When it comes down to it, baking is really a science. Starting with the fancy ingredients and different way of combining them, precise measurements, to different baking temperatures, there is a lot that goes into baking the perfect cake.
If you are new to baking, complicated recipes with a long list of ingredients, techniques with fancy names and multi-steps recipes can be overwhelming. But rather than questioning your ability to make a worthy cake, remember that making mistakes is part of the learning process. You should feel comfortable to make mistakes in your kitchen, even the most well know bakers do. This is how famous desserts are invented 😉
The key to being a good baker is choosing the right recipe. A good recipe is not only about following the directions listed and buying the ingredients. Is much more than this. A good recipe is a recipe which works, which gives same great result every time you try it, and which makes your dessert to taste much better than anything you would buy from a store. And especially, is a recipe which makes you feel great every time you prepare it.
Of course, you can serve any day a cake bought from a bakery for dessert, but when the occasion calls for something special, make yourself the dessert.
I do believe that no matter how busy you are or how much you believe in your inability to follow a recipe, you should give it a try. Anyone can have fresh muffins in the morning and homemade cookies to snack in the afternoon, and it needn’t require much time or energy. It’s all about finding that reliable and no-fail recipe, baking it often enough to learn the technique and follow the steps that will make you a better baker.
There are no words to describe the happiness you have when slicing your own homemade banana bread for the first time, and you find the result is much satisfying than anything you could buy from the store. Plus, you know you made it yourself and you did it better than last time. The pages from my favorite recipe books are all splattered with milk, sprinkled with flour, and covered with my own notes and adjustments to the original recipe.
Usually, when I feel confident with a recipe, I double the quantities and share the cake with colleagues and friends. Lots of them are asking me for the recipe afterward 🙂
I am listing below some tricks I am using in my baking which I hope will help you too.
Five basic rules:
- Recipes are a road map, rather than directives
You can adjust the recipe in your own way. You do not have to use brown sugar if the recipe calls for it and you do not like it, change it rather with the type of sugar which fits you the best.
Well written recipes give you a clear picture of what ingredients you will need and how to prepare them. Read carefully, as a good recipe can also teach you fundamental techniques and skills.
Read the recipe at least 2 times to get an idea of the dish, what you will need and how to serve it. Factor the time needed to prepare it. Read the recipe again as you measure the ingredients and organize your space. There’s nothing worse than reaching for the next ingredient in the recipe only to realize that you do not have it in your pantry.
Follow the steps. Once you have made the recipes few times, start improvising. If you liked the recipe, pass it to someone you love. Usually, I make a file with the recipes I like the most, this way is handier to know where I find them when needed.
Sometimes the recipe requires the baking to be done at certain degrees. Better have an oven thermometer to make sure your oven has exactly the required temperature.
- Stay clean and organized
One of the tricks professional chefs use to combat the pressure of putting out complex dishes efficiently and quickly is mise en place- the French words for putting in place. Picture a cooking show chef demonstrating a dish. All of those little bowls of pre measured ingredients? That’s mise en place.
It’s one of the most important skills in baking. Maintain a clean, organized space and clean up while you bake.
The more you organize yourself and prepare your ingredients ahead of time, the more enjoyable the cooking and eating experience.
You can read more about why is not always better to follow the mise en place here
- Room temperature is key
Getting into the habit of laying out your supplies mise en place before baking will not only ensure that you have all the ingredients you need, but it will also give them a chance to reach room temperature.
While certain recipes may call for cold water or chilled butter, it’s generally a good idea to allow ingredients to soften before mixing. That way, you’ll have smoother, creamier batter and better-baked goods! Make sure your butter is the right consistency.
If a recipe calls for “softened butter,” it can be tempting to put the stick in the microwave, but this will only lead to greasy baked goods. Instead, fill a glass with water, and heat it in the microwave until hot to the touch. Carefully pour out the water and place the glass upside down over the stick of butter. The heat from the glass will soften the butter without melting it.
When baking cookies, the expert bakers recommend refrigerating your cookie dough balls for 24-48 hours before baking. Before popping the dough balls in the oven, be sure to bring them to room temperature by letting them sit for about 10-15 minutes. This will make sure they’re just crispy enough without becoming tough, and the wait will make them taste that much sweeter!
- Keep an eye on the time
We’ve all been there – sometimes in the process of finding that perfect golden brown shade, our cake ends up in the oven too long. Better bake for the minimum time required and try is the cake is ready by inserting a stick in the middle of the cake. If the stick came out clean, your cake is ready. If not, bake for another few minutes and try again.
- Your taste is different than others. That’s a sure thing!
You might be more sensitive to certain spices (like cinnamon, nutmeg or lemon), or you just have a different sweet tooth than the person who wrote the recipe.
Be careful when the recipe requires juice or pulp from fruits or veggies. Every fruit or veggie produce a different amount of pulp or juice (juice from 1 lemon is not the same when you squeeze every lemon).
Don’t try to be perfect, but rather improvise, and experience home baking as you like. The best is to use seasonal ingredients (I do not recommend making a pumpkin cake in the summer, pumpkin would not taste the same as in autumn).
Now, I would like to share with you how to organize your pantry.
Storing your pantry in glass jars is the best way to see (and use) what you have on hand. I have a huge collection of glass jars which I bought in bulk years ago, and I use them over and over. Just make sure you clean and dry them well before reusing them.
The whole grains are more nutritious than the refined grains, so bugs are more interested in those. A tightly sealed jar is the best way to keep them out. I don’t label my grains, except for the different types of rice flours, because they look very similar. If you have a variety of grains that are new to you, then labeling is a good idea.
Store any grain and nut flours that you don’t use frequently in the fridge because keeping them cold ensures a longer life and fresher taste. Place them in reusable containers and label them. If you have space in the freezer, store nuts that you don’t use regularly there as well.
In my Pantry: apple cider vinegar, olive oil, vegetable oil, ghee, coconut oil, coconut milk, honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, baking soda, baking powder, sea salt
Dry goods: almond flour (or almond meal), arrowroot/potato starch/corn starch, millet and millet flour, quinoa, quinoa pops, and quinoa flour, rice flour (brown rice flour, white rice flour, sweet rice flour), buckwheat flour, corn flour, gluten free oat flour, amaranth, almonds, cashew nuts, pistachios, pecan nuts, flaxseeds, hazelnuts, raisins, dried pineapple, dates (Medjool preferred), goji berries, desiccated coconut, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, bee pollen
Spices: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla beans or extract
In the fridge: almond milk (or any other plant based milk), butter, eggs, oat milk, tahini, fat yogurt, cream, seasonal fruits
In the freezer: bananas, berries
My hope is that this can be a concrete guideline if you are trying to change your baking habits and need the essentials. With this list on hand, you will be set up for any recipe.
What are your favorite baking tips and what you store usually in your pantry?
Let me know in the comments!