Five Technique Tips for Holiday Baking

Beloveds…IT’S GO TIME. Fall has officially entered the chat, which means one thing:

The. Holidays. Starting with Halloween and going through New Year’s Day, we will be in a consistent baking bonanza.

Cookies. Cakes. Breads. All the cinnamon rolls.

With so much available yumminess, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all. Fear not, Friends. Today, I have simple simple tips to help you be a calm, cool baking boss during the holidays.

Ready? Me too! Let’s Go.

In this Post:

Start Practicing Early

The Holidays are a baker’s Game 7, so I’m going to give it to you straight: the day of your holiday meal is not the time to “try” that Outrageous Coconut-Creme Meringue Cake from Fine Cooking for the first time.

Friends, even for experienced bakers, the day of the holiday isn’t the day to make that dessert. Because that baby…is a handful. A stunning centerpiece, for sure, but most definitely not something to make the same day that you’re serving it.

In general, it’s best to practice your holiday baking dishes at least once or twice before serving them on the big day. I typically start holiday baking practice early in the fall (around early October…but I’m weird) so that I can plan for each holiday, test my recipes, and tinker if necessary.

My recipe book. ❤️ Quick tip: I write all of my recipes in pencil.

Holiday baking will still be plenty stressful, but I can use the lessons learned from those practice runs in October to benefit the cookies, pastries, cakes and bread that I make in November, December and January.

Avoid Improvising During the Final Bake!

I know that I literally just said that I tinker with baking recipes. However, what you won’t catch me doing during the final bake is improvising. Friends, by the final bake, the time for playing around has come and gone. That’s when my recipe is locked into that blue recipe book, I’m double-checking ingredient amounts, and I’m baking to the letter of that tested recipe.

The end goal is to make something that tastes utterly delicious. And, by the time it’s time to bake the holiday goodies, I’ve tinkered and tested and come up with something you truly believe in. At that point, it’s just time to execute what you know and make that utterly delicious thing.

Don’t Overcommit Yourself

Once you get the reputation as the “best baker in the family”, you’ll start getting requests during the holidays for your Greatest Hits. Literally all of them. Literally for every holiday. I say this from experience, Friends: if you don’t plan your holiday menu, you will quickly get overwhelmed by your baking responsibilities.

That defies the spirit of the holidays and that is not fun.

To avoid overwhelm as I’m practicing recipes for the holidays, I typically match a recipe with a specific holiday. To stay more focused and efficient, during my October planning phase I might even create a table that looks something like this:

RecipeHolidayBake DateNotes
Carrot CakeChristmas12/23/21Needs refrigeration. Make sure there’s space!
Apple PieThanksgiving11/25/21Make dough and filling on 11/24/21 so I just have to build and bake the pie on Thanksgiving Day.
Easy peasy.

You don’t have to create this chart, but it can help you visualize how much work you’re committing yourself to for specific holidays. And, it can help you tell Aunt Janice that no, you won’t be making her favorite carrot cake for Thanksgiving, but she will see it on Christmas Day. She’ll have apple pie on Thanksgiving though!

Aunt Janice doesn’t want you to overextend yourself either.

Get Ingredients and Equipment Early

Certain ingredients become a whole nightmare to find around the holidays. Red food coloring? Vanilla? BUTTER? Asking your local grocer for these ingredients in the days before a major holiday can get you this response:

Please, Family, avoid real tears in the grocery store and stock your ingredients early. Even if you start stockpiling gathering your ingredients in September and October, most baking staples can be stored safely until you need them in November, December and January.

And, PSA, you can freeze butter to help it last longer. (Thanks Spruce Eats!)

This same philosophy works for new equipment. Fall is the time of year that many new bakers like to get started on their new baking journeys. It melts my heart to think of all of the people who are joining this wonderfully warm baking community this fall. It’s highly recommended to get all of the baking equipment that you need early in the fall, so that you’re not fighting with latecomers on. The only one that wins in that scenario is Amazon Prime.

