Note: This is a 2-part post with lots of baking tips to help you turn your baking from frustration to fascination! If you learn and follow these important baking rules, you are well on your way to more successes in the kitchen. ?
***Click here to go to Part 2 of this series***
I have heard some people (including myself) that baking is not for them or baking "does not like" them. A lot of people can easily learn how to cook savory foods, but when it comes to baking, desserts become disasters. Well you are definitely not alone. Believe me when I say I know how that feels - I've been in that phase too. I knew how to cook but I was struggling with baking. With the many times I've tried to make cakes, breads, and cupcakes, 80% of the outcome went to trash and 20% was, well, edible. But the good news is that there is a something you can do!
Baking gives the same results when the same ingredients and amounts are used, under the same conditions, and following the same steps. You don't need to get the "baking genes" to be able to whip your grandma's best ever chocolate cake or enroll in a culinary school to bake excellent desserts. However, you need to know that baking is an exact science and with that, you need to understand the science of baking. I realized that my mistake was that I just followed the recipe without trying to understand any basic baking concepts.
Baking is a lot more fun once you've nailed the basics. Here are some 10 baking rules that will turn your baking from frustration to fascination:
1. Read the recipe through before starting to bake.
Before beginning to bake, read the recipe from start to finish. This is important so you can plan your baking time, ingredients and equipment ahead. You wouldn't want to start on baking a cheesecake just 3 hours before your guests arrive as it needs several hours of chilling time. If you are unfamiliar with a technique, like when you see "bake in a baine-marie", you can research ahead to see how it's done. You get 5 steps in a recipe and find you needed to melt butter and let it cool down and now you are scurrying around trying to get it done before your whipped egg whites start to fall apart.
Read the recipe through and note the ingredients, steps, special tools and equipment you will use, and the total time needed to finish the recipe. This is actually a very simple step but it can make or break your baking results.
2. "Put everything in place" before you get started.
"Mis en place" is a French term which means putting everything in its place. All your ingredients are prepped, measured, and ready to go before you start baking. I like to have my pans, spatulas, and tools laid out as well. This rule is one of the first things they'll teach you in culinary school and lends itself well to home cooks and bakers too.
See if you have all the necessary ingredients. How many of us have started a recipe only to find out you were missing a key ingredient? It's definitely not a good idea to rummage your cupboards looking for cake pans after you have made the cake batter, only to discover that the one you have at home is the wrong size.
As for preparation, I like to use different sizes of stainless, glass, plastic, or ceramic bowls to measure all my ingredients before I start baking.
3. Check if your oven is at the right temperature.
As surprising as it may be, different ovens set to the same temperature can vary as much as 90 degrees. This news might be a relief for you - you now have a valid excuse why your baked goods came out dry and overcooked...?
It is wise to use an oven thermometer to check if the oven temperature you set matches on the thermometer. If not, calibrate your oven (consulting your oven's manual is a good place to start), or ask a professional to calibrate it. You can also set your temperature higher or lower until you have the right temperature but you have to keep your oven thermometer in the oven when using to ensure that you are still going at the right temperature.
4. Measure ingredients accurately.
Baking all starts with measuring ingredients. With cooking, you may be able to eyeball your ingredients but with baking, you have to be meticulous in measuring. Your cookie dough may come out too dry if you use too much flour; your souffle will fail if you use too much or too little egg whites.
I know most home bakers use measuring cups and spoons to measure ingredients, but I can't stress enough the importance of using a scale instead. Serious bakers measure ingredients with a scale. Using cups to measure ingredients can be quite tricky if you don't know how to do it properly. If you pack it too much then you have more than what is needed. Also, a US cup size is 240ml while a UK cup size is 250ml, which means you would have to check which one the recipe author used or your baked good will not come out right.
You might be surprised with this interesting fact: one cup of sugar does not always weigh the same. Why? The reason is that each brand of sugar has a slightly different grain size. That means we would only get the same amount in cups if we use the exact same brand of sugar.
The solution? Always measure dry ingredients in units of weight (grams). A scale is not expensive and can be easily bought in many kitchen stores. A scale solves all problems related to measuring ingredients.
5. Use the right ingredients specified in the recipe, being careful with substitutions.
When a cake recipe states that you have to use pastry flour and you used bread flour, the outcome will be totally different. They're both flours but again, as baking is a science, you really have to know the purpose and effect of the ingredient before you replace it. Pastry flour has less protein as compared to bread flour. Less protein means less gluten, which yields a softer cake crumb. A higher protein in flour means more gluten, which leads to a more chewy texture - more appropriate for breads and pizzas.
It is okay to substitute ingredients but be careful when doing so, and be prepared with some varied results if you are making your own substitutions.
So there goes the top 5 rules. Hopefully, these first 5 tips have given you lots of pointers for baking success! Remember that baking is a learned discipline. It just needs knowledge and practice.
Stay tuned for the second part of 10 Rules to Turn your Baking from Frustration to Fascination series. Ready for the remaining 5 rules? Here's the second part of 10 Rules to Turn Your Baking from Frustration to Fascination. Happy Baking!