How to Become a Great Baker
Baking demands precision. If a cake recipe calls for the cook to fold in flour in six batches, a shortcut of four will compromise the crumb. Even one tablespoon too much flour can change the texture of a reduced-fat cake. Here are some fundamentals to keep in mind.
1. Weigh and Measure
Learn the difference between weight and volume. Flour needs to be weighed. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, buy one. Weight is the only accurate way to measure flour. Depending on how tightly flour is packed into a measuring cup, you can end up with double the amount intended. That’s why we give flour measurements in ounces first. (In a pinch, you can use measuring cups. To improve accuracy, stir flour gently with a large spoon before measuring, then level with a knife or small metal spatula.)
Water, oil, milk, and other wet ingredients should be poured into a clear measuring cup on a level counter, then checked at eye level, not from above.
2. Follow the Recipe
You’ve heard that baking is as much science as art, so to prevent disastrous results, read through the recipe from start to finish. If you want to experiment (and we do it all the time), regard it as an experiment, and expect a few failures along the way.
See more: Solutions to Common Baking Mistakes
3. Use the Proper Pan
Your recipe calls for two 9-inch round cake pans, but you only have 8-inch pans. What to do? Go get two 9-inch pans. Pan size is specified in recipes because a cake or quick bread increases in volume 50 to 100 percent during baking; if your loaf pan or cake pan is too small, the batter could overflow. Color is important, too; glass or dark nonstick pans usually require a 25-degree reduction in baking temperature versus silver-colored aluminum pans.
4. Check Your Oven
Oven temperatures need to be spot on. To prevent an under- or over- done baked good, get an oven thermometer—it’s the best way to be sure your oven is calibrated correctly. In addition, check your oven for hot spots. Use the bread test: Place bread slices on the middle rack and bake at 350° for a few minutes. Check if any get singed, if so, you’ve found the oven’s hot spot. Try to avoid these areas or rotate pans accordingly.
5. Preheat the Oven
An oven that hasn’t been preheated may not drastically affect a casserole, but it will have an effect on your baking.
Baked goods need that initial blast of heat to activate the leavening. Although it’s tempting, don’t put your pan in before the oven is properly preheated. If it isn’t at the correct temperature, your recipe will take longer to bake and you run the risk of having a dry texture and low volume.
6. Check for Doneness
Each recipe provides a suggested baking time, and some include a doneness test. We recommend that you check for doneness a few minutes earlier than the recipe states to allow for variations in your oven or other factors. For muffins, quick breads, and some cakes, insert a wooden pick; it should come out clean. For other recipes, it is a visual cue like a certain degree of browning. Completely baked bread will have a beautiful golden-brown color and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.