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!


Feeling encouraged? Looking for other encouraging articles to help you get started as a baker? Sign up for the email list!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

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!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

How to Scale Recipes Like a Professional

Home » Featured Recipes » Techniques » Page 3

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!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Sunday Session #8: All-In-one Chocolate Cake

Home » Featured Recipes » Techniques » Page 3

Friends.

Today, I’m going to admit to y’all that I am a complete and utter fool for my husband and children. If I might…

This past Saturday, my husband told me that our dear friend Bernie had a birthday coming up. I was prepping something totally different for my Sunday Session at the time.

Bernie’s birthday was on Monday.

So of course I wanted to bake a cake for Bernie’s birthday. On Monday.

“What kind of cake does he like?” I asked. I got raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders in response.

“What kind of cake would you like to take?” I tried, hoping for something more than raised eyebrows. I got the raised eyebrows and only the raised eyebrows.

“I’m just the delivery guy,” he finally responded.

I adore Bernie, so I decided to follow my spirit on this one. My spirit chose this double chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream, garnished with chocolate chips. I finished it 6:40 on Monday morning.

Want to see some techniques so that you can replicate them in your own kitchen? Let’s go!

Techniques Featured:

  • All-in-One Cake Technique
  • Crumb Coat Technique

In this Post:

The Setup

As usual, I began my baking session by gathering ingredients and prepping my mise en place. If you’re looking for immediate transformation from non-baker to baker, prep your mise en place first! You can read much more about it here, but the TL;DR version is that prepping your ingredients beforehand will make you a more confident, controlled baker in one shot.

Here’s my mise!

For this cake, I modified the technique in Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake Recipe by omitting my stand mixer. I also opted for natural cocoa powder when I made this cake. The original, as written, is an exceptional cake and I highly recommend it for beginning bakers.

While the recipe doesn’t specify whether to use natural cocoa powder or Dutched cocoa powder, I used natural cocoa powder since there is more baking soda than baking powder in the recipe. Want to know the difference between baking powder and baking soda, and why I chose natural cocoa powder for this recipe? Take a look here!

Onto technique!

The All-in-One Technique

“All-in-one” is exactly as it sounds. For this technique, you whisk the combined wet ingredients from one bowl into the combined dry ingredients in another bowl and mix until combined. This technique usually makes a more dense, moist (I know) cake than the creaming method. But, with chocolate cake, dense and rich is it.

For more about the best bowls for a home bakers kitchen, and why I chose glass bowls for this chocolate cake, take a peek here!

The original recipe requires a mixer to get everything combined. But Family, one of my favorite things to do on Sunday morning is mix batters and doughs by hand when possible. The sweet repetition of kneading dough or the simple satisfaction of folding fruit into a muffin batter while I’m listening to Sam Cooke just feels good to me. So, a good all-in-one cake on Sunday makes my heart happy, whether it’s for a friend or my family’s Sunday dinner.

For this recipe, I used my whisk to thoroughly combine the dry ingredients in my biggest glass bowl. Then, in a medium-sized bowl, I thoroughly combined the buttermilk, eggs (you need extra large, or 112 grams of eggs for this recipe), and oil with the same whisk. I then added the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stirred only until I couldn’t see any more streaks of dry ingredients.

Finally, I carefully added the hot coffee and stirred gently until it was just combined. You’ll know when it’s done because it will be a luscious, velvety brown.

Once the batter was done, I prepped two 8″ cake pans and divided the batter evenly, using my digital kitchen scale and a ladle. If you’d like to see how I prep my pans, take a look at this video at the :35 second mark.

The Bake

Once prepped, I popped the two cakes into into a 350° oven. I checked them at the 37-minute mark using an instant read thermometer, and let them bake for about three minutes more. Once they hit 210° in the center, they were ready!

After they were done, I let the cakes sit in their pans for about 30 minutes, and then inverted them onto cooling racks. For more on this technique, check out the “Three Tips for Amazing Cakes” video above at the 3:08 mark. In the meantime, here are the baked cakes, fresh from the oven.

