Baking is an enjoyable endeavor, but it can be tricky if you’re a novice with the oven. However, it’s not impossible to make something at home that looks and tastes like the work of a professional. Whether you’re new to the ways of the whisk or just don’t know how to soften butter quickly, here Pritish Kumar Halder shares some baking hacks that every home cook needs to know.
Your baking will rise to the next level with these tips
Make sure your ingredients are at the proper temperature
Baking can be a fun new hobby to learn, but it’s also a science that’s greatly affected by temperature. If your recipe calls for your ingredients to be warm, cool, chilled or room temperature, make sure they are. When not specified, it’s best to go with room temperature, as ingredients are then easier to mix together for a uniform consistency.
Soften butter with a rolling pin
Many recipes call for your butter to be at room temperature. If you forgot to take your stick of butter out a few hours before baking, don’t worry. You can soften a cold stick of butter by placing it in a sealed bag and using a rolling pin to flatten the butter into a thin layer — a cooking hack you probably learned from your parents. A rubber spatula will help you scoop the soft butter out.
If all of your ingredients are sticking together, don’t run and look for an online cooking class just yet. Flouring your tools will make things go smoothly. Dust your work surface in flour to keep dough from sticking to it, and do the same with rolling pins and your hands. When cutting through dough with a knife or cookie cutter, flour will help you work faster and neater as well.
Let the dough rest after you knead it
When baking your own bread, make sure you let the dough rest after kneading it. This will give the dough time to relax, and in turn, it will be easier to work with.
Know how to measure dry ingredients …
One thing to keep in mind when baking is that measuring dry ingredients is different from measuring liquids. When baking something like pancakes, which require a lot of dry ingredients, scoop the mix into your measuring cup and tap across the surface with a knife to level it off.
… And liquid ingredients
Now that you know how to measure dry ingredients, we should also cover how to measure liquid ingredients. When working with things like eggs or water, pour the ingredients into a clear measuring cup on a flat surface at eye level. Whether you’re working with wet or dry components, it’s important to know the expiration date of the ingredients you’re using.
Use cooking spray for sticky ingredients
Just like when you cook eggs in a pan, you should spray any measuring cups or spoons with oil prior to using them for baking. This will make it easier to tip ingredients out of them, it will also ensure you don’t waste any sticky ingredients, like honey.
Use unsalted butter
While some things (like a perfectly cooked steak) require a lot of salt, baking is different. You want to be able to control the level of salt in your recipe where you can. A good way to do so is by using unsalted butter, unless it’s otherwise specified.
One bad cooking habit you need to stop now is not being prepared. A key part of baking is making sure you read the recipe and set out the ingredients before getting started. This will help in case anything needs to set overnight or if the oven needs to be preheated.
Take your time
Baking is a very precise art, and you want to handle your ingredients with delicacy. If you’re not in the right state of mind, it will reflect in your baking. Remember to take your time when baking and try not to let everyday stressors get in the way of your newfound baking skills.
Use an ice cream scoop for uniformity
If you’re making cupcakes or cookies, you want them all to be perfectly even and the same size. Cover an ice cream scoop, tablespoon or melon baller with cooking spray and use it to scoop your batter into a cupcake tray or cookie tin. Not only will this make everything the same size, but it’s a faster and neater way to divide up the batter. With this helpful hack, you’ll be ditching store-bought cookies in no time.
Proof your dough in the oven
Baking bread can be a great way to relieve stress, but you’ll want to brush up on the basics first, like how to proof dough — allowing the dough to rest and rise. To do so, turn on the oven for just two minutes and place a bowl of boiling water into the oven with the light on. Once you’re done kneading the dough, the oven should be the correct temperature to ensure the dough will be proofed properly.
You don’t need the best gadgets
Instead of running out and buying the latest and greatest machinery, all you really need is some essential cooking tools to get you started. Remember, the best or the newest gadgets don’t necessarily yield better results.
Incorporate steam when baking bread
In the same vein, it’s important to know how to incorporate steam when baking bread. The easiest way to do so is by spraying the loaf with warm water before putting it in the oven and again five minutes later. This is also a fun way to get your kids in on the cooking process — let them spray the bread before putting it in the oven.
Use a cooling rack
If you’re a frozen dessert connoisseur, you won’t necessarily need a cooling rack, but it’s important to have when baking cakes, cookies or breads. Cooling racks ensure proper airflow and allow your pastries to cool properly. If you leave the item in the pan or immediately place it on a plate, there won’t be a way for any residual heat to escape.
Cut cinnamon rolls with floss
This might be a cooking tip you learned from watching grandma, but if you’re looking to cut cinnamon rolls into even layers, a knife isn’t necessary. Instead, roll out the dough and use thread or unflavored dental floss to cut the dough. To do this, slide the thread under your dough, making sure it’s centered, and wrap it around the top. Pull the dental floss together in a swift motion. The thread should cut right through the dough.
Take your cookies out of the oven early
The best cookies are chewy, but sometimes the perfect texture can be hard to achieve. Take the cookies out of the oven when they’re a little underdone. The cookies should look moist, and the edges should be slightly brown. Once you have this technique down, get creative by baking your cookies with some unexpected ingredients.
Make a DIY piping bag
Just like there’s a bunch of do-it-yourself home maintenance hacks, there are also plenty of ways to DIY when baking. And if you’re working on a baking project that requires decoration and you don’t have a piping bag handy, you can probably make do with what you already have. Fill a zip-lock bag with your desired icing or frosting and then snip off a corner to your liking.
Decorate on wax paper
When baking an impressive dessert that requires decorating, try using wax paper. Cut a piece of wax paper so that it’s the size of your cake, then decorate the surface how you’d like and freeze it. This is a low-pressure approach, because you can wipe away any mistakes. After the decorations and/or letters have frozen, you can carefully peel them off the paper and place onto the cake.
Once you have your ingredients together, be sure not to overmix them. When baking muffins, biscuits, pancakes and other iconic breakfast foods, overmixing can cause the batter to become tough.
Double the recipe
Just as there are plenty of freezer meal recipes you can save and serve for an easy dinner, you can do the same thing with baked goods. One way to do this is by doubling your recipe and freezing the dough.
Frost a ‘crumb coat’ first
A baking hack that will give even the sweetest dessert shop in your area a run for its money is to use a crumb coat. A crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that’s spread over the cake and refrigerated in order to get rid of any crumbs. Once this step is done, you can add another thicker layer of frosting on top.
Use cookie dough as a base for other ingredients
While it’s convenient to have 50 cookie recipes on hand, it’s a pain to make a bunch of different types of dough. Instead of using cookie dough to make just sugar cookies, try using it as a base for other mix-ins like chocolate chips or M&M’s. This also works for other dough-based recipes like bread and biscuits. You can use the dough as a base to make jalapeno bread and more.
Know important substitutions
It’s quite a bummer when you have your heart set on making a specific recipe only to realize you don’t have all of the necessary ingredients. One way to avoid this is by knowing how to work with what you have. The next time you’re ready to put your baking skills to the test, try out some of these important baking ingredient swaps everyone should know about.
Dip icing spatula in hot water
Icing a cake can be frustrating and tricky, but dipping your metal spatula in hot water for a few seconds can make things a lot easier. Spread the icing onto your cake as you normally would, then dip the spatula in hot water and dry it off. Run the warm spatula over the icing to give it a smooth finish. And now that you know some of the most helpful tips for beginner bakers, put your knowledge to the test by trying to bake some of the most iconic desserts in America.