Three Tips for Amazing Home Cooks Who Want to Be Amazing Bakers!

Before I started my baking journey in 2014, I said this all the time about baking:

“I can cook but I can’t bake. It’s too hard.”

Does this describe you? Well, today I have three tips to help you overcome this belief and become an amazing baker, even if you’ve never tried to make a cupcake in your life.

I was lying to myself.

If you want to bake, you can bake. Today I’ll help you get to the root of that frustration and help you figure out how to get on the good foot with this beautiful science.

In this Post:

The Fundamental Truth: Cooking and Baking are the Same, but Different

Cooking, Friend, is the process of taking raw ingredients and transforming them into a completed dish. This could include those black eyed peas that you had for Sunday dinner, or those blueberry muffins that you made yesterday.

Yes, Friend. Baking is a form of cooking. It’s true! Cooking is anything that involves transforming raw ingredients. Baking, as we commonly know it, is transforming raw ingredients into pastries, cakes, or bread.

In fact, according to this very scientific definition from The Spruce Eats, baking is “fully cooking food in an oven.” This could easily refer to any number of chicken or beef dishes. However, as the same article points out, when most us refer to “baking”, we are referring to pastries and breads, not those yummy Thursday night crispy chicken thighs.

That is where the difference comes. Baking (by its common definition) requires a very scientific approach in order to reach a desired result, and the margin for error is narrow. With cooking, there is much more flexibility, as there are usually many opportunities to taste and adjust something before serving, and it’s a much more hands-on technique (with stirring, seasoning as you go, etc.).

Tip #1: Start with the understanding that while baking is a form of cooking, it follows its own set of rules.

Cooks are Artists: Baking Activates a Cook’s Scientific Mind

The biggest obstacle that I had to overcome in the early days was my belief that cooking and baking followed the same rules.

The way I laugh when I think about that now…

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but cooking and baking do not follow the same rules. And this is the fundamental truth that frustrates good cooks.

They don’t follow the same rules. At all!

If you’re used to pinching and dashing over a pot of something, tasting to adjust, then pinching and dashing again, that action becomes a part of you. Your identity as a home chef depends on your ability to season, taste, and season some more. It’s an instinct. An art form. You know your palette. You know what you’re trying to achieve. And you know that you can take baby steps to get there. Even after a dish is complete, there’s an opportunity to alter the flavor with some salt and pepper or a splash of lime juice.

Cooking allows flexibility on the issue of substitutions as well. Don’t have cilantro? You can get by with parsley. No dry white wine in the house? White wine vinegar could work just as well.

Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash

Baking is NOT THAT; successful baking relies on scientific principles as much as artistic ones. To make baked goods that taste good, bakers understand that their recipes have to rely on certain fundamental principles of chemistry and physics. For example, certain ingredients, when combined with heat, cause the Maillard reaction (browning) on the top of your cakes, cookies and breads. Leavening, combined with liquid, creates carbon dioxide and alcohol which is responsible for rise when trapped by a gluten structure. Oh, and the strength of the gluten structure depends on the protein content that’s often found in your flour and eggs.

Bakers know these rules before they take out a single bowl or spatula. Knowing these rules means that bakers have a very good idea of what to expect when they open their ovens at the end of a bake. They know exactly what to expect if they reduce the sugar by 1/2 cup or add an extra egg.

While you don’t need a chemistry degree to be a good baker, it’s important to understand that there’s no “winging it” without some basic scientific knowledge about how it all works. There are lots of opportunities for things to go wrong if we insist upon being creative without learning the basics. Without a strong understanding about ingredient properties and baking techniques, it’s simply not possible to create consistent baking recipes that will work.

These scientific requirements are so frustrating for good cooks because they can feel constricting and lacking in imagination. This is especially true for those imaginative cooks who love to tweak their dishes on the fly. If this is you, Dear Reader, take heart. Once you read through the next section, you’ll know that you can get to that imaginative place again with baking, if you just give it a little bit of time and approach it with a beginner’s mind.

Tip #2: Understand that baking uses a different, science-based skillset and that that skillset is different than general cooking.

The Key to Becoming a Great Baker: Adopt a Beginner’s Mind

Before the mediocre baking attempt in 2014 that ultimately led to the blog you’re reading today, I had been a failed baker for my entire life.

In other words, before 2014, I couldn’t bake a potato to save my life.

The proud look on my daughter’s face as she took those mediocre sugar cookies to her class jump-started the nerd in me, so I decided to take a deep breath and start from the beginning with baking. Zen Buddhists call this a “beginner’s mind”; it involves humbling oneself and actively accepting where you are. Because you can learn how to do anything when your mind is truly open.

black and white stones on brown wooden table
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

For me, this meant that I had embrace the fact that I didn’t know the first thing about baking, even though I’d been a proficient home cook since the 1980s. Not accept it begrudgingly. But embrace every part of the journey.

