There’s nothing more innocent than a cake. There’s also nothing more corrupt than the words that fly out of a frustrated baker’s mouth when the cake falls flat. Baking, which always seems like it should be more easy-going than it’s higher-class sibling cooking, is often underestimated. It is an exact art, a magical science, even, that often has beginners feeling like they’re in a Harry Potter potions class. Directions may be simple, but they must be executed perfectly. And sometimes, you just need some insiders knowledge (Half-Blood Prince, anyone?) to attain the best results.
I’ve compiled the best, most helpful baking tips that truly make all the difference in the world. If you plan on using flour and eggs anytime soon, I suggest you keep reading. Gluten free? You can use this online gluten free baking class and learn from a fourth generation pastry chef. You have no excuses.
Before You Do Anything
If you wake up in the morning and decide you want to bake a cake after work (great decision, by the way), take thirty seconds and remove any refrigerated items you will be using from the refrigerator. Butter, eggs, cream, cream cheese, whatever. A few hours is ideal, but if you forgot this step and are determined to bake anyway, there are a few things you can do to minimize the damage. Place individual eggs and cream cartons in warm (not hot) water and cut things like butter and cream cheese into small chunks. If you can let them sit for at least fifteen minutes, you’re in the clear.
For starters, all the ingredients you use should be of the highest quality you can afford. Nice flour really makes a difference, and if you’ve ever compared $1 eggs to the organic, free range variety, the difference in yolk color is startling. When it comes to ingredients, you get what you pay for. Picking the right flour isn’t just about quality, though: for breads, you want flour that has higher protein content (this means greater gluten) and for cakes you want lower protein content (this keeps your cakes light and fluffy). Cookies are their own entity and deserve the love you normally reserve for cakes. Marko Ropke has twenty-five years of experience and welcomes you with open arms into his dazzling world-of-cookies course.
The “measuring flour” debate will never be settled, no pun intended. While everyone agrees that weighing flour is the most accurate way to measure it, no one can agree on how much a cup of flour should weigh. That’s because flour is easily fluffed or condensed. If you can’t weight flour, a good rule it to give it a good fluffing and settle it once or twice as you fill your measuring cups by shaking them gently. This is perfectly acceptable for general recipes. Note: always spoon flour into measuring cups, do not dip cups into the flour bag.
If you can measure it, there are a few somewhat hazy standards to follow. If a recipe specifies flour weight in grams or ounces, then you’re good to go: just follow the recipe. If not, welcome to the debate: you will find anywhere between 3.5 and 5 ounces as the supposed “standard” for one cup. Right in the middle is where I’ve found the right balance (a fluffed and settled cup of all purpose flour usually clocks in around 4 to 4.25 ounces).
The general rule is to keep dough cool. If you’ve been baking all day and your kitchen is hot, prepare dough in a different room. Try not to palm the dough; use fingers, which emit less heat. You also don’t want to over-work it. Kneed it until you reach an even consistency and call it quits. Too much kneading will cause the grease to surface. If your dough starts to feel greasy, sticky or strangely elastic, you’ve gone too far.
Quick Tip For The Indulgent Bread Maker
Adding a bit of vegetable oil or butter to bread dough will naturally make it taste better, but a little known fact is that it will help keep your bread fresh for considerably longer. Two to three tablespoons is plenty, and will only add ten calories (give or take a few) per slice. If bread is your calling, this course will teach you how to bake perfect artisan bread.
Tenderer Is Better
Depending on what you’re baking, a sprinkle of lemon juice or vinegar (one tsp at most) will help your more delicate baked goods, such as pastries and pies, achieve a tenderness to die for.
There are a few tricks when it comes to pans. First, always use the recommended pan size. Adjusting time for a shallower or deeper pan is only acceptable for store bought cake and cookie mixes; go for the real deal and pick up some cake decorating ideas from this free article.
Second, place pans as closely to the center of the oven as possible (the center from the sides and the center from the front and back). If you insist on baking two pans at once, ideally they will be placed next to each other (as opposed to stacked) and should have several inches of space between them and the sides of the oven. If they won’t fit side by side, stack them on opposing sides of the oven to maximize the odds that they bake evenly.
Third, rotate the pans about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through the bake time; this simply ensures that baked goods brown evenly.
Finally, grease pans with a baking brush if you have it. This will give you a perfect and easy coating. Substitute a paper towel for the brush. Really anything is better than trying to force a square of butter into hard to reach corners.
A few basic mixing tips (and get in some practice with this free chocolate cake with ganache frosting recipe):
- Whisk together dry ingredients first, then add the wet ones (unless the recipe says otherwise).
- When you’re supposed to alternate between wet and dry ingredients, be sure the last thing you add is the remaining dry ingredients.
- Don’t overmix once all the ingredients are combined. If you’re using an electric mixer, go for a slow or medium speed. The extra time is worth the smoother, higher quality and unbruised texture.
- Break apart egg yolks before mixing.
- Even if the recipe doesn’t call for it, a sprinkle of salt works wonders with baked goods.
That does it for my quick tips. I have repeatedly stressed taking your time, but if time is of the essence, this five-star online pastry school guarantee mastery in just one week.