Sweet-Tooth Friday: My Ten Best Baking Tips

christine baking 225x300Hello foodies!  It’s Christine here for Sweet-Tooth Friday!  As the holidays roll around, it’s time to show off your culinary prowess!  To go along with my post on how to be a healthier baker, I thought I’d let you in on some more general (but uber-important) tidbits I’ve picked up as a professional baker.

Ten Tips for Better Baking

  1. Ditch the timer
    That cake is done when you say it’s done!  One of the biggest mistakes you can make is blindly following the time given in a recipe.  Sure, you can use the time given as a guideline, but it can totally vary based on the size of your pan, the nuances of your oven, and even altitude!   I always start checking on my goodies at least five minutes earlier than the time listed.  Keep an eye out for signs your cake is done: edges that are pulling away from the sides of the pan, an unjiggly center, and a knife that comes out clean!  If whatever you are baking is browning on top but still not done in the center, just loosely cover with a piece of aluminum foil.
  2. Get an oven thermometer
    I cannot stress this enough: setting your dial to 350 degrees does not guarantee your oven will heat to 350 degrees!  Many ovens I have worked with are fifty degrees too hot, so setting it to 350 actually means 400.  This is a sure-fire way to over-bake or burn your creations, so before you unnecessarily chip away at your baking confidence, just go get a thermometer already!  Mine works great and was less than ten bucks.
  3. Know thy oven
    Does your oven have a hot spot in the back left corner?  Do cakes on the bottom rack burn if they don’t have sheet pan underneath them?  That’s how my oven is!  If you’re not sure about yours, try to stay in the center of the oven and rotate your pan around about half way through baking.  When you have something on both the top and bottom racks, swap positions there too.
  4. Make every stir count
    For light and fluffy baked goods, it’s important not to over-stir.  Over-stirring strengthens the gluten, which can make your cake tough.  There are several ways to efficiently stir your batter.  First, make sure your dry ingredients are completely mixed together before you get them wet.  Next, instead of stirring vigorously like a cartoon chef, gently scrape down the sides and bottom of your bowl and mix with a folding motion, constantly incorporating a new section of batter.
  5. Use the right pans No, you probably don’t need that teddy bear sheriff cake pan.  But if you only have your trusty 9×13 casserole dish and muffin tin, it may be time to branch out.  A 12 cup bundt pan makes an effortless presentation, plus it requires less icing than a normal cake.  A springform pan has a removable bottom, and is nice for coffeecakes and other tarts so you don’t have to flip it.  Finally, an insulated cookie sheet will bake your cookies without scorching the bottoms.
  6. Chill out
    Let your cake or cookies cool before taking them out of the pan.  (Better yet, let them cool on a wire rack so air can circulate around the bottom.)  Otherwise you risk getting burnt, or more tragically could cause your baked goods to break.  Breads, brownies, and “custard” pies especially need time to finishing baking after they come out of the oven so just let them be for twenty minutes of so.  And you!  Yes you, Johnny Impatient.  Don’t even think about icing a hot cake or cupcake- you’ll be much happier with the room-temperature results.
  7. Find a trusty recipe source
    If you are going to use your valuable time and ingredients, you should know your source.  I’ve had great success with epicurious.com and as you know I also love to “ask Betty“; Matt really likes finecooking.com.  For vegan fun, nothing tops Isa and the gang at The Post Punk Kitchen.  And, ahem, there’s yours truly. You can always hit me up with your baking questions in the comments.
  8. Make the recipe yours
    Substitutions are your friend when you can’t find the healthy recipe you want.  See my post on healthy baking on how to veganize any recipe.  Also, remember to read recipes with a critical eye- typos do exist.  If something seems really off, say a quarter cup of salt, it probably is!  Finally, feel free to mix up the flavors and add-ins, but don’t go too crazy.  One to three flavors usually work best.  For example, Lemon Cake is good, White Chocolate Lemon Cake is good, and White Chocolate Lemon Cake with Raspberries is good.  White Chocolate Lemon Poppy Raspberry Walnut?  Too much.
  9. Don’t forget the finishing touches
    Sometimes a dash of rainbow sprinkles is all you need to pull a dessert together.  A dusting of powdered sugar is also a nice professional touch- just a teaspoon goes a long way.  A drizzle of melted chocolate or chocolate syrup looks elegant on the dessert and the plate.  Fresh berries make a lovely garnish too.
  10. Get out of your comfort zone
    Still hoping for that pie crust to roll itself?  Wary about yeast breads?  If you’ve been avoiding recipes that require seemingly complicated skills, go ahead and give it a shot!  It takes some practice, but it’s not rocket science.  Just don’t save your experiments for an hour before your big dinner party.

And finally, I hope this is obvious, but have fun!  The holidays are a great opportunity to get your oven revving, and your friends and family are sure to thank you for it!

Have a sweet Thanksgiving!

xoxo Christine

About the Author: Christine Frazier writes vegan recipes through lots of research, trial, and error … now she is applying the same theory to her other passion, writing stories. Follow along as she deconstructs bestsellers and learns how to write a novel.

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Comments

  1. Great tips! These are the ones I WISH someone would have totally me ages ago… and I think you make a really good point about the timer, especially. I’ve learned that the baking time given in a recipe is a “guideline” more than anything- a lot depends on the oven you’re using!
    .-= Sagan´s last blog ..Judgments Based on First Impressions =-.