Approaching baking with a beginner’s mind meant that I didn’t attach any preconceived notions about what I should know or feel any shame about not knowing. It simply meant that I made myself available to learn how to bake, without judgment or expectation. It also meant that when questions arose about why and how to bake, I was able to target my study organically and learn the answers over time.

Don’t get me wrong, proficiency and creativity came with practice and study. But by adopting a beginner’s mind, I was able to take my ego out of the equation so that I could truly learn something. And that lesson, dear friend, has been invaluable. This blog is a compilation of what I have learned organically (and concepts that I continue to learn organically), wrapped up in one place for you.

Tip #3: A beginner’s mind is key to becoming a baker. This is especially true if you’re already a great cook.

Conclusion

I still approach baking with a beginner’s mind. There’s always so much to learn in this space and being curious has helped me grow from a non-baker, to a new baker, to a good baker, to a consistent and proficient baker, to someone who is confident enough in my baking ability to create my own recipes and sell baked goods to the people in my community through my custom bakery. There’s literally no downside to admitting that you’re always a beginner on some level.

If you think about it, great cooks, we all had a beginner’s mind at some point. We weren’t born with a knowledge of flavor profiles or salt and acid levels. We learned that over time; some from parents, others from grandparents, and others still from culinary schools or chefs. Baking is its own discipline that deserves the same respect. If you give it that respect, the dividends will be more than you could ever imagine.

Home chefs, the best advice I can offer about baking is to adopt the beginner’s mind. The science and technique will come with time. Be kind to yourself during the learning process and embrace where you are. And for goodness sake, laugh at yourself sometimes! There are mistakes to be made during the learning process and that is okay. Sometimes those mistakes are delicious.

Until next time!


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The Role of Eggs in Your Baked Goods!

Today, in our Ingredient Series, we’re taking on eggs! We’ve already talked about flour, sugar, butter, yeast, baking powder, and baking soda, so it’s time that the humble egg has its day.

Not to be dramatic (😉), but eggs are transformative. When combined with flour, they add to the structure and texture of cakes, cookies, and breads. Egg wash is the secret ingredient for beautifully caramelized pie crusts and challah; it can even be used as a kind of edible glue for slivered almonds or sesame seeds.

Eggs can also be reduced to their parts: fatty egg yolks are a natural emulsifier that give a rich, luscious and creamy texture to lemon curds, while egg whites can morph into a natural leavening agent when whipped to stiff peaks.

Let’s get started, shall we?

In this Post:

The Composition of Eggs

Eggs are composed of two seemingly inconsistent parts: the egg yolk and the egg white.

The egg white is made of a tangled network of protein. Protein is the literal building block for baked goods, in that it creates the physical structure for leavening (e.g., baking powder, baking soda, or yeast) to do its work. The combination of structure and leavening is what gives baked goods their rise. The more eggs that are added, the stronger the physical protein bonds will be.

While the yolk also contains some protein, it’s more famous for its fattiness. Egg yolks give a smooth, velvety texture to whatever they’re added to, whether it’s a cake batter or my favorite luscious lemon curd from Bakes by Brown Sugar. The egg yolk is also known for adding beautiful color, both on the interior and exterior of your baked goods.

The Default Egg for Baking (With a Cheat Code!)

When I was first learning to bake, I truly believed that my baking endeavor had to come to a full stop if I didn’t have large chicken eggs. Like, I would give up and save the baking for another day if I only had medium or extra-large eggs in the house.

You see, large chicken eggs are the gold standard for baking recipes. They are so commonly used for baking that many recipe authors don’t specify the size and type of eggs to be used in a recipe. They simply say: two eggs.

Translation: two large chicken eggs, or ~114 grams of eggs.

Friend, if you don’t have large chicken eggs in your home, please don’t fret. If you have chicken eggs and a food scale, you’ll be perfectly fine.

To measure eggs using a food scale, simply crack a little more than you need, scramble gently, and remove the excess once it’s just starting to combine. You don’t want perfectly scrambled eggs here. You want slightly combined; the objective is to try and maintain the white/yolk ratio in your batter or dough.

Of course I would crack a double-yolked egg for this demo. The objective is to slightly combine the eggs for this technique, and not to completely combine them.

For example, if your recipe calls for two large eggs (~114 grams) and you only have medium eggs, crack three medium eggs (about 150 grams) and scramble gently. Remove the excess grams of egg and you’re good to go!

The Impact of Eggs on Structure

In my post about flour, I talked about how flour creates the structure for cakes, cookies, muffins, and all manner of baked goods. The protein percentage of your flour impacts the strength of that structure (higher protein content=stronger structure=more chew).

Both egg whites and yolks contain protein. When eggs and flour are combined in a recipe, the egg adds an additional protein layer to the flour and creates a stronger gluten network that traps more gases from your leavening and gives your baked goods even more lift!

Egg whites can play dual roles in the texture your baked goods! Have you ever tried whipping egg whites to stiff peaks? The reason that that happens is because the whipping action actually separates the proteins from one another, reducing the strength of the protein network in the egg white and transforming it into pockets of air that can be used for leavening. That’s why, when egg whites are overbeaten, they crumple and become useless. It’s because the proteins have separated from one one another and expanded until they’ve popped.

