Food

Adventures in Baking: 15 tips I have learned first hand

I started a baking business from my home this past fall and it has truly been a labor of love. I have made literally thousands of cookies, bars, muffins, and cupcakes to the point that I gained six pounds (quality control) and my tongue hurt from all the sugar I was consuming during the height of Christmas holiday orders. People have ordered boxes of treats for countless reasons: teacher gifts, hostess gifts, thank you gifts to nurses stations, graduation parties, baby showers, wedding showers, dinner parties, baby gifts, 5K race awards, the list goes on. I have learned quite a few tips – first hand – during my adventures in baking that I though I would share:

1.) You are probably using too much flour – I realized I was for years. The key is to the fluffing. I now keep my flour in a big vat on my counter so the flour is fluffed during the transfer process from the bag to the vat. If you are measuring flour directly from the bag, spoon it into the measuring cup. Once the flour is in the measuring cup, use a butter knife or your finger to level the flour across the top of the measuring cup.

2.) Your baking powder may be expired – mine was as I unfortunately learned when I made a birthday cake that didn’t rise and tasted bad. Expired baking powder has an off flavor and it doesn’t allow your muffins, cupcakes, etc. to properly rise. Check the bottom of the can for the expiration date.

3.) All ovens are not created equal – mine is cool. Same goes for baking times – start checking ten – fifteen minutes prior to when the recipe says to take your item out of the oven to avoid burning.

4.) There is no perfect brownie recipe out there. I have been looking, and testing and still haven’t found my go-to. I like fudgy and chocolaty – not cakey and light on the chocolate. If you have one I’d love to try it.

5.) Do not put hot-from-the-oven baked goods straight into the fridge to speed cooling. This affects the texture of the finished product. Plus, just like proteins, baked goods benefit from “carry-over cooking” – meaning they continue to bake a bit after they come out of the oven.

6.) If you want a thinner chocolate chip cookie, decrease the flour. I like mine super thin and use over 1/2 cup less flour than most recipes call for.

7.) When it comes to eggs, butter, flour, and sugar, you can get away with the store brand, when it comes to chocolate and vanilla, buy the best quality you can afford – it makes all the difference.

8.) There IS a cut-out recipe that doesn’t require chilling the dough before you roll it out. And it’s delicious. Here it is.

9.) There is a whole art form to decorating cakes and cookies and piping decorations and letters. I have literally spent hours on blogs and You Tube researching. You Tube finally solved my frosting consistency issue after many days and attempts. It takes a lot of practice!

10.) If you do a lot of baking, buy in bulk. I buy flour, sugar, chocolate chips and brown sugar at BJ’s and a local bakery supply store. You’ll save a little but mainly save on trips to the store.

11.) You can freeze just about any baked good – cookies, brownies, even individually wrapped unfrosted cakes. Just be sure that they are completely cooled prior to wrapping tightly. I put cookies directly into freezer bags (squeeze the air out) and I wrap brownies, cakes and muffins first in a double layer of plastic wrap and then in freezer bags. Do NOT re-freeze after thawing.

12.) Line brownie pans with foil and cookie sheets with parchment paper for easy clean up. The foil-lined brownie pan also helps when cutting the brownies into even squares. I am obsessed with neat and evenly- cut brownies. When you lift the foil and brownies out of the baking pan at once, you can put the whole thing on a cutting board and cut the brownies evenly easier than if you are trying to cut them from the pan.

13.) When baking cookies, do not place your next batch of dough on a hot-from-the oven sheet to bake. Place the hot cookie sheet in your fridge to cool off for just a minute or two. When you bake cookies on a hot sheet the cookies will cook unevenly – the bottoms will over-brown and the cookies will spread.

14.) Salt is key in baking. It sounds strange but you need salt to bring out the sweet in your recipe. Don’t omit the salt (unless you need to for health purposes) and sometimes I add more.

15.) Salted butter is ok in baking. Most recipes call for unsalted butter. My family prefers salted butter on toast, etc. so that is what I have in my house. I don’t omit the salt called for in the recipe because of my salted butter, either. I actually may be a salt-a-holic.

Happy baking! Share your personal baking tips here!

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Rachael Ray