Baking Tips

Whether you bake often or reserve the task for the holidays, brush up on some baking skills.

By FamilyTime

 Before you dive into baking this holiday season, prepare yourself for success. Now is the time for fanciful cookies, elaborate cakes, gifts from the kitchen, and breakfast breads. And you might want to invest in some new bakeware, as well. Or hope to find some under the tree.

Go for it! And most of all enjoy yourself.

Choose the recipes carefully. Don't be over ambitious, but select buttery cookies and one-pan cakes you may not ordinarily make.

Read the recipes through twice. Make a complete shopping list and plan to be generous when you shop. If you spill or burn something, you want enough to try again.

Clear your schedule and the kitchen counters for baking. Don't rush - be sure you have time to enjoy baking.

Check the oven temperature with a reliable oven thermometer (easy and inexpensive to buy at the supermarket or hardware store).

Assemble all equipment. This includes pans, baking sheets, mixers, measuring cups and spoons, whisks, and rubber spatulas. Make sure you have the right sized pans.

Grease, flour, and line cake pans if called for. Grease baking sheets.

Measure and prep ingredients (chop, slice, grate, crush). Measure carefully and accurately; baking is more precise than other cooking.

Spoon flour into the measuring cup -- don't scoop it from the flour sack and don't pack it down. Use a kitchen knife to sweep the excess from the cup so that it is level with the rim.

If a recipe calls for measuring the flour after it's sifted, be sure to do this. Sifting aerates the flour and affects its measure significantly.

If you don't sift, mix the flour and other dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them several times to insure they are incorporated and to aerate them slightly.

For recipes that call for room temperature eggs and butter, set these out on the counter well ahead of time.

If time is short, warm the eggs in warm (not hot) water and soften the butter in the microwave. Check it every 10 to 20 seconds to make sure it softens and does not melt.

Use a handheld electric mixer or a standing mixer to cream batter. If you don't have either, a strong arm and wire whisk work quite well.

For a standing mixer, use the paddle attachment to cream the batter. Use the whisk attachment to whip egg whites and cream.

If a recipe says to cream until "light and fluffy," let the mixer run for 3 or 4 minutes, or longer. This beats air into the batter and insures a light cake or well textured cookie.

Mix in flour only until it disappears. Over mixing will toughen cakes and cookies.

If cookie dough that requires rolling gets soft and sticky, refrigerate it for 10 to 20 minutes and try again.

Leave ample room between drop cookies for spreading.

Let cakes cool in their pans set on wire racks for 5 to 10 minutes and then turn them out to cool completely before frosting.

Let cookies cool on wire racks before decorating.

Do not store soft, buttery cookies with crisp, drier ones. The crisp cookies will absorb moisture from the buttery ones.

Baking should be relaxing and pleasurable. If not, buy cookies and cakes at the bakery!