Baking can be a fun activity to do with friends, family, children, or just by yourself. It’s a great way to create traditions and strengthen connections while making something to be shared by all! However, if you’re new to baking it can also feel a bit intimidating. The exactness required along with the terminology, tools, and methods referred to in recipes can be overwhelming. It can feel like you don’t know how to start or what is actually important.
To help you overcome this, I’ve put together my top 10 most useful baking tips. These are the bits of insider baker information that I found especially helpful when I was getting started. I hope they can help you too!
1. READ THE RECIPE
Read the recipe. The whole recipe. In its entirety. I know it seems obvious, but if you’re like me, then you’re often guilty of skimming through the list of ingredients and instructions. It’s so frustrating to start a recipe only to realize you are missing a key ingredient or that one of the steps requires hours.
Go through the ingredient list and make sure you have all the required ingredients. If you don’t, then you can add them to your shopping list or plan an appropriate substitution. Reading through the instructions also gives you a chance to look up any unfamiliar terminology so you’re not scrambling to figure out what the recipe means by “cream the butter and sugar together” or “clarify the butter”.
And yes, it can feel tedious to read each step, but you will be happy when you find out ahead of time that your dough needs to rest or chill for “x” amount of time. So, next time you’re baking, make yourself slow down and thoroughly read the recipe. I promise it’s worth your time!
2. WEIGH YOUR INGREDIENTS
This might seem nitpicky, but weighing your ingredients with a digital kitchen scale will give you a much more accurate measurement. No two people measure out 1 cup of flour the same way, but if you know the grams in 1 cup of flour then you can measure out the correct amount every time. It’s fine to continue measuring smaller quantities in teaspoons or tablespoons and only measure larger quantities with a scale.
A digital kitchen scale is a useful tool and is easily found on Amazon or in a kitchen/home store for around $12-$25. If you want to use weight for smaller, more precise measurements then be sure to choose a scale with 0.1 gram accuracy (as opposed to 1 gram accuracy). Remember to tare, or zero, your scale with your measuring container first before adding your ingredient(s) to be weighed.
Here is a good chart to reference if you need to convert ingredients from imperial (teaspoon, tablespoon, cups) to metric measurements (grams or ounces): https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/ingredient-weight-chart
3. USE AN OVEN THERMOMETER
If your oven is anything like mine, it “preheats” to your set temperature amazingly fast! You set it to preheat, and before you know it you hear the “beep” that indicates it is preheated. However, if your oven is also like mine, when this happens it is usually not actually at your desired temperature.
This is where an oven thermometer that you hang inside your oven or one that magnetically attaches to the inside of your oven comes in handy. I try to preheat my oven 30 minutes ahead of time, but if I’m baking at a higher temperature I’ve found it can take 45 minutes for my oven to preheat so that the whole oven has reached my set temperature.
An oven thermometer will also help you verify that your oven maintains the desired temperature. Some ovens run hot or cold and you may need to adjust what you actually set the temperature at in order to achieve the temperature you want inside the oven. In one apartment I lived in, the oven’s thermostat did not work and the oven would heat up to 400F- 500F no matter what you set it at. With the help of my cheap oven thermometer that I hung inside, I could regulate the temperature by cracking open and then closing the oven door based on the thermometer reading. It wasn’t the best, but it made it so everything that we baked didn’t turn out burnt.
4. MISE EN PLACE
Mise en place (pronounced mi-zã-plas), is a French phrase that means “putting in place” or “everything in its place” and it can help organize and streamline your baking process. When you mise en place you pre-measure all of your ingredients, collect all of the required equipment and tools, and prep any pans. This ensures that everything is ready to go and there are no unexpected surprises or scrambling when you start your recipe. And if you clean up as you go, there’s no big mess at the end. Mise en place has really helped me minimize errors when baking in my home kitchen and in my bakery.
5. ROOM TEMPERATURE INGREDIENTS
Certain ingredients such as eggs and butter perform best if they are at room temperature before you use them. This isn’t a universal rule, as some recipes are best with chilled butter (e.g. pie crusts), but most recipes specify room temperature, softened, or chilled so that you’ll know. Specifically when it comes to baking cookies, your cookies will turn out best when all the ingredients are at the same temperature (unless otherwise specified in the recipe).
If your recipe calls for room temperature or softened butter, you’ll want to set the butter out about 1 hour before you plan to start. You will know your butter is softened when you lightly press on it and your finger leaves a dent. If the room is too cool, or you want to speed up the process, cut the butter up into smaller pieces. What is the point of softened butter? When softened butter is creamed (beaten) together with sugar in a recipe, air is incorporated into the dough. This helps make the dough light and soft so your cookies and cakes do not turn out dense and flat.