Eggs can also thicken desserts like custards. It’s amazing really. When heated, the proteins in the egg whites coagulate (bind) into a gel-like structure to help create a cohesive custard instead of a milky mess when heated. That velvety mouth feel comes from the fatty yolks.

I personally love the glazed texture that an amazing egg wash gives to baked goods. Like this!

That sheen? That’s from scrambling a whole egg and a teaspoon of water and brushing it across the entire challah before baking. The egg promotes both the beautiful browning and a glazed texture to the finished product.

The Impact of Eggs on Color

Both parts of the egg contribute to color in your baked goods. The egg white helps cakes (in particular angel food cake and white cake) retain their characteristic white color. Egg whites are also used in Swiss and Italian meringue buttercream recipes and they help those buttercreams retain their beautiful, glossy white color.

The yolk, on the other hand, does double duty. The fatty yolk helps contribute to the Maillard reaction (that’s just a fancy word for browning) on the top of your baked goods, and also adds to the beautiful, slightly yellow color that we’ve come to see in sliced yellow cake and pound cake, and also in all manner of cookies. Additionally, the yolks add color and fatty decadence to French buttercream recipes.

I clearly need to work on a buttercream tutorial. ::adds to list::

Conclusion

When it comes to baking, every ingredient plays an important role. Understanding the properties of each ingredient and the role that they play in your baked goods will help you become a better baker.

The humble egg doesn’t demand as much attention as its counterparts flour, sugar and butter, but it’s just as important! I hope you enjoyed reading about one of my favorite ingredients, and that this ingredient series is helping to deepen your knowledge about baking so that you too can understand what you’re baking and why it works.

Until next time!


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Seven Amazing Baking Tools You Need Right Now!

Guys! It’s here! Check out my new, FREE e-book, the “Buying Guide for Beginning Bakers”! It’s got all of the gadgets that you truly need to start baking! Want the download? Enter your email below!

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Hey BwB Family! It’s gadget day!

If you’ve been here for a while, you probably know that my absolute favorite thing (besides my family 😬) is baking. And I am admittedly a huge nerd about baking gadgets.

Y’all, I’ve tried all the gadgets. And–spoiler alert–a lot of them have better marketing than “cutting edge design”.

There are a few baking gadgets that have earned my everlasting devotion. I’m talking about the tools that I cannot remember being without in my kitchen. The unsung gadgets that have made baking a much easier and fun experience for me. This post is my love letter to them.

Here we go!

**all opinions are mine. The links are not affiliate links; just links to some really good products that I believe in with my whole heart and hope you enjoy.**

In This Post:

Oven Thermometer

I’m going to put it out there. Your oven is a liar. Not a liar in the malicious, manipulative kind of way. But a liar like your dog, when they’re trying to convince you that you didn’t just feed them dinner two minutes ago.

The same way you don’t want to start baking in a cold oven (unless a recipe specifically calls for it), is the way that you don’t want to start baking in an oven that’s not the right temperature. But if your oven is unwittingly lying to you, what’s the fix?

The fix is this.

A $7.00 oven thermometer can make an enormous difference in your baking.

This, my friends, is a low-tech godsend called an oven thermometer. You can either hang this or set it right on top of the oven rack and it will tell you the exact temperature of your oven at that time. My oven thermometers live in my ovens at all times because they tell me the real deal about what’s going on in there.

The one on the left works perfectly…it just looks terrible from years of (over)use. I literally purchased the one on the right so that I could have a pretty picture for this post.

Baking demands as much precision as possible, and this includes your oven temperature! Exact temperature is key to achieving a perfect result. That’s why an oven thermometer is so important; it’s calibrated to tell you when you’ve reached the proper temperature and it will let you know exactly how far off your oven is.

If you set your oven to 350°F without having this failsafe in there, it’s highly unlikely that the oven will be at exactly 350°F when you’re ready to bake. And an oven that’s too hot or too cold could definitely lead to a ruined result.

Digital Food Scale

Not to be dramatic, but…

A DIGITAL FOOD SCALE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOL IN YOUR KITCHEN.

Yes, my scale is a little beat up. It still works beautifully though.

I admit that that was dramatic. But a digital food scale is definitely the most important tool in a baker’s kitchen.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: baking is a game of inches, and how you measure ingredients will make or break your recipe every single time.

I’ve written two posts about why a food scale is important, and how to measure using a food scale, so it’s not surprising that this darling item ended up on this list.

Parchment Paper

I told Y’all that my baking beginnings were humble. This is the point where I share with you that I didn’t know about parchment paper when I started baking. Now, I can’t live without it.

Parchment paper is literally heat-resistant paper that’s used to prevent food from sticking to cake pans and cookie sheets. It’s also tough enough to stay in one piece when there’s a mess on top of it, which means that clean up is a quick business that includes throwing away the used parchment paper and giving my cookie sheet a quick wipe and rinse with soap and water.

