Here are some of the basic baking rules that everyone should follow, beginner or not! Some are intuitive and some are key points that I guarantee will change your baking game for life.
1. Read through the Recipe (and the Reviews too)
Okay, this one is obvious but not everyone does it.
By taking the time to quickly read through the ingredients, instructions, and reviews of a recipe, you will not only know exactly what you need to make it, you’ll also know exactly what you need to do, and whether or not this recipe is worth your time and energy.
Plus, there is usually a wealth of information about ingredient substitutions and using different sized pans.
So don’t ever skip this step. Trust me.
Here are two reviews from my Banana Bread Recipe.
2. Check That You Have All The Ingredients
Seriously. It’s the absolute worst having half of your ingredients mixed together then realizing you don’t have everything that you need.
It’s always best to be prepared.
Popular Recipe: Vanilla Pudding Bundt Cake
3. Preheat the Oven Before You Begin (Unless Stated Otherwise)
Preheat your oven before you even pull out the ingredients so that it’ll be up to the right temperature just as you are ready to pop the pan into the oven.
It is very typical for this to be the first step in many recipes and for good reason.
Waiting until you’ve finished mixing and assembling everything might lead to disaster when it comes to making certain baked goods that need to be baked right away.
4. Make sure that your Ingredients are the right Temperature
I know this is an extra step that can be so annoying and inconvenient but the reason why some recipes call for room temperature ingredients is because using cold ingredients can have a very negative impact on the texture of baked goods and vice versa.
Some Typical Examples:
- A cake recipe will almost always call for room temperature butter because cold butter is extremely hard to mix and will yield a very lumpy batter and therefore a lumpy cake.
- For pies and scones, recipes will call for very cold butter so that it can be cut into the flour. This produces steam during baking and results in tender, flakey baked goods.
- In order to activate yeast, your liquid (usually water or milk) needs to be very warm (around 110 – 115ºF/43 – 46ºC).
- Recipes that call for melted coconut oil will almost always call for room temperature eggs and other liquids because using cold ingredients with melted coconut oil will cause it to revert to its solid state and will lead to a lumpy batter, and in extreme cases the oil will literally leak out causing the end product to be dry (I’ve personally experienced this more than once).
So yeah, temperature matters.
5. Always Wash Your Hands After Cracking the Eggs!
This is important because eggs carry bacteria that can spread to other surfaces and make you sick.
Have you ever heard of Salmonella? I’m sure you have. It is a bacteria that causes food poisoning and is usually associated with raw chicken but other foods (including fresh produce) carry it too and eggs are one of them!
So clean your hands afterwards; it takes less than a minute to do.
6. Don’t Skip or Skim on the Salt
Almost all baking recipes call for salt, salted butter, or both. This is because salt adds flavor, enhances flavors, and balances sweetness.
This prevents the creation of baked goods that taste flat, flavorless, and overly sweet.
So don’t skim or leave it out. It’s an important ingredient.
7. Use the Correct Mixing Technique; Don’t Mix when it says to Beat and don’t Beat when it says to Fold
A recipe will explicitly say to fold, beat, or mix in an ingredient. Doing one versus the other will create a different end result.
[[[[[[pic of eggs being beaten EGG WASH PIC]]]]]]]
Mixing is done to:
- Evenly combine ingredients together.
- Develop gluten; the more you mix the more gluten is developed and therefore the more structure (sturdiness) your dough or batter will have. However, mixing too much can lead to baked goods that are tough and overly chewy.
Beating is for:
- Incorporating air.
- Vigorously blending ingredients until smooth, using speed, for maximum uniformity.
- Emulsify fat and liquids; seamlessly combines them together so that the fat does not sit on top.
Folding is usually done for:
- Ingredients that are light and airy and/or delicate (like whipped egg whites) to prevent them from deflating.
- Incorporating add-ins (like chocolate chips or berries) without overmixing the dough or batter.
Each of these techniques determine how high the end product will rise during baking and it will also affect the texture and the appearance as well.
There is also:
- Stirring – This is different from mixing. It means to mix in a circular motion at moderate speed. This method is very simple and doesn’t do much other than evenly disperse ingredients that can be easily mixed together.
- Kneading – Develops gluten which results in a well-strengthened dough that won’t collapse on itself.
- Cutting – This combines the fat with flour in a way that prevents little to no gluten formation for the purpose of creating a tender and flakey end product.
- Sifting – Doing this to dry ingredients removes lumps, incorporates air, and aids in even mixing.
8. Don’t Overmix Doughs and Batters
Mixing develops gluten which means over mixing results in the over development of gluten.
Basically, you want to mix as little as possible until everything is combined. If flour is the last ingredient to be mixed in then mix until no dry streaks remain.
