Some people are scared of baking, even the most seasoned cooks. It doesn't help that people talk about baking like it's a magic trick or a complicated science project! Good news: You can bake great-tasting treats with some starter tips that are based on common sense.
1. Pay Attention
Read your recipe all the way through at least once before you begin. Check to make sure you have all the ingredients. Get your tools and pans ready so that you don't have to search for them in the middle of a time-sensitive recipe.
One step that trips up newbies is realizing too late that a recipe calls for something like room-temperature eggs and slightly softened butter. Don't panic. If you forget to take eggs out of the refrigerator early, you can get them to room temperature quickly by just putting them in a bowl and covering them with warm water. Butter will soften faster at room temperature if you cut the bar into smaller pieces. (Don't be tempted to soften it in the microwave, it's too easy for it to overheat or melt there, and that would change the consistency of your cookies and cakes.)
2. Measure carefully
Did we mention that some people talk about baking like it's a magic trick? Measuring your ingredients correctly is really like a magic wand. This video will show you how to measure both dry and wet ingredients accurately, helping avoid problems like tough cakes or greasy cookies. If you plan to do a lot of baking, at some point you might think about a basic digital scale (more on that here).
Measuring also matters later in the baking process. Your cookies or muffins or rolls will bake at different rates if they're dramatically different sizes. Some will burn while others are underbaked. Again, you could use a scale, but it's also fine to use a tool like an ice cream scoop to portion out similar sizes. Even eyeballing how evenly you're dividing the batter or dough is better than nothing!
Finally, try to use the pan that's called for in the recipe. While it's sometimes possible to substitute, you'll be changing the cooking time of your baked goods as well as the shape and potentially the texture of the crust. (You can use this knowledge to your advantage. If you're short on time, for instance, try a mini-muffin recipe, which will bake in about half the time of full-sized muffins.)
3. Mix To Order
Recipes often call for mixing different ingredients at different points, and for different lengths of time. Resist the temptation to just dump everything together, because there are reasons behind the recommendations. Creaming butter and sugar together at the beginning of a cookie recipe, for instance, introduces air into the mixture and keeps your cookies from turning out dense and flat. But you want to gently stir together pancake batter, even leaving some lumps, so that you don't wind up overdeveloping the gluten and getting tough pancakes. Don't worry about perfection, just get as close as you can to the appearance or amount of time called for in the directions.
4. Understand Your Oven
Position your oven racks where the recipe recommends when the oven is still cold. It's easier to move the racks around when they're not hot!
Preheat the oven to the recommended temperature before baking your batters or doughs. The first step in many recipes is preheating the oven, which usually gives you plenty of time. But consider allowing extra preheating time when you're making yeast breads or pizza dough. That will make it easier for the oven to keep the temperature stable even when you open the oven door to put in your dough, and that can make a difference in those baked goods.
If your recipes always wind up overbaked or underbaked, your oven might be running hot or cold. How can you tell? An oven thermometer will let you know for sure, but here's an easy way you can test it by using a scoop of sugar.
You'll also want to rotate your pans halfway through baking. This helps compensate for any hot spots in your oven. Remember to wear oven mitts, of course, so you don't burn your hands.
5. Give Yourself The Gift of Easy Cleanup
You'll feel better about your baked goods if the bottoms don't stick to a baking sheet or pan when you try to lift them out, and if you don't have to spend time scrubbing splatters. Many recipes call for coating pans with nonstick spray or buttering and flouring them before use. Lining baking sheets or pans with parchment paper also makes it neat and easy to lift off cookies or lift out breads.
Ready to begin?
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