It is genius for those moist (I know) layer cakes that have a tendency to stick. Simply cut a round of parchment in the shape of your cake pan, butter your cake pan, place the round at the bottom of your buttered cake pan, put butter on the top of the parchment, flour the whole thing and NEVER HAVE A CAKE STICK EVER AGAIN.

Some people prefer silpat silicone baking mats, which do the same thing as parchment but are reusable. I say try both! I did and I ended up choosing parchment paper because cookies spread more thinly (and get more brown around the edges) on silpat mats, but your taste buds might like what the silpat mat has to offer!

Multi-Level Cooling Rack

Friends.

Again, when I began, I did not own a cooling rack. I quickly found out that this was a must for baking, so I started with ONE of these:

The way I’m laughing at myself right now is not ladylike. It holds SIX cookies. But this is actually my favorite size for layer cakes, because I’m weird and I like each layer to have its own autonomous cooling zone.

I bought three more of the six-top cooling racks before I discovered this:

This was much, much better but it takes up a lot of valuable real estate on my countertop. It holds 24 standard sized-cookies or muffins and is a great fix when you have room for it.

I was slow-walking around Michaels one day and stumbled upon this multi-level cooling rack:

Family, please understand that this was an act of pure happenstance.

A multi-level cooling rack is genius because it holds 45 standard sized cookies and has a small countertop footprint. Instead of spreading out, this one goes up. I’ve used it to cool everything, from cookies, cupcakes, muffins, boules (and other artisan bread loaves), and my famous milk and honey rolls. It’s truly a space saver and it helps you get lots of baked goods off of hot pans in a hurry, which is important!

Danish Dough Whisk

A Danish dough whisk is the most amazing tool for making any kind of bread dough by hand. Unlike a wooden spoon (which is also a great tool for making bread, by the way), a Danish dough whisk works through tough doughs much more easily, thus making mixing more efficient and less backbreaking.

For those who enjoy making bread dough by hand, this tool is it. You can work through harder doughs much more easily because there’s not a solid spoon for resistance.

Pastry Cutter

A pastry cutter is a tool that’s used to help cut solid fat into flour, and is specific to pastry (pie!) making. For pastry, it’s important to have larger chunks of solid fat in your dough. Those large chunks of butter (or shortening, or even lard) release small amounts of steam as they’re baked, which creates tiny pockets of air in your pastry dough. That’s where the flakiness comes from!

Some people like to use a food processor to make pastry dough, and that’s a great technique too. I am a very hands-on home chef, and I actually prefer to use hand tools to mix things like pastry dough and bread. With practice, using your hands helps you develop a great baker’s touch. Because one of the best kept secrets in baking is knowing when to stop.

A pastry cutter is a low-tech tool, to be sure, but it’s an amazing gadget and an absolute must for the home baker who wants to make pie without investing in a countertop appliance.

Air Tight Storage Containers

::Cambro storage containers have entered the chat::

My Cambro containers allow enough room for the dough to rise without getting squished, which is something you never want as a bread baker.

Family. Food waste saddens me more than just about anything. It…it just…stings.

When you start baking all the time (if you haven’t already), proper storage containers for raw ingredients like flour and sugar will be key. True, once you’re baking 4-5 times a week, you’ll consume flour and sugar and a scarily rapid rate, but that’s probably about the time you’ll realize that you can buy these ingredients from restaurant suppliers.

You’ll want somewhere to store this:

That’s where my favorite Cambro containers come through like a champion. They seal tightly, come in a range of sizes, and they keep flour and sugar fresh for a long time. Because I have these, I can buy flour and sugar in bulk and have a great place to store it!

Once you get serious about baking, being able to buy in bulk is so important. Having proper storage for those bulk ingredients will be so helpful for making those bulk dollars stretch.

Conclusion

It took a while for these gadgets and tools to become part of my working baking repertoire, but once they did, I noticed big improvements in my baking. They each solved a big problem with a small effort, and collectively led to huge improvements in my overall baking.

Are you going to try one or more of these fun gadgets? Let me know in the comments below! And while you’re here, go ahead and subscribe!


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Home » Featured Recipes » Shani » Page 2

Technique Tips for The Best Cookies!

Hey BwB Family! Today we’re talking cookies.

Wait…the saying is “talking turkey”, isn’t it…😬

Oh well. “talking cookies” works. Friends, the purpose of this post is to give you universal techniques that you can use to make your favorite cookie recipes even better. You don’t need a specific recipe to make amazing cookies!

Let’s go!

In this Post

There are few things I love baking more than cookies. This post has been a long time coming because cookies are kind of my jam. Let’s get started!

Don’t Overmix the Dough

What does “overmix” mean, exactly? If you’ve done any baking whatsoever (not being dramatic 😉), then you’ve seen this word in a cookie recipe or two. Overmixing is literally just the process of mixing something too much, which usually creates texture issues from too much gluten development and leads to tough cookies.

