How to Become a Better Baker
This year's World's Baking Day challenged bakers of every skill level to brave unknown culinary territory and bake something they've never tried before. After participating in World Baking Day and "baking brave" myself, I thought about what makes baking difficult and how someone can actually go from crossing their fingers and baking to becoming one with baked goods.
My World Baking Day Contribution
First: A Few Words of Encouragement
When I started out baking, even an easy mode recipe like these "level 1" Banana Muffins would be an effort. I was one of those people who always thought, "Why not just buy 'em at the store, if you're going to go through the trouble (and the calories)?" Plus, with all the baking wizardry I saw online, it was discouraging when I didn't see the same beautiful, flawless results out of my own kitchen.
Photo from Pinterest Fail
But since then, I pushed myself to try baking everything from cupcakes with a heart inside to pull apart bread, much like the concept of the World Baking Day Challenge, and I finally got better. It's a great feeling to see a difficult recipe actually work out. (For instance, it took me three times, and a full week, to get this pumpkin roll cake right, but when I finally revealed it at my Thanksgiving dinner, it was pretty darn worthwhile).
Thousands of people must have felt similarly, judging from the amazing cakes, breads, and other delectable goodies that were shared (and are still being shared!) all over Facebook and Twitter from the World Baking Day event.
It's hard to make time to bake, but take this as an excuse to take a beat from your busy day, break out the collection of baking materials collecting dust on your shelves, and take advantage of the World Baking Day website while it's still up to challenge yourself with a great new recipe! I might even attempt to bake the level 100 "Cream Puff Cake" (made by Buddy Valastro, the seriously awesome TV Cake Boss) soon too! How about you?
Tips to Help Your Baking Success!
Here are more tips to help you achieve success in your baking endeavors.
1. Read the directions fully and prepare your ingredients before baking
Figure out all the ingredients you need, set them out ahead of time, and double check everything too! Baking is essentially chemistry, and much more of an exact science than a stir fry or soup. There's much less flexibility for substitutions. Make your life easier by setting out your eggs, baking powder, salt, et cetera beforehand so that you can't forget to pop 'em in when it comes time to bake!
2. Only make wise substitutions
As mentioned earlier, you can't necessarily swap out every ingredient for another in baked goods. For example, there really is no replacement for baking soda in a recipe. However, if you do need to make substitutions, make sure they'll work! Self-rising flour is different than all-purpose flour; baking soda is different than baking powder; and making swaps for either without checking can affect the taste and texture of your final result! If you need a guide, here's a list of emergency ingredient substitutions I compiled to help make your life easier!
3. Measure your cups of ingredients carefully and correctly
Improper measurements are the top reason why baked goods can fail. Baking with a scale is the best way to go, since exact weights of ingredients are much more reliable and consistent than volumes. However, if you've gotta bake with cups, do it right! Lightly spoon the flour into your measuring cup, without shaking the cup or packing the flour down. When you've got a nice, fluffy mound of flour, take a straight edge knife and gently level the mound (remember, you want to avoid packing the flour down)! Once you've got an even cup, that should be close to the perfect amount.
4. Know the hot spots and temperatures of your oven
Not all ovens are made the same. If you find yourself burning your baked goods often when following directions, it's very possible that your oven burns too hot. Likewise, if your baked goods frequently come out pale rather than golden, maybe your oven needs to be set a few degrees higher. It's also a good idea to rotate your baked goods as well, since different spots in the oven may be different temperatures. This is just one of those variables that you'll just have to find reliable workarounds for.
5. Don't get discouraged
Everything from the humidity to over-mixing to slightly too-cold butter can mess up an otherwise good try at baking a recipe. Baking can be difficult! It's easy to throw your hands up and just buy the darn brownies at the store, but if you want to be better, you just have to keep on trying.