I prefer baking to cooking because the details matter. I like sweating the details and knowing that if I follow the recipe I should get a predictable result. I’ve read a lot of cookbooks, baking books, magazines and articles about baking all sorts of things. These are the 5 simple tips I’ve come to believe will make you a better baker.
1. Read the entire recipe and prep your ingredients
This is one of those common sense one that far too few people actually do. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe and realizing you are out of vanilla or don’t have the right pan. Know what you are doing and have everything prepped and measured before you start the recipe steps. Applies equally well to cooking or baking.
2. Be careful and precise with your measurements
Unlike most cooking recipes, baking recipes are carefully calibrated science experiments and accuracy matters. This means taking the time to weigh most ingredients. Getting the right proportions has a profound effect on the outcome. It’s worth investing in a decent kitchen scale.
3. Sift or aerate your flour
Modern bags of flour don’t need quite the TLC that they used to but sifting or aerating your flour and other leavening ingredients in a food processor will give you more accurate measurements. See #2.
Why room temperature?
At room temperature, eggs, butter, and other dairy form an emulsion which traps air. While baking in the oven, that trapped air expands and produces a fluffy baked good. Egg yolks also break more easily, allowing them to mix more evenly with the egg whites and other ingredients allowing for a more consistent and tender texture to the finished baked good.
4. Have a thermometer handy
You can see how many of these are going back to being accurate, right? The final temperature of a baked good isn’t the only thing that matters. An instant read thermometer can help make sure that butter is really at room temperature and an oven thermometer can help keep your oven honest. Remember, ovens lie. A lot. They may have hot spots or cold spots or cycle on and off. Get to know your oven. A thermometer can help.
5. Understand the ingredients (at least a little)
This is a bit of a bonus one but if you want to take your baking to the next level or you want to start adapting or customizing your favorite recipes, it helps to understand the ingredients and how they interact. You don’t need to know the intimate chemistry involved but it can help to understand if something is meant to strengthen, weaken, moisten, dry, or leaven the end result.
Just a few simple things but if you make them part of your baking routine they will radically alter both the way you bake and what you bake for the better.