Like these “soft, chewy” cookies from when I first started baking:

In standard cookie recipes, the flour (combined with a leavening/salt mixture) is the last thing added to the recipe; once that comes into contact with your wet ingredients, it starts to form gluten bonds that give structure and texture to those cookies. The more that you physically mix flour with the rest of your wet ingredients (either with a mixer, spoon, or spatula), the stronger those gluten bonds become.

Strong gluten bonds mean chewy texture in breads (yay!), but strong gluten bonds can also mean a brittle, tough texture for cookies (boo!). You don’t want this!

How to Mix Dough Properly (With a Picture Tutorial!)

How do I avoid overmixing cookies? I thought you’d never ask. This is a story that’s best told in photos.

Before you add the flour, you need to make sure that all of your other ingredients are completely incorporated. If they’re completely mixed together, you won’t have to do much more mixing once you add the flour. And don’t forget to cream the butter and sugar properly!

So, instead of this:

You’re looking for this:

Once the pre-flour ingredients are uniformly combined, that’s when it’s time to add flour. I add flour in batches, even if I’ve scaled my recipe down. Adding too much flour to your recipe at once is a great “recipe” for a giant, magical PUFF of flour right in your face.

That’s…not my favorite. It also means that that flour you’ve meticulously measured for your recipe isn’t going into that recipe.

So, I add a little flour and mix until it’s almost incorporated. Like this!

At this point, the objective is not to get every streak of flour incorporated into your dough. The objective is to have your mixer do as few revolutions as possible to combine most of the flour from that first batch. Remember, we want to reduce gluten development! The loose texture is what you want to see at the end of your first batch of flour.

Onto the next flour addition!

After the second batch, you can see that there’s still flour that’s not fully incorporated. This is okay! We will address all of it!

Third (and final) batch on deck!

Some of you probably want me to make it make sense at this point. To you I say, Okay!

At this point, I stop my mixer completely and finish by very gently mixing with my trusty red spatula.

If there are chocolate chips or other accoutrements that have to be added right at the end (like with this batch), I stop mixing with my trusty red spatula just shy of the flour being fully incorporated. This is because there’s still mixing going on when you add the chocolate chips! Luckily, the chocolate chips only need 3-4 turns with your mixer to be fully incorporated into your dough. Or, even better, you can use your trusty silicone spatula to incorporate those chocolate chips and avoid over-mixing!

Here’s the finished cookie dough!

At that point the flour is *just* incorporated and your dough is complete.

Let the Dough Rest!

I never, ever bake cookies immediately after making the dough. In fact, I usually don’t even bake cookies on the same day that I make the dough. I put it in a glass bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a lid, mark it with a “TBB” (To-Be-Baked) date, and put the dough in a refrigerator for anywhere from 8-48 hours. Overnight is my favorite, but if I make cookie dough before the crack of dawn, and if my children give me puppy dog eyes all day, then I’ll begrudgingly bake them off around dinnertime.

When you allow cookie dough to rest, some really good stuff happens:

  • The flour gets fully hydrated without additional mixing. This means fewer gluten bonds and a more chewy cookie!
  • The fat (usually butter) gets a chance to firm back up, which helps the cookies hold their shape and not get completely flat and burnt around the edges when they’re baked. Because yuck.
  • The flavors fully come together, meaning that you’ll be able to really detect the molasses notes that that brown sugar adds to your chocolate chip cookies!

The only downside to resting your cookie dough is…the wait. But it is completely worth it! If you’re truly short on time (shout out to the “Babe, would you mind making cookies for the company potluck this afternoon?” bakers out there), even an hour or two would be better than baking cookie dough fresh from the mixer.

Don’t Crowd the (Light-Colored, Parchment-Covered) Cookie Sheet!

I don’t make huge cookies. Despite that fact, I only put six cookies on a cookie sheet. SIX:

Fewer cookies on the pan means better airflow over each of the cookies. Better airflow over the cookies means more even baking, even if your oven has hot spots!

We do not like the hotspots, Beloved, but they are inevitable in almost any oven. After a while, you’ll think of them affectionately because they’re unique to your oven. More importantly, though, you’ll know how and when to adapt your baking in order to avoid their wrath.

For cookies, I prefer light-colored cookie sheets that are covered in parchment paper. For more about why I prefer light-colored cookie sheets, take a look here!

Fewer cookies on the cookie sheet also gives the cookies a chance to spread out. Because cookies need room to spread into their perfectly imperfect shapes:

Baking fewer cookies on a cookie sheet allows those cookies to spread without blending together into one big, underbaked cookie (unless that’s your thing, of course).

Different bakers have different numbers of cookies that they’re willing to put on a sheet pan. I landed on six and I’m quite comfortable here. As with anything else, practice is key to help you develop your special baking style!

Use the Convection Setting

I love a good turn up.

While I have no idea what that term actually means (what are we supposed to be “turning up”, anyway?), I use it to describe my oven settings for baking. A 350°F oven on the convection setting is my happy place for baking just about any cookie on earth.