The Crumb Coat

Beloveds, a crumb coat is a thin layer of buttercream that you add while building a cake. The purpose of a a crumb coat is two-fold:

  • Like the name suggests, a crumb coat catches any crumbs that might come loose when you’re frosting. If you want a finished frosting without bits of cake in it, then a crumb coat is key.
  • A crumb coat helps stabilize the structure of your cake (to a point…a thick three-tier still needs help). For normal cakes out of a normal home kitchen, kept at a normal room temperature, a crumb coat helps keep the cake level and prevents the cake layers from sliding around.

I wanted a clean buttercream on the cake, so I froze the cakes overnight and took them out first thing in the morning. When I’m not going to frost a cake right away, I wrap the cake layers in kitchen wrap, freezer paper, and freezer bags and then pop them into the freezer for anywhere from an hour to overnight.

These cakes stayed overnight because I WAS TIRED on Sunday evening and I didn’t want to commit an act of violence against them.

So, I woke up before the rooster on Monday and got right to it.

For a detailed explanation about how to crumb coat a cake, the “Three Tips for Amazing Cake” YouTube video at the 5:11 mark is GOLD. For the one-minute TL;DR version (with music!), take a look at this actual footage of me crumb coating this cake.

Sound on if you want to shimmy with me.

After crumb coating the cake, I popped it into the refrigerator to set for about fifteen minutes. With the buttercream on top, I didn’t worry about the cake drying out. The longer the crumb-coated cake stays in the fridge, the more stable the cake will be. You can leave a crumb-coated cake in the fridge overnight with absolutely no issues. But since I was short on time, the fifteen minute set up was all I could do.

It was enough though!

Finishing Touches

After letting the cake set, I did the final touches. For this cake, that meant another layer of buttercream and a dark chocolate ganache topping.

I honestly could have stopped here, but because this was for Bernie I wanted a finished cake, I pressed on and did some buttercream swirls on top, a border at the bottom, and garnished it with some chocolate chips.

So here’s the final product:

Happy birthday to one of the dearest men we know. Happy birthday, Bernie, and cheers to many more.

I hope you enjoyed this Sunday Session! See you next time and don’t forget to subscribe for the latest and greatest content!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Baking 101: How to Measure Ingredients

Home » Featured Recipes » Techniques » Page 3

Recently, I wrote a post about my favorite kitchen utensil: my digital food scale. If you missed it, you can check it out here!

Y’all. I do love a pretty KitchenAid, but it’s not my most favorite kitchen tool in the whole wide world.

She sure is pretty.

This post is a kind of companion to that post, to continue our walk down the path of baking enlightenment.

This post is for the “I can’t bake because it’s too hard” crowd. I see you and dedicate this one to you.

Want to become a baker in one baking session? Do you have one chance to execute a brand new recipe and need to get it right in order to avoid family ridicule? Then ditch the U.S. Customary Measurement System for measuring ingredients.

To break it down: to get better in one session, the best way to measure ingredients is to use the International System of Units.

Y’all right now:

The Metric System. The International System of Units is just a fancy, upgraded way of saying the Metric System.

I grew up saying the Metric System and that term is still widely used, so I’ll use it in this article. I cannot overstate how much and how quickly the Metric System will change your baking.

Why is this Important for Baking?

Be forewarned: this topic ignites my inner and outer supernerd, so feel free to skip to the section titled How to Measure Using the Metric System in Baking if you’re just here for the nuts and bolts of how to use metric measurement in baking. It’s all here for you!

It’s true that cooking and baking are very different kinds of way to prepare food. It’s also true that baking demands much more precision than cooking, and that that precision starts with how accurately you measure your ingredients. The margin for error is much slimmer for baking than it is with cooking.

If we start there, then we understand that the first best way to become successful with baking is to use tools that help measure ingredients most accurately.

In other words, the system with the smallest uniform measurement units gives the most accurate measurements for baking and leads to an immediate impact on your baking results. That, Friends, is the Metric system.