Signs your batter was over mixed:
- Tunnels or elongated holes
- Tough and rubbery texture
Signs your dough was over mixed or over worked:
- Tight dough that breaks and doesn’t stretch
- Unpleasantly chewy
- Overly crisp
9. Measure Accurately
Basically, when it comes to baking there are two ways to measure your ingredients:
- By Weight
- By Volume
Whether you bake from scratch or not, measuring your ingredients correctly will lead to more successes than failures.
Measuring Ingredients by Weight
To measure by weight is to measure how heavy an ingredient is and in order to do that you will need a digital kitchen scale, also known as a food scale. This widely popular gadget is used to measure the weight of ingredients; usually in grams or ounces for dry ingredients and milliliters for wet ingredients.
When it comes to baking, measuring your ingredients by weight is much more precise than measuring by volume. Ask any professional baker and they will tell you that!
Kitchen scales are a fairly cheap investment that are very much worth it. With one, you are not limited by recipes that only work with one unit of measurement such as cups.
Here’s a video of how to use a food scale for baking:
Measuring Ingredients by Volume
To measure by volume is to measure the amount of space an ingredient occupies and in order to do this you will need dry measuring cups, measuring spoons, and liquid measuring cups.
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Dry measuring cups are for measuring dry ingredients such as flour, cocoa powder, and sugar. They hold the exact amount of an ingredient so all you have to do is fill them up.
Even though they are specifically for measuring dry ingredients, with precision, you can use them for measuring liquids as well.
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Liquid measuring cups are for measuring liquid ingredients such as water, milk, and oil. Simply pour the liquid into the cup until the top is even with the desired measurement line.
Measuring spoons are used for measuring very small amounts of both dry and liquid ingredients. They usually come in a set of 5 or 6 and are used in the exact same way as dry measuring cups.
On a Diet? Try this: Healthy Almond Poppy Seed Quick Bread
10. When using Cups, always Spoon and Level the Flour (Unless stated Otherwise)
At this point, this is common knowledge but it still needs to be said!
Before you begin measuring, fluff the flour, spoon it into the measuring cup, then level it off with the back of a butter knife. But if you’re short on time, just use the back of the spoon taking great care not to dip into the flour.
Here is a video of how’s it’s done:
As you see in the video, when you use the measuring cup to scoop the flour out of the bag or container, it gets packed into the bottom and you end up using more flour than you need which inevitably leads to baked goods that are dry, tough, and over baked.
11. Use the Right Tools
It is important to use the right utensil or tool because it ensures that you achieve the proper result.
[[[[[overhead; whisk and spoon side by side.]]]]]]]
For example, when it comes to creaming butter and sugar together (incorporating air into the batter by beating the two until light and fluffy) it’s best to use a whisk or a mixer.
Using a spoon will not do the job correctly because it isn’t the right shape and on top of that, it will take much longer.
Another example is using a rolling pin to roll out dough. You could use your hands or a tall glass but just like the example above, it will not do the job correctly and it will take much longer.
12. Use the Right Size Pan
It is important to use the right pan when baking because recipes are formulated for specific sized pans and using the one the recipe calls for will obviously yield the very best results.
[[[[square pans side by side; canva “8 inch” “9 inch”]]]]]]
Changing the pan size can result in the baked good taking less time to bake which can lead to over baking, or it taking more time to bake, which can lead to baked goods with perfectly baked exteriors but gummy and under baked centers.
So the pan you use matters.
13. Prep your Pans (Even if the Recipe doesn’t tell you to)
What exactly does it mean to prepare your pans for baking? To put it simply, you just need to coat the inside of the pan with something that will prevent the dough or batter from sticking to it.
This makes your baked goods really easy to remove! Having them stick to your pans can be a real nightmare (speaking from experience).
So what do you put in the pan before baking? Here are some options:
- Butter or Shortening (sometimes paired with a dusting of flour)
- Nonstick cooking spray
- Parchment paper (NOT Wax Paper)
- Foil paper
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When it comes to cakes, recipes will usually instruct you to grease the pan thoroughly with butter or shortening, then add a couple of tablespoons of flour, rotate and tap the pan so that it coats the butter/shortening, then toss out the excess flour.
This method is very traditional and much more work than the other methods, but it works really well, and that’s why people still use it.
Nonstick cooking spray is used for almost everything including muffins, breads, bundt cakes, baked donuts, and bars. It is so easy and quick and I highly recommend it.
Parchment paper is usually used for brownies, cookies, and loaf cakes. It can be a little annoying because it doesn’t stick to the pan so sometimes it will slide.
In my experience, foil paper is the least used to line pans because it doesn’t always work. Depending on what you’re baking your baked goods can still stick so you may have to grease it with oil or cooking spray.
