100 Best baking tips and tricks – a spicy perspective chair yoga sequence

1) cooking is an art, baking is a science. In cooking, you can throw in a handful of herbs or a little more butter, like you were adding a bit more chartreuse to an oil-painting. You can make changes as you go with no major catastrophe in the end. In baking, everything matters. Think of baking as chemistry. One small adjustment could be your undoing, but you won’t know it until you pull your cake out of the oven. When making something for the first time, read the recipe thoroughly before you start. Follow every step to a tee. Remember, the recipe developer thought each element was important enough to document, so there must be a reason for it. Do not alter the recipe until you’ve made it successfully at least once.

2) measuring matters.

We americans like to kick it old-school in the measuring department, relying on cups and spoons to give the proper proportions. Yet pastry chefs world-wide measure their ingredients by metric weight. The reason for this is that a cup of flour can vary greatly in weight depending on the type of flour, and how packed it is. In a perfect world, all home-cooks would use scales and metric measurement to insure exact amounts of wet and dry ingredients. As that’s never going to happen, make sure to always pour ingredients into your measuring cups, never scoop. Scooping packs the ingredient down, meaning you end up with more than you want. Always level the measuring spoons and cups with a knife or spatula. *if you are a habitual scooper and can’t stop, at least stir the ingredient (especially flour) to lighten it, before scooping into the bag.

3) quality ingredients. Different brands of butter, yogurt, buttermilk, and flour have varied levels of moisture, fat, and protein. These little variations can greatly effect the outcome of the final product. Use the brands the recipe developer recommends, or find brands that suit your baking needs and use them exclusively so you know how they will react in your recipe.

9) mood matters. This may sound silly, but it has to do with measuring and delicacy. A pastry chef once told me that when she’s upset, her recipes don’t turn out. She’s heavy-handed while measuring and rough on the dough and batter. She is physically not in the proper state of mind to turn out perfect baked goods. Try to bake when you are relaxed and have plenty of time on your hands.

10) weather. Standard “room temperature” is right around 70 degrees F. Office chair jokes if you bake when it’s really hot outside or bitter cold, and the outside temperature is affecting the inside temperature, your results will be different. If the humidity is higher or lower than normal, your results will be different. That’s why our grandmas use to tell us never to bake on a rainy day. The heavy moisture in the air effects the ability of the dough/batter to rise and dry.

13) grease and flour. Cake pans should always be thoroughly greased and floured, so the cakes can slip out of the pan easily after cooling. If using a bundt pan, the more grooves your bundt cake pan has, the more you need to pay attention during the greasing and flouring process. I like to use a baking spray like pam or baker’s joy that incorporates flour in the spray. I feel like I get better coverage with a spray, and the fact that it’s a onestep process is nice.

16) scrape your bowl. It’s an easy mistake to hurry through your batter preparation and forget to scrape the mixing bowl and remix. The problem is, you leave important ingredients at the bottom of the bowl and end up with inconsistencies in your batter. I usually scrape the bowl twice during cake prep. Once after I’ve creamed the butter and sugar, and again at the end once all ingredients are incorporated into the mixing bowl. Use a flexible spatula to scrape the entire surface of the mixing bowl down to the very bottom, then turn the mixer back on and beat until smooth.

18) high altitude baking. Since there is less air pressure at higher altitudes, cakes rise higher and can dry out because the liquids evaporate faster. If you live above 3500 feet: increase the oven temperature from 350 to 375 degree F. Then increase the liquid by 2 tablespoons for each cup used. Decrease each cup of sugar by 1 tablespoon, each teaspoon of baking powder by 1/8 teaspoon. Also decrease the baking time by 5 minutes. *this works for most standard cakes recipes.

28) substitutions. The most common failed-recipe comment I get here on ASP reads something like this. “I made your recipe exactly as you said, except I used stevia instead of regular sugar, gluten free baking mix instead of flour, then I added chocolate chips and an extra egg. AND IT DIDN’T TURN OUT AT ALL! This is a horrible recipe.” ahem… now excuse me for pointing fingers, but if you’ve left a comment on ASP or any other site about substitutions and failed recipes, I’m talking to you. Substitute at your own risk. The truth is, there’s no real substitute for white granulated sugar, white wheat flour, or real butter. You most definitely can substitute all you want, but don’t be upset if your baked goods don’t turn out as shown in photos. Especially when substituting “healthy ingredients.” baked goods are meant to be treats, and treats are meant to be enjoyed in moderation.

30) meringues. Chair workouts for abs if using egg whites for meringues, make sure to keep your fingers out of the egg whites, as oils from your hands can flatten the meringue. In this case, use an egg separator. Make sure the yolk doesn’t break. One drop of egg yolk will make it impossible to beat the egg whites into firm peaks. Then using a whisk attachment, beat with an electric mixer with 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar.

33) be gentle with pie crust (and other pastry dough) and bread for that matter. It’s a common misconception that it’s okay to take out your daily frustrations on dough. However, this can cause tough baked goods. Handle dough gently and use only a light dusting of flour on the rolling pin or counter. Too much handling and extra flour results in a tough dry pie crust and bread.

36) foaming yeast. The yeast foaming (AKA sponge or bloom) process in recipes is very important. If you add the yeast to water that is too hot, you will kill the yeast and it won’t sponge. If the water is cold, it won’t activate. Add dry active yeast to luke-warm water and add 1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon of sugar (check recipe for measurements.) then allow the yeast to sit for at least 10 minutes to foam. If it doesn’t foam, you will need to start again.

45) conventional vs. Convection. If you live in a newer house/apartment, chances are you have an oven with both conventional and convection heat. Convection heat offers greater airflow and drying while baking, creating higher crustier, baked goods. So when should you use convection? The most simple answer is always use what is recommended in the recipe the first time you make it. However, I like to use convection on cookies and breads because it tends to create fuller cookies with an crispy exterior and soft center, and perfectly browned crusty bread.

