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    Baking 101

    Posted on 10/13/07
    There are numerous baking tips spread across different posts, and I have been asked to combine them into one place. These are tips and tricks from a variety of sources that I have accumulated over the past year and a half. Most of these are common knowledge, but who has that common knowledge when you are just starting out?

    Read the recipe first, all the way through. Get all the ingredients out before you start measuring and adding. Keep track of the recipe as you go, and be sure not to skip any of the steps! 

    Measure ingredients over the sink or counter, not over your bowl. If any spills in, you won't know how much you've added.

    Use room temperature eggs and butter. This will make the batter creamier and richer, plus cold butter is very difficult to beat. Some recipes will call for cold butter or melted butter, so be sure to read carefully.

    While on the subject of butter, be sure to use unsalted butter. This allows you to control the salt content of the recipe.

    When mixing, be sure to scrap down the sides of the bowl. This will prevent clumps of butter or flour. Make sure everything is well incorporated.

    Be careful not to over-beat. Follow the recipe's directions carefully, over or under beating can mess with texture.

    Always, always, always preheat the oven. It should be the very first thing you do. Cookies and cakes need controlled temperature, especially to stay light and fluffy.

    Also, be sure not to open the door during baking unless absolutely necessary. This disrupts the temperature in the oven and can mess with the texture and density of the cookies or cake. I'm guilty of peaking in as my oven door does not have a window.

    Check to see if your bakeware is "non-stick." Some recipes will call for parchment paper, wax paper, or cooking spray. Cake pans might need to be greased and floured first. Follow the directions provided with the bakeware, and be sure to clean cooking spray and grease immediately after baking (it can get stuck on and ruin your pans).

    For recipes containing large amounts of brown sugar, dark brown sugar, or molasses, keep an eye on baking times. Molasses burns easily and can taste bitter when over-cooked. It can also hard or crystallize if left in the oven too long.

    Know your sugar! There are big differences between granulated sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar, and dark brown sugar. To be sure you are using the right kind, label the containers.  

    Do not use the box of baking soda in the refrigerator to bake. It has collected odors (and therefore flavors) of other foods. Keep a separate sealed box in the pantry for baking purposes.

    Keep flour in a sealed container or bag. The paper bags can allow insects to get in and nest. The little red bugs are harmless, but definitely do not belong in your cookies!

    Use a timer. Every time. Also, know that baking times vary from oven to oven, so do not just rely on the recipe. My oven is electric, and seems to cook things faster than most recipes indicate. This will take a bit of trial and error, and you might need to break the "do not peek" rule until you've gauged how your oven cooks.

    Cold eggs, salted butter, and over-beating is not going to completely ruin a batch of cookies, but it might make you wonder why they don't taste as good as mom used to make.