Helpful baking hints & tips for beginners

by April@MyFoodTrail on November 18, 2009

in Tips

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I hardly baked anything prior to starting this blog. Since then, 6 months on, I have learnt a whole lot more about baking and thought I would share those tips with other beginner bakers.

Clockwise from top left: POM Wonderful juice cupcakes with POM Wonderful pink frosting, Gluten free chocolate flourless cupcakes, Snickers muffins with chocolate icing, Black & white cheesecake brownies

My Food Trail’s baking tips for beginners

  • Buy an oven thermometer and use it. My main oven has a dial but not very clear markings so I use the thermometer to gauge the correct temperature. Accurate temperature is important in baking.
  • Get to know your oven and learn where food browns quicker. As a rule of thumb, you should only use the middle shelf for baking and if making two batches of cupcakes or muffins, use the middle and lower shelves, never the top shelf. Always place items in the centre of the shelves.
  • Always make sure you preheat your oven properly to the correct temperature before inserting your cakes and try not to open the oven door until the baking time has elapsed.
  • Have all your ingredients out ready and measured before you begin. This helps you not to forget anything!
  • Use exact and accurate measurements of ingredients or adjust at your own peril. Baking calls for exact measurements, unlike savoury cooking where you can adjust to taste. That said, I do sometimes reduce the sugar or butter content of recipes, but normally only after I have made it or because someone else has suggested it. Make sure you write down any changes to a recipe so you know for next time.
  • Butter needs to be chopped into small pieces or sliced thinly and softened before creaming with sugar or else you will have a hard time combining the butter and sugar together. If you don’t have time to leave your butter out at room temperature to soften, use the microwave, but make sure you do it in short bursts and on the low setting. Butter should never be melted.
  • Caster sugar should be used in baking unless the recipe specifically calls for normal white or granulated sugar. Caster sugar dissolves better in cake batters and makes creaming easier.
  • Make sure when creaming butter and sugar together, you do it for long enough. It should look pale and fluffy and thoroughly combined. I realise now that in the beginning, I was not creaming my butter and sugar together properly, hence my cakes were not as soft as they should be.
  • Eggs should also be at room temperature to ensure maximum volume for your cakes as well as well making mixing the eggs into the batter easier. If you don’t have time to let your eggs get to room temperature, place the eggs in luke warm water for 5-10 minutes until they are no longer cold. Eggs should be separated when cold though.
  • Try to avoid using the cheap vanilla essence in a bottle. It has such a fake smell and taste – you get a much better results using a vanilla extract. I use Queens Vanilla Bean paste. It is available at major supermarkets in a small jar for about $10. It is expensive but totally worth it. If you have a Costco membership, they sell squeeze tube for just over $20 which is much better value.
  • Always use full cream milk and make sure your milk is at room temperature. Cold milk apparently makes cakes shrink so microwave your cold milk for about 30 seconds to a minute if you don’t have time to let it come to room temperature.
  • Only use eating chocolate in your baking. Cooking chocolate may be cheaper, but eating chocolate tastes much better because it is not compound chocolate (think of how horrible those el cheapo Reject shop easter eggs are). Compound chocolate uses less cocoa solids and more sugar.
  • I make my own buttermilk by putting one tablespoon of lemon juice (usually bottled) and filling the rest of a cup measurement with normal full cream milk. Leave this to sit at room temperature for around 20 minutes or until you notice the milk thickening slightly.
  • Baking powder needs to be fresh or else it will not work. An easy way to tell if your baking powder is too old is to mix 2 teaspoons of baking powder with 1 cup of hot water from the tap. Mixture should immediately foam up. If it doesn’t, or takes a while, it is time to buy new baking powder.
  • Try not to overmix your cake batter. This affects the texture of the cake and it might not be as soft or fluffy.
  • If your cupcakes or muffins are getting a volcano top, it usually means your oven temperature is too hot. Try reducing the baking temperature by 5-10C.
  • Allow cakes to cool completely before icing or putting in a container. Always cool on a wire rack to prevent the cakes getting soggy, unless the recipe states otherwise.
  • To split a cake in half evenly, mark around the cake with toothpicks and then use dental floss to pull through the cake just above the toothpicks.

I will continue to add more tips to the list if I think of additional ones. Please leave a comment if you have more tips to add.

Over & Out, Rilsta xx

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Cherrie Pie November 18, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Great post. Thanks for sharing your tips. They are very helpful.

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Kat (Spatula, Spoon and Saturday) November 18, 2009 at 10:35 pm

haha i have basically discovered most of that and then i realised hang on a minute, i can't be bothered doing all that!

great tips though!

hence my eternal dessert/baking fail.

while im at it, swing by my blog to see what you missed out on, miss rilsta!

