Want to step up your baking game? Save time, money, and ingredients by following these 10 baking tips for home cooks.
I often get asked many of the same baking questions, and I frequently see readers running into the same issues when I help them troubleshoot recipes. I’m hoping that by putting together these tips, you can avoid making some common mistakes and become a better home cook. As always, my goal is to help you become more confident in the kitchen!
My Top 10 Baking Tips
1) Follow the recipe and avoid substitutions
I strongly recommend following recipes exactly as they’re written the first time you prepare them. Save the experimenting for the second time. When a recipe fails, nine out of ten times the issue has to do with swapping ingredients, equipment, or not following the instructions exactly as written. This is especially true with baked goods.
Recipes are formulated in a very specific way. Pay attention to the temperatures, order, speed and process for adding ingredients. If you’re supposed to add the eggs slowly, don’t rush. They’ll curdle your batter.
Also, there’s no reason to adapt a recipe if you’re looking for, say, gluten-free or low fat. I get a lot of requests asking about how to make substitutions for allergies. One time someone asked me how to make my pineapple cake without pineapple (I wish I was kidding). As much as I’d love for you to make my recipes, I say go and find the exact recipe you need. It’s probably already out there. If it’s not, find something as close as possible.
If you need a gluten-free or egg-free cake, don’t try to modify a recipe that has gluten and eggs. There are tons of low-fat baked goods; why experiment with using apple sauce in place of the fat when I can’t make any promises that it will taste good? I only test these recipes with the exact ingredients you see listed.
2) Buy a kitchen scale and measure ingredients by weight
I’m a broken record on this. If you want to guarantee that your cookies look like my cookies, you should invest in a kitchen scale. They’re not expensive; I actually started with a $12 postal scale. It got the job done. Now I use this one from OXO that typically sells for around $30.
If you’re not going to use a scale, learn how to correctly measure flour. I have an entire article dedicated to the subject, but it’s not complicated. I try to include cup measurements in all of my baked goods, and you’ll get very different results based on whether you use the Spoon & Level or Scoop & Sweep Methods.
- Spoon & Level = using a spoon to measure the flour into a measuring cup, then using a knife to level off the top.
- Scoop & Sweep = dipping a measuring cup into a bin/bag of flour, then using a knife to level off the top.
Believe it or not, these two methods yield different weights! This is why you can’t say a cup of flour weighs x ounces/grams. If I get one more person telling me that I’m an idiot because a cup of flour weighs 8 ounces… well nothing, because I will.
3) Keep the oven door closed
The oven light and window are there for a reason. Don’t open the oven door until the last possible second or you’ll let the heat escape, rapidly lowering the temperature of the oven. This can alter your baking time, cause uneven cooking (since the heat all escapes from the front), or it could even cause the baked goods to collapse.
4) Make sure your Ingredients are the correct temperature
Don’t ignore the temperatures noted in the ingredient list; they’re there for a reason. Room temperature butter is necessary for yellow cake and snickerdoodle cookies, but you want it to be very chilled for pumpkin pie dough and buttermilk biscuits.
Here’s a trick for if you forget to leave eggs and butter out and need to bring them to room temperature quickly:
- Eggs: Place the eggs in a bowl of warm water.
- Butter: Cut the butter into tablespoons, set on a plate, and microwave in 10 second increments, turning the butter over each time, until room temperature (it should only take about 3 turns).
5) (Almost) always chill the dough before baking
Unless the recipe specifies otherwise, you always want to chill your dough before baking it. Why? This firms up the butter and prevents it from spreading too much in the oven. This can be especially important for cookies and tart dough! Rolling tart dough and shaping cookies can cause the butter to become very soft. Chilling for around 15 minutes usually does the trick. I like to chill the dough while the oven is preheating.
6) Don’t overmix
The more you mix dough and batter, the less delicate your baked goods will become. Mix the ingredients until they’re just combined. This is typically noted in the recipe itself. Don’t ignore it.
7) For perfect cookies and evenly portioned muffins & cupcakes, use a scoop
When I first started baking, I’d use a regular tablespoon if a recipe called for tablespoon-sized portions of cookie dough. This simply won’t get you the same even portions that you’ll get if you use a cookie scoop. The same is true for portioning out cupcakes and muffins. Using a scoop takes out any guesswork. They’re not very expensive, and you can also use the larger ones for scooping ice cream.
8) Turn your oven or microwave into a bread proofing box
This is one of my favorite tricks! Yeast loves a warm environment, and you can create one simply by turning on the light in your oven. This will heat the oven to a warm temperature that will cause the yeast to thrive so the bread rises like a champ.
If your oven is in use, you can use your microwave instead. To do this, place a small bowl in the microwave next to the bowl with your dough. Boil some water and carefully add it to the small bowl, then immediately close the microwave door. This will create a warm, steamy environment, and once again the yeast will be very happy!
9) Frost your cakes with a crumb coat
I keep talking about how butter temperature can have a big impact on baked goods, and this is even true while frosting the finished cake. If you want a perfectly frosted cake, try this trick used by professionals: start with a “crumb coat” layer of frosting. This means applying a very thin layer of frosting all over the cake, then chilling the cake so the butter can firm up. 30 minutes or so in the fridge. You’ll then have a smooth, firm surface that will be easier to frost.
10) Make your own bread flour, cake flour, and self-rising flour
If you have a recipe that calls for bread flour, cake flour, or self-rising flour but don’t have any, you might be able to make some from all-purpose flour! Save yourself a trip to the store. I have longer tutorials that go into more detail which I’ll link below, but here’s the quick summary:
- Bread Flour: measure out 4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) of all-purpose flour, remove 1 tablespoon and replace with 1 tablespoon of vital wheat gluten
- Cake Flour: measure out 4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) of all-purpose flour, remove 1 tablespoon and replace with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
- Self-Rising Flour: measure out 4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) of all-purpose flour and add 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder + 1/4 teaspoon salt
Here are the full tutorials, which go into much more detail:
Bonus Tip: Look up terms you don’t understand
Did you know I have a big kitchen glossary full of culinary terms? I recommend bookmarking it and referring back to it any time you’re not sure what something in a recipe means. Don’t guess. If a recipe says to whisk eggs to the ribbon stage, that has a specific meaning. There’s no shame in a bit of quick research.
I hope you found these tips helpful! Did I miss anything? What’s your favorite baking tip?