Best baking tips for beginners – Do’s and don’ts
Not everyone is an expert, especially when you are just starting out in a new area. If you asked me what were my greatest struggles when I started baking and how would I advise others to overcome these struggles, my answer would be – I didn’t really know what was I doing wrong at that time and as for the advice for others? That will definitely be read more best baking tips for beginners at the same time when you are trying out all sorts of recipes!
The reason is simple, if you don’t understand it, you fail it – no matter how minor a particular step seems like, it may actually carry a huge meaning behind it.
I am sure that you have seen these kinds of instructions too often – ‘use butter at room temperature’, ‘beat egg whites to stiff peak’, ‘set a double boiler’, etc. But, wait, what the h*ck are those? I thought baking is simply adding this to that, pop it in the oven and *boom*, magic happens?
NO!! Wait, yes, baking is magic. But, like a magician, you need to prepare everything perfectly before you start the show, right? That’s how you make the magic happens – by understanding everything you need to do thoroughly.
That’s why, today, on a Saturday afternoon, I am writing this best baking tips for beginners guide and forcing you guys to learn! You want that magic macarons or chocolate cupcake or Victoria sponge cake? That’s totally possible! Follow me!
What are the best baking tips for beginners?
1. Use ingredients at room temperature
“Use ingredients at room temperature” – I am pretty sure that you have seen this request in more recipes than you can remember but yeah, this is definitely one of the best baking tips for beginners.
I understand the waiting time can kill your passion and makes you wonder, is the wait really that important? Can we be sneaky and ignore it?
Let’s find out!
Okay, first question. How important is room temperature butter?
We’ll look at the most obvious part first. Many recipes start by asking you to cream your butter and sugar together. So, if you are using a package of cold, rock-hard butter, you will find it hard to cream them into a light, airy and soft consistency. This same principle also applies to other ingredients such as eggs (especially egg whites) or milk.
And, the temperature of ingredients hugely affects the texture of your baked goods – room temperature ingredients emulsify into the batter a lot easier, help in leavening and bring a uniform and tender texture to your baked items.
As for room temperature butter, what you should look for is butter at its semi-solid stage. It is spreadable but still holds its shape – you should be able to leave a finger imprint on it without any resistance. Yet, it should not be too soft that it appears to be greasy or shiny – the degree of aeration will not be satisfactory when you whip it with sugar.
As a general rule, leave your butter at room temperature for about 45 minutes to an hour before you bake, in order to yield the perfect baked items.
2. Read and follow the recipe
Okay, this is serious. I know you always read the recipe, but here I mean treat your recipe like a proper textbook – give it a thorough read. This will help in building your confidence when you are baking and trust me, we don’t want any ‘surprises’ here.
One of the other best baking tips for beginners is always getting your ingredients ready and be prepared of all steps coming up. Pay extra attention to wording such as ‘fold gently’, ‘stir until just combined’, ‘add in three batches’, ‘use sifted ingredients’, etc because these wordings do matter, and in fact, they decide how successful your actual batch of baked goods will be.
If you think that ‘Nah, these ingredients are eventually going to end up together anyway so I’ll just pop it in the bowl and mix them at once’, you are so wrong. Never ever do this – you are going to end up with a tray of sad baked items plus a sad day.
For example, if you are making macarons, you are required to blitz your ground almonds and icing sugar in the first step or at least sieve them three times before proceeding to the next step. This is to make sure that your dry ingredients are ultra fine so your macaron top will be picture-perfect smooth. See, if you skip this step, or you do not know the meaning behind this action, you are going to end up will macarons with rough tops. Not very nice, is it?
Reading a recipe only takes you a few minutes. Yet, it helps in avoiding fluster of not expecting any certain step in the recipe and saving your ingredients from a batch of failed baked goods. So, yeah, definitely read the recipe!
3. Always measure your ingredients
When it comes to baking, it pays off to be a perfectionist. I can’t remember how many times of me being lazy and using my instinct to add a “150g” of flour and cannot to feel more regret later. A tray of failed cookies means a total waste of time and ingredients. In the end, I can only say sorry to myself – “Sorry, I’ve let you down. I should have weighed it”.
Even that you only miss out weighing one ingredient, you mess up with the whole recipe. Why? Think about it as a ratio and balance. How can you accurately balance all the ingredients if you don’t know the weigh of a particular ingredient?
And, what I mean weighing is really weighing – use your digital kitchen scale to weigh. I know sometimes it’s convenient to just use cups and spoons to measure but a cup does not always weigh the same – it weighs more if the ingredients are more compacted and weigh less if they are sifted.
This is especially important when you are doing fine baking. For example, macaron. You need to be as accurate as possible in order to get the right consistency and perfect result. This is why I always recommend you to use a digital scale. It allows you to precisely weigh down to a few grams.
4. Grease your baking pans seriously
This detail might be small or even silly to mention but this will affect the final appearance of your cake.