Not sure what you need to get started? I’ve got your back! Click here for a FREE copy of my Buying Guide for Beginning Bakers!

Work in Your Wheelhouse

The holidays are the best time to showcase your Greatest Hits. While it can be really fun and extremely rewarding to present your family and friends with something spectacular that you improvised the day before the major event, it can also backfire spectacularly. It’s also super stressful to pull off something like that!

And aren’t the holidays stressful enough?

Most. Definitely. Stressful.

While it is true that with great risk can come great reward, great risk carries great risk too.

If you’ve spent the entire year perfecting layer cakes, it’s probably best to let the resident sourdough queen bring the bread to the holiday event. If everyone works in their gift, then everyone wins.

Conclusion

Holiday baking can be some of the most fun and rewarding baking that you do for the entire year. I hope these quick tips help you as you prepare for your holiday gatherings, big and small, this season!

See you next time!


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Knowing When to Stop A Technique

If you’ve read my recent post about whether you need a stand mixer to start baking (spoiler alert: you don’t), you know that I almost sent a mixer to an early end because I just let it run and run. And run. Then run some more.

Besides the fact that I ended up breaking the motor of my mixer, I realized, too late, that I wasn’t learning anything about baking by just throwing everything into my mixer and letting it run. I wasn’t learning when to stop. 🛑

This one.

Friends, knowing when to stop is an important part of learning any baking technique.

Without getting too “foo-foo” about baking, let me just say this: there is always a point where you need to stop doing a technique. While you can definitely learn about the breaking point for creaming butter and sugar by simply creaming your butter and sugar mixture until it’s a greasy mess, I’ve found that that’s a frustrating way to learn.

So today I’ve done it for you! 🤦🏾‍♀️

Today, we’ll talk about three different techniques, and I’ll give you a picture tutorial of where each one should stop.

Proofing Yeast

Proofing yeast simply means adding fresh or dry yeast to warm water (110°F-115°F), giving it a pinch of sugar, and letting it rise for 8-10 minutes. If you’ve done it correctly, your yeast should bubble and dome. Like this!

This is ready to use right now. You can see a foamy bubbles the top on the water, which means that fermentation has taken place in a big way. The bubbles are solid and uniform. This yeast is itching to get into the game.

This yeast is not ready yet. While the water is tan-colored (which means that the yeast is mixed in well), there is no fermentation activity whatsoever. No bubbles. No foam at the top. If your yeast looks like this at the 8-10 minute mark, it is probably dead:

If your yeast looks like this after 8-10 minutes, you don’t want to use it. If it won’t rise in warm sugar water, it’s not going to do a single solitary thing in your cinnamon roll dough.

And, finally, this yeast is over-proofed.

There’s literally…nothing between the 1 cup mark and the 1 1/4 cup mark. Nothing! You can tell that it’s over because the bubbles have started popping and combining, what’s left of the bubbles looks non-uniform, and it’s reverting back to a liquid state. There’s no saving this. Again, you’re going to want to start over.

But yay! At least your yeast isn’t dead!

Here’s the before and after that you’re looking for in this process:

This process usually takes anywhere from 8-10 minutes in 110°F-115°F water. This is pretty standard for home baking recipes. There are a number of ways to proof yeast, but, as a home baker, this is the most common way you’ll see in most of your online and cookbook recipes. Now that you know what not to do, you’re ready!

Creaming Butter and Sugar

It hurt my heart to do this, Family. It really did. But I love my BwB Family, so…I ruined perfectly good butter and sugar to show you what over-creamed butter and sugar look like.

First, though, let’s take a look at what properly creamed butter and sugar should look like.

So fluffy. So cloud-like. So beautiful. So ready for eggs and vanilla and all that good stuff. This process takes anywhere from 5-15 minutes, depending on your equipment (stand mixer, hand mixer, wooden spoon), the butterfat content of your butter, the ratio of sugar to fat, and how soft your fat might be.

Want more specifics about how to achieve this? Click here!

