Baking is more than sweet aromas and sweet treats. The slightest miscalculation in measurements can make a wonderful Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake into a dry chocolate flavored piece of cardboard. As I am still learning do’s and don’ts myself, I thought that it would be helpful to display some of the the tips and tricks that I have learned along the way.
1. Read the recipe all the way through before you begin. I learned this the hard way. I thought that it would be a good idea and a stretch of my baking ability to make homemade croissants. Now for those of you who have made french pastries or danish should already be laughing at me. Well, because I did not read the recipe all the way through, it was an overnight process that required a lot kneading that I was not expecting. The croissants were wonderful! But I cursed the entire process and Martha Stewart the entire time.
2. Make sure you have all the ingredients before you begin. There is nothing worse than starting a baked good and realize that you do not have enough brown sugar and have to run to the store when you are still in your rollers and house coat. You’ve guessed it. This happened to me before as well.
3. Preheat your oven. This is a step that I did not think that was incredibly important, but true bakers know that IT IS! Preheating your oven is just as warming up before a marathon. Make sure that your oven heat about 20 to 30 minutes before you plan on placing your baked good inside the oven.
4. Dip and sweep. When you place your measuring cups in the bag or whatever holder you have for your dry ingredients, make sure that you sweep the top of the cup before adding to the remainder of the ingredients. Baking is a science and you have to be as precise as possible to avoid an undesired taste, texture, or color.
5. Use unsalted butter. This was hard for me because I think that having a buttery flavor can be good in some baked goods. But to avoid the saltiness overpowering the initial flavor use unsalted butter. If you desire that buttery taste, use butter extract if necessary.
6. Room temperature. In my research and exploration of different recipes, it is best if all of your key ingredients are used at a room temperature (i.e. milk, eggs, and butter). But make sure that you read carefully through an entire recipe to determine the desired temperature of your ingredients. If your butter needs to be at room temperature, but you do not want to wait that long, I do not recommend placing them in the microwave because this could make your butter to runny for the baking process and ruin the foundation of your baked good. I would try placing the butter next to something warm, like a refrigerator, to quicken that process. Another idea is to cut the butter into 1/4 inch slices and lay them flat on a surface for about 10 minutes and then check before you proceed (Stewart, p.11).
7. Invest in only the best. If you are really serious about your food, you should be just as serious about what you put in your food. Use the best and freshest ingredients possible. I only use pure extracts. Pure Mexican Vanilla extract is very rich in the vanilla flavor, and so far, the best that I have ever used. It is a little pricey but McCormick’s Pure Vanilla extract will do and it is a bit cheaper. I have friend that is baking foodie as well and she uses organic sugar in her baked good and King Arthur Flour. I have so much flour that I have not gotten to it just yet. But I am on my last bag and I will be making the switch as well. From what I have noticed, King Arthur Flour is also a bit pricey, its about $1.00 more than Gold Medal, but it may bring out the best in your good. You should also have the best baking equipment as well (see other page for suggestions).
These tips can be found in “Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook”. She is my Julia Child in this life. If you are serious, I recommend that her book. Also, “A Passion for Baking” by Marcy Goldman is the book that took something that I started doing because I was bored, to this wonderful new love in my life.