The demand for accurate measurement is the single biggest thing that frustrates new bakers. Especially people who are good cooks who are used to being able to spontaneously modify a recipe. (This was me.)

If you’re a new baker, you’ll do yourself a favor by letting go of that spontaneity for a bit. It’s humbling but I promise you’ll be able to resume tinkering once you know the basics.

In order to understand which measurement system you should use for baking, it’s useful to understand the differences between the two so that you can make a decision about which one is a more objectively accurate measurement system.

If you’re shook, I understand. When you grow up cooking and baking using U.S. Customary System (like I did), and you think that that system is absolute, it’s a bit of a shock to learn that you’ve been doing it the hard way (and unnecessarily so) your entire life.

Okay here we go.

The U.S. Customary System

The U.S. Customary System is an entire system of measurement that comes from –wait for it– Great Britain. After U.S. Independence, when the U.S. was getting on its feet, the leaders realized that they needed to formally adopt a system of weights and measures, mainly for manufacturing and trade.

Since the English colonists brought the British Imperial System when they originally arrived and colonized the country, that system was already established once the colonists gained their independence from Britain. So they kept it mostly the same and renamed it the “U.S. Customary System”.

That is to say, the U.S. Customary System is a holdover from a time of British rule. And, kicker, even the British left it behind, phasing it out in the mid 1960s.

The U.S. Customary System uses inches, feet, yards and miles to measure length. It uses ounces, pounds and tons to measure weight. And finally, the U.S. Customary System uses fluid ounces, cups, pints, quarts and gallons to measure volume.

For baking, the most common measurements from the U.S. Customary System are cups (volume) and ounces (weight).

What is the Metric System?

The Metric System is a standardized system of measurement that…most of the world uses.

Let me be clear: there are three whole countries on the entire planet that use some form of the British Imperial System.

The Metric System is a system of weights and measures that creates smaller units than the units created by the U.S. Customary System. While the U.S. Customary System uses ounces for weight measurement, the Metric System uses grams. There are about 28.4 grams in one ounce. So, using grams to weigh ingredients will give you a much more precise result.

In addition to using the gram for weight, the Metric System uses the meter for length, and the liter for volume.

Metric is so exact. So oddly comforting. Like a precise, meticulous hug.

Photo by William Warby on Unsplash.com

Most of the metric weight measurements you’ll see in modern recipes use grams. If you ever need a kilogram of an ingredient, you’re “doing the most” as my sister-in-law would say. This can happen easily if you’re scaling recipes to make more servings though!

Weight vs. Volume Baking

Bakers in the United States tend to use weight measurements (ounces, pounds) and volume measurements (cups) more than any other types of measurement. “Weight measurement” just means that you are actually using a digital kitchen scale to weigh the ingredient. “Volume measurement”, on the other hand, means the amount of space that an ingredient takes up in a container.

Volume = Container. Weight = Scale. Photo Credit: @beginwithbutter

When you fill a measuring cup to the top with flour and then put that flour into your recipe, you’re using volume measurement. You’re allowing the shape and size of the vessel (the measuring cup) to determine the amount of the ingredient in the recipe. In other words, you are living on the edge.

Using weight measurements (ounces, pounds, grams) is a more accurate way of measuring ingredients, regardless of whether you choose to use the U.S. Customary System or the Metric System. When you weigh ingredients, you have complete control over how much of an ingredient goes into a recipe. Because the amount of an ingredient and its proportion to other ingredients will always impact the final product, weighing ingredients gives you much more control over the outcome.

Volume measurements are fickle and can leave you twisting in the wind if you don’t know what you’re doing. Shoot, even if you do know what you’re doing, volume measurements can take you down. Whether you’re a non-baker or a veteran baker, there’s just no way to know how much of an ingredient you’re using unless you weigh it.

Even a measuring cup is often not uniform. When you’re making a recipe that calls three cups of flour and you’re scooping flour out of a container, those three “cups” of flour could each vary by 30 grams or more.

Hello frustration. Nice to see you again.

