Burnt cake? Flat cookies? Overcooked cheesecake? Here are ten simple baking tips to solve your issues and up your baking game!
This year, I decided to enroll at our local community college and take some classes on baking and pastry. Yes, a registered dietitian is going back to school to learn about pastries, buttercream, and layer cakes. Baking has always been a hobby of mine–and I’ve always wanted to get better at it.
In time for the holiday baking season, I wanted to share ten simple baking tips I’ve picked up so far that may help with your next baking day.
10 Smart Baking Tips
1. Buy quality flour.
Yes, there’s a difference between less expensive flour and the more expensive name-brand kind. Cheaper flour tends to be higher in ash, which comes from the bran part of wheat. A lower ash content generally means the flour is more “pure” and higher in quality.
2.”Fluff up” your flour before measuring.
To avoid overpacking flour when measuring, be sure your flour is light and fluffy before scooping. Take a scoop or spoon and fluff it up, then measure it.
3. Measure flour the right way.
I cringe when I see people on cooking shows dunking a measuring cup into the canister of flour to scoop it out. You’ll end up with way more flour than you need–which can affect your end result!
Instead, spoon the flour lightly into the measuring cup with a scoop or spoon. Then sweep it level with a knife (never pack down the flour).
Better yet, use a kitchen scale. A lot of baking recipes provide measurements in weight too. This is the affordable kitchen scale I use for my baking.
4. Use unsalted butter.
Honestly, I never thought it made much difference, but I learned this semester that the amount of salt used in salted butter is unpredictable, varying from brand to brand. Some brands may actually contain too much salt for certain recipes. You’re better off using unsalted and letting the recipe’s intended flavors shine.
5. But don’t skip the salt!
Don’t try to nix the salt in a recipe, even if it calls for just a pinch. Salt serves an important purpose. It enhances other flavors in a recipe and gives baked goods a deeper, less “floury” flavor.
6. Chill cookie dough.
Do your cookies always spread flat? Chill the dough before baking–either right in the bowl or on the baking sheet after you scoop them out.
And be sure your baking sheets are cool or cold too, not warm from the oven. Last time I made cookies, I spooned the dough onto the sheet then put the sheet in my fridge for 5-10 minutes before baking. No spreading!
7. Check your baking sheets.
If you’re having trouble with uneven baking, it could be your pans. Old stained pans with blackened baked-on bits (like the pans I have!) will radiate heat unevenly.
8. Use a silicone mat.
If your cookies brown too quickly on the bottom, place a silicone mat or piece of parchment paper on your baking sheet first (I love my Silpat Perfect Cookie Mat). Both will act as insulators, slowing heat conduction. Another option: Bake your cookies on a double layer of sheet pans.
9. Keep baking pans in the center of the oven.
Heat radiates off of oven walls, which will cause anything near them to bake faster. When possible, place your baking pans in the center of your oven away from the walls (or rotate the pan halfway through baking).
10. Take cookies out while still doughy (and cheesecake and custard while still jiggly).
Remove baked goods from the oven just before they look perfectly done. When baked goods are taken out of the oven, they continue to cook until they reach room temperature (that’s called “carryover cooking”).
My instructor gave us this handy rule of thumb that has proven to be true: When you can start to smell the aroma of what you’re baking, it’s close to being done.
This little trick can help prevent dreaded over-baking. So as soon as you get a whiff of your cookies or brownies, take a peek and see if they’re done!
Some of my favorite baking recipes
- Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie
- The Best Thumbprint Cookies with Irresistible Vanilla Frosting
- Fudgy Chocolate Zucchini Bread
- Amazing No-Knead Whole Grain Bread
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