What makes this perfect, you ask? As you can see in the photo, the creamed butter and sugar is very fluffy in texture. There are small bursts of puffiness throughout and there’s a huge volume of it on top of the spoon. What you can’t tell from the picture is that the grains of sugar are actually a teeny bit dissolved from the mixing process, and so the mixture is a tad smoother than when we started. We love this. This is IT.

Family, we don’t love this because it’s not done:

This is the same butter and sugar from the pictures above! But it’s what that butter and sugar looked like when it was first combined together. As you can see from this picture, it’s a much darker yellow, very compacted in the bowl, and it’s visibly lacking the puffy, cloud-like texture of the finished product. It also looks crunchy because it is crunchy.

Friends, this is where the butter and sugar was slightly overbeaten but still usable:

In this picture, you can see that, while the mixture still has some fluffiness, it’s not 360° of fluffiness like it was before. This is still usable, but it’s not optimal.

And here, Family, is where the butter got ruined:

You can see from this picture that the butter and sugar mixture is much smoother. That is because it’s been over-beaten and the air pockets that you worked to form have started to collapse. What you don’t see in this picture is how this mixture slid on the spoon because it had become much more greasy. And that, Friends, is what happens when butter and sugar are over-beaten. The mixture becomes a greasy, flat mess. It’s fine for spreading on toast or bagels, but ill-advised for cakes.

Here’s the before and after:

This is perfection.

Cake and Muffin Batters

I’m not exaggerating when I say that finishing batters and cookie doughs with a silicone spatula is poetic to me. There’s something about doing those last few turns with your hands that is just…::sigh::

Stopping your mixer when there’s just a touch of unmixed flour, and then finishing your batter or dough with your hands is a great way to avoid over-mixing. But let me start at the beginning.

For batters and doughs that use the creaming method, you can mix much more aggressively before you add flour. That would typically include your butter and sugar, your eggs, and your extracts. Once that flour (or the “flour mixture”, as many recipes call it) is added to the batter, you’re on borrowed time with that mixer.

And that, Dear Friend, is why I will turn off my mixer and gently fold a batter once it reaches this point:

On the left, you’ll see a lemon pound cake batter. On the right, a chocolate chip cookie dough. You’ll also see all kinds of lumps in the cake batter and a noticeable lack of chocolate chips in the cookie dough. This is typically the point where I like to stop mixing with a mixer, whether it’s a stand mixer or a hand mixer.

I use one of these beauties to finish.

With my silicone spatula, I can finish the batter or dough without the threat of over-mixing. If I’m working with a very stiff dough, and the last couple of turns involve an addition (like fruit or chocolate chips), I might allow myself 3-4 turns with my mixer and then I continue folding in my additions in as gently as possible with my spatula. I try to avoid that, though.

Here are the finished better and dough once I’ve run the spatula through them:

You can see with the chocolate chip cookie dough that the chocolate chips got mixed into the cookie dough evenly, and that I was able to incorporate all of the raw flour with the spatula. Working with a spatula to finish ensures that I don’t accidentally go overboard with mixing, which ensures that the flour is incorporated without being overdone.

Here are the before and afters!

Lemon pound cake:

Chocolate Chip Cookies:

For more on why over-mixing your batter or dough is a bad thing, take a look at this post!

Conclusion

This was fun! Although it was totally against my better judgment to ruin ingredients, I thought the visuals would be helpful for those of you who are asking yourself if you’ve gone too far with a technique.

Until next time! And feel free to subscribe so that you don’t miss any of the exciting updates for this fall!


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UPDATED! How to Cream Butter and Sugar (With New Video!)

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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Scene: {Daybreak} Your kitchen. You’re preparing to bake.

Ready to bake!

You’ve cleaned off that old KitchenAid stand mixer that you got as a gift, or you’ve unboxed that brand new KitchenAid hand mixer that the Amazon delivery person left just this morning. Because you’re You, you even turned on your equipment on to make sure that it works before you get started.

