Here is part three in my baking tips trilogy. In case you missed it, you can find part one which discusses equipment here and part two which covers ingredients here.
Tips for Mixing Ingredients
· Baking is science. Unlike cooking, baking is very precise. Measure carefully and use the right measuring tools. Remember: there is a difference between a measuring cup for dry ingredients and one for liquids.
· Don’t substitute/don’t leave out. Someone once asked me if she could substitute olive oil for butter in my gingersnap cookie recipe as she wanted the recipe to be healthier. Since baking is a science, substituting is really tricky (and, no, you can’t substitute olive oil for butter in cookies). My rule is, you really can’t substitute or leave out ingredients unless the ingredient is of the mix-in sort – butterscotch chips instead of chocolate chips for example – and not really critical to the outcome of the recipe.
· Get all of your ingredients out before you start. As you mix your ingredients, go through your recipe and mentally check off if you have added everything.
· Have extra ingredients on-hand. A few weeks ago I was making 7 minute frosting and I forgot to add the water. I was too far down the path with it to just add the water so I had to start again. It was late and I just wanted to be finished. I was so glad that I had enough ingredients on-hand to just start over and I did not have to run to the grocery store.
· Use the tools for which the recipe was written. Baking tools have changed a lot over the years and it can be important to know when a recipe was written. For example, I was making a cake from a Betty Crocker cookbook from the 1960s. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer to mix it and it got way too much air into it. I had to trash the cake and start over. I used a hand held mixer and it turned out just fine. I’m thinking that since this recipe was from the 60s, the assumption was that the baker would use a tool that was widely available in 60s – the hand held mixer. On the opposite end of the spectrum, lots of cookie recipes today call for mixing with a stand mixer using a paddle attachment. If you don’t have it, your alternative is to mix by hand. If you mix using a handheld mixer I think you will get too much air in your dough.
Tips for Baking (mostly applies to cookies)
· Bake things of the same size together. When you are baking cookies or anything where the size can vary, it’s important to bake like sized things together so everything bakes evenly. When I am making drop cookies or cookies that are rolled into a ball, I try and keep them of a similar size. When I am making roll out cookies and using various sizes of cookie cutters, I will have about four baking sheets out so that I can group like size cookies together on their respective baking sheets.
· Let your baking sheets cool between batches. You should always put dough of any sort (cookie, scone, etc.) onto a cool baking sheet. If you put dough on a warm sheet, it will spread and you won’t get the results you want. This is the argument for having at least four or more baking sheets.
· Rotate baking sheets halfway through baking. When you are baking cookies, it’s a good idea to rotate the baking sheets at the halfway mark: Baking sheet on top rack goes to bottom rack, baking sheet on the bottom rack goes to the top rack. I keep an eye on the baking process on the back half of the time and will sometimes rotate baking sheets back to front or even do the top to bottom rotation again for a final minute or two.
· Set a timer. I always set a timer when I am baking. Even if I am just giving something an extra minute, I set a timer. I do this because things happen, I get distracted, the phone rings, I get a text … whatever. A timer keeps me focused.
· You have to watch things and add/subtract time. You can’t bake according to time. This is especially important with cookies. You can’t just put things you are baking in the oven, set the timer and hope for the best. Depending on your oven and other factors, you may need to add or subtract time.
And one more tip …
· Do one thing at a time. If am making several batches of cookies on the same day (Christmas time for example). I do one piece of the process at a time for all of the cookies: make all of the dough, then stop clean up. Then do all of the baking. I am more efficient and more focused when I do it this way.