Baking for Beginners: Tips and Techniques for Success in Baking

Baking can be a really wonderful and soothing habit. Some people seem to be at ease in tossing things together in a pan and into the oven and come up with wonderful pieces that really make your mouth water. But the main secret in baking is not a special gift or a magic touch in the kitchen but practice, practice, and a lot more practice. Having some baking tips and techniques up your sleeve won’t hurt either.

Basic Baking Rules

When baking, there are certain rules you have to consider, keep in mind, and practice to achieve a more efficient baking habit.

  1. Read the recipe carefully. Before you start anything, you have to carefully read your recipe so you can prepare all the necessary ingredients and understand all the procedures you are going to do. Do it right for the first time, and that means following the process to its core especially if it’s your first time to bake. Baking demands accuracy and care both in what ingredients to use and in what process to do.
  2. Use reliable tools and correct utensils. Since baking demands the accuracy of the ingredients you are using, it is important to use standard tools for measuring both your dry and liquid ingredients. Only use standard measuring spoons and cups. Also, follow the pan size specified in the recipe since changing this will alter both the baking time and temperature.
  3. Use quality ingredients. In using second-rate ingredients, you cannot expect to have a first-rate product. It is always better to use fresh and quality ingredients.
  4. Use the correct oven temperature. Following a recipe includes following the baking temperature and the time of cooking. If the recipe tells you to preheat the oven, you should also do it. A supposedly wonderful cake can be ruined by the slow start of a cool oven since it tends to rise quickly and fall when the oven heats to a higher temperature.
  5. Use a cooking thermometer. Using a cooking thermometer makes any type of cooking including baking safer compare to when only using clocks. It takes out the guesswork in baking and helps you make sure that the food is cooked properly and harmful bacteria are destroyed.

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Converting Liquid Measurements

Using the right measurements for your ingredients is always essential and a must if you want to achieve success in baking. Measuring dry ingredients is easier since it can be directly done using measuring cups and spoons. However, when it comes to measuring liquid ingredients, you need some tips and techniques to get the accurate measurement.

To accurately measure liquids, you will also need liquid measuring cups and a set of measuring spoons. Do not use the cups and spoons you use to measure your dry ingredients since the meniscus of the liquid can create inaccuracies in your measurement.

Also, you will need math tips to convert these liquid measurements according to your recipe. Remember that 4 tablespoons is equal to ¼ cup and that makes 16 tablespoons equal 1 cup. Also, 1 tablespoon is equal to ½ fluid ounce, 1 cup is equal to ½ pint that is also equal to 8 fluid ounces, 1 teaspoon is equal to 5 ml, 1 tablespoon is equal to 15 ml, and ¼ cup is equal to 50 ml that makes 1 cup equal to 250 ml.

Having a conversion table in your kitchen will definitely make measuring liquid ingredients easier.

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All About Flour

One of the essential ingredients in baking is the flour. Aside from making sure that you have quality flour, you also have to use the right type of flour when baking.

Although the main type of flour used in baking comes from wheat, flour from corn, rice and even nuts and some fruits and vegetables can also be used. Any type of flour can be used, however, different types are well-suited for different items. Knowing the right type of flour to use is essential in getting your desired results in your end product.

  1. All-purpose flour. This type of flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat and can either be bleached or unbleached as you can see on the label. Bleached all-purpose flour is best suited for baking cookies, pie crusts, quick bread, waffles (in a waffle maker), and pancakes (on a crepe maker). Unbleached flour, on the other hand, is best for making yeast bread, Danish and puff pastry, strudel, cream puffs, lairs, and popovers.
  2. Almond Flour. This gluten-free flour is what you need to add moistness, light almond flavor, a little binding, and density to your baked goods. You only need a touch of this flour or about ¼ of the flour mixture for your cookies, pastry crust, and quick bread.
  3. Bread flour. Another type of flour from hard and high protein wheat is the bread flour that has more protein content and gluten strength than the all-purpose flour. Bread flour is an unbleached flour and is sometimes also conditioned with ascorbic acid that helps in increasing volume and better texture for your baked products. It has about 12% to 14% of protein and is the best choice for any yeast product. We find this works best if you’re using a bread machine.
  4. Cake flour. Of all the wheat flours, cake flour has the lowest protein content of only about 8% to 10%. It is a fine-textured flour with a high starch content and is chlorinated that makes it slightly acidic. The acidity in the cake flour is what makes the cake set faster and evenly distribute fat throughout the batter to improve its texture. This flour is best used in baking fine-textured cakes and can also be used for some muffins, cookies, and quick bread. However, if cake flour is not available, you can substitute it with bleached all-purpose flour but you need to subtract about 2 tablespoons for each cup of flour.
  5. Corn flour. Corn flour is made of finely-ground cornmeal that is milled from whole kernels and can come in yellow or white. Usually, people use a food mill, but you can also use a grain mill. It can be used as breading and can be combined with other flours in baking. White corn flour can be well-suited as a binder, filler, or thickener in cookies and pastries.
  6. Self-rising flour. This is also known as phosphate flour, can either be bleached or unbleached, is low-protein and is already added with salt and leavening or baking powder. Self-rising flour is best used for cakes, biscuits, muffins, and pastries but not recommended for quick bread. When using this type of flour, you don’t need any additional salt or leavening agent in the recipe.

