Baking may seem intimidating as it requires accurate measuring and baking times. Unlike cooking, where you may add a little more of this and a dash more of that, baking is not quite as forgiving.
Baking is also a wonderful experience, filling your kitchen with beautiful aromas and producing delicious treats everyone enjoys.
Baking is for everyone, young and old, experienced and novice. As with everything, there are basic rules to follow for the best results.
Use these tips as basic guidelines; you’ll be bound to fall in love with baking and be inspired to bake often.
Learn How to Bake a Perfect Cake:
Step 1: Clean Workspace
Clear your workspace to avoid unnecessary clutter, and remove any packages, paper, pens, equipment, etc., that are unnecessary.
Clean the countertop before starting, and always wash your hands.
Keeping a clean, damp towel nearby to wipe sticky fingers or messy counters as your work is helpful.
Step 2: Pre-Read Recipe
Always read the recipe directions from beginning to end before you start baking, especially if this is your first time making a recipe.
Make sure you understand all the directions and have the basic plan in your head. You still want to follow the written recipe as you prepare your baking project, but knowing the directions beforehand helps prevent errors.
Step 3: Pre-Check Ingredient List
Make sure you have all the ingredients before beginning to bake. You don’t want to get to the middle of your baking project and realize you must quickly run to the grocery store for more eggs!
Buy Fresh Ingredients
All ingredients you are using should be fresh. Buy the finest quality ingredients for the best flavor in your baked items.
Buy fresh eggs, dairy items, and fresh spices. If ingredients have been sitting for months and years, the quality of your baked items may be compromised.
The bulk foods section of your grocery store carries many baking ingredients and can be less expensive than buying pre-packaged.
If you only need a small amount of an ingredient, purchasing from the bulk section may be easier than buying an enormous pre-packaged amount.
Step 4: Room Temperature Ingredients
Unless otherwise specified in the recipe, all ingredients should be at room temperature, usually 68 to 70 degrees.
If ingredients such as milk, eggs, and butter have been refrigerated, let them sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before use.
When ingredients are at room temperature, butter and sugar will cream properly and hold more air, eggs will blend well into the batter to act as an emulsifier, egg whites are easier to beat, and dry ingredients will combine more easily.
Step 5: Prepare Ingredients
Set out all the ingredients you will use before starting a recipe.
Give the butter time to soften to room temperature.
Toast and chop the nuts. See Toasting Nuts and Seeds for help.
Melt the chocolate and let it cool.
Sift and measure the flour and dry ingredients.
Measure the wet ingredients.
Set the milk out to warm to room temperature.
Place the eggs in a bowl of warm water to take the chill off.
Substituting ingredients can affect the texture and taste of your finished baked creation.
Limit food substitutions in a recipe, but do not be afraid to be creative; that is how new recipes are born.
Step 6: Prepare Pans and Equipment
All pans, measuring cups, spoons, and tools should be clean, dry, and at room temperature. For example, you don’t want to put butter into a mixing bowl fresh from a hot dishwasher as the butter will start melting in the hot pan.
There may be exceptions to the room temperature rule, such as chilled beaters, and a bowl is best for whipping cream.
Assemble all the mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, baking pans, and any other tools the recipe requires; set them on your countertop so they’re available when needed.
Use standard measuring cups and spoons or scales for accurate measuring.
Select the Right Baking Pan
Use the size baking pan called for in a recipe to help ensure good baking results.
Pan-size substitutions can be made if necessary, but you may need to adjust the baking time.
Baking pans are measured across the top, not the bottom, from one inside edge to the other.
The recipe directions should tell you how to prepare the pan.
You may need to grease and flour a cake pan, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat, or line a cupcake pan with paper cup liners.
See baking tools and equipment for types of baking pans.
Step 7: Preheat the Oven
Turn the oven on, and select the temperature called for in the recipe at the beginning of your baking project.
Unless a recipe’s directions call for a cold oven, always have the oven hot and ready to go as soon as the baking pan is ready to be put in the oven. It usually takes 15 to 20 minutes to preheat an oven.
Check your oven’s temperature with an oven thermometer. An oven thermometer is an inexpensive and easy way to determine what temperature your oven is heating to.
If the oven thermometer indicates your oven is hotter or cooler than what you have set to, adjust your temperature setting accordingly. For example, if your temperature setting is set at 350 degrees F, but the oven thermometer registers 375 degrees, lower your temperature setting by 25 degrees to compensate.
Step 8: Measure Accurately
Use liquid measuring cups for liquid ingredients and dry measuring cups for dry ingredients.
Accurate measuring is one of the essential elements of baking. It helps to count out loud if you are measuring three or more of an ingredient. If you are distracted by something, it is easier to remember how many you have already measured. For example, when measuring three cups of flour, count out loud: “One, two, three.”
Post-Check Ingredient List
Before putting your creation into the oven, read through the recipe ingredients list again to ensure an ingredient has not been left out.
If you missed an ingredient the directions called for at the beginning of the preparation, go ahead and add it now. Better late than never!
Step 9: Filling Cake Pan Properly
The general rule of thumb is to fill a cake pan two-thirds to three-quarters full, leaving enough room for the cake to expand and rise as it bakes.
If the pan is fuller, the batter may spill over the sides of the pan, and if the pan is not filled enough, the cake may be dense or flat.
Try to spread the batter as evenly as possible, as thinner areas will bake quicker and dry out.
Step 10: Bake and Cool
Cakes should be baked as close to the center of the oven as possible.
Position the oven racks before the oven is preheated so the rack the cake will be sitting on is in the middle position, and place the pan in the center of the rack when baking.
Most baked goods are cooled before you eat them.
Placing the hot baking pan on a wire cooling rack is best for cooling as the air is allowed to circulate completely around the food as it cools.
Foods such as cookies and bread can be transferred directly from the baking pan to the wire rack to cool.
Use a Timer
A kitchen timer is indispensable. Don’t guess how long something has been in the oven.
Use a kitchen timer to time the baking time accurately. The kitchen timer’s handy bell also reminds you that something is baking in case you get distracted. I like to use my microwave’s built-in timer.
Use a good hot pad or oven mitt to remove hot baking pans from the oven. A kitchen towel may be handy but does not offer good protection.
The silicone non-slip pads are wonderfully heat resistant and give you a good grip. I once dropped a beautiful apple pie on the floor when taking it hot from the oven and learned my lesson about using a good pad.