Emily Wyckoff

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!


7 Responses to “Adventures in Baking: 15 tips I have learned first hand”

  1. carol says:

    I have a made from scratch brownie recipe that is to die for, it may take me a while to find it but will post when I do. I found it accidently one day when I had to bake something at the last minute for my grandaughter’s girl scout bake sale. Never tasted a brownie this good

  2. Great tips! But my favorite brownie recipe is yours!

  3. Plan B Mom says:

    @carol – please post the recipe when you find it! @LML – that recipe is my front runner – basic is best for sure.

  4. Terry says:

    here is a great brownie recipe.
    CHEWY BROWNIES

    INGREDIENTS
    • 1/3cup Dutch-processed cocoa
    • 1 1/2teaspoons instant espresso (optional)
    • 1/2cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
    • 2ounces unsweetened chocolate , finely chopped (see note)
    • 4tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter , melted
    • 1/2cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 2large eggs
    • 2large egg yolks
    • 2teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 2 1/2cups (17 1/2 ounces) sugar
    • 1 3/4cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 3/4teaspoon table salt
    • 6ounces bittersweet chocolate , cut into 1/2-inch pieces (see note)
    INSTRUCTIONS
    • 1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Referring to directions in Making a Foil Sling (related), make sling using the following steps: Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking pan, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and fit into width of pan in the same manner, perpendicular to the first sheet (if using extra-wide foil, fold second sheet lengthwise to 12-inch width). Spray with nonstick cooking spray.
    • 2. Whisk cocoa, espresso powder (if using), and boiling water together in large bowl until smooth. Add unsweetened chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted. Whisk in melted butter and oil. (Mixture may look curdled.) Add eggs, yolks, and vanilla and continue to whisk until smooth and homogeneous. Whisk in sugar until fully incorporated. Add flour and salt and mix with rubber spatula until combined. Fold in bittersweet chocolate pieces.
    • 3. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted halfway between edge and center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool 1½ hours.
    • 4. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Return brownies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.

  5. Julie says:

    My love for running, cooking/baking, and helping children has led me to a new adventure; joining the Miles for Miracles Team for the Boston Marathon. My idea to raise $4, 000 includes selling baked items. My husband is skeptical on the profit after purchasing the ingredients and making the items. Do you have advice for using my skills in the kitchen and helping me achieve my fundraising goal?

  6. Plan B Mom says:

    @Julie – Your husband must be friends with my husband. My biggest piece of advice is to charge more than you think you should for your goodies. My husband made a spread sheet to figure out the overhead costs of my most popular recipes and we used that plus how long it takes me to figure out how much to charge. I also did some research to see what local and online bakeries would charge. Also, limit your options and only sell your best treats that are not labor intensive. I learned the hard way as I charged the same amount for decorated cutouts as I did for chocolate chip cookies. Well, the cut outs take about two days between making the cutouts, icing the base layer, letting it dry, piping the decorations – I needed to increase my prices. I would start small – make up a limited menu, email your personal contacts and ask them to spread the word and go from there. Also, listen to your audience. I originally said no cupcakes or birthday cakes but a lot of people requested them so now I make them. Good luck and I could go on – let me know if you have any specific questions!

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