Whatever type of flour you have in your kitchen, it should be stored properly. Flour has limited shelf life and oxidation of oils can happen when it is exposed to air. It should be covered and stored in a cool and dry place. This will prevent it from absorbing any moisture and odor or attract insects and rodents. Yu can also put bay leaves in the flour canisters to keep insects and rodents away.

However, whole wheat flours should be kept in the refrigerator since this type of flour can easily turn rancid when stored at room temperature.
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Substituting Whole Wheat for All-purpose Flour

When baking, you can substitute part but not all of all-purpose flour with whole wheat. Having a blend of these two will make your baked product lighter in texture and with an additional health benefit from the whole wheat.

All-purpose flour is finely processed, however, whole wheat flour is not in order to retain more of its nutrients and fiber. When using this blend, you can use whole wheat flour for one half and all-purpose flour for the other. The end product using this flour blend is coarser in texture and will have less volume but is healthier.
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Baking Powder

Another thing that is an essential ingredient in baking is another leavening agent called baking powder. This is made from the combination of baking soda, moisture absorber like cornstarch, and cream of tartar. Baking powder is used just like yeast in baking but it acts more quickly.

There are two basic types of baking powder. the first one is the single acting which is mainly used by manufacturers and is usually not available in stores. The most common type is the double-acting baking powder. This reacts twice; first is when the acid dissolves when it comes in contact with water and the second is when the acid that doesn’t dissolve until it reaches a much higher temperature.

Following the accurate amount of baking powder in your recipe is essential to ensure that you get your desired product. If you are creating your own recipe, however, the rule in food chemistry is 1 up to 1 ¼ teaspoon of baking powder for every 1 cup of flour. Having too much baking powder in your recipe will produce huge bubbles that will rise to the surface and pop and this makes cakes and muffins heavy or sunken.

Baking powder can also lose its potency through time. If you are unsure if it is still fresh and can still be used, you can test it before using. You can check the content if it has any lumps because this will indicate that it has picked up moisture and may not be good to use anymore. You can also test it by stirring 1 teaspoon of baking powder in 1/3 cup of hot water. You can tell if it is still good to use if it bubbles gently.

If you run out of baking powder, you can create a substitute that may also work as fine. Mix ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, and you get one teaspoon of baking powder. If you are going to store this baking powder substitute, you should add at least ¼ teaspoon of cornstarch to help absorb moisture from the air and prevent any premature chemical reaction.
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Using Raw Eggs in Baking

For food safety, especially in handling raw food as baking ingredients like eggs, use only clean, sound-shelled, quality, high graded, and properly refrigerated eggs. When eggs are broken out, make sure to refrigerate them and consume them within the hour.

Salmonella can possibly be either in the white or the yolk of the egg, however, raw egg whites don’t support bacteria growth. Food that include raw egg whites as ingredient need to be refrigerated to maintain their character and to increase the safety factor. For some recipes that include raw egg whites and sugar, it is essential to beat it together over hot water or in a saucepan over low heat.

Raw egg yolks, however, are considered the bacteria’s fine growth medium. It is essential to cook the yolks before using them in any dish like chiffons, mayonnaise, cold soufflé, and mousses. To cook the egg yolks, add at least 2 tablespoons of liquid per yolk to avoid having scrambled eggs. Cook this over a very low heat until it reaches about 160 degrees Fahrenheit or creates bubbles at the edges.

