15 Tips for Better Baking: Measuring, Temperature, and Mixing

In my next installment of “15 Tips for Better Baking”, here are a number of guidelines that can help you be a better baker when you are sifting, measuring, and mixing up your ingredients.

  • Weighing ingredients with a digital kitchen scale is the most accurate method of baking, even if most printed recipes call for volume measuring (cups, teaspoons, etc.); when possible, look for recipes from professional bakers that use weight measurements.
  • Ingredients for cakes should be room temperature (can take out of refrigerator approximately 60-90 minutes before needed).
  • Dry and semi-solid ingredients (such as butter, peanut butter, sour cream, fruit preserves, etc.) should be measured in dry measuring cups.
  • “Loosen” flour with a knife (pass it through your bag of flour) before measuring, then scoop it *into* the measuring cup. If you use the measuring cup/spoon directly, you compress the flour granules and end up with more flour than intended, which can make your recipe dry. When the right amount of flour is added to your measuring cup, level off the top with a straight edge like the back of a knife for a perfectly level cup.
  • The only “compressed” or “packed” ingredient is brown sugar, where all recipes expect the amount needed to be packed into the measuring cup: when turned out of the cup, the sugar should hold its shape.
  • Use clear liquid measuring cups for measuring water, milk, honey, corn syrup, molasses, and other liquids; before measuring anything sticky, spray the cup with non-stick cooking spray, and it will slide right out!
  • Always start and end with dry ingredients when alternating with wet ingredients (3 dry additions, 2 wet).
  • Don’t over-mix once dry ingredients are added. Just mix on low speed until incorporated.
  • Kitchen stand-mixers don’t need to run at full-speed. A small mixer should run no more than speed #4, for most things. A large mixer no more than speed #6. You will add years to your mixer’s life!
  • You should never knock pans on the counter to try and level your batter; this will only undo much of your hard work in getting your baked good to rise in the oven, by bursting many of the teeny tiny bubbles trapped in the batter before they ever get the chance to work.  Level your pans by using an offset spatula to even out the high spots; try to leave a slight depression in the centre of your pan as opposed to a “hump” of liquid batter, to counteract the proclivity of most baking recipes to bake up with peaked tops.
  • Use an ice cream scoop when filling cupcake tins; that way you can ensure each cupcake/muffin will be the same size, and bake at the same rate.
  • If you have not quite enough batter to fill all the depressions in a cupcake tin, fill the empty ones half full with water before baking; this will a) help the cakes bake and rise more evenly and b) help to not warp your pan.
  • When baking chocolate cakes, use unsweetened cocoa powder to dust your pans instead of flour.
  • Always use a thermometer to measure liquid temperature when adding yeast; liquid that is too cold will make the yeast sluggish and unable to rise to its full potential, and too hot will kill the yeast cells.
  • When making cookie dough, chill the dough for at least 20 minutes, or overnight before baking; this will a) allow more time for the cookies to absorb the liquid in the dough and therefore have better structure when baked, and b) give the chilled dough time to “set” before all of the ingredients come to their melting point during baking, leading to a nicer looking cookie.

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