You’ve checked the recipe *generally* to make sure that you have everything that you need.

You’ve gathered your ingredients and prepared your mise en place. Your oven is set, your pans are prepped, and you’re ready to be a TOTAL KITCHEN BOSS.

You’re feeling good. You’re ready to start.

“Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.”

**Record scratch. Freeze frame.**

Beloved, if you have no idea what that means, you’re in the right place today. In this post, we are getting to the nitty gritty of what it truly means to cream butter and sugar using both a stand mixer and a hand mixer. This term appears constantly in baking recipes, and it’s confusing for so many people.

Creaming butter and sugar is also critical to the success of a recipe, so it’s super important that you get on the good foot with this technique. Otherwise, you can set yourself up to fail before you even start.

Let’s go!

In this Post:

TL;DR: I’m Just Here for the Videos

For those of you who are visual learners (or if you’re just in the mood to dance), I cover this subject very briefly in these video shorts; one is dedicated to the stand mixer, and the other–you guessed it–is dedicated to the hand mixer. Feel free to take a look and then come back here to fill in your learning!

Here’s the video for how to cream butter with a stand mixer:

And here’s a video for how to cream butter and sugar with a hand mixer:

They’re both really good, short videos to show you how to properly cream butter and sugar in each machine. For even more specifics, Family, keep reading!

What Does it Mean to Cream Butter and Sugar and Why is it Necessary?

Creaming is simply the act of combining granulated sugar and fat (usually butter, but sometimes cream cheese, shortening, or a mixture of fats) until the mixture is lighter in color, increases in volume, and the granulated sugar crystals are not as grainy. A finished creamed butter should look cloud-like and should feel silky, luscious, and ever so slightly grainy.

As I just mentioned, there are several different types of fat that you can use for creaming. In this post, I’ll discuss butter, but this creaming method can be used interchangeably for each type of fat.

This process is hugely important for baking recipes. You see, when you cream butter and sugar together, you’re manually whipping air into your baked goods. This air works with your leavening to create rise!

If your cakes have a tendency not to rise, dear reader, read on! Proper creaming changes everything and it’s the first recommendation that I make when someone comes to me with this specific problem.

Ingredient Rules

First, and this can’t be overstated: PLEASE DON’T USE COLD FAT. In order for maximum creaming effectiveness, the butter needs to be truly soft. Cold butter won’t combine well with granulated sugar, the sugar won’t blend at all, you will tax your mixer, and you will never arrive at the Texture Town destination that you seek.

You should be able to make an indention in your butter with the side a spatula or your finger.

To soften butter, the best method is to put it on your countertop…and leave it there. How long you leave it there depends on a couple of factors: 1) the room temperature (my kitchen is usually between 72°F and 75°F), 2) the butterfat content of your butter (I typically use Kerrygold or Finlandia); and 3) the size of the butter that you’re working with (I always cube my butter before letting it sit on the countertop to help it soften even faster).

Room temp matters for obvious reasons; the higher the temperature of your kitchen, the faster the melt and the quicker you can get to the fun part. The butterfat content matters because higher butterfat butters will melt faster than lower-butterfat butters. For more on this, check out my post on butter! The size of the butter plays into this as well; the smaller the chunks, the faster it starts to melt.

Under the conditions that I described above, I’m usually ready to get baking in about an hour (the cubing really moves things along). For low butterfat butters, unless your kitchen is very warm, I would not recommend moving onto the next phase for at least 90 minutes or more.

In order to get baking, you should be able to press a butter knife or the tip of your finger into the butter and make a good indention.

While it might be tempting to speed up this process in a microwave, it’s highly ill-advised because the butter will likely soften unevenly, with some spots that are properly softened and other spots completely melted.

The next thing to consider about your ingredients is that you cannot use confectioner’s sugar for this task. You need the solid sugar granules to create air pockets in the butter and to increase the volume of your butter. Confectioner’s sugar, with the consistency of powder, cannot do this. It’s a good start for buttercream though!