How can you tell if the eggs have spoiled? Although eggs that are properly stored rarely spoil, like any other organic matter, the action of any spoilage organisms will eventually cause it to spoil. You can tell this if the egg shells or the egg white surfaces for hard-cooked eggs do not look clean. It can be either colored or dry, may feel slimy when touched or powdery spots come off on your hands. These indicate bacterial growth and the presence of mold and you should not use the eggs anymore.
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How to Halve an Egg

Halving a recipe is easy when you are dealing with dry ingredients and some liquid ingredients. However, splitting the egg is the real bug since it is made up of two parts, the white and the yolk, and most of the baking recipes require the mixture of both.

The secret to the success in halving a whole egg is whisking it before you divide. Crack an egg into a bowl and whisk it into an even mixture then split it into half. A large cracked egg can measure close to ¼ cup by volume that makes the half of an egg measure about 2 tablespoons or 0.875 ounces.

You can split an egg white using the same process of cracking the egg white portion and whisking it then splitting it to two. Half of an egg white measures around 1 tablespoon or about ½ ounce. Halving the egg yolk is also the same as halving the white; it also measures approximately 1 tablespoon or ½ ounce.
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Evaporated Milk vs. Regular Milk

When following a recipe that calls for ingredients that are not available in your pantry at the moment, there are substitutions you can make.

In baking, if your recipe states that you need a cup of evaporated milk or soy milk but you don’t have it, you can always use whatever regular liquid milk you have. This will give you an equal substitution. This means that for a cup of evaporated milk, you also need only a cup of regular milk. You don’t have to worry about your end product not having the same perfect taste since regular milk can be a substitute for evaporated milk all the time.
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When to Use Scalded Milk

You may come across baking recipes that call for scalded milk. Older recipes require this process to kill bacteria that may be present in unpasteurized milk. However, these days, there are already pasteurized milk available and scalding milk serves different purposes.

This includes helping to infuse flavor, especially when making milk-based recipes like ice cream or pastry. Adding aromatics like vanilla, coffee beans, or herbs in warm milk will infuse the flavor right into the milk. Also, scalding the milk will help bread dough rise properly and ensure a tender crumb.

To scald milk, heat the portion of milk you need in your recipe in a saucepan until just before it comes to boil and bubbles appear around the edge of the pan. You can also use a thermometer, heating it until it reaches about 180 degrees to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, cool the milk and bring it to room temperature and set it about 5 to 10 minutes.
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How to Make Your Buttermilk Substitute

There are instances that you will need to create substitutes for ingredients when baking. One is if you don’t have that certain ingredient like buttermilk readily available or if you are reluctant in buying a carton of buttermilk if you only need a cup of it.

The purpose of adding buttermilk in either quick bread or pancakes or any baking recipe is to lighten the batter and add tenderness. The acid in the buttermilk gets in contact with the baking soda  and this creates a reaction that makes the baked food tender, airy, and tasty.

Buttermilk substitute can be done in just less than 10 minutes. The closest substitute you can create for buttermilk can be another dairy with an added acidity. To make a buttermilk substitute, you can combine 1 cup of milk or heavy cream with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar and let it stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

Yogurt or sour cream that is thinned with milk or water can also work well as a buttermilk substitute when baking.
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Substituting Brown Sugar for White Sugar

There are reasons why people are keener in using brown sugar instead of white sugar in baking. Altering recipes that originally require white sugar into brown sugar can be an option.

Using brown sugar in baking will change the flavor and color of your baked goods since it contains molasses. However, the sweetness level will be the same. Substituting brown sugar for white sugar uses a one is to one ratio. This means that only 1 cup of brown sugar is needed as a substitute for 1 cup of white sugar.

However, you need to remember that this substitute doesn’t necessarily mean your baked goods are healthier.
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Confectioner’s Sugar vs. Powdered Sugar

If you get confused about the difference of confectioner’s sugar and powdered sugar, you don’t have to. If your recipe calls for powdered sugar but you can only see confectioner’s sugar in the grocery store, you can buy that one. There is totally no difference. Confectioner’s sugar is powdered sugar and vice versa.

However, if both are sadly unavailable, you can still create a confectioner’s sugar substitute. You will need a cup of granulated sugar and a tablespoon of cornstarch. Put it in a blender and mix it at high speed for several minutes. Although the consistency or texture of the food may be slightly altered, it can still work as well.
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Successful Swapping of Honey for Sugar

There is something about the sweetness of honey that makes more and more people choose it as a substitute for sugar when baking. However, swapping honey for sugar when following a recipe is not as simple as having an even trade.

