Baking 101: My Best Tips for Tasty Treats

Flour, eggs, sugar, butter, baking powder - all of the ingredients that get mixed together to create scrumptious, moist baked goods don't sound like they would taste too good before they're scorched in an oven heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Being able to create palette pleasing desserts out of a few basic ingredients that we all seem to have in our pantries is one of the most magical everyday occurrences, but it takes a few skills to get from point A - one big, floury, unappetizing mess - to point B - a delicious indulgence that will require all of your willpower not to devour in one sitting. Here are some of my best tips for other people out there who fancy themselves bakers.
1. Following your recipe is important, but don't let too meticulous measuring rule your baking sessions

Do any of you watch MasterChef? A few episodes back, the home cooks participating in that night's pressure test had to bake a Red Velvet Layer Cake. Dan, who ended up going home that night, knew that his cake batter wasn't looking right, but he didn't add any more of the liquid ingredients to make it less dense because he had certain ratios of the ingredients in his head that he didn't want to diverge from.

I think that there are certain times to stick with your recipe and others when you should make substitutions where you see fit. If several comments in the feedback section of your chosen Food Network recipe say that cutting the sugar in half makes that frosting less cloyingly sweet, you should probably only add a quarter to half of the sugar that the recipe calls for and taste as you go. If you've never made a baked good before and suspect that things are going south, get second opinions from people around you, see if you can find pictures of the unfinished product on the Internet, and look at the reviews of your recipe (if you've gotten it off of the Internet) to see if others had the same problem and have any suggestions before you do anything drastic. If you've been using the same recipe for years, though, and you think that it's not shaping up like it should, then this is a good time to follow your instincts.

And if you ever find yourself on MasterChef and you're looking around at everyone's Red Velvet Cake batter thinking that yours is too dense, for goodness' sake, add some more of your liquid ingredients!

2. Add modifications when you see fit

There are lots of different recipes for Apple Pies that I've used. I find that I enjoy the homemade crust more from one recipe, but at the same time, like the addition of orange zest in another. This will seem very obvious to a lot of people, but it's not something that I learned to do until I got much more comfortable with baking - use the recipe for the homemade crust that you like, and just add the orange zest to the filling, whether the recipe you're using calls for it or not!

Mixing flavors can seem like a scary thing at first, but little tweaks like adding orange zest - which is by no means a flavor that won't work well with the traditional cinnamon, lemon zest, and allspice that show up in Apple Pie recipes - won't affect the balance of the recipe and will ensure that the pie is personalized for your palette.

So, run wild - add those instant coffee granules and chocolate chips to that brownie recipe you found online - your taste buds will thank you for it.

3. Cook and bake often

It's the only way that I've learned how to ace a cream cheese frosting, make pie crust in a food processor, and remember to spray the cake tin with cooking spray every time. You'll become less afraid to combine the best elements of different recipes that you've used and eyeball that 2 cups of vegetable oil when your measuring cups are all dirty because you know that you've achieved that amazing end result many times before.
What are you waiting for? Start baking up a storm and tasting your way to a brand new cavity.

What are your best baking tips? Let me know in the comments section below - thanks for reading! 

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