Five tips to make you a better baker
If you've been burned by baking - or simply burned your baked goods - you may wonder whether it's just you. Perhaps, but even if you are in fact doing something wrong, that doesn't mean you can't fix it. Here are five spoonfuls of advice to help you become a better, more confident baker:
Follow the directions
If you don't want to follow directions, it's better to make savoury dishes, baking requires you to be precise. Do you really need to whip those egg whites separately? Does the dough really have to be kneaded that long? The answer is probably yes.
Read the recipe - preferably multiple times - before you start doing anything. Not only do you want to make sure you have all the ingredients you need, you also want to have a good idea of what all the steps are in advance. That way you don't run into any surprises, especially if something is time-sensitive.
Be wary of substitutions
I know it sounds like we're being sticklers here, but baking is often so much about chemistry that ingredients aren't necessarily interchangeable. Flours and sugars are two main baking ingredients that can have a dramatic effect on your results. Changing flours, for example, can alter the structure and density of a baked good. Sugars differ in flavour, texture and how they interact with water, so using the wrong one can also mess up the bake.
But don't be afraid to make a recipe your own
Some of the best places to start playing around are add-ins: chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts. You can experiment with different extracts and flavoured simple syrups (even alcohol, where liquor is used for flavour). Spices, within reason, are ripe for personal preference. Other things you can play around with are pan size and shape.
Pay attention to temperature
t's important to follow the directions when a recipe calls for ingredients to be at a certain temperature. Often, that means room temperature. Eggs are another ingredient frequently brought to room temperature (if you forget or are in a rush, you can place the eggs in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes). Ingredients at the wrong temperature won't blend together as well, and you might not incorporate the right amount of air for proper lift.
Just as recipes can be affected by which ingredient you use, they can be impacted by how much you use. So, yes, as most dedicated bakers will tell you, weight is the most accurate method for measuring. There's often a lot of variation when it comes to measuring by volume, thanks to cups of differing sizes. Science and precision are good, even crucial, in baking, so consider investing in a kitchen scale and using weight measures where provided.