Honey can be two to as much as three times sweeter than regular sugar. When baking, remember that you have to reduce your sweetener when swapping honey for sugar. For every cup of sugar, use only ½ cup to 2/3 cup of honey.

When substituting honey for sugar in baking, you also have to reduce your liquid ingredients since honey is basically liquid which is composed of 20 percent water. For every cup of honey you are going to use, subtract at least ¼ cup of other liquids from your recipe.

Honey is naturally acidic and this property can alter your finished product. To balance this acidity and allow that baked good to properly rise, add baking soda if the recipe doesn’t already call for it. For every cup of honey, you should add at least ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.

Since honey has a higher sugar content that regular sugar, it means that it caramelizes and burns faster than regular sugar, too. Keep a keener eye and lower the heat when baking to make sure the food you’re baking won’t brown quickly. When using honey instead of granulated sugar, reduce the temperature of the oven by about 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

Following these tips will make sure you have success in swapping honey for granulated sugar when baking.
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Creaming Butter and Sugar

Creaming butter and sugar are like whisking egg whites. This is done to have air incorporated in the batter to make your baked goods lighter and fluffier. To do this, you can either use a food processor or a hand mixer.

When creaming butter and sugar, do not use butter that is straight from the refrigerator. This will be too hard to cream. Allow it to soften a little first and come up to room temperature. If you don’t have time to set it aside, you can chop it into tiny pieces so it can warm more quickly.
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Chocolate Substitution

Chocolate is one of the main flavors used in baking. There are a lot of types and kinds of chocolates you can use or you can substitute for another when something is not available.

  1. Bittersweet Chocolate. One ounce of bittersweet baking chocolate is equal to 1 ounce of semi-square This substitution can be done interchangeably.
  2. Semi-sweet Chocolate. Three tablespoons of chocolate chips is equal to 1 ounce of semi-sweet baking chocolate. Also, 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of butter or shortening isequal to 1 ounce of semi-sweet baking chocolate.
  3. Unsweetened Chocolate. Three tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa added with 1 tablespoon of butter, shortening, or margarine is equal to 1 ounce of unsweetened baking chocolate.
  4. White Chocolate. When substituting white chocolate for milk chocolate, an ounce of milk chocolate is equal to 1 ounce of white chocolate. Remember that color and flavor will definitely vary.
  5. Unsweetened Cocoa. You can substitute an equal amount of Dutch-processed cocoa powder for unsweetened cocoa. However, never substitute instant cocoa mix for the unsweetened cocoa in any of your recipes.

When using melted chocolate for any recipe, never use chocolate syrup as a substitute. Different types of chocolates are of course not created equal, however, some substitutions are acceptable. Also, when buying for chocolate, you can look for the amount of cocoa butter present. This is where the flavor and texture are; that means the higher the cocoa butter percentage, the better is the chocolate.
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Melting Chocolate

There are a lot of ways to successfully melt chocolate. This can either be used as a baking recipe or as a chocolate dip. You can melt chocolate using the microwave, or a double boiler pot. You can also melt it along with other liquids like cream, water, milk or other liqueurs when specified in the recipe. However, there are fundamental guides to melting chocolate.

  1. Chopping the chocolate into tiny bits and as uniformly as possible will make the melting process quicker and even. It’s never a good practice to melt large blocks of chocolate; it will just waste your time.
  2. Be careful in melting chocolate and avoid any contact with water. Having even just a few drops of water in the chocolate will make it unworkable.
  3. Melt chocolate slowly and stir constantly over low heat. It can split or become grainy or lumpy when overheated and it burns when using very high heat when melting. If your chocolate happens to start splitting, cool it down immediately by transferring it into a clean and cold bowl. Stirring in some tablespoons of cream or cold milk will help, too. If the milk doesn’t help, try adding an egg yolk.

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Cooking Gelatin

There are many delicious recipes that use gelatin. It comes as granulated or powdered gelatin, gelatin sheets, or instant gelatin. A ¼ ounce packet of a granulated gelatin can be a total of 2 ½ teaspoons. One teaspoon of granulated gelatin is equal to 2 sheets of leaf gelatin.

In making the perfect gelatin, there are certain tips you have to remember.

