There are a lot of different things that you should know in order to be a good baker. So many, in fact, that it can be hard to remember them all, sometimes!
But to keep things simple, I’ve pared it down to just the essentials.
This is a barebones list of the five most important things that any baker needs to know in order to be successful. So if you’re a beginner baker, listen up! This post is for you!
Ready to study up on these basic, baking building-blocks?
1) Follow the Recipe
Now this might seem obvious, but I cannot overstate how incredibly important it is! Don’t go off book- just follow the recipe! If you want your dessert to look the same as the picture that made your mouth water, then you need to follow the recipe!
I CANNOT stress this enough!
Do NOT start substituting ingredients. Don’t skip steps. And don’t think that you “know better” than the recipe creator. In my experience, ignoring the recipe and breaking away from the directions is a surefire way to make mistakes. And that’s not what I want for you. I don’t want you to get discouraged.
I want you to be successful!
Even if you’re not a beginner, I still recommend that anytime you make a new dessert, follow the recipe to the letter. Only consider making changes after you’ve made the recipe at least once! And if the recipe is as fantastic as you’d hoped, my advice is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Going rouge and making alterations can be a recipe for disaster. So please, please, please:
Respect the recipe!
2) Measure Accurately
If you want your dessert to taste as delicious as expected, then each ingredient needs to be measured properly. Baking is all about proportions. Every single ingredient needs to be in balance. Too much or too little of anything will throw the entire dessert in disarray. So if you don’t have enough liquid, your dessert might turn out dry. But add too much and it will be soupy.
So it’s important that you respect the measurements listed in the recipe! (Refer back Fundamental 1 again if you’re at all confused as to why.)
Now, if you’re unsure how to measure your different ingredients, I recommend you watch this VIDEO HYPERLINK where I show you exactly how to measure both dry and wet ingredients.
Of course, it can be tempting to disregard this warning.
Say you love chocolate and want to double the amount of chocolate chips that you add to your chocolate chip cookies. Firstly, I like where you’re head is at. (And can we be friends?) But, sadly, more chocolate isn’t always a good thing. Scandalous, but true!
By altering the ratio of ingredients, you run the risk of not have enough dough to hold your cookies together. So rather than tantalizing oven-fresh cookies, you might just end up with an ooey gooey mess instead. Which would be insanely disappointing. So follow the measurements listed in the recipe and measure each ingredient as accurately as you can.
Because it matters!
3) Recognize the Rhythm
There is a rhythm to baking. And once you are familiar with it, then you’ll be able to recognize it- no matter what you’re making! Even when desserts obviously break away from the rhythm, there is still an echo of that same, trusty tune. If you know to listen for it.
Does that make any sense?
No? Well, if music isn’t your language, then imagine baking as a formula. Remember PEMDAS from math class? That’s the acronym you used to remember the right order of operations to “math” all the numbers together to get the right answer. (And, yes- I did use “math” as a verb. Deal with it.) Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction… any of that ring a bell?
If not, that’s ok. Because the math isn’t the point here.
The point is that baking is exactly the same!
And once you know the correct order to add all of your ingredients together, your desserts should come out right. Every. Single. Time.
Whether you’re making cakes, cookies, cheesecakes- you name it- your dessert recipe should resemble this pattern:
- Cream together the butter and sugar
- Add the wet ingredients
- Fold in the dry ingredients
- Portion out the batter
- Bake (or chill)
This is the underlying formula almost anything and everything that you will ever bake. Now, there are a few exceptions, but I’d estimate that this pattern will hold true of 90% of the dessert recipes that you will ever make. Memorize it. Get familiar with it. Learn to love it. And it will lead you to baking success every time.
4) Avoid Overcooking
There is nothing more tragic than putting your heart and soul into a dessert- and having it ruined by the oven. If your dessert comes out dry, crispy, and outright crunchy, then you’ve over baked it. In order to avoid this, my advice is to always err on the side of caution and actually set your timer for less time than the recipe states. And no, I’m not breaking my golden rule of “Follow the Recipe.” By cheating the cook time a few minutes, you now have the opportunity to check your dessert’s cooking progress before it’s too late.
Why is this a thing?
Why can’t I just trust the cook time on the recipe?
Well, every individual oven varies in temperature a little bit. And if your oven happens to cook hotter than the recipe creator’s oven, that puts your dessert in danger. This method gives you a cushion so you can double check your dessert and remove it from the oven early, if need be.
That said, once you know what cook time is appropriate for your specific oven, write it down and reuse that cook time again and again. For example, if you’re making cookies, you only need to scrutinize the first cookie sheet. After that, you’ll know how long to set your timer for all of the subsequent batches.
5) Invest in the Right Tools
If you’re frugal- or, like me, are outright poor- spending money is something you do with great reluctance. And this is especially true if you’re just getting into baking and aren’t sure if you like it enough to spend money on it yet. Which is fine- you can absolutely be successful without spending money on fancy gadgets.
But I’m here to tell you that using the right tools will make your life so much easier! Let’s talk cake. While you don’t have to drop money on a hand mixer in order to make a birthday cake, using one will make a difference.
Well, a cake made by hand will actually come out denser than one made with a hand mixer. This is because the machine can whip more air into the batter than you and your spoon can. And the more aerated the batter, the lighter and fluffier it will taste- which is always a good thing!
Again, when it comes to decorating, you can totally get creative with it. I’ve used a plastic sandwich bag in lieu of a piping bag before. It works just fine. But, you’ll never achieve a store-bought, “picture perfect” quality unless you invest in some decorating utensils. Sadly, your best efforts with a knife and sandwich baggie will never compare well to a cake decorated on a turntable with an offset spatula and legit piping tips. There simply is no contest.
So, if you’re serious about baking, I think that it’s worth investing in the proper equipment. Not only will it make your life easier, it might even make your food tastier! Which will all adds up to you having more fun in the kitchen! And that’s all I want for you- to enjoy baking!