  2. Christine – great tips! You can find recipes – though not all sweets and baking and not all vegan – on my blog if you are looking for some to try. Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (with Carob Chips instead of Chocolate) are my favs but the kids love chocolate.
    .-= Nicki´s last blog ..Quotable =-.

  3. Great tips Christine! I really need to get an oven thermometer :)

    I do have a springform pan I’ve never used – any recipe you reccomend to try it out for the first time?

  4. Thank you for those great tips!

    I echo the oven thermometer tip; my oven is about 30 degrees off (cooler) , so I have to set it higher to get the right temp.!
    .-= Marisa (Trim The Fat)´s last blog ..Vegan For A Day =-.

  5. It’s so true! I know so many potentially great bakers who can’t handle just going with the flow and trusting that if you put delicious ingredients together you will get something delicious. Just do it and have fun! I love it!
    .-= Allyson´s last blog ..The Sweatshop of Love’s Yarn Crawl is Saturday! =-.

  6. I love this post!! I have the cooking thing down, but I’m a horrrrrible baker! But, especially with the holidays right around the corner, I’m trying to improve my baking skills – and these tips are really timely & helpful. Thanks Christine!
    .-= Amy (One Thousand Steps)´s last blog ..Happy Friday! =-.

  7. These are wonderful tips! I particularly appreciate #1. Several months ago I embarked on a sweet banana bread recipe. If I’d blindly followed the recipe, I would have been stuck with an ooey gooey mess. Sure enough, my bread needed an extra 25 minutes for some unknown reason and then it turned out to be delicious!
    .-= katherine´s last blog ..You Win Some, You Lose Some =-.

  8. Great tips! I hate to say it but I know very little about my oven, but how to turn it on!

    I love Isa too she’s helped me make a lot of meals lately :) And some rave desserts.

  9. Great tips! I like the one about not over stirring… I”m guilty!

  10. Great tips! I always love trying to change a recipe- even if its just by a little bit. Makes the whole process more fun. Happy thanksgiving (love the apron btw!)
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..A Mediterranean(ish) Dish, A Winner & A Declaration =-.

  11. I so agree with knowing your oven. Last year I had to make popovers in my aunt’s much older oven and half burnt, but the ones that didn’t we all enjoyed!
    .-= Evan Thomas´s last blog ..Voskos Greek Yogurt Review =-.

  12. How do you know when your cake (or whatever) is ready to be flipped out of the pan (without breaking, obviously)? and what do you put it on?

  13. Hi Alicia,
    That’s a good question. First, it should be cool enough to touch. If it hurts, just wait. Also, some of the cake’s puffiness should have gone down, and when you press your finger on it, the cake should spring back instead of indent.

    Take a thin spatula or knife and run it around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. Pull a long piece of plastic wrap over the cake in the pan, using two pieces if needed. Put a cake board or plate upside down on the cake pan. Press the plate to the pan and invert.

    Get eye-level with the pan and gently lift up. If you see it sticking on any side, slow down and use your fingers to unattach whatever is holding on.

    Once the pan is off, wrap the plastic wrap around the top of the cake, and use another piece to cover the top. Refrigerate until completely cool before icing. If you are doing a bundt cake, skip the plastic wrap and just ice when at room temperature.

    Hope that helps! Let me know if anything is unclear.
    -Christine

    • That worked!! Thank you! I made my own cake board out of two sheets of cardboard (small cake), and we were out of plastic wrap so I covered it with aluminum foil and I am basically crossing my fingers it stays together.

      Question: If it’s sticking to the bottom of the pan, would it help to place the whole contraption, pan and all, in the fridge and let it cool? Would that help it not stick?

      • Hey Alicia,
        Homemade cake boards covered in foil are great, try sticking a smidge of icing in between them to act as glue.

        After the cake has started to cool down, I haven’t noticed a difference in ease of getting the cake out whether it is warm, room temperature, or cold. However, I prefer to take a cake out when it is warm, but not hot. The steam caught in the pan will keep cooking the bottom of the cake and make it tough, so you need to let it out before the cake is completely cool.

        Cakes that stick to the bottom of the pan is more of a preventative issue. You need to spray the pan really well with baking spray or grease with oil, making sure to get in all the corners and creases. Then take a handful of flour and tilt and tap the pan to get everything coated, then dump out the excess. If you are making a chocolate cake, coat with cocoa instead of flour.

        This method is enough for me, I rarely lay down a piece of parchment. I only put a parchment circle in the pan if I have something in the cake that may sink and stick, such as chocolate chips, dried fruit, or a swirled fruit puree.

        If a hunk of your cake sticks to the pan, it’s not the end of the world. Carefully shave off the section in one piece using a little spatula, and place as best you can to fit back in with the cake. Wrap and chill completely. Depending on the damage, a lot of times this will congeal enough that you can still ice it and not notice in the finished product.

  14. Such great tips…especially the “just enjoy it” part. I get turned off by certain recipes when they look to intensive, but sometimes a person just has to think like Julia Childs and not care if things don’t come out perfect. :D

    Love the tips…thanks for sharing! :D
    .-= Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down)´s last blog ..Fabulous Fridays :) =-.

  15. I love adding my own touch to a recipe!
    .-= Nicci@NiftyEats´s last blog ..Do I Run to Eat More? =-.

  16. These were all great. #4 was my favorite – I’ve always wondered when it’s best to NOT over do it with the mixing – and that sometimes less truly is more.
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Did You Know? =-.

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