…Or rather, what I needed to understand before I could really recipe up!
When I started baking, it was more of a time consumption tool, rather than a serious “let me understand the process” thing. I needed to be comforted, and really, what better way to comfort oneself than by baking something lovely?
Since I stumbled into the kitchen that fateful day, I’ve come to understand a few things about baking and my preferences within the kitchen. I’ve decided to share a few of my ah-ha moments with you, some are important, some not so much, and some offer up debate within the baking community. I only ask that you take what you wish, and leave a comment if you disagree! I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Most of these tips are really going to revolve around baking cookies, because that’s where my obsession has been lately.
The first place I need to start is with one of the most important utensils at your arsenal – your oven…
I cannot stress how important it is for you to understand the little quirks and variances in your oven. It is essential for you to know if it runs hot or cold, or has cold/hot areas, and adjust accordingly. Every oven is different and we must account for that when baking. It is useful to invest in an oven thermometer; this will help you figure out how to best bake anything!
For nice, uniform cookie sizes, I suggest you invest in a cookie scoop. Not only are they fun to use, but they help create even cookies that will bake perfectly!
I am obsessed with organization, even though I’m so not an organized person. However, when baking, I have to set my ingredients out.
I measure out everything – this helps in several ways. First, I know I have all ingredients on hand and second, as I’m baking, I can clearly see and use everything without having to search in the middle of mixing.
Also, once I’ve set out all of the ingredients, I walk away. Yes, walk away and let everything get to room temperature, especially the eggs!
Did you know that putting a slice of bread in with your soft cookies will keep them soft?
It works, I swear!
Always set your timer to the minimum time suggested. Even then, slightly underbake them. Cookies will continue to cook when they’re pulled out of the oven and it doesn’t take much to over-bake even the best cookie. Always pull cookies off the sheet and transfer to wire rack – this keeps them from sticking to the cookie sheet and encourages them to cool faster.
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s gotten me before too – always read your recipe through completely before starting! It never feels right when you suddenly realize you have to brown butter, or chill for an hour, and you didn’t account for that!
Reading. It’s not just for nudie mags, anymore.
If you are cooler than me, you use a Silpat.
If you are me, you use parchment paper. Parchment paper rocks. Seriously. It keeps cookies from sticking, and your lovely cookie sheets don’t develop that funky buildup that cooking spray can cause.
This tip probably gave me the biggest, “Oh my gosh, are you serious?!” moment. There are wet and dry ingredient measuring scoops/cups.
You’re not supposed to use dry ingredients in a wet ingredient cup and vise versa.
I know, right?!
If you put dry ingredients into a wet ingredient cup, you run the risk of packing it in too much. This can be problematic for flour, especially. If you put wet ingredients into a dry measuring cup, you run the risk of overflow.
Lightly scoop dry ingredients into a dry ingredient cup, and use a butter-knife or spatula to lightly scrape the excess off.
Look at how informed we sound!
I like soft, chewy cookies. Hard cookies are best used as door stops or for skeet shooting.
There are a few things we can do to encourage our cookies to be soft. For instance, replacing an egg with an egg yolk – if the recipe calls for two eggs, do one egg and one yolk instead.
I also like to chill my dough for about half an hour before baking; I also prefer to keep the dough in the refrigerator in between baking.
You can also use melted, cooled butter (but you will want to increase your flour by about 1-2 tablespoons to account for the spread that may occur with melted butter).
In brown sugar cookies, always use more brown sugar than white sugar; this helps create chewy, moist cookies. If you’re doing it yourself, or modifying a recipe, always keep the sugar amount the same, but you can vary the amount of brown/white sugar to your tastes.
Now, I’ve saved probably the most complicated part for last. This is the information that never really clicked in my brain until recently (and I had to share, just because this is how I came to realize that I could build my own recipes.)
I’m reading through cookie recipes, and I’m thinking about how I would love to create my own. But how could I? Only better bakers than me could do that. Plus, I didn’t really understand what was required.
Until I made a list of “basic” cookie recipes and realized I knew what ingredients were needed.
But I didn’t understand why.
Why did this recipe call for baking soda, cornstarch, baking powder, etc?
Now I understand that they are leavening agents that work to help give rise to cookies, cakes, dough, etc.
Baking powder is a combination of baking soda, some acid in powdered form, such as cream of tartar and cornstarch – is usually paired with whole milk.
When building your own recipe, the general idea is 1-2 teaspoons of baking powder for every 1 cup of flour.
Baking soda is an acid and is usually combined with ingredients such as buttermilk, yogurt, chocolate, brown sugar and lemon.
Baking soda can be combined with cream of tartar and cornstarch to replace baking powder in recipes, but baking powder cannot be used to replace baking soda.
You can read more about baking soda versus baking powder here and here. I’m not gonna lie, chemistry was not my best subject, and I don’t know that I’ve explained the differences, but these were my favorite sources when I was doing my research.
I said that one of my tips has some variation in the baking community – that tip was using melted butter. I’ve read that it makes for a chewier, softer cookie.
I’ve also read that it causes excess spread in the dough.
Some bakers say nay, others say yes.
What are your thoughts? Melted butter or not?