Finally, while some recipes will tell you to “mix on high speed”, that’s truly unnecessary. In a KitchenAid stand mixer with properly prepped ingredients, you’ll have a great creamed butter in 3-5 minutes on medium speed (somewhere between speeds 4 and 5). While a hand mixer will take a few minutes longer, you still don’t need to use the highest speed setting. Don’t tax your mixers for butter and sugar! Save that for the double pizza dough recipes!

Or don’t. You really shouldn’t tax your mixers, or you could end up in a sad place, like I did here.

Tools Needed

There are three different methods for creaming butter, and they each require different tools:

  • The Stand Mixer Method: You’ll need a stand mixer, the mixing bowl for that mixer (they lock into place so it’s important to have the bowl that’s meant for that specific mixer), your ingredients, and a rubber spatula.
  • The Hand Mixer Method: You’ll need a hand mixer, a mixing bowl, your ingredients, and a rubber spatula.
  • Mixing by Hand: You’ll need a wooden spoon, a fork, a mixing bowl, your ingredients, and, you guessed it, a rubber spatula.

In this specific post, we’ll cover creaming techniques that are done with stand and hand mixers. The method of creaming butter and sugar by hand is super nostalgic and and fun and I’ll cover it another time!

Technique for Creaming Butter

Once your butter is nice and soft, you’re ready to go. Start by adding just the butter to your mixing bowl and mix on low/medium speed (stand mixer: between speeds 2-3; hand mixer: between speeds 1-2) for about two minutes. I find that this helps the butter get to a consistent temperature and texture throughout, and makes for a better finished product.

Next, with your mixer still on low speed, slowly add the sugar. At this stage, the mixture will have the look and feel of wet sand. The hand mixer video will show you what this looks like with that tool!

Great. Now I want to go to the beach.

Once the sugar is completely added, you can gradually increase your speed until you reach a medium speed (stand mixer: between speeds 4-5; hand mixer: between speeds 3-4). At about the 2 minute mark, use your silicone spatula to get all in that bowl and scrape the whole thing. I mean it! Everything! Scrape the mixture off the rim, sides and bottom of the bowl and send it all back to the action. This is a messy business and ingredients are expensive! 😊

At this point, the mixture will be a tiny bit smoother and a tiny bit lighter in color. You’re not done yet.

Turn the mixer back on medium speed and let it go for another 1-2 minutes. If you watch the butter and sugar at this stage, you can actually see it start to loosen, grow in volume, and get noticeably lighter in color.

Yes. I have done this.

You’ll notice that it looks like there’s much more of it in the bowl; this isn’t true! You’re still working with the same amount, but this is aeration happening before your very eyes. And it’s amazingly cool.

Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Time to check your work with your rubber spatula. With a stand mixer, I’m usually done with creaming by the end of the second mix. Typically, with my hand mixer, it needs one more good mix before it’s ready to move onto the next step.

The Finished Product!

Your finished, creamed butter should be roughly two shades lighter than the butter that you started with, and it should be at least 2-3 times the volume of what you started with. Also, texture-wise, you’ll notice that the grains of sugar aren’t as hard and pronounced as they once were. That’s because they’ve started to dissolve during this process!

The completed, creamed butter should look kind of like this:

If you’re here, great! Time to give your mixing bowl one last good scrape and move on the “incorporating your eggs” part of the festivities. If not, don’t worry. Mix on low/medium speed for one-minute intervals until you’re there. You don’t want to go too long because you could actually end up over-creaming your butter and NOBODY WANTS THAT.

Just FYI: over-creamed butter is white, grainy, and greasy. This makes a good spread for toast or bagels, but it won’t do its job in your baked goods.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoy this tutorial and that it’s helpful for you on your baking journey. Remember, you’ll get better with practice so keep on baking! You’ll develop a feel for all of it, including creaming butter and sugar.

Got any lingering questions? Leave them in the comments section below!

Until next time. — Shani ❤️

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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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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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