is almost exactly double that of an 8x8. So you need to adjust the recipes accordingly when you do not have a specified pan size; otherwise, those brownies are likely to turn out like really thin hard rocks.
5. Bake Better With Unsalted Butter
Many novice bakers just read the recipe and see butter and snag whatever is in the fridge. Unsalted butter is best for when we are baking. Especially when baking breads, avoid salted butter.
Cookies and other less delicate baked goods it will likely do no harm in using a salted butter. Pound cakes, butter cookies and breads need the unsalted flavor of the natural butter.
Margarine is not butter. If a recipe calls for butter, it generally is taking some flavor from the butter. Margarine can be used as a substitute in a pinch of course, but the overall flavor can be impacted.
6. Herbs and Dried Spices Are Not Equal
Herbs and dried spices are not equal. If I am making a garlic and fresh herb bread and I notice I am out of fresh basil, grabbing the dried basil from the cabinet will not yield the same results. The measurements for fresh versus dried will also be different.
If a recipe calls for a fresh herb don't replace it with equal parts dried. Dried spice substitutes for herbs lack the same flavor profile created when using fresh. Whenever you can follow the recipe exactly including fresh herbs. If as a last resort you need to substitute with a dried spice, make sure to look up the measurement conversion.
Did you know that dried and fresh herb measurements are different?
7. Homemade Vanilla Extract Tastes Better
One of the most common elements to a wide variety of baked good recipes is the use of vanilla extract. It is such a small ingredient by measurement, but it often takes desserts from drab to fab. Store-bought vanilla extracts are okay, but homemade tastes so much better. After all, everything is better homemade, including vanilla extract.
Making vanilla extract at home is actually super easy. It requires only two ingredients: vanilla beans and 80 proof alcohol. Of course, you need something to store it, as well. But don't be afraid to make your own, the flavor is better! Just add four vanilla beans to every eight ounces of alcohol. Bottle and let sit for at least six months in a cool, dark place.
A little vanilla goes a long way, so there is no need to make large batches of your own extracts. Unless you are a baking machine always spending time in the kitchen. Homemade vanilla extract also makes a great gift for family and friends, too.
8. Sift the Flour
Ever been over at a friend's house enjoying their homemade birthday treat, and suddenly you bite into a powdered clump? You guessed it—they didn't sift the flour.
Sifting flour is important for any recipe. There are many reasons why most recipes tell you "3 cups of flour, sifted."
Why Should You Sift Flour?
- Eliminates clumps
- Regulates density for a more accurate measure
- Allows it to combine easily with other ingredients
- Creates a fluffier texture in baked goods
Whatever steps in a recipe you skimp on, don't skimp on this one! There is nothing worse than biting down a big clump of flour, especially if it is one of your guests. Sifting can be done with a sifter or even a whisk, so there is no reason to skip this step.
9. Grease the Pan
For the love of all things baked, grease the pan! If a recipe tells you to grease, or grease and flour a pan, do it. Do you know what happens to a cake if you don't? That cake is going to be a nightmare to get out of the pan.
And likely you will end up turning it into cake pops! Because it is almost impossible to get them out without breakage if you failed to grease the pan. I have had this happen a few times being in a rush towards the end of preparations. So now I always grease my pan and have it ready before I ever start mixing ingredients.
Have you ever forgotten to grease a pan?
10. Parchment Paper Makes Cleanup a Breeze
I love to bake, I would bake all day, every day, if I could. But what do I hate? Cleanup! I can make a mean mess in the kitchen especially when my son is underfoot. I loathe doing the dishes and all manner of what it takes to keep my kitchen clean.
Parchment paper makes cleanup a breeze! I keep Reynolds parchment paper on hand at all times. I don't just use it to line cookie sheets, either.
When I am rolling out or kneading bread dough I line the counter with it, too. It makes cleanup much easier, especially if I didn't sprinkle enough flour down before I started kneading. Making bread is something I do frequently. I had at one point lost my luster for it because of cleanup.
Then I started lining the counter with parchment paper, and it renewed my love for bread-making. Parchment paper is inexpensive. And it's well worth the investment for the time it saves during cleanup.
© 2020 Cynthia Hoover