Lots of people get nervous about baking, thinking that they can’t do it because it’s too fussy, or they simply aren’t good at it. As long as you follow a few basic principles, you’ve got a much better chance of success.
Bake Vs. Convection Bake – Convection bake refers to internal fans that help circulate the air in the oven and keep a more even heat. It is a great feature to use for baked goods, but it’s a good idea to adjust the temperature about 25 degrees lower when using it.
Room Temperature Ingredients – Butter, eggs, and milk all blend better together when they are the same temperature. If you can’t wait long enough to get these things to room temp, the microwave is a handy tool. I recommend for butter no more than two or three 8 second intervals, otherwise you end up with melted butter, which will not behave the same way in recipes. Milk can be gently heated in the microwave to take the chill off, but avoid scalding it. For eggs, I put them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.
Melting Chocolate – Chocolate can scorch very easily, so the best way to melt chocolate is in a double boiler. Quite simply, it is a heat proof bowl resting on a pot of gently simmering water. You do not want the bowl to be resting IN the water, which could scorch it as well. The steam is enough to melt the chocolate, which should be gently stirred and then removed from the heat once melted.
Scraping the Bowl – Good results come from proper mixing, which a stand mixer is great at, but often not incredibly thorough. Stop to scrape down the bowl every once in a while to make sure the ingredients are well blended.
Combining Dry Ingredients and Wet Ingredients – Combining the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisking to distribute them evenly is a key aspect of good baking. Imagine if you didn’t, and all of the baking powder is in one area. The cake, muffin etc. will not rise evenly or properly. Similarly, combining the wet ingredients will ensure proper distribution, which as I’ve mentioned is paramount to good results.
Measuring – As I mentioned in the “scale” section of Know How, I am a big fan of this piece of kitchen equipment. It gives you weights in grams, ounces, and pounds, allowing you to be precise in your measurements. Most of my baking recipes call for the usual cup and spoon amounts since that is how most Americans measure, but I plan on going back and adding in the weights as well. If a scale is just not in the cards for you, then practice good measuring skills. Spoon the flour into your cup and scrape the top evenly with the back of a knife. Don’t compress the flour, or you will end up with more than you need, and dry baked goods. For sugar, make sure when measuring brown sugar it is packed down. Don’t measure anything “heaping” unless the recipe calls for it.
Don’t Over Mix – Flour contains gluten, which is what gives breads their appealing chew. You don’t want that in cakes and pastries though. The key is not to over mix. Often times when it comes to adding the flour, I’ll even turn off the mixer and fold it in by hand with a spatula. Most of the time when using a mixer, you should stop right before you think everything is all mixed in. You can always finish by hand if needed.