Yes, my ovens are set higher than 350°F because my ovens have a very loose relationship with the truth (about temperature) and my cheapie oven thermometer is the ultimate truth teller. And yes, it is 6:13 in the morning. A late start to baking for sure.

Convection baking simply means that a fan blows heated air around the oven cavity during baking. For cookie purposes, this means that you can bake more cookies at one time and those cookies will bake more quickly and evenly. In theory, it also means that you don’t have to turn your cookie sheets and switch their oven racks during baking. I still do that though. #BecauseMyOvens

For new bakers, the thought of using a convection oven can be terrifying, because convection baking can lead to disastrous results if you’re not paying attention or if you’re unfamiliar with your specific oven. I understand that completely. It took me five years to get comfortable with the thought of convection baking. But Family, once I finally understood what convection can do?

If you are nervous about using the convection setting on your oven, no worries! Just reduce the temperature of your oven by 10-15°F and check a minute or two earlier than you normally would. You’ll develop an understanding for your specific oven’s convection settings very quickly with enough practice.

For cookies, I set my ovens to 350°F and put the oven racks on the fourth and sixth levels so that I can bake two pans of cookies at the same time. This photo is a rush job at the 5:00 minute mark, when I was turning the cookie sheets and switching them on their respective oven racks:

{In my Wicked Witch Voice}: They are melllllllting…

Not every baker will need to turn pans and switch racks. Once you know your oven, you’ll know whether the hot spots are going to dictate this step! For these cookies, I baked on the first rack for five minutes, turned both cookie sheets and switched the racks, and baked for four minutes more.

Results and Conclusion

If you hyperlinked to this section, you’re probably looking for proof that all of these tips can work for you. Here it is!

While these finished, cooled cookies take quite a pretty picture, they never look that way immediately out of the oven. Fresh out of the oven, they are very puffy up and look slightly underdone in the center.

They flatten out after about a minute out of the oven, and the color in the center deepens ever so slightly even after coming out of the oven.

That, Friends, is the mythical thing known as the baking “touch”, and that will come to you with practice! The secret is to let them sit for three more minutes on the hot cookie sheet before removing them to a cooling rack. This is totally counterintuitive to watching them bake to a perfect golden brown in the oven, I know. But if they get to that point in the oven, they’ll continue to cook on your countertop and get overdone.

These are my absolute favorite chocolate chip cookies that I developed for my custom bakery. But you can have amazing results with any cookie recipe if you use these techniques. I want to see you be successful with your family recipe or your favorite blogger’s recipe, and these tips universally apply to standard cookie recipes!

Those of you who are searching for cookie recipes can find unbelievable ones here (the world-famous Jacques Torres recipe) or here (on handletheheat.com). But try these techniques with as many recipes as your heart desires!

For those of you who’ve told me before that you can’t bake, I’m here to help you bust every barrier imaginable so that you can. So, today, if I’ve helped you bust any barriers to making decadent, delicious, chewy, perfect cookies, I am grateful that you’ve given me the opportunity to do so.

Keep being great and KEEP PRACTICING! I’m an email away if you have questions, or feel free to leave a comment below.

Until next time!

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How to Scale Recipes Like a Professional

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Hello BwB Family! Today we’re getting into a more intermediate baking technique. If you’ve read the food scale post and the post about how to measure ingredients, you’re more than ready!

In this post, we’re talking about scaling recipes. Scaling a recipe simply means that you are adjusting the recipe to make more or less than the recipe originally intended. Here, we will mainly discuss scaling recipes up to increase the yield, but there are some great tips for scaling recipes down as well!

Need six dozen cookies for a school bake sale and your chocolate chip cookie recipe only makes two dozen? You’ll scale your recipe up.

Want to make six cupcakes for you and your partner but your recipe yields eighteen? You’ll scale the recipe down.

With the right tools and a little patience, you’ll be scaling recipes like a pro in no time!

Let’s go!

In this Post:

Excited? Me too!

Why Scale a Recipe?

There are LOTS of real-world uses for this baking knowledge. Let’s talk about why I scale recipes in my kitchen.

First, for my custom bakery, I often have to scale recipes to make more than the original yield. For example, I have one red velvet cake recipe and I can make a one-tier cake or a four tier cake with that recipe. For those of you with aspirations of starting your own bakery in the future, the ability to scale recipes will be extremely useful for you.

Next, when I have large family gatherings (pre-COVID Y’all 😳), I have to scale cookie recipes to keep up with the demand and I STILL fail every time. They disappear right from the cooling rack. I still bake massive cookie quantities to keep my skills sharp for the holidays.

And who among us hasn’t received the request for Teacher Appreciation Day muffins the night before (or the morning of)? This skill is extremely useful in that situation.

It’s also useful for small batch baking! If you only need a dozen, there’s no need to waste ingredients making two dozen. For people working with mini stand mixers, it’s sometimes necessary to scale down recipes in order to ensure proper mixing. I’ll explain more in the section entitled “Check your Volume”, below.