46) convection conversion. It’s tricky to give an overall conversion rate when adjusting a recipe from conventional baking to convection. It depends on what your baking, how long your baking it, and of course the temperature. Some ovens actually convert for you. However, a general rule of thumb is to reduce the temperature by 25 degrees F. (50 degrees for higher temps) and to check your baked goods 5-10 minutes before the specified bake time. Some of my cookie recipes that take 8-10 minutes to bake conventionally, take 5 minutes on convection.

49) preheat tweaks. When you know you are going to have your oven door open for longer than normal (you are loading something heavy or delicate into the oven. Or placing multiple baking sheets in the oven…) I like to preheat the oven to 25 degrees higher than recommended, then lower the temperature as directed, once I close the oven door. That way, my baked goods are more likely to start off at the right temp. Just don’t forget to lower the temp!

53) flash freeze. Flash freezing is the process of freezing something unwrapped, so you can later wrap and freeze it without upsetting its appearance. I do this with frosted cakes and cupcakes most often. Place them in the freezer uncovered for 30-60 minutes, until the exterior is hard, then wrap well and freeze. When you are ready to use the cake, unwrap first, then thaw for several hours on the countertop.

56) don’t overbeat or underbeat the batter. Underbeating or overbeating will affect the texture and volume of the cake. Most recipes are tested using an electric mixer, which produces the highest volume. Read the recipe to be sure which method to use, electric or hand mixing. One minute of medium beating time with a mixer equals, usually equals about 150-180 strokes by hand.

58) creaming butter and sugar. This is a highly important baking step that people like to skimp on. Creaming butter and sugar means beating it at high speed with an electric mixer until the butter is fluffy and the sugar breaks down. Skipping this step effects the light airy quality of baked good. I recommend creaming for 3-5 minutes. If you don’t normally do this, you will notice a difference in your cookies and cakes immediately.

59) toothpick/ skewer test.If you love baking cakes, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a package of long toothpicks or wooden skewers for testing. (normal toothpicks just don’t cut it when you need to test a deep cake.) after baking, insert a long wooden skewer into the center-most part of the cake. If it comes out clean, turn off the oven and cool the cake on the counter. Otherwise continue baking.

62) don’t overbake. This may seem obvious, but many bakers think their baked goods are not quite done, only to pull them out after they’ve past their prime. Always set the time to the minimum baking temperature, then check. Cookies are usually best when you pull them out just slightly undercooked in the center. Once they’ve cooled on the warm baking sheets the centers will set.

64) baking soda and baking powder. You often see recipes with both baking soda and baking powder. Ever wonder why? Both are used to neutralize the ph balance of a recipe and offer an airy lift. However, if you just add baking soda, you might create neutralization, but not lift. Baking soda needs some acid to react. You could use baking powder alone, but then your finished baked treats might taste too acidic. A combination of both is usually your best bet.

66) toasting nuts. Toasting nuts intensifies their flavor making them stand-out in or on baked goods. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast them in a 400-degree F oven for about 10 minutes. Shake the pan once during this time to make sure the nuts toast evenly. The nuts are done when their color has deepened and you can smell their aroma.

72) freezer storage. Remember I mentioned keeping dry active yeast in the freezer for longevity? Here are other baking ingredients you can keep in the freezer to increase their life span: flour (all varieties), baking soda and powder, nuts, berries, spices, ripe bananas, buttermilk, and extra butter. Just make sure your baking soda is in an air-tight container or it will absorb unwanted odors.

74) refreshing spices. Spices lose their intensity over time. Ever open a jar of cinnamon and wonder where the fragrant aroma went? To refresh spices for baking, place them in a dry skillet and set over medium heat. Watch closely. The moment you can smell the spices, toss and remove from heat. This draws the remaining oils to the surface so you can use the last of your spice jar.

75) rise time. Bread (or other yeast doughs) usually call for two rise times. The first is 1-2 hours to double the dough in size. Then deflate the dough, roll, cut, or separate as needed and rise again for approximately 30-45 minutes before baking. If you allow the dough to rise too long, it may deflate in the oven. If you do not allow enough rise time, the loaves will be dense and compact. The general rule of thumb for rising is one hour to double in size, then half the time on the second rise. Heavy dough with dense grains may take longer to rise the first go-around.

85) stay stocked. For baking on a whim, I like to keep these things on hand: all purpose flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, baking soda, baking powder, dry active yeast, quality salt, unsalted butter, coconut oil, cocoa powder, various spices, pure vanilla extract, nuts, and shredded coconut. A lot of magic can happen with these items!

93) cutting bars. Line the baking pan with parchment paper or foil before baking. Once the bars are cool, lift the whole sheet out of the pan from the corners, and peel back the paper. Then score the edges, so your pieces are evenly measured. Cut straight down, and pull backward, moving the knife up and down like a saw, as you remove it. Wipe the knife before making the next cut.

94) healthify. So I already discussed making substitutions earlier, and in great detail, but I know some of you are going to do it anyway. *wink* if you MUST substitute oil or butter for applesauce or plain yogurt, use an equal 1:1 ratio. I repeat, this will not work perfectly on all recipes, but it does cut the fat. You’ll have the best results with cake, muffins, and sweet bread recipes.

100) don’t give up! After reading through this post, you might be thinking back on some past baking projects that didn’t turn out so well. At least now you know why! Calm gentle hands, careful attention to detail, and patience make up for a lot in baking. Now head back to those recipes that flopped and give them another go. Chair dancing through the decades you’ll be glad you did! Whew…