Beyond the Kitchen

How To Be A Better Baker

How To Be a Better Baker

We talk a lot about doughnuts and waffles.  We talk about my cat a bit too much.  We talk about New Orleans and beignets and parades, and beads.  We could, if you’re at all interested, talk about how many peanut butter cups I just shoved in my mouth.  That conversation would be short and barely interesting.  6.  That’s the number. 

Today let’s talk about 7 ways to be a better baker.  A few small tweaks and little nuggets of advice to build confidence in the kitchen.  Read through and leave a comment below if any questions come up for you!  I want us to be the best bakers we can be.  

Cookie dough above: Vanilla Bean Confetti Cookies.  

1.  You’re only as good as your relationship with your oven.

Well, unless you’re a raw pastry chef, in which case, cheers to you.  No need to have the fanciest, latest and greatest oven.   It’s more about your relationships, how well you know each other, and how readily you accept all the quirks.  

Some ovens have hot spots, little zones in that hotbox that are hotter than others.  Get familiar the hot spots by seeing how a cake browns in the oven.  Is one side more golden or burnt than another?  Take note and rotate the your cakes and breads during baking.  

Stop what you’re doing right now and invest in an oven thermometer. A gauge inside the oven is the only way to know how hot the hot is.  Sometimes the dial doesn’t reflect the actual heat correctly.  

2.   Yes you have to follow the directions, mostly. 

Baking is a delicate balance of flours, moisture, leavening, and heat.  A recipe is there to hold your hand, lead the way, and give you a high-five at the end.  You’ve got to trust the recipe to be good. Sometimes they’re not, but you have to trust the process, cold butter, buttermilk and all.  

Here’s how to read a recipe.  It’s nice to know how to read a map.  

3.   If you’re not using a scale, here’s we measure flour. It’s important. 

4.  Waste Not, Want Not

So often I end up with a container full of egg whites after making ice cream, a small handful of pecans, and leftover fresh herbs from various baking projects.  Don’t throw these things away or let them languish to death in the refrigerator. Delicious treats come from leftovers!  Don’t let em go!

• Turn egg whites into crisp Vanilla Bean and Cocoa Nib Meringues!  

•  Toss pecans, and whatever other nuts you have on hand into a batch of Oatmeal Cookie Granola!

•  Smash leftover herbs into butter with lots of salt and call it Super Herb Butter.  Delicious done!  

5.  Cakes can fall in the oven.

That’s not just something your grandmother said to get you from jumping up and down indoors.  Cakes need a bit of care even when they’re in the oven.  There’s a critical stage about 12 to 18 minutes of cake baking where the leavening and eggs are doing their best to support the rise of the cake, if you jostle the cake by rotating it in the oven during this period, the cake could sink in the center.  No good. 

6.  Underbake or Overbake?  

Underbake:  skillet cakes, fudge brownies, and chocolate chip cookies.  Soft, doughy centers are sometimes just the way to go.  

Overbake:  charred things, toast, hot dogs, and really nothing else. 

7.  Even the best bakers HATE a springform pan.  

They always leak and make for really infuriating and soggy cheesecake crusts.  It’s not right to blame yourself.  They’re just the worst.  And don’t even get me started about wrapping the springform pan in tin foil.  That worked for one person once and then never again.  

What’s the work around?  A pie dish.  See: Salted Caramel Cheesecake Pie 

7.  It is my mission in life to get you to make great pie crust from scratch.  

Not an exaggeration.  Pie crust is the perfect balance of fat and flour that combines, chills, and bakes into the perfect vessel for sliced fruit and hot oven temperatures.  

Perfectly flakey pie crust requires a few things:  gumption, guts, love, tenderness, confidence, and patience.  Luckily you have all of those things.  And butter.  Don’t forget the butter!

Here are five tips for the best all-butter pie crust from scratch!

And don’t even think about buying one of those freezer-section pie doughs.  I’ll know and I’ll come squint my eyes at you.  

Happy Baking!  With love and butter.