More than I Can Chew: Basic Baking Tips

Most of my life I've been accused (from others and also myself) of biting off more than I can chew. I'm excitable and a hands-on learner, so it's hard for me to reign myself in. Last week as I juggled work, baking cupcakes for a shower, traveling for family, and managing the blog, I wondered what the hell I'd gotten myself into this time. A blog. A blog full of recipes. A blog with multiple social media accounts. A blog with a weekly email newsletter.

The past month has required a lot from me. Which is really to say, for the past month I have required a lot from myself. Certainly, no one asked me to start this food blog. It's been on my mind for awhile now and I knew there was no better time than the transition month between jobs, the switch to a more flexible schedule, an upcoming wedding that would require a lot of practice baking on my part. This has been a self-inflicted month of growth and panic, but one full of constant support. 

I'd like to keep a better running list of my baking tips and tricks and since I've been baking so much lately, I thought this would be a great time to slow the pace and share some of my more basic, but essential, baking tricks that are habit now, but at one point were absolutely foreign to me. 

Baking Tricks for All Your Treats

  1. Buy a kitchen scale if possible. Think of all the time you waste wrestling wet or sticky ingredients out of measuring cup. All the times your measuring cups have resulted in too much flour or sugar stuck to the bottom of a wet cup. The scale keeps measurements accurate, but it also makes clean-up easier.
  2. If you can't swing a kitchen scale, measure flour with the spoon and knife method. Spoon flour into measuring cup and level off with a knife. Avoid scooping your measuring cup directly into the flour. You'll get too much flour and your baked goods will turn out dry.
  3. If you are folding nuts or berries into a mixture, it's best to coat them in flour first. This keeps them from sinking to the bottom of the pan. 
  4. Keep fresh baking powder and baking soda. These may seem like they last forever, but they don't! And they can really affect the rise of your treats. If you aren't sure about them, toss a bit of baking powder into hot water - bubbles means you're golden! For baking soda, add hot water to a splash of apple cider vinegar, then your baking soda. If you get bubbles, you're golden!
  5. Eggs are best at room temperature for baking when you need to whip them up into a voluminous goddess. Refrigerated eggs can rest in hot water for 5 minutes to come to room temperature easy.
  6. Cold eggs are much easier to separate if you need only the yolks or the whites, so if you are bringing them to room temperature, it's best to separate first. 
  7. Fat will MURDER egg whites. It just will. If you are trying to achieve foaming, beautiful, peaked meringue, it won't happen if you don't have a clean bowl. I was reminded of this yesterday.
  8. It really is easiest to get all your ingredients out for a recipe before you begin. It's easier to add ingredients when they are on your work station and you get the added benefit of you making sure you actually have all the ingredients you need. How many times have you started chocolate chip cookies and not had chocolate chips? Even better tip - measure everything out before you start.
  9. If you're out of buttermilk, or just don't want to buy it, add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar for every one cup of whole milk. Lemon juice will work the same! Just take one tablespoon of milk away from your one cup and replace with the acid.
  10. Always use unsalted butter unless otherwise stated. This is important for controlling your salt ratio in your treat.
  11. Unless you're making a pie crust or scones, your butter should really be at room temperature. Leave butter out for 1 hour prior to baking to get it just right (the same is true for cream cheese). It is difficult and not so pretty to try and cream sugar with cold butter.
  12. Always measure everything and check off what you've done to keep track of your recipe. I swear.