‘Tis the season for some serious baking! But what some cooks neglect to take into account is that baking is a science and requires precise measuring and careful attention to detail. Here are some of my best tips to help boost your baking prowess and ensure your sweet success this holiday season.

  • Before beginning any recipe, read it all the way through at least three times. You’ll avoid any surprises and you’ll be able to manage your time better.
  • Gather all your ingredients and equipment before starting. This will prevent any accidental omission of an ingredient or your running around like a crazy person at the last minute fumbling to find the right pan or utensil.
  • Use dry measures for dry ingredients (like flour and sugar) and liquid measures for wet ingredients (like milk and water).
  • One of the culprits of dry baked goods is too much flour. To accurately measure flour, do not scoop, but fluff to aerate, then lightly spoon into a measuring cup and level the top off with a straight edge.
  • Add the flour and/or mixture with the mixer on low speed. Overbeating it causes the gluten to develop, resulting in a tough confection.
  • Don’t sift the flour unless you are directed to.
  • Salt does wonders to enhance the flavor of baked goods. For cooking, the default choice is kosher salt. For baking, table salt is the best choice.
  • Baking soda and baking powder are leaveners that when activated, give off carbon dioxide, creating air bubbles in the batter to give baked goods texture and height. Baking soda is activated by an acidic component, like buttermilk. Baking powder actually contains baking soda and an acid, usually cream of tartar. Because it’s perishable, baking powder should be kept in a cool, dry place. To make sure it still packs its punch, test one teaspoon with 1/4 cup hot water. If it bubbles up happily, you know it’s working.
  • Brown sugar is white sugar combined with molasses, giving it a soft texture. Light brown and dark brown sugars contain different amounts of molasses, so you should use whichever type the recipe specifies. To measure brown sugar, scoop it into the measuring cup and press to lightly pack.
  • Buy ground spices in the smallest quantity possible since they, too, can quickly lose their punch. Smell them – if they’re lackluster in the aroma department, they’ll be lackluster in the flavor department, too.
  • Eggs are easiest to separate cold, but whip up best at room temperature. They’ll need at least 30 minutes on the kitchen counter to fully come to room temperature or you can put them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. I use large eggs in all my recipes. For room temperature butter and cream cheese, I leave mine out overnight to soften.
  • Line your pans with parchment paper to make removal and clean-up a snap.
  • Cool your baking sheets between batches.
  • Always use an oven thermometer to test your oven’s temperature for accuracy.
  • Cooking times are merely a guideline. If the recipe’s baking time suggests 12 to 15 minutes, start checking after about 10 minutes. Trust your sense of smell, too. The nose knows!

 

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