If you’re using softened or melted butter in a recipe, then you will also want your eggs to be at room temperature. It usually takes eggs about 30 minutes to come to room temperature. If you’re pressed for time, you can place eggs (that are still in the shell) in a bowl or pan of warm water for 5-10 minutes.
6. REUSEABLE PAN LINERS
I can’t count the number of times I accidentally used wax paper to line a pan instead of parchment paper or was out of parchment paper when I needed it. With reusable pan liners you can avoid these situations! Some are made of silicone and fiberglass (like the famous Silpat brand) and others are just silicone. Both are nonstick, reusable, easy to clean, and promote even browning and baking. The mats that have a fiberglass core are able to withstand more extreme temperatures and can go into the freezer to freeze your dough, line a pan in the oven, or can be used when working with hot caramel. I’ve also found both types useful when working with a very sticky bread or cookie dough.
Silpat is the most well known brand, but it also tends to be more expensive. There are lots of more affordable and still great options available on Amazon and elsewhere. I have Kitzini mats which are a silicone and fiberglass combo that I love and also a couple silicone only mats that are good too. The silicone only mats are more flexible and can be used for tasks like rolling up a jelly roll.
7. PRE-MAKE COOKIE DOUGH
Want to be the envy of others and look like the perfect hostess by pulling fresh cookies out of the oven when someone comes over or the kids get home? Here’s a trick to make this possible! Since you know there is going to be a time when you NEED cookies, just go ahead and make your cookie dough now and freeze it. Then you will have it when the craving hits or guests come over.
To do this you simply make your cookie dough and portion out the dough balls onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a reusable tray liner. Then pop the pan in the freezer for 1 hour to allow the individual dough balls to freeze. This prevents them from sticking together when stored. Once the dough balls are solid toss them in a ziploc freezer bag and label with the date and type of cookie. Most cookie dough is good for 3 months in the freezer. If you know you want to bake cookies the next day, remove your desired number of dough balls from the freezer, place them in the refrigerator to thaw, and then bake as usual the next day. You can also bake the cookie dough from frozen, but you’ll need to add 1-2 minutes to your bake time. Now you are all set for your next cookie emergency!
8. USE YOUR FREEZER
Use your freezer as an extension of your pantry to store certain ingredients. Unless you are a frequent bread baker, chances are it’s going to take you a while to go through that jar of dry yeast that you have. Unfortunately, your yeast could go bad or become inactive before you’re able to use it all if it’s stored in a cabinet after opening. Once opened, it’s best to store instant or active dry yeast in an airtight container (the jar it comes in is fine) in the freezer. Dry yeast is good for 6 months to 1 year if stored in the freezer or alternatively for 4 months when stored in the refrigerator. Before using, measure out your yeast and allow it to come to room temperature.
This same tip regarding freezer storage also applies to whole grain flours (e.g. whole wheat, rye, oat, rice, spelt) and nut flours. Whole grain and nut flours go rancid quickly unlike white or all-purpose flour. Storing these types of flour in the freezer, whether they are opened or unopened, will prolong their life. You can place the bag the flour comes in directly into the freezer or transfer to an airtight container. If the flour comes in a paper bag I recommend placing it inside a plastic bag or airtight container for an added layer of protection. In addition, another benefit of storing flour in the freezer for at least 48 hours is that any weevil or insect eggs will be killed. Don’t forget to write the date the yeast or flour was opened on the container so you know when to use it by!
9. BROWN YOUR BUTTER
Why? Because it’s delicious! Brown butter is butter that has had its water content removed (also known as clarifying the butter) and its milk fat solids caramelized. The browning of the milk solids gives the butter a delicious nutty, caramel flavor. Brown butter is a great addition to basically any recipe whether it’s cookies, quick breads, muffins, or bars. It’s also great on bread, roasted veggies or in a sauce.
When browning butter, stir frequently and keep a close eye on the color of the milk solids because they can go from brown to burnt quickly. Once finished, pour your brown butter into a container and allow it to cool to room temperature before baking with it. To store, place it in an airtight container and it will be good for up to 5 days at room temperature, 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator, and 3 months in the freezer…..if you can go that long without using it all! A good video tutorial on how to brown butter can be found here.
10. HAVE FUN!
Baking can be scary because it’s a science, but like any activity the more you do it the more comfortable with it you’ll be. When you bake, have fun, enjoy the process, embrace your mistakes, and try again! Once you’re comfortable with the basics, you can get creative and experiment with add-ins or adjusting a recipe. Who knows, it could create amazingly delicious results!
There you have it, My top 10 baking tips. I hope you find them helpful and that they come in useful on your baking journey!