The Importance of Explicit Instructions
The idea for this article was triggered by the volume of recipes that do not give explicit instructions. In addition, many people do not understand the reasoning behind certain baking instructions, so they skip them to save time.
This is just an overview of some of the common instructions that do not provide the novice baker with enough background or information for them to successfully comply with the directions. Additionally, I will share some ideas for ensuring that your baked goods look uniform. These small tips will help you improve your baking and create a tastier, more attractive finished product.
1. How to Cream Butter the Right Way
When you cream butter, you are incorporating air into it, which ultimately affects the composition of your batter. Surprisingly, most recipes assume that you know how to cream butter, so they rarely provide specific instructions other than to say, "cream it together with sugar."
A few years ago, I found a recipe that gave precise instructions, and I now use these tips to cream butter in other recipes because the creaming instructions improved my cookies.
- First, make sure that the butter and everything that touches it (the paddle and bowl) are at room temperature.
- Add the sugar to the butter, set the mixer speed to six (medium-high), and cream the mixture for about 30 to 40 seconds.
- Turn off the mixer, and use a spatula to scrape the mixture off the sides of the bowl.
- Continue creaming the butter for another 2 or 3 minutes. It should be free of hard butter clumps and have a smooth, soft appearance.
2. How to Prepare Eggs and Extracts
Recipes vary on how specific they are when they give instructions about adding eggs to the batter. Eggs add emulsion and moisture to your batter, so they prevent the finished product from becoming dry. Extract makes the batter more flavorful, so do not be tempted to substitute imitation flavorings for the real thing. (Imitation flavorings are much cheaper, but they will not produce the same flavor as a pure, quality extract.)
Too often, the novice baker will pull eggs out of the refrigerator and add them to the batter. Understanding the importance of room-temperature eggs will help improve your baking. When the recipe asks for room-temperature eggs, it is essential to make sure they are at the appropriate temperature because cold eggs can lengthen the cooking time of your product.
If you do not have time to leave your eggs out until they are at room temperature, put them in a bowl of warm water. After a few minutes, they will be warm enough to use. Additionally, room-temperature egg yolks are easier to break up and will combine more easily with egg whites than cold yolks.
I usually crack eggs in another bowl before I add them to the mixing bowl. If any shells fall into the bowl, I can remove them before they are poured into the batter. I use a colored bowl for eggs with white shells and a white bowl for eggs with brown shells. The bowl’s color contrast makes it easy to see stray shells.
I find it easiest to remove shells with a small gravy ladle or scooper rather than a spoon. Once my eggs are shell free, I add the extract to the eggs and mix the eggs and extract until they are well combined. Then I slowly add the egg mixture to the batter bit by bit. This method helps ensure that the flavoring from the extract is evenly dispersed.
3. Sifting the Dry Ingredients Improves Your Baking
I have a baking business. Friends and family always ask whether I actually sift my dry ingredients. After all, it takes extra time, and most people have made baked goods without sifting. (Plus, I am sure you have purchased those bags of pre-sifted flour.) People are surprised when I indicate that I always sift.
First, since I am selling my product, I want to make sure that there are no impurities in the dry goods before I add them to my batter. I usually use a sieve rather than a sifter because the hand motion from a sifter bothers my hands when I sift large quantities of flour. Additionally, it is easier to see particles that do not get sifted in a sieve.
Another reason I sift ingredients is that flour is easier to combine fully into the batter when it is sifted. The flour also has an airier, lighter appearance.
4. How to Improve the Appearance of Cookies and Brownies
Have you ever gone to a bakery and noticed that nearly all the cookies and brownies are the same sizes? At-home bakers do not usually create baked goods that have the same uniform appearance as baked goods sold in bakeries. However, there are some baking tips that a home baker can use to make his baked product look uniform.
- Weigh your cookie dough: It takes a little more time to weigh cookie dough on a scale before rolling it into balls. However, the extra time will make your cookies look uniform in size and appearance.
- Check cookies while baking them: Check your cookie dough to see how it is spreading. An occasional misshapen cookie can be fixed. Use a butter knife to carefully push in sides that are spreading unevenly. As long as the dough is still soft, you will be able to improve the cookie's shape.
Cutting brownies uniformly can be difficult, and sometimes crumbs break off while you are cutting them. After experimenting with several different methods, I found it easiest to bake brownies in silicone pans that have individual brownie squares. I use mini squares because I make cookie trays, and my customers are likely to want to try more than one kind of cookie. I spray the silicone pans lightly with baking spray. I usually eyeball the batter when putting it in each brownie mold, but I watch to make sure each square is filled to the same height.
When you first make brownies in individual molds, lower the temperature (perhaps, 340 degrees instead of 350 degrees) because the smaller molds take less time to bake than a large sheet of brownies. Check your baked goods ten or fifteen minutes before you would usually take them out. Once you adjust the recipe, write down the adjustments for future use. Let the brownies sit in the pan for about 10 minutes before you unmold them.
Try these baking tips when you make your next batch of baked goods. You are likely to notice a better consistency and a more attractive treat.
5. Understand Clarified Butter
Although I do not make many products that call for clarified butter, it is important to know what it is, how to make it, and how clarifying butter affects the item you are baking.
Butter has the propensity to burn easily because of the milk solids in it. Clarifying butter involves melting it over a low flame until a white frothy substance forms on the top. When you remove the froth from the top of the melted butter, you are skimming off the milk solids, which contain impurities. Thus, using clarified butter improves your baking because it has a more pronounced buttery flavor than butter that contains milk solids.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Abby Slutsky