Tools Needed to Scale a Recipe

There are really only four things that you need in order to scale a recipe:

1. A Good Recipe (preferably written in Metric units).

If a recipe as written is a winner, then it should be a winner when it’s scaled! Metric units are smaller than Imperial units, which means that recipe proportions are much more exact in Metric measurements. Since ingredient proportions are crucial (not an overstatement) in baking, it’s best to work with the most exact measurement units available when you’re changing ingredient amounts. That’s Metric!

2. A Digital Kitchen Scale.

Family, I beg of you. If you’ve said “I need to get a digital kitchen scale” since you’ve started reading this blog, and you haven’t done it yet, please do it now.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter.

A digital kitchen scale will instantly make you more confident and consistent in your baking. And frankly, a digital kitchen scale is the only way to be able to accurately and confidently scale recipes, since using volume measurements will almost always lead to inconsistent and unintended results. This is true for the original yield of any recipe, but it is even more true for a scaled recipe.

3. Correctly Sized Bowls, Cake Pans, Etc.

Take a good, hard look at that pretty stand mixer on the corner of your countertop. The mixing bowl on that thing has a limit to how much it can hold. One of the many ways that scaling can go wrong is if your mixing bowls cannot accommodate the amount of batter or dough that you are trying to to make. This is particularly important when you’re scaling recipes up (to make more than the original recipe amount). I’ve made this mistake plenty of times, and it’s extremely frustrating.

The point is that there is a limit to how much you can scale recipes up or down, and some of it depends on how large your equipment is. While that sounds slightly inappropriate, it is very true.

4. A Pencil and a Calculator.

Friends, this is a package deal. You see, in order to properly scale a recipe, you need to sit down before you take out ingredients and do the math. I mean, write down on paper exactly how much of each ingredient you need in your scaled recipe, and whether you need to make any adjustments to the procedures of the recipe because of the increased or decreased ingredient amounts.

This few minutes will get your mind right for the bake.

First Step: Math Class

We’re onto the nitty gritty of scaling recipes. Let’s talk about the steps. I’ll use a snickerdoodle cookie recipe that yields two dozen as my reference point here, since those are my favorites and I could frankly talk about those all day.

First, look at the original yield amount of the recipe (in our example, two dozen). Figure out whether the recipe, as written, will suit your needs. In other words, before you even go down this road, it’s best to figure out if you truly need to go down this road. Is there another snickerdoodle recipe that you like that will get you the number of cookies that you need? Or is this recipe your one true snickerdoodle love? If so, and if the recipe as written doesn’t meet your needs, then read on!

Second, figure out exactly how much more (or less) you need proportionally. If the original two dozen in this recipe is not sufficient, and if you know that you need six dozen, then you know that you need to increase the recipe by three times. If the original two dozen in this recipe is too many, and you only want to make eighteen cookies, then you know that you need to decrease the recipe by 25 percent. In the first example, that means that every ingredient in the recipe needs to be multiplied by three. In the second example, that means that every ingredient in the recipe needs to be multiplied by .75.

*Note: Don’t forget to check out the “General Rules for Scaling” section, below. At a certain point, scaling recipes is not advisable. I’ll tell you more about that in that section!*

The last step is to do the math! Literally! I mostly write my scaled recipe amounts right on the original recipe, but a clean sheet of paper works just as well for this task.

My Dad used to always get on my case about double checking my math homework. Same energy here. I catch many math mistakes this way when I’m scaling. I’d rather catch them beforehand than after my cake falls in the center.

Next: onto the mixing!

Check Your Volume!

This has absolutely nothing to do with the volume of your music. Turn UP and have a blast! I firmly believe that you have to be in the right, fun mindset in order for anything to turn out properly anyway.

When I say check your volume, I mean to check the volume of your mixing bowls and bakeware. I covered volume in detail in my post about how to measure ingredients, but to refresh: volume is the amount of space that something takes in a container.

So, in this context, volume means the amount of space that a batter or dough take up in a mixing bowl, or the amount of finished batter in your cake pans and muffin pans. This is particularly important for those of you who are scaling recipes up. That extra batter or dough has to go somewhere and you don’t want that somewhere to be all over your countertop or the bottom of your oven.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

This photo, while beautiful, is an excellent example of “right-sizing” a mixing bowl. At first glance, you’d think that the bowl was too larage for the job. But using this larger bowl gives the artist (yes, bakers are artists) an opportunity to properly mix the dough without risking overspill. This bowl will also give this dough the opporutnity to rise!