  1. The right water temperature. Boiling water can destroy the ability of gelatin to set and it cannot soften properly. Therefore, it is important to remember to sprinkle the gelatin in cool liquid. This will also prevent it from forming clumps.
  2. The firmness of the gelatin. The firmness of the gelatin will depend on the ratio of water to gelatin and the temperature. For 2 ½ teaspoons of powdered gelatin, add 2 cups of water to achieve the standard firmness. Too much sugar in gelatin will make it softer and may prevent it from firming up. Mix the sugar with the gelatin before dissolving it into the liquid.

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Peppermint oil vs. Peppermint Extract

Peppermint can be a very soothing and wonderful flavoring for baked goods. When a recipe calls for peppermint oil, this can sometimes be hard to find.

However, you can substitute peppermint extract for peppermint oil but you need to subtract the amount. You can use about 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract for a ¼ teaspoon of peppermint oil.

This ratio can also be used for other flavor-based oils and extracts.

How to Keep the Cake from Sticking to the Pan

Most of the baking recipes call for a greased pan before pouring your batter in it. This will keep your cake from sticking to the pan. Batter sticking to the pan makes it harder for it to be removed and may damage the surface.

To effectively grease a pan, use a pastry brush or paper towel and brush the pan with shortening evenly. Take extra care to cover all areas especially when coating fluted tube pans. When the pan is completely greased, sprinkle it with a spoonful of all-purpose flour. Distribute the flour evenly and tap out any extra flour. You can also use powdered cocoa instead of  flour when you are baking a chocolate cake.

Lining the pan with a waxed paper or parchment paper will also be very helpful in preventing the cake from sticking to the pan. Line and fit the parchment paper into the pan, grease it with shortening evenly, and sprinkle the flour.
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Vegan Baking Tips

Vegan baking is getting popular especially for people who are continually looking for healthier options in baking. The major keys to creating delicious vegan baked foods are the successful dairy and egg substitutions.

  1. Egg replacements. In vegan baking, there can be a lot of choices that you can use to replace eggs in a baked recipe. One option is ground flax seeds mixed with water or mashed bananas. Another recent addition to the egg replacements for vegan baking includes the use of aquafaba. This is the liquid found in a can of chickpeas. It can be a cheap egg replacement and you don’t have to worry about any bean flavor in the water since it dissipates when cooked.
  2. One thing to consider in vegan baking is substituting the traditional butter, margarine, and shortening into more healthy ingredients. You can still use margarine but look for the one that is free from hydrogenated oils that can be bad for the health. You could always try using coconut oil too. You can substitute one part to one part of the butter. Also, olive oil can be a butter substitute; you can swap 1 cup of butter for ¼ cup and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. (Here’s some olive oil dispensers you may like)
  3. Swapping out honey. If you are trying to bake a recipe that calls for honey but you want to make it vegan and healthier, forget about the honey and look for a sweetener substitute that is more appropriate. You can either use a cup maple syrup or agave syrup that can be swapped for a cup of honey.
  4. Milk choices. Many of the available non-dairy milk can either be flavored or sweetened. Use the plain variety or the unsweetened non-dairy milk to avoid having the unnecessary flavor or additional sweetness in your food. Also, you should consider the consistency of the milk you are using. Almond milk is often quite thin and coconut can be especially thick. Soy milk, however, is closer to the consistency of cow’s milk. You can choose between their consistencies or you can experiment and find what works best for you.

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Storing Baked Goods

You can’t always eat everything you have baked, especially if you’re alone. Properly storing your baked goods will make sure it retains its freshness and tastiness and prevent any foodborne illnesses.

Generally, storing baked goods is best when they are covered inside the refrigerator most especially if it has cream or butter in it like cheesecake and mousses. However, for chocolate-based cakes and desserts, chocolate can go dull when stored in the fridge so it is better to store it at room temperature except if it is too warm outside. Dry food like macaroons without fillings, cookies, quick bread and meringue will be best and last longer when kept dry. Storing it in an airtight container or in a sealed bag can be the best choice.

The length of storage for the baked goods should also be considered. Some cookies may last for a few weeks and others can only last for a day or two. There are other desserts where the recipe says to serve immediately. These are those which should be brought to the table right away and eaten and shouldn’t be stored at all. It is essential that the recipes you are using also indicate this information.
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While you’re here, be sure to check out our kitchen product reviews!