1. Read the recipe, twice, before beginning.
I am sure many of you are like me, short on time, so you skim the recipe. Sometimes you can get away with it but often you end up not realizing you need an ingredient you don't have on hand, or you don't realize just how much time you need to bake it. Nine times out of ten reading the recipe thoroughly can prevent issues with baking your treat.
Preparing yourself by reading the recipe will let you know if you do indeed need to stand stirring for ten minutes or if you can walk away. Knowledge is power and knowing what is coming up and being prepared is key to success in the kitchen.
On my recipe pages at the top, you will find a button that says Jump to Recipe, this will take you directly to the recipe card with ingredient quantities and instructions, BUT in the post, there are step-by-step photos along with more tips and tricks to make the recipe.
2. Mise En Place, Ingredients Prepped
Taking the extra couple of minutes to prepare your ingredients is another crucial ingredient to a successful recipe in the kitchen.
Taking time to do this helps prevent you from forgetting to say sift the cocoa powder ahead of time before just dumping it in. Cocoa powder is notorious for being lumpy, that is the last thing you want in a cake!
3. Make sure your ingredients are at the correct temperature
Notice how we haven't even gotten to the baking part yet? Being prepared is key! Now you've made sure you have your ingredients on hand and that you have enough of them, it's now time to make sure they are at the correct temperature.
Room temperature ingredients emulsify into other ingredients much more smoothly and successfully. Not to mention if something is colder or hotter than it should be based on the recipe the baking can change too. Think of how you must bake puff pastry or pie dough chilled otherwise it won't cook properly.
Many baking recipes start with creaming butter and sugar together, this process whips air into the mixture which creates air pockets that while baking expand and create a tender, fluffy baked good. Cold butter is not able to properly cream into the sugar, so room temperature butter is crucial. But keep in mind, butter that is too warm will not properly create those air pockets. It's a fine line. Your butter is at room temperature when you can lightly press your finger indentation into it but it doesn't look shiny or greasy. The temperature of room temperature butter should be around 65F/18C- 70F/21C.
If a recipe calls for room temperature butter it is safe to assume the other ingredients need to also be at room temperature. If you add say cold milk or sour cream to the batter it will reduce the temperature of the butter canceling out all of the benefits you had from using room temperature butter.
4. Measuring your ingredients
I will forever stand on my measuring ingredients by weight soapbox.
When you scoop the flour with a measuring cup it is completely inconsistent. Some people have a heavier or lighter hand and the amount they scoop can vary a lot. Or if you pack the ingredient into the cup it can also vary. This method of preparing ingredients is measured by volume. Let me give you an out of the kitchen example:
If you have ever packed a suitcase you know that you can squeeze a hell of a lot into a suitcase thinking you surely haven't reached the 23kg/50lb weight limit only to be at the airport going through things to reshuffle so you don't get charged an over-sized bag fee!
Measuring ingredients by cups has this exact same problem, what one person can fit into a cup is completely different than what another person can fit into a cup. So to create consistency I use a digital scale to weigh my ingredients. I personally weigh my dry ingredients in grams and my wet ingredients in ounces. Trust me when I say that using a scale will greatly enhance your rate of success baking.
5. Mix the batter as called for, do not over mix and do not under mix
When baking with my nieces and nephews I often have to pay close attention when they are mixing because they often just want to keep on mixing. It's the fun part to them and they will easily OVER mix the batter, often over-developing gluten which will cause a tougher, denser baked good.
When you are whipping a meringue, egg whites, or whipped cream, you are often looking for soft, medium, or stiff peaks. If you do not mix enough you will not reach those stiff peaks which when baking my flourless chocolate cake are crucial as the egg whites that have been whipped incorporate air into the batter while baking helping the cake rise.
6. The quality of your baking vessels
Baking something in a metal pan, glass pan, or ceramic dish can give you varying results. Each baking vessel conducts and holds heat differently. My preference is always Anodized Aluminum pans. They are non-reactive so you don't need to worry about acidic ingredients reacting and they don't have the non-stick coating. Anodized aluminum pans also conduct heat very evenly. Dark-colored pans can often cause over-browning.
Ceramic dishes and glass baking pans hold heat longer and could cause intense browning before being fully baked in things like cookies and cakes. I use a ceramic dish for my baked rice pudding and a glass dish for my bread and butter pudding.
A great baking pan's best friend is a non-stick baking spray. I always use Baker's Joy Spray. Often times for bars and cookies I also line pans with parchment paper or heavy-duty foil so that I can easily remove them from the pan.
For baking cookies and scones using a silicone liner on a half sheet pan helps create a non-stick even surface.
Make sure to check out my post on the best baking tools.
7. Keeping the oven door closed
A good recipe will tell you to preheat the oven as the first step. This is critical because the temperature needs to be correct in order for the recipe to bake and rise as desired by the recipe.
You also want to make sure that the temperature of the oven does not drop drastically. So it’s best to not constantly open your oven door to check on things because each time you’re opening the oven door the hot air is escaping and cold air is going in bringing the temperature down.
This causes issues, especially when baking a cake. You can see the downfall of opening the oven door too many times when your cake sinks in the center. When making Yorkshire Puddings you will almost always fail if you check them too often.
Use the oven light feature of your oven to see where things are at and only open the oven door if you truly need to check on things. Make sure to move quickly when you open the oven door so as little hot air escape as possible.
8. Calibrate your oven
Most residential home ovens are not calibrated to the exact temperature that the oven reads.
For example, I have had many ovens that run 10F warmer than the oven states. So if the temperature is set to 350F the oven is actually creating an environment that is 360F. Especially when you’re baking cakes that warmer oven can brown the cake too quickly. You can buy an oven thermometer that you can keep in your oven to see what temperature it is truly at. Then adjust the temperature that you set the oven to when baking. So in my example, I would set my temperature to 340°F.
I always bake in the center rack of the oven to make sure it's the best place for the baked good to cook. The center has the best circulation and usually fewer hot spots.
The Oven Thermometer I use:
9. Don't expect the same results if you alter things
You can alter any recipe load of ways, let me share a few and how they affect things.
- Using more brown sugar the granulated sugar in a cookie. That could cause too much moisture and not enough spreading of the cookie, so you could end up with mound of cookies that haven't spread into the classic cookie shape.
- Baking cookies, muffins, or cupcakes on multiple trays all in the oven at once. If you have three trays in the oven there is a lot less circulation and consistency as there would be if you only had one tray in the oven. So, while you can cram three trays in, don't expect everything to bake up just perfect.
- Completely swapping out an ingredient like using oat flour instead of all-purpose flour will leave you with a drastically different texture.
- Using cold ingredients when the recipe called for room temperature, hence the whole section above! This can potentially ruin the batter causing it not to rise and bake properly.
Sure altering recipes to make them your own is part of the joy and fun of baking, but if you're baking for a special occasion I would not alter anything.
10. Let baked goods cool and chill properly
Once something comes out of the oven let it properly cool. Cutting into something that has not properly cooled can ruin it. Slicing into a loaf of bread before it has cooled completely can produce a gummy textured bread that doesn't slice properly.
Cheesecake is finicky when it comes to cooling, you will ruin the cheesecake if you rush the process. Most often you bake the cheesecake in a water bath, turn the oven off and prop the door open to let the cheesecake cool in the oven for an hour, then remove it from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool for another hour, then wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to cool for at least 8 hours.
If you try to frost a cake while the cake is still even a little warm you risk your frosting melting and ruining your cake. Let them fully cool.