For muffins, cupcakes, and mini loaves, you can use paper liners. However, they’re not all equal in quality and the batter can sometimes stick to the paper which is really annoying.
So I recommend either buying the foil lined paper liners or spraying them lightly with cooking spray.
Try This: Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins
14. Follow The Fill Instructions
When making muffins and cupcakes the instructions will say how much to fill each cup.
Sometimes a recipe will instruct you to fill the cups two-thirds of the way or even only halfway. This is usually to accommodate rise or to make room for another component of the recipe like a crumb topping (my coffee cake banana muffins have instructions like this).
Sometimes a recipe will direct you to fill the cups all the way to the very top! You’ll usually see this in bakery style muffin recipes.
The same thing applies to cakes and mini loaves.
15. Smooth The Prepared Batter
This is something that we all do intuitively, but after you pour your batter into the pan, make sure the top is leveled before placing it into the oven otherwise your baked goods will come out uneven.
Some recipes may even call for you to tap the pan a few times to get air bubbles out.
16. Bake on the Center Rack
The middle rack is where the heat is most even and therefore prevents the tops and bottoms of baked goods from baking faster than the other.
The top rack position is usually used for broiling and the bottom rack position is usually used for browning the bottom of food like pizza.
So unless a recipe specifically instructs you to change the positioning, always use the center rack. This is standard.
17. Set the Timer Right Away
The bake time starts as soon as the batter or dough goes into the oven. So before you do anything else, set the timer immediately.
Waiting to set the timer is basically miscalculating the bake time which can result in over baked products. This is especially true for cookies since they bake so quickly.
Every minute counts!
18. Avoid Opening the Oven Door!
Opening the oven door too soon and too frequently will let cool air in and heat out which causes the temperature to drop and can result in sunken baked goods or baked goods that did not rise as high as they should have. In other words, uneven baking.
But, if you really have to open the oven door, try waiting until the product is nearly done before doing so.
19. Use a Toothpick to Test for Doneness (For certain Recipes)
For baked goods like muffins, cakes and cupcakes, quick bread, and brownies, it is best to check for doneness by doing the “Toothpick Test”.
To do this classic test, simply insert a toothpick into the center of whatever you are baking and see what comes out on the toothpick; this could be batter, crumbs, or it could come out completely clean. The recipe you’re using will specify what you should aim for. That’s it. Easy, right?
Toothpicks vs. Cake Testers
You can buy cake testers for testing doneness, but they are metal and extremely smooth whereas toothpicks are wooden and slightly textured which makes it considerably easier for it to grip onto batter and crumbs, therefore providing you with a much more accurate idea of how done your baked good is.
Some other ways to tell if your baked good is done are:
- A golden brown color around the edges
- A very dull and matte color for chocolate flavored goods
- Crisp edges
- Fragrant smell
- Mostly firm edges and a moderately under baked center for cookies
- A wobbly and under baked center for cheesecake
- The top springs back when gently pressed
20. Follow the Cool Instructions
This is important because how long your baked goods cool on or in the pan or on a rack will affect their texture.
The residual heat from the pan will continue to “bake” them and most baked goods need to cool further on a cooling rack for some time before being sliced, bitten into, or frosted.
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Here’s the cool time you should expect for common baked goods:
- Muffins are usually cooled for 5 minutes in the pan then 5 minutes on the rack.
- Cookies usually cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet then 5 – 10 minutes on the rack but some recipes will instruct you to cool them completely on the sheet.
- Cakes are usually cooled in the pan for 5 minutes then transferred to the wire rack to cool completely.
- Quicks Breads usually cool for 10 minutes in the pan then an average of 15 minutes on the rack.
- Brownies, Blondies, and Cookie Bars usually cool for 30 – 45 minutes in the pan or in the pan placed on the rack.
- Cupcakes are usually cooled in the pan for no more than 5 minutes (sometimes even removed from the pan immediately) then cooled completely on the rack in order to be frosted.
- Bundt Cakes are usually cooled in the pan for an average of 15 minutes then transferred to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Cheesecake is usually cooled completely in the pan on a rack then refrigerated for several hours.
21. Flop? Figure out What went Wrong!
Sometimes a recipe just does not turn out the way it’s supposed to, even for the most experienced bakers. But don’t just brush it off! Take the time to figure out why the recipe was a failure.
Was it something that you did? Or was the recipe just not that great to begin with? Taking a few minutes to troubleshoot what went wrong will help you learn and make you a better baker which means less baking fails and less time wasted.
Click the link or picture to be taken to the recipe!
Cream Cheese Pound Cake
A rich and decadent pound cake loaf with the unique flavor of tangy cream cheese.
Loaf Pan Almond Cheesecake
Almond Poppy Seed Loaf