Becoming a better baker is a matter of patience and repetition, but there are practices that will help speed the process. Here I have listed some that I hope will help you – even if it is just one thing you may need to work on to become the baker you always wanted to be.
1. Read the recipe from start to finish. Make sure you have all of the ingredients without substituting.
2. The first time you make a new recipe make it exactly as it is written. It’s fine to change raisins to dried cherries or use dark brown sugar instead of light. However, if it calls for buttermilk, don’t substitute regular milk.
3. If you want to change the recipe, change one thing at a time. If you change more than one you will not know which one worked, or didn’t work.
4. This really sounds basic, but focus. Baking is not like cooking. You can’t be talking, texting or multitasking when baking. It is more of a science than cooking. I once had an employee who omitted the baking powder in 64 layers of cake with the result that we could have used them for frisbees!
5. Use a timer. My husband always looks at the clock and then “knows” he will remember 25 minutes later to do whatever it is he is timing. Can’t tell you how many things have been over done (read burned)!
6. Always, always short time anything you are baking. I keep thermometers in my ovens to make sure they are accurate but I always short time anyway. If an oven is running hot, you can rescue your item with no damage.
7. Patience. Without patience it is difficult to become a really good baker. Baking and decorating are a matter of practice. Practice takes patience. I perfected my blitz croissants after 30 attempts. But they are easy and a baker from France told me they were better than the original. There isn’t a reward much better than that.
8. Organization. This may rank as the most important item on the list. Because baking is more scientific than cooking, a clean, organized work space is important. If you have to start looking for teaspoons or tablespoons, empty a measuring cup to use it again, or find an ingredient on your work area, chances are the end product will not be what you wish it to be. It is a good idea when baking to measure all the ingredients before you start mixing or assembling. You will be less likely to forget something.
If prepping more than one recipe, I put each set of ingredients on a separate tray so I don’t get them mixed up.
I once saw a post by David Lebovitz about dirty dishes http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2011/11/my-favorite-kitchen-tip-ever/ . In it is a huge pile of really dirty dishes in his sink and he laments not being able to go out with friends because he has to stay home and do the dishes. He was excited that Marion Cunningham of cookbook fame told him to soak them while he was preparing the rest of whatever he was making. Are you kidding me? Just make some hot soapy water and do your dishes as you go if they aren’t being loaded into the dishwasher. He didn’t answer me when I suggested it takes minutes to wash items as you go and hours to do them later! Hmmmmmm!
9. Whisk dry ingredients together that need to be combined to insure they are completely distributed. In the olden days, everything was sifted through a triple sifter. I still have one in the basement that I intend to donate to a museum.
10. Last but not least, just know you can do it and enjoy yourself as you do. Baking has an undeserved reputation for being difficult. I can make a loaf of bread or a batch of cookies faster than my husband can get to the store and get back home And we don’t live that far from our store. Sure the bread will require rising and shaping, but the rewards are so much better. Now the cookies……anyone for a warm cookie?