This week’s tip is so simple, I honestly debated whether I should give it any attention.
But when I realized just how long it took me to learn this tip, and how horribly I struggled until I learned it, I decided to write this post IMMEDIATELY.
If this post creates an “AHA!” moment for one person, then it will be totally worth it.
See, I was born a menace with flour and sugar. A laughingstock among my family because I could not get it together.
On Sundays, my mother would half-heartedly bake the most flawless creations whilst simultaneously catching up on the week’s gossip with auntie so-and-so on the beige kitchen phone with the extra long cord.
I caught myself trying to help. And failing miserably every time.
I remember one time when I interrupted my mother as she was on one of these Sunday calls, and she gave me the stare that could instantly end life. In my defense, I was asking a baking question. But whooooo boy that was a close call.
My incompetence continued even after I started baking in earnest in 2014. By that time, I’d evolved enough to at least check to see if I had all of my ingredients. But it took another year before I realized that one of the biggest impediments to my baking success was the fact that I was not preparing my ingredients before I started.
Mise en place, y’all. It changed me.
Mise en place simply means “everything in its place” in French. It’s the process of preparing your ingredients before you begin cooking or baking, and it can instantly take you from frazzled mess to calm and controlled in the kitchen.
1. First, a Note About What Mise en Place is NOT.
Mise en place is not simply checking to see if you have all of the ingredients. It’s also not this:
While it’s wonderful to take out your ingredients before you begin baking, in order to truly be prepared to bake, those ingredients need to be measured and prepared for their final use in your recipe.
For example, both of these are 227 grams of butter. But only one of them is ready to go into a recipe:
Many recipes call for flour, baking soda/baking powder, and salt to be mixed together and set aside while you mix other ingredients. This means that flour, baking soda/baking powder, and salt need to be measured, placed in a bowl and gently mixed before being put to the side until it’s their time to shine in the recipe.
It does not mean that flour, leavening, and salt sit on the counter in their respective containers until it’s time for dry ingredients to be added to your recipe.
I’m writing this post for younger me, clearly.
2. How to Get Started with Mise en Place
The first step to mise en place actually doesn’t involve a single ingredient, spoon or bowl. The very first step is to read your recipe from beginning to end.
I can see some of y’all right now:
Seriously! By reading your recipe, you’ll understand what ingredients you need, and if you need to do anything with those ingredients before they’re incorporated into your recipe.
Some recipes have what I call “Easter Eggs” in them, and not the cool Stan Lee kind. These eggs are unique and/or time consuming preparation steps that will stop your recipe dead in its tracks if you don’t do them before you start creaming butter and sugar. I honestly used to think that these Easter Eggs were laying in wait to destroy me.
Want to feel anxious during the baking process? Jump into a raisin bread recipe before you read the whole thing. When you get to the “incorporate plumped fruit” part of the recipe…CHAOS. DISASTER. END SCENE.
That’s a touch dramatic, but you’ll probably have to start over. #HelloFoodWaste
For more about Easter Eggs in recipes (and also to learn why you might have to start over!), take a look at the video, below at the 5:00 mark. The only way to avoid surprises in the baking process is to read the whole recipe before you start. It’s ten minutes that will make all the difference. I’ve made this mistake dozens of times so that you don’t have to.
3. I’ve Read My Recipe. Now What?
After reading your recipe, it’s time to gather your tools and ingredients! For reference, what you see at the beginning of the video, below, is me (and a soft cast…ugh) at the point where I’ve gathered all of my ingredients.
The reason that I take out all of my ingredients at the same time is simple. I want to know if I have all of the ingredients and tools that I need before I start. This is also an opportunity to check ingredient freshness.
In theory, you have all the time in the world to check the reactivity of your baking soda before you incorporate it with your other dry ingredients.
When your gingerbread is in the oven with five minutes left and it’s clearly dense as a brick? It’s a wee bit late at that point.
Maybe soak that sucker in Irish Cream and pretend like you intended to make drunken gingerbread brownies all along. I dunno.
(I’ll report back after I’ve properly…researched this).
Gathering ingredients is an important step toward completed mise en place, but it’s not the only step.
4. Prep Your Ingredients!
I’m a very visual learner, so for those of you like me, this is where I’ll recommend going to the video at 6:25 and seeing the process for yourself.
Some of you are still here? Okay…
The end goal of mise en place is to have all of your ingredients ready to incorporate into your recipe before you get started mixing your batter or dough. So, the first thing I do (as you’ll see in the video around, say, the 6:25 mark) is to put my ingredients in the same order on my counter as they appear in the recipe.
This is a way for me to double check that I actually have all of my ingredients, and to make sure that I have enough of each ingredient.
Once my ingredients are lined up, I gather my tools (measuring cups, measuring spoons and bowls), and mix and measure, using — you guessed it — my trusty digital kitchen scale. For most of my pastry baking, this process goes something like this:
- Cut butter into pieces and add butter directly to mixing bowl;
- Place sugar in a small bowl and set aside;
- Combine “dry” ingredients (flour, leavening, salt, etc.) in one prep bowl, and put that bowl next to a second bowl that the dry ingredients will be sifted into;
- Crack eggs into another prep bowl or jar;
- Measure liquids in jars or liquid measuring cups; and
- Put extracts (lemon, vanilla, etc.) next to the mixer with their respective measuring spoons.
Mise en place is a very simple technique with a very fancy name. But it’s a simple technique that can help you build tremendous confidence as a baker and put you squarely in control during the entire process.
Did you find this helpful? Do you still have questions? Let me know in the comments below! And don’t forget to subscribe so that you can get Begin with Butter directly in your inbox!