So, long story short: measuring by weight leads to accuracy and consistency. If you want to use the U.S. Customary System, pounds and ounces are your best bet. For the Metric System, grams is your new best friend.

Enough with the history and math lessons. Let’s get to the good stuff.

How to Measure Using the Metric System in Baking

Well, first you need a tool. A handy dandy digital food scale scale is the right one for the job.

For a quick tutorial on how to use a digital kitchen scale when measuring ingredients, check out the video, below. For specifics about what the tare button means, as well as a visual for how to use a kitchen scale in real life, fast forward to about 1:10.

Once you’ve unboxed your scale, you’ll next need a recipe that’s written in metric units. For beginners, this is absolutely the best place to start. I’m noticing a wonderful trend in baking blogs lately; many of them are adding metric measurements to older recipes, which is super helpful for people who are just starting to bake.

For intermediate and advanced bakers who are working with recipes written using the U.S. Customary System, it’s easy to convert the ingredients into metric measurement! Note: conversions can be tricky, so this takes some practice and can require some minor tweaks to the amounts of ingredients to get the recipe just right. It’s well worth it in the end, though, since you’ll end up with a very reliable recipe that you can reproduce over and over again. (Just remember to write down your tweaks!)

For those of you interested in converting recipes from U.S. Customary to Metric measurement, a great resource is King Arthur Baking’s Ingredient Weight Chart. Note: there is some debate in the baking world about how many grams are in a cup of flour (120-130 grams) and a cup of sugar (195-210 grams). If you’re just starting with conversions, I’d ignore that debate completely and follow the guide.

Basically, get comfy with doing conversions first; with practice, you’ll figure out where you land in the bigger discussion.

What to Measure with Metric

Family. We don’t have to measure everything on this digital kitchen scale. But…

BUT…

There are some non-negotiables. If I haven’t been clear so far, let me be clear right now: I always, ALWAYS weigh flour, butter, cocoa powder, and sugar (granulated and confectioner’s) on my digital kitchen scale. These ingredients can be absolute menaces to society and have the greatest ability to cause gremlin mischief in just about any recipe. It’s important to get these amounts correct.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Liquids are a different story, since technically liquids are measured according to volume and not weight (using milliliters). But I sometimes my digital kitchen scale to weigh liquid ingredients as well, especially if all of my liquid measuring cups are dirty.

Hey, baking is still a very messy business and sometimes I just don’t want to stop mid-stream and wash a liquid measuring cup. #RealTalk #BakersLife

Teaspoons and tablespoons are still commonly used worldwide for baking. Just remember to keep them level! Some recipes do measure things like baking powder and baking soda in grams, though. I would recommend following those instructions if the recipe developer wrote it that way.

Why Use Metric Measurement?

Great question. Here are five reasons why I made the switch to Metric weight measurement from U.S. Customary weight measurement:

  • It improves accuracy. When you use metric weight measurement, the units (grams) are the most exact in the measurement game. Grams are more exact than ounces because the increments for grams are smaller. So, the amount of an ingredient that you put into a recipe is literally exactly the amount that the recipe writer intended.
  • You’ll build consistency. When you use metric measurement consistently, you’ll start to see the same great results every time you bake. You’ll learn what to expect from a recipe and you’ll be able to execute it consistently every time. Which leads to my next point…
  • It improves confidence. When you use metric measurement consistently, you’ll gain confidence when you repeatedly start to see beautiful finished products. Like a clean shot in golf or a hot shooting hand in basketball, once you know you can do it, you want to do it over and over again. You can be confident that you’ll get the result that the recipe developer intended (unless you burn it up in the oven…but that doesn’t have anything to do with measuring).
  • It saves money. Left to our own devices, we tend to be very heavy-handed with ingredients. Metric takes the guesswork out of measuring and ensures that you only use what you need and no more. After a time, those extra grams of sugar really add up!
  • It is easy. You just need a kitchen scale and the will to bake good food.

I hope this post leaves you feeling knowledgeable and empowered and looking forward to your next baking project! Don’t forget to subscribe while you’re here so that you can get notified of new posts as soon as they go live!

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.