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mademoiselle délicieuse November 18, 2009 at 11:50 pm

Ditto your tip about butter in relation to cream cheese. The first time I ever attempted cheesecake, I ended up with cream cheese spatter on walls as soon as I turned the beaters on!

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Conor @ HoldtheBeef November 19, 2009 at 1:00 am

I agree with you about everything, but I tend to use hilo milk in baking, as it's what I have on hand. If I'm making something like custard though, I'll buy some full cream especially 🙂

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Catherine November 19, 2009 at 8:42 am

These are great tips, thanks so much! Happy Blogging friend, you have a wonderful site! 🙂

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Vee - A Melbourne Munchkin. November 19, 2009 at 9:27 am

Those are good tips Rilsta! I'm sending this post to my mother who also suffers from eternal baking failure. Oops, hope she doesn't click to comments. =op

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imasugarjunkie November 19, 2009 at 9:54 am

I'm notoriously bad at opening the oven door before the baking time has elapsed. That said, I've been told that with todays modern ovens it is not as crucial to baking success as they stay warmer for longer with the door open, so a quick peek wont hurt! (Thats my theory and I'm sticking with it!)

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Jetsetting Joyce (MEL: HOT OR NOT) November 19, 2009 at 10:37 am

Great tips! They are things that are obvious to experienced bakers, but they never tell you these things in a recipe.

I'm notorious for bulk-buying ingredients, I'd better check whether my baking powder is still active!

Jetsetting Joyce

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Ellie November 19, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Great posts. Thanks for sharing the tips!

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mealsonbudget November 19, 2009 at 8:39 pm

I read tru every single point and "yep you din do this, yep you din do that, yep thats why"
hence why i always fail in baking hahaha

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penny aka jeroxie November 20, 2009 at 7:55 am

Great post. No wonder I fail at baking or rather not very good at it. I guess one needs to be almost an perfectionist to do it well. heh

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Betty @ The Hungry Girl November 20, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Love this post! Thanks for all the tips! I so need them! 🙂

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Esz November 21, 2009 at 10:46 am

Great tips! I am a bit slack with the room temperature things – always have cold eggs. Heh.

Its all these little things that really matter on how a cake comes out. I wasn't creaming my sugar and butter properly for a while either – then I realised that the mix has to go really pale when it's done. hehe.

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SomethingByKate November 21, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Extra tip – don't bake with the evaporative cooler on. Everything goes stale and soggy before you've even finished.

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Rilsta November 23, 2009 at 10:31 am

Hi Cherrie Pie: Thanks! I'm glad they are helpful for people!

Hi Kat: Haha, thanks! If you ever change your mind and want to bake, you now know what you have to do!

Hi mademoiselle délicieuse: Thanks for the addition about the cream cheese! I have done that before and the mess to clean up is not pleasant!!

Hi Conor: What is hilo milk? I'm guessing a type of low fat milk!

Hi Catherine: Awww, thank you! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

Hi Vee: Hehehe, hi Vee's mother! 🙂

Hi imasugarjunkie: It probably doesn't affect the temperature much if you have a smaller oven but with a larger oven, if you keep the door open too long, the temperature will drop! You should get an oven that you can see what is happening without having to open the door!

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Rilsta November 23, 2009 at 10:38 am

Hi Joyce: I do the same thing and bulk buy ingredients! Sometimes you do forget what you have though and sometimes they expire! 🙂

Hi Ellie: Thanks!

Hi mealsonbudget: Hehe! Hopefully the list can help you improve your baking!

Hi Penny: If you keep baking more, these things become second nature to you!

Hi Betty: Thanks! Good luck with your baking!

Hi Esz: Hehe, same problem like me! The creaming of the butter and sugar properly really makes the cake a whole lot better!

Hi Kate: Oh no! Sounds like a recent experience! I guess an evaporative cooler puts a lot of moisture in the air which would make things go stale quicker!

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Conor @ HoldtheBeef November 23, 2009 at 7:55 pm

hilo straddles the border between full cream and skim, it's a nice inbetweeny compromise 🙂

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Rilsta November 25, 2009 at 9:55 am

Hi Conor: Thanks for coming back and letting me know! I don't think I have noticed it in the shops before! I normally go for full cream milk for baking and Pura Light Start for drinking! Will look out for it next time!

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Two fit and fun gals November 25, 2009 at 4:44 pm

DENTAL FLOSS- THATS GREAT THANKS!

AND FOR BUTTERMILK, I USE VINEGAR IT WORKS AS WELL 🙂

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Forager December 1, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Ah, being a non-baker this is my kinda post! So many tips, such a long long list.. Gee. This baking stuff is an artform unto itself

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Rilsta December 2, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Hi Betty: Thanks for your tip! I had heard vinegar works instead of lemon juice for buttermilk but have always been too afraid to try!

Hi Forager: Hehe… yes it's true! It's a lot more precise than savoury cooking and there are more things to remember!

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