Baking Tips For A Great Cooking Experience

First baking tip to have the best cooking experience is to have no fear!

Take a deep breath, close your eyes and imagine that delicious triple-layer chocolate cake. Honestly, what is the worst thing that could happen? Even lopsided cakes are delicious, and you’ll do better next time.”
— Kim Laidlaw speaking to Contra Costa Times, from Kim Laidlaw’s 10 Best Baking Tips

It’s really helpful to know a few baking equivalents.

3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon

4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup

5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon = 1/3 cup

2 cups = 1 pint

2 pints = 1 quart

4 quarts = 1 gallon

“Depending on how much you beat the batter after the eggs are added, this crust [on brownies, pound cakes and even chocolate chip cookies] can be barely noticeable or a dramatic crisp, shiny crust.”
— Shirley O. Corriher, food sleuth and author of BakeWise, from The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking

Take one minute to mentally walk through what you’re cooking.

Before you start cooking, taking just one minute to think through what you’re about to do makes all the difference in the world. If you’re making multiple dishes, you can pick out what takes the longest to cook and the exact order to prep and cook things, seeing where there are opportunities to prep things while something else is cooking. It’s a lot more efficient to have a mental game plan so you don’t hit any bumps, like forgetting to get water boiling.

“Let the batter sit for a few minutes before pouring it into the pan. This allows the flour and other dry ingredients to fully combine with the moist ingredients. It really does make a difference in the way the cake bakes and the texture of the crumb.”
— Gina de Palma for O Magazine, from Bake a Perfect Cake: 5 Tips From the Experts

Use wide, shallow pans.

Instead of saucepans, try using wide, shallow pans for cooking instead. The wider surface area means there’s more of the pan directly touching the heating element. More surface area also means that liquids reduce faster and you can brown more food at once in a single layer.

Rotate Halfway Through

Every oven has a hot spot, and if you don’t correct for it, you run the risk of unevenly cooked pastries—or worse, some that burn or wind up underbaked. When a recipe calls for turning a baking sheet or pan 180 degrees halfway through the process, don’t ignore it. If the back of your oven is hotter than the front, you need to give every corner and side of your concoction the same treatment. Don’t, however, open the oven constantly to check on progress—it’ll lower the temperature and alter the baking time.

“Check before the indicated cooking time for doneness. Ovens may be the exact same temperature, but surprisingly, each can cook differently. Chocolate cakes and other desserts are notoriously finicky, and usually benefit from under baking rather than over baking.”
— David Lebovitz, professional baker and author, from My Favorite Kitchen Tip, Ever

Some recipes call for creaming butter and sugar.  Here’s the deal, creaming butter and sugar means that you’re beating butter and sugar together (usually using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment) in order to aerate the mixture.  For the best results, butter must be softened to room temperature.  Cold butter will be too tough to aerate.  Beat the butter and sugar for 3 to 5 minutes on medium speed.  If the butter is at room temperature, after three minutes you’ll notice that the mixture is pale in color and slightly fluffy.

“Spend time creaming your butter and sugar together. Not to get too much into the science of baking, but the sugar crystals help aerate the butter by creating air bubbles as they cut into the fat. If you cream the butter and sugar correctly (about 10 minutes), you’ll get evenly baked, fluffy cookies.”
— Megan Willett, lifestyle reporter, from Best Cookie Baking Tips

A word on sugar
Like a fingerprint or a snowflake, no two sugars are exactly the same.

There are several kinds of sugar available, but not everyone is perfect for baking. Sweeteners worth extra consideration include:

      • White granulated sugar: The most common variety.
      • Sanding sugar: Used mostly for decoration as it gives cakes and such a shimmery exterior.
      • Brown sugar: Comes in two varieties, light and dark. The added molasses makes either kind perfect for sauces or drizzling.

“For light and fluffy baked goods, it’s important not to over stir. First, make sure your dry ingredients are completely mixed together before you get them wet. Next, instead of stirring vigorously like a cartoon chef, gently scrape down the sides and bottom of your bowl and mix with a folding motion, constantly incorporating a new section of batter.”
— Christine Frazier, food blogger, from Best Baking Tips

Pay special attention to key instructions like “cream until light and fluffy,” “mix until just combined,” and “fold in gently.” Overmixing overdevelops gluten and deflates the air pockets you worked so hard to create, as does a vigorous or overzealous folding motion. A note on sifting ingredients: Unless it’s ultralight, ultra-delicate cake flour, or powdered sugar that needs as much aeration as it can get, it’s a step you can skip.

Butter and Flour Your Pans Generously

“I once asked someone to butter and flour a pan, and she just swiped a few streaks in it,” Saffitz says. If this sends chills down your spine, you know the power of a well-buttered pan. When a recipe calls for a greased and/or floured vessel, it’s for a reason: Your batter or dough has the potential to bake on and adhere to the pan, so butter it up. Consider every nook and cranny that could get sticky, and be generous and thorough with your application—that means getting into corners and at the seams where the bottom and sides meet.

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