BAKING BASICS

Missy’s Thoughts on:

The Perfect Bake

#1 On the “perfect” bake:  Following all the directions in a recipe is important. However, NOTHING can take the place of learning to pull a cookie, dessert, bread out of the oven at the right moment. That is your responsibility and is a skill you will learn, by sight and by nose, as you practice. Always use a timer and trust your instinct.

#2 Know your oven. Every oven is different. Get a simple oven thermometer, hang it in the middle of your baking rack, and check the temperature. If it matches what your oven dial says, great! If not, you will need to adjust your dial until the oven is the correct temperature. That difference will have a huge impact on how long your product will take to bake and how it will turn out. 

#3 If the bottom burns and the top is not baked, call your appliance repairman or look up how to fix your oven issue.

Weighing Ingredients

The Case for Weighing Ingredients for Baked Goods:

The recipes will taste and look better because you have followed the formula correctly.

You will SAVE MONEY on ingredients in the long run. You may find you have been using too much flour or sugar with your heavy-handed measuring. Not to mention the water used to clean all the cups for every recipe.

It SAVES TIME! You don’t have to dirty all those cups anymore or wash them. Just use one bowl to weigh all of your ingredients. Sticky or liquid ingredients like shortening and peanut butter can be measured on a piece of wax paper or a small plate.

You will notice we don’t weigh the salt, baking soda, etc., in these recipes. While we value accuracy, we also believe in saving time. We have found that it is just as easy to wash a small measuring spoon as it is to weigh out such a small quantity unless you are making a very large batch of dough in an industrial-sized mixer, but that’s a whole different discussion.

Baking Ingredients

Butter

We use salted butter. It is easier to keep one type of butter around for baking, cooking, and the plethora of toast eaten in this house. You may use salted or unsalted butter, but be sure to add ¼ tsp of salt per 4 oz/half cup/one stick of unsalted butter when you use our recipes. An undersalted baked good will lack a full flavor profile.

Shortening and Margarine

Butter, shortening, and margarine all have a place in the baking world. Each has a different composition and gives you a different result in the final product. Our recipes are tried and true when you use the type of fat specified. We do not recommend making substitutions.

Butter is made by churning cream into a solid and imparts a great flavor to baked goods. It is usually about 80% fat. 

Shortening is made from vegetable oil and is 100% fat. While it adds a lovely texture to baked goods, it fails to add the flavor butter gives. We use Crisco shortening.

Margarine is a butter substitute and contains less fat and more water than butter or shortening. We recommend using stick margarine, as tub margarine often contains more water to maintain a spreadable texture. We use Blue Bonnet stick margarine.

 

Vanilla

We use imitation vanilla for most desserts. It adds a nice flavor that complements the butter and chocolate notes, without competing. Real vanilla works wonderfully for things like butter cookies and shortbreads where you want the vanilla to be the focus. We also like Watkins Baking Vanilla. It is a combination of real vanilla and extract and adds a nice flavor without overtaking the other ingredients.

 

Cocoa & Chocolate

Cocoa – We use Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened cocoa for most recipes. Hershey Special Dark cocoa is our favorite option for Dutch-processed cocoa. Both are easily found in most grocery stores. You may use any specialty cocoa powder you like, so long as it is 100% cacao. The kind used for making hot cocoa beverages will not work for baking. 

 

Chocolate – 

Chocolate chips have a different formulation than regular chocolate that helps them hold their shape during baking. We primarily use Nestlé semi-sweet and Ghirardelli milk and dark chocolate chips. You may use any type of chocolate chips, bars, or other forms in your baked goods and have excellent results, but your end product may differ slightly from ours.

 

For cookies and treats that require dipping in chocolate, you will need to temper the chocolate. This gives it a shine and ensures it sets up hard as it cools. There are ways to do this manually, or you can buy a countertop chocolate tempering machine. Our favorite dipping chocolates are Wilbur Bronze Medal (dark) and Wilbur Cashmere (milk). We also use Hershey’s milk and dark chocolate. Alternatively, you can purchase pre-tempered craft chocolate. The flavor won’t be as good, but it will save you some time and effort. 

 

Flour

We use all-purpose flour for the majority of our dessert recipes and red or white winter wheat for wheat bread. We use Member’s Mark, King Arthur, or Gold Medal brands. If you find that a recipe is not working and you have followed the directions, you may want to try a different brand of flour. All-purpose flour can have 10-12% protein, depending on the brand, and that variation can have an effect on the final product.

Cookie Beauty Tips

Want Bakery Style Looks? 

Use parchment paper on an aluminum cookie sheet.

Use a cookie dough scoop. (more info located in the equipment/tools section)

Reserve some of your mix-ins and top your cookies with a few just before you put them into the oven. It will look like your cookies are bursting with chocolate chips, etc.

Decorating Cakes

We like to keep our decorations simple so the focus remains on the flavor. Missy learned most of her cake decorating skills at one 30 minute class in 1992 at a church event. She has passed her knowledge on to us and has continued to refine her skills through lots of practice. Here are some of her favorite cake decorating tips:

Fondant: Marshmallow fondant is easy, pliable, and actually tastes good. 

Colors: Liquid food coloring droppers work well for simple colors like pinks, oranges, and greens. They make less mess than gel colors and take less time. Gel dyes are great for specific colors and when you need to minimize the amount of liquid going into a recipe (like French macarons).

Piping tips: Wilton brand 1M and 2D are our go-to piping tips. Both are star tips that make desserts look tantalizing and beautiful, without spending hours decorating.

Toppings: Chocolate shavings on top of a dessert bring an extra sense of elegance. Fresh fruit brings a natural, colorful look to any dessert. Colored sugar or pearlized balls work well as sprinkles. When using rainbow sprinkles, note that the color will begin to bleed into the frosting within 12 hours. 

Storing Baked Goods

Place cookies and treats in a plastic zipper bag or container once they are cooled to maintain moisture. Pies can be left out at room temperature with a tea towel over top to keep the crust nice and crisp.

High Altitude

King Arthur Flour is a great resource for adjustments needed when baking at higher altitudes. Check out their page at the link below:

https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/resources/high-altitude-baking


Hi, I’m Missy. Welcome to Taste Before Beauty. For 28 years I’ve been developing recipes that taste delicious, before they look delicious.

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