Ten Ways to Become a Better Baker

BY HELEN S. FLETCHER, ON
COPYRIGHT, HELEN S. FLETCHER, 2017. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ALL PHOTOS BY PASTRIES LIKE A PRO UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

Strawberry Rhubarb PieBecoming 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?

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Pastry has not only been my profession, but my passion. If there is anything in particular you would like to see or any questions about baking or pastry, please let me know. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss a post.

10 thoughts on “Ten Ways to Become a Better Baker

  1. Mary Kay

    These are wonderful tips – thank you!

    I recently discovered your site while searching for a cake recipe for my grandson’s baptism celebration. Your yellow cake recipe (filled with a custard filling and a strawberry whipped cream filling, and frosted with whipped cream) garnered multiple compliments from our guests – they said it was the best cake they had ever tasted – and I humbly agreed! Thank you – this will be my new go-to cake. (Much better than the one I recently purchased from a famous San Francisco bakery for $125!)

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hello Mary Kay – The baptism cake sounds wonderful. I’m happy you like the yellow cake. As I said yellow cake was always a problem but this one is my grandson’s favorite. With the cake you just described no need to pay anyone for a cake, much less $125.00. Thanks for your heart warming comments.

  2. Mary Moses

    Thank you for providing all your wonderful baking tips and background info on each recipe. I love learning all about the “whys” of baking. I started baking as a teenager and am very comfortable with most aspects of baking. Still, I look forward to getting your emails so I can learn more of the science behind the different recipes and techniques and I love the little stories that go with them. I hope that one day soon I will get around to tackling a yeast bread. Thanks much!

    P.S. I love all the step-by-step pictures too.

  3. Val Greene

    Hello,
    Let me say; you are the bakers Baker. I look everyday hoping I have some new item from you to read and or bake. I love the desserts, which I only rather do. So thank you for all your sharing. Really enjoy the website.

  4. sallybr

    I found your site not too long ago, and have been enjoying it a lot, with every new post. I am a cake-o-phobic who refuses to let fear get the best of me, so your site is a huge help and source of inspiration

    on the subject of dirty dishes – I simply cannot “function” if there are dirty dishes everywhere, and have this compulsion to wash it all as I go, or… as my husband cooks, which he finds “slightly irritating” (where is the knife I was using? where did the lemon squeezer go?” ;-) ;-) ;-)

    1. hfletcher Post author

      Hi Sally: I had to laugh about your dishwashing compulsion. I had a great utility man who was with me almost 8 years. The first day he was with me, he drove me nuts. I would reach for tool and it was gone – he was washing it. I made it abundantly clear, he was not to take utensil – I would put it on his station when I was done with it. The same day he kept washing the floor – until I slipped and fell on my rear end. I’m sure he thought we was going to be fired. He looked at me in total disbelief that I was on the floor as I said to him – at the end of the day, Clarence – at the end of the day!. We laughed about that for years!

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