If removing your cake from the baking pan will cause damage to your cake does not send a thrill down your spine, I challenge you to think again. Two hours of hard work ruined in a minute – absolutely the worst nightmare on earth, or at least for me.
Yet, this is completely avoidable – just make sure that your baking pan is greased properly! Generously butter every corners and edge where your cake might stick to minimise the risk of sticking.
The other point worth mentioning is that I know there are non-stick baking pans available on the market and claiming that you will not have to grease another baking pan if you use them. However, I still insist on greasing them again and I will suggest you do the same.
From my previous experience, the non-stick effect of the baking pans tends to fade over time and you never know how long it takes for your non-stick to become super-stick.
So, in this case, it’s always good to follow the good old method – always grease your baking pans!
5. Regularly replace your leaveners
The baking soda and baking powder are deemed to be the greatest helper hand for a baker. To clarify this, I would say yes, but obviously, when they work!
When these chemical leaveners are added to your batter, they react with the acid or moisture and produce carbon dioxide to let your cake to rise. In other words, they are what makes the magic happen.
So, if they are not stored properly and have contact with the moisture in the air, they will also start the reaction and when you need them next time, they are not going to give you the magic. Therefore, it is important to check whether your leaveners are working before you add them into your batter.
To check baking soda, add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar into half a cup of warm water and stir gently. If there is an immediate and furious fizzing, it means that the baking soda is fresh.
To check the freshness of baking powder, combine 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder into half a cup of warm water and give it a light stir. You should see a moderate bubbling.
Generally, I will advise you to replace your leaveners once every six months.
The other issue relating to these two leaveners is that I will not recommend you to substitute them with one another, especially substituting the baking soda for baking powder. They need different components in the batter in order to initiate the chemical reaction and you can get horribly wrong if you are not careful.
6. Get an oven thermometer
One of another best baking tips for beginners is to get an oven thermometer. I promise you. This little gadget will become your best friend.
Like many other cooks and bakers, initially, I thought getting an oven thermometer is totally unnecessary and meaningless. Why would I need an extra gadget since I have turned my oven to the desired temperature?
Truth proves that I was wrong. This may surprise you but your oven can actually cheat on you. Although you have turned the oven to a 180°C for half an hour, you will not never know the actual temperature inside – it can actually be 15°C lower or higher or even get to a difference of 50°C or 60°C from what you have set.
Unless your oven is new or is regularly calibrated or I will definitely advise you to spend a few bucks to get yourself an oven thermometer. This inexpensive tool helps in building your confidence because you know have the full control on every single step and even that you failed this batch, it’s easier for you to spot your problem due to this greater control.
The spot you should place your oven thermometer is right beside your baking pan, so the reading is as accurate as possible. Meanwhile, you should make sure that your baking pan is placed exactly at the centre of your oven – this is the perfect spot for baking as your cake can be evenly cooked from all directions.
7. Don’t open your oven door
This is definitely what you should avoid – don’t open your oven door if it is not necessary.
I know it is hard to stop yourself from being curious but no, you need to control yourself here, don’t peek at your baked goods! By opening the oven door, you disrupt the temperature inside and it needs time to build it up again, so not only the baked items need a longer time to be cooked, you also lose the time control.
For example, when you are baking macarons, by opening the oven door and allow the cold air to enter, you will deflate the macaron, which is the last thing you want.
If you want to insert your skewer to check if your cake or muffin is cooked, do it quickly – remove your baking tray or pan from the oven, close the oven door and insert your skewer to check. If it is not quite ready yet, pop it back as quickly as possible.
Remember, what we want is to keep a constant temperature in the oven, so we get the desired structure in our baked goods.
8. Let your baked goods cool completely
This is another thing I find hard to follow. It’s literally a torture – allowing you to see it but not eat it. But, ugh, let’s follow the rules!
By letting your cake the steam to evaporate completely and allowing your cake to cool completely, it’s far easier to handle it – whether you are removing it from the pan or trying to frost it. Oh yeah, a big reminder here – don’t try to frost your cake when it is still warm! What you will end up with is just a block of gooey dessert or if you want to call it an absolute hell dish, I’ll approve that.
And, if you have tried baking, you’ve probably experienced this. This sounds kind of strange but in fact, how hot a food is will actually affect your ability to perceive sweetness. So, if you think the cake you just remove from the oven is far too sweet, taste it again when it’s cooled and you may find it’s actually okay!
The most obvious example would be the ice cream. The level of sweetness you perceived has an inverse relationship with temperature – this is why your ice cream tastes less sweet when it is frozen but becomes extremely sweet when it is melted.
Wrapping it up
As I mentioned in the first place, if you are starting out baking, my best advice for you is to read more baking tips for while you are exploring all kinds of recipes.
Just like many other skills, you need to build up rigid foundations in order to succeed. These tips might seem minor but it can bring a huge effect on your baked goods. I wished I know more about the related knowledge when I entered this area.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading these eight best baking tips for beginners. If you have any questions or have other tips to share, please feel free to leave them in the comment! 🙂