And now, a note from our resident baking expert: Amy!

*********

My best friend Rachael, who is the normal author of this blog, often told me “I can’t bake,” and then she discovered a cookbook that really spoke to her, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes or Less, and before I knew it, she was baking. She was like, power baking, like professional style baking—like dropping this BREAD BOMB all over my Easter Brunch baking!

Mad skills, right? And she still says she doesn’t bake—whatever. She even made a birthday cake for her brother and used diet coke as an egg substitute—and it was GOOD. I am still a little puzzled about what in diet coke is a lot like eggs…I digress…

My point is, anyone can learn to be a from scratch baker—even someone who says they can’t. It’s really easy. And just like anything else, with a little bit of practice, you will be a pro before you know it.

I love to bake. I have been baking (or at least making a good mess in the kitchen) since I was about 3. I bake all the time and today I plan to share with you a few tips and tricks to help make your next adventure in baking a smashing success.

Step one: MEASURE THINGS CAREFULLY. Baking is not like cooking. You can’t really just toss in a little of this and a little of that. If the recipe calls for one cup of flour, spoon the four into the one cup sized measuring cup, level it off, and then put it in the bowl. Don’t eye-ball it. Don’t even use two ½ cups instead. Put into the batter exactly what the recipe calls for—no more, no less.


Step two: MIX INGREDIENTS IN THE RIGHT ORDER. This may seem simple, but some recipe directions leave a bit to be desired. As a general rule, when you are baking something that is flour based (like cake, cupcakes or most cookies) mix the ingredients like this:

You will need two bowls. In one bowl mix the flour and whatever combination of baking soda, baking powder and salt the recipe calls for along with any other dry ingredients—like coco powder, for example (important note: Sugar is NOT a dry ingredient).

Some recipes call for four to be sifted. I never sift flour. It’s messy and unnecessary. I do, however, mix my dry ingredients well and with a whisk-that seems to do the trick.

In another bowl, preferably the one that goes with an electric stand mixer, whip your butter. Butter should be used at room temperature for most cake and cookie recipe. If the recipe doesn’t specify, go with room temperature. If your butter is straight out of the fridge, warm it up a touch. You can use a microwave or a toaster oven for a FEW SECONDS. Don’t melt it. Just take the chill off. You can hold it in your hands for a few minutes and use your body temperature to warm it. If your butter is a little chilly, just be sure to whip it really really well. The friction of the beaters will warm it up a little too. In any case, mix it until it is fluffy and there are no lumps at all. Then mix in sugars and extracts (like vanilla) and add eggs, one at a time, mixing and scraping after each one.

It’s best too, but not usually critical, if eggs are also room temperature, but the microwave trick does not work so well on them 😉

At this point, you can’t really over mix the batter, so make sure your butter/sugar/eggs are combined really well.

Next, add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/eggs batter in two or three batches, scraping the bowl between each and being careful not to over mix. If there is liquid in the recipe, like milk, melted chocolate or sour cream, add it in small batches too, alternating with the dry flour mixture, and ending with the liquid.

Common Problems

If your cake, boxed or homemade, comes out too dense, pay close attention to how much you are mixing. Over mixing will make a fluffy cake into a brick. Once the dry ingredients are added, you really just want to combine things.

One other common problem with cake, cupcake and cookie baking is ending up with weird white lumps in your creations. Or you may have had a cake that baked flat and didn’t get fluffy, cookies that were weird and runny, or other similar ‘strange baking’ disasters. These are usually from baking soda or powder that is too old. You should replace baking soda and powder at least once every six months. If you bake a lot, you probably never have to worry about it, but if you are thinking of whipping something up and it has been a while, throw out these old ingredients in your cupboard and start fresh.

And finally, don’t over bake. All ovens are different and factors like altitude and humidity play a role in how long your items need to bake. Bake your items in as close to the center of the oven as you can. I always set a timer for the lowest suggested time and then turn the oven light on and pay attention. If you are not sure if something is done, stick a toothpick or bamboo skewer in the center of it—if it comes out clean, your item is done.

Eventually, you’ll develop a sixth sense with practice and you will get better and better at knowing when things are done baking. My mom used to call it ‘the fleeting moment’ when a cake is baked to perfection. Totally baked, but not over done–golden but not too brown. And eventually you will just know when that fleeting moment is. I don’t really know how else to explain it. I guess it’s a combination of sight and smell, but as Mom says, “all of a sudden, they are just in there [the oven] and you can hear them….fleeting” 🙂

 

Happy Baking Everyone!

***********

Thank you Amy for those super helpful tips (I am totally guilty of the using two 1/2 cups…now I know!) For some awesome recipes (and other awesome things), be sure to check out Amy’s blog Good Day!

2 Responses

  1. Janet

    Another tasty low calorie cake .. 1 box mix and 1 12 oz diet coke. That’s it! Mix the 2 well, pour in 9×13 cake pan sprayed with PAM, bake like normal. Variation examples: Choc/diet coke or diet cherry coke or diet root beer .

    White cake/diet 7up or diet sprite. Makes a very moist cake that tastes good without the oil, eggs, extra calories.

    Reply
  2. Janet

    And thank you Amy for the great tips. I hear a lot of great things about your baking from Rachael!!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*