My Rules for Mixing Bowls

Mixing bowls come in tons of sizes. In my own kitchen, I have mostly 5-quart bowls for my stand mixer, but I have bowls from 2-cups to 8-quarts. If I’m using my stand mixer, my rule of thumb about scaling a recipe up is that I will scale up to the point where my bowl is 75% full with cake/cupcake/muffin batter, and no more than 50-60% full with cookie or bread dough. If I’m using a hand mixer, a wooden spoon, or a Danish dough hook, my very-unscientific-method is to use the bowl that I think is too ridiculously big for the task.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

The reasons for this are three-fold:

  • As a recipe comes together (particularly one that uses the creaming method), it increases in volume. Making sure that there’s extra empty space at the top of my bowl helps to contain ingredients and avoid splatter;
  • With too much batter or dough in a mixing bowl, you cannot properly mix the ingredients. So you’ll inevitably end up with unmixed butter and sugar in your cake batter or raw, unmixed flour in your bread or cookie dough. This is because every bowl and mixer has a limit for how much batter or dough it can handle. If you exceed that amount, then it becomes impossible to properly mix whatever you’re making; and
  • Too much batter or dough in your mixing bowl will tax your mixer motor. Whether that mixer is a stand mixer, a hand mixer, or your arm, there’s a limit to how much you can expect of the motor. I learned this lesson the very hard way with a KitchenAid stand mixer and cried for DAYS.

There are a few different ways to figure out how much volume your mixing bowl can handle. The first (and easiest) is to check the manual! For stand mixers, you’ll often find the actual volume maximums for a specific mixer model right there!

For example, for KitchenAid in particular, you’ll see how many dozens of cookies a stand mixer can handle, as well as the maximum number of cups/grams of flour each model can handle. This is a great resource because it comes directly from the manufacturer’s testing, and you can rely on those volume measurements when you’re trying to see if your scaled cookie dough will work in your mixer.

Another way to control the volume amount of a batter or dough is to set an absolute cutoff for how much flour you’re willing to put into a specifically-sized mixing bowl. For example, in my 5-quart stand mixer bowl, I’ve established that any recipe involving more than seven cups of all-purpose flour (896 grams) is a no-go. And, honestly, after multiple experiences of wearing flour, I tend not to go above that amount anyway for a single batch.

Photo Credit: Begin with Butter

The way to figure out your personal volume limits is to practice! The best bakers are those who can have fun with themselves.

Sometimes, messes will be made. For example, I learned after many tries that I cannot double my lemon pound cake recipe in my stand mixer, even though on paper I should easily be able to do so. Despite the fact that the doubled recipe only calls for six cups (768 grams) of flour, all of the other volume-boosting ingredients (creamed butter and sugar, eggs, baking soda) puff that batter up like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and I ALWAYS end up removing it from the stand mixer and finishing it by hand. I learned this by practicing!

My Rules for Bakeware

I’m having a vivid memory of oven overspill from overfilled cake pans. ::shudders:: THE HORROR, Y’ALL…

If you scale a recipe up, it’s very important that you have enough bakeware on hand to handle the additional load. This is particularly important for cake, cupcake and muffin batters. Because the leavening will cause the cake to rise in the oven, it’s still important that the pan only be filled about halfway. So, you need more pans!

Wilton has a super helpful guide for figuring out how many cups of batter can fit into a specific-sized pan. You can find it here! For the ambitious among us, then, the question becomes: do you have enough oven space for all this cake?

General Rules for Scaling

The temptation to scale recipes can be overwhelming. I get it. Why make a two tier cake when you can make four? Why make two dozen cookies when you can make nine? But in addition to the volume issues that could arise (as well as the burned-out mixer motors), here are some other rules of thumb that I’ve developed over the years:

  • It is almost always okay to double a baking recipe. I’ve done this with a number of recipes, with nearly 100% success. You can even sometimes triple a recipe (I usually only do this with cupcake and cookie recipes, but there is one pizza dough recipe that this works for as well–all other bread recipes are a NO). But I draw the line there. Though on paper it should work, quadrupling a recipe is usually fraught with leavening issues that will impact the taste and texture of your finished product. If you need a recipe that produces huge batches, and if your recipe doesn’t yield what you need, it’s best to find another recipe. If you find yourself making huge batches all the time, my all-time-favorite resource is The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry by Bo Friberg. The recipes in that book are scaled for bakery production. You will not encounter leavening issues there and you’ll find professional techniques that will only enhance your baking!
  • The same logic goes for reducing a baking recipe. It’s almost always safe to halve a recipe; you can even usually cut it by 2/3rds. However, once you get the the point where you’re trying to quarter a recipe, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the leavening won’t be enough. Time to find another small batch recipe!
  • I recommend scaling a recipe that you’re already familiar with. If you’ve made it successfully before you scale it, you’ll know exactly what you’re expecting in the finished recipe; if something goes wrong, you’ll be more likely to pinpoint the error. I know that this is not always possible though!
  • You don’t always need to scale a recipe! It is safer (though more time consuming) to bake in batches. So, instead of doubling a recipe, you can always make the recipe once, then clean your workspace and make it again!
  • Scaling a recipe might impact bake time of your baked goods. Check this Wilton chart to see general guidance on recommended bake times, especially if you change the size of your baking pans when you’re scaling.

Go forth and scale! Most importantly, have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously. Baking is a path to discovery, and there will be bumps along the way.

As a visual, I’m including a gallery of recipes I’ve scaled recently! Please enjoy and I’ll see you next time!

While you’re here, consider joining my email list so that you get fresh baking tips while they’re hot!

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