Baking can be very intimidating. It’s an accurate process where factors like exact measurements, oven temperature, and even weather affect its success. But don’t fret! Following just a few simple rules will help you dish out delectable tres leches cakes, flans and alfajores from your own cocina.
Get To Know Your Oven
All ovens are not created equal. Setting the oven dial to 350 degrees doesn’t mean your oven will reach that exact temperature. Moreover, an oven that is too hot or too cold can throw off your baking. Placing an oven thermometer (which runs about $10) inside will give you the most accurate reading.
Once your temperature is set, you will also need to watch out for your oven’s hot spots. The easiest way to test this is to line a baking sheet with sliced bread and bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes. When you remove the sheet from the oven, if you have slices that are a bit darker than others, your oven has a hot spot. Once you locate a hot spot, if you cannot avoid putting pans in that location, simply rotate them midway through baking.
Use A Timer
Distractions are inevitable. But because exact times are vital in baking, setting a timer will ensure that checking your Twitter feed or catching up with your amigas won’t come between you and a perfect flan.
Skimming a recipe is a common baking mistake. Read through an entire recipe before starting to ensure that you don’t skip any key ingredients or steps. Once you’ve read the recipe, measure out all of your ingredients before you start bringing them together, as half way into baking is not the best time to realize you are short a quarter cup of sugar.
Use Fresh Quality Ingredients
Great baked goods begin and end with their ingredients. They are only as good as what you put in them. Don’t just buy the bargain brand bag of chocolate chips that may have been sitting on the shelf for more time than you care to know. Same goes for flours, butters and extracts, which are dessert building blocks. Spend a few extra dollars on superior ingredients and your baking will invariably turn out better. In addition, pay attention to expiration dates. Wouldn’t it be horrible if those churros you invested so much time in turned into a mess because your flour was expired?
Use Room Temperature Ingredients
Mixing cold eggs, liquids or butter into your batters and doughs brings down their temperatures, which, in turn, affects their baking times. Use room temperature ingredients, which come together easier and more smoothly. Unless otherwise instructed, plan ahead and bring your refrigerated ingredients to room temperature before you start baking.
Don’t Get Too Fancy With Your Equipment
It’s easy to get sucked into the kitchen gadget trap. Resist the temptation and stick with the basics. Invest in a rimmed stainless steel sheet pan and stay away from those with the nonstick coating, which wears over time. Nesting bowls are also a must have. They come in sets of three or four, which is helpful when you need to mix ingredients in separate bowls. Also key are measuring cups and spoons. In addition, while stand mixers are powerful and versatile, unless you are making bread, hand mixers are just as effective and more economical. Last, but not least, are rubber spatulas. Made out of silicone, they can resist high temperatures and in baking, are great at helping scrape batter from mixing bowls.