Baking: Part science. Part Art. It’s inherently very different from cooking which can be much more improvisational. I have always loved baking but haven’t always been very good at it. After going through culinary school, baking professionally, and many, many failed baking days at home, there are a few things that I have learned to help be a more successful baker. I will be sharing those tips with you with the hope of helping you learn how to be a better baker too!
Tip #1: Read the Full Recipe First
This might seem a little elementary, but reading a recipe through completely first is extremely important. Before you turn on your oven, or pull out a baking sheet, read through all the details. Make sure you have all the ingredients you need and have them at the right temperature (see Tip #2 below!) before you begin baking. When you jump right in, you might find there’s a step you are not prepared for so you will be rushed and more likely to make an error.
You might discover an ingredient you needed halfway through isn’t supposed to be room temperature and now you need to rechill. You might be missing a critical tool. And you are more likely to make an error in process if you don’t realize you are skipping a step. Morale of the story is, read the recipe!
Tip #2: Ingredient Temperatures are Important
When baking, recipe temperatures are actually very important. You’ve probably noticed in a lot, or all, of my recipes, I have included a temperature for ingredients like butter, eggs or milk. I have a reason I promise. The temperatures change how ingredients incorporate and affect the final result. If you don’t cream room temperature butter, and use warm, softened butter instead, you will notice a greasy sad cookie or a lack luster cake.
There’s a few cheats you can use to speed things up. Eggs still in the shell can be set in warm water to warm the eggs. Butter can be set under a warmed glass for a few minutes. But in the end, I prefer to let nature do the task and leave the ingredients to warm or chill in their own time.
Tip #3: Measure Ingredients Precisely
Baking recipes are chemistry. Delicious chemistry, but chemistry none the less. You don’t want to wing it with the amount of flour or add a splash of this. I prefer to measure my ingredients in grams. It’s how I have listed my ingredients first in the recipes.
A kitchen scale costs less than $20 and it’s a game changer. It’s really a lot easier and quicker to measure using weight rather than scooping too. In my mind, it’s a triple win – better results, faster to achieve, and easier to replicate when making the recipe again.
The most important ingredient is flour when measuring. Compared to sugar or butter, a cup of flour can vary widely from kitchen to kitchen. Flour can get very compacted when sitting, so if you scoop a cup of compact flour, it will be a lot more than a cup scooped from recently fluffed flour. If you do not have a kitchen scale, the best practice for measuring flour is to fluff the flour in the bag, spoon it into the measuring cup, then level the top with the back of a knife.
The Ingredients Themselves are Also Important
Similarly, not only is getting ingredients to the right amount important, swapping ingredients will absolutely result in different bakes. Swapping ingredients when cooking is encouraged to fit your preferences. However, in baking, the chemistry of it comes back into play.
Leaveners, fats and proteins are all carefully balanced to create the intended final result in a recipe. Until you are very familiar with required ratios and what role ingredients play, stick with the recipe. If you don’t have the right ingredients, dislike something, or have an allergy, I would suggest moving to another recipe that fits your needs.
Tip #4: Embrace Failure and Have Fun
Baking fails are inevitable. It happens to me all the time. You can skip an ingredient, forget a timer, have an old batch of baking soda, or the moons can not align on Thursday and you have no idea what happens. Do. Not. Spiral.
I’m guilty of spiraling, especially when baking for others. I want it to be completely perfect and even though I’ve done a lot of baking, I’m not a Michelin-starred Pastry Chef. Things fail. Usually I can see exactly what I’ve done wrong and can fix it for the next try.
Sometimes something fails without a clue as to why. If you can’t see where it went crooked, just start fresh. Don’t assume you read the recipe correctly or know for sure it was 1 tablespoon and not 1 teaspoon. Reread the recipe in full. Restart from the beginning.
Don’t forget to eat your test batches, because even if they don’t look pretty, they are probably still pretty tasty. And don’t forget to enjoy the process! If you’re on my site, you are probably here because you like to bake and enjoy the process of it, or at least the idea of baking. Enjoy the meditativeness of measuring and whisking. While I’m giving you tips on how to be a better baker, I’m not asking anyone to be a perfect baker. Not even myself.
Tip #5: Equipment Plays a Part to Being a Good Baker
Over the years, I have acquired a pretty hefty amount of baking equipment. Through this time, I’ve learned two lessons. Really cheap equipment typically gives pretty cheap results. A really thin aluminum pan is probably going to burn your cake.
A thin whisk is probably going to bend instead of actually whipping. I have slowly replaced some of my less appealing items with higher quality versions, or versions that just work better. You will probably notice in most of my recipe posts I make suggestions on equipment. It’s because I’ve tried many versions and have found the one that is most successful for me.
The second lesson – learning the hard way that you might not have always have a substitute option if you want the same final result. Sometimes it’s merely an aesthetic difference, which, who cares? Without a bench scraper, your frosted layer cake is probably not going to have completely smooth sides with a 90° edge.
The icing will still be delicious. On the other hand, sometimes it will result in a baking fail. A recipe developed for a bundt pan will bake differently in a flat cake layer. If you don’t have the right equipment, it might not be the recipe for you.
Takeaways on How to Be a Better Baker
These 5 tips may seem like basics on how to be a better baker, but really, the basics are the key! Once you have the basics down, the rest of the tasks seem much easier to conquer. Baking as well is very much a practice makes progress task. The more you bake, the better instincts you will have, the better you will be at identifying a bum recipe (they’re out there!) and the more refined the final results will be.
On my site I have a range of recipes from very quick and simple recipes to much more complex, technical recipes. Not everyone likes the same style of baking. For me, it depends on the day. Some days I just want to whip up a batch of quick cookies, like these Chocolate Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies And some days I want to really escape into my kitchen and really get into a baking project. A multi-step project like my Apple Cider Donuts can be really therapeutic when the rest of the world is just ugh and the kitchen is just ahhh. So peak around the site, find a recipe that speaks to you and get into the kitchen! If you have any questions along way, drop me a note or message, I’m here to help.