It's commonly claimed that baking is a science and cooking is an art. There are several similarities between baking and cooking; both require technical expertise. But when you cook, you make a dish the same way that you might paint a picture, tasting and making adjustments as you go while also adding your own unique style. But when it comes to baking, your cakes will tumble, your cookies will spread and your pie crusts will be tough if you don’t follow the recipe step by step. But never fear, with these simple tips, you won't need to be afraid of baking ever again!
Understanding the fundamentals, avoiding substitutes, and abiding by a few straightforward guidelines will help you avoid most baking blunders.
1. Measure Properly
This is the most crucial baking rule of all, regardless of other advice! The correct technique to measure dry ingredients is to spoon the components into a dry measuring cup and level or "sweep" the top with a straight edge. Ideally, you should weigh your ingredients using a digital scale, but if you don't have access to one, you should use the spoon and level approach. Although it may seem minor, this is crucial. If you scoop the flour into the measuring cup and pack it down, you'll wind up with considerably too much flour and your baked items will turn out dry. A cup of flour measured in volume might vary by several ounces. Brown sugar is the only thing you should ever use in a cup. Always use clear measuring cups with pour spouts and gradations on the side to measure liquid ingredients.
2. Use room temperature ingredients
It's crucial to follow directions when a recipe specifies using ingredients at room temperature. Cold eggs can shock and curdle a batter, while cold butter cannot be creamed. The ideal practice is to leave the items on the counter overnight. Put the eggs in a basin and run them under warm tap water for a few minutes to quickly bring them to room temperature. Use the microwave to reheat butter if necessary, but pay close attention to it because too much melting might spoil a recipe. I often cut the sticks into 1-inch [2.5-cm] pieces and zap them for 10 seconds at 50% power to soften them.
3. Check the oven temperature
It's a good idea to frequently check the correctness of your oven's temperature. Similarly, try to wait until the recommended cook time has passed before opening your oven to glance at what you're baking. If you don't, you'll let cool air in, which will stop the baking. If your oven has a hot spot or you're using multiple pans, the only exception to this rule is to rotate the pans halfway through baking; just be sure to move swiftly to avoid cooling the oven.
4. Don’t make substitutions
Sadly, there are no satisfactory alternatives to all-purpose flour, sugar, butter, or eggs. Keep in mind that baking is chemistry; experiment at your own risk! However, if you make minor adjustments that don't affect the recipe's chemistry, like adding almonds or substituting orange zest for lemon zest, the "recipe police" won't pursue you.
5. Understanding leavening agents
Many recipes call for baking powder and baking soda, which help baked goods rise without the need of yeast. They cannot be switched out. In recipes that call for buttermilk, lemon juice, cocoa powder, etc., baking soda is utilized since it needs acidic components to activate. Baking powder is utilized in recipes that don't call for acidic components because it only requires liquid to activate. Baking soda and baking powder are both required in some recipes, such as chocolate chip cookies. Brown sugar is frequently used in these recipes, but baking soda alone is often insufficient to boost the volume of batter, therefore baking powder is used to make up the difference.
6. Last but not least, Use quality ingredients
Believe it or not, the ingredients you use can make a huge difference in baking, especially when it comes to flour. Use good quality ingredients to get the right result every time.