Bake Like a Pro – Tips for Success Everytime

Baking can be nerve-wracking. I’ve been doing it a long time, and still have those moments of peering through the oven door to watch batter bubble up over the sides of the pan, or seeing a cake puff up beautifully only to fall dramatically in the last 5 minutes of cooking. When that’s happened, I retrace my steps and usually can pinpoint my errors.

I hear people say all the time that they are simply not a baker. Good baking is within everyone’s reach. It’s not inherently difficult, as long as you follow a few basic principles, and these easy tips will dial you in for success:

Bake with Room Temperature Ingredients

Butter, eggs and milk all blend better together when they are the same temperature. If you don’t have time for ingredients to come up to room temp naturally, the microwave is a handy tool. For butter, I recommend no more than two or three 8 second intervals to soften, checking after each, otherwise you end up with melted butter, which will not behave the same way in recipes. Milk can be gently heated in the microwave to take off the chill – avoid scalding it. For eggs, I add them to a bowl of warm water on the counter for a few minutes.

Scraping the Bowl

Good results come from proper mixing. A stand mixer is great at incorporating a majority of the ingredients, but batter can get stuck to the sides of the bowl and not thoroughly mixed in. When machine mixing, stop every once in a while to scrape down the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended, and be thoughtful to get a good blend when hand mixing, as well.

Combining Dry and Wet Ingredients

Prior to combining the dry with wet ingredients, it’s paramount that the dry ingredients and wet ingredients themselves are whisked and evenly distributed in their own bowls. As an example, let’s assume that the dry ingredients are not well mixed, and all of the baking powder is in one spot. When the dry and wet ingredients come together, the batter will be baking powdery-heavy in one area, and under powdered elsewhere, and you will not achieve a uniform rise. Similar concerns exist with wet ingredients.


I am a big fan of kitchen scales. They take away the guess work, giving you weights in grams, ounces, pounds, fluid ounces, and milliliters, allowing for precise measurement. Most of my baking recipes call for the usual cup and spoon amounts, since that is how most Americans are used to measuring, but I plan to add weights, as well. If a scale is just not in the cards for you, then practice good measuring skills. Spoon the flour into your cup and scrape the top evenly with the back of a knife. Don’t compress the flour, or you will end up with more than you need, resulting in dry baked goods. When measuring brown sugar, the opposite is true, pack it down. Don’t measure anything “heaping” unless the recipe calls for it.

Don’t Over Mix

Flour contains gluten, which gives bread an appealing chew, and requires thorough kneading. Chew is a characteristic that you don’t want in cakes and pastries. The key is to not over mix. Generally, I prefer to turn off the mixer when adding flour and fold it in by hand with a spatula. When using a mixer, as a rule, I suggest stopping right before you think everything is fully mixed, and if more is needed, finish by hand.

Bake Vs. Convection Bake

Bake and convection bake are both settings on most ovens. Using bake, the heating element heats the oven to the thermostat set point. Convection bake is similar, however, it uses one or more internal fans to circulate the air over and around whatever is cooking in the oven. It is a great feature to use, resulting in a faster and more even bake, however, it’s a good idea to adjust the bake temperature by about 25 degrees lower.

Melting Chocolate

Chocolate can scorch very easily, so the best way to melt chocolate is in a double-boiler. There are pots specially designed for this purpose. Alternatively, a DIY double-boiler is accomplished by placing a heat-proof bowl atop a pot of gently simmering water, taking all precautions with the steam that is produced. The idea of a double-boiler is to use indirect heat – you do not want the bowl to be resting in the water. The steam will melt the chocolate, which should be gently stirred and then removed from the heat once melted.

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