10 Tips for Successful Baking

This blog post is brought to you by Alice Medrich, instructor of the Craftsy class Decadent Chocolate Cakes.

Three lucky readers will win a FREE, autographed copy of her new book Seriously Bitter Sweet. To enter, just head here by Saturday, December 28, 2013. Then, comment on this blog post and let us know your No. 1 tip for baking. We’ll randomly select three winners on December 29.

Sweet Treats Displayed - 10 Tips for Successful Baking

Excerpted from Seriously Bitter Sweet by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2013. Photographs by Deborah Jones.

Everyone can have better results by remembering that baking and working with chocolate are a little more finicky and detail-oriented than regular cooking. Here are my 10 best tips to improve your game in the baker’s kitchen.

1. Read the introductory sections and appendixes of cookbooks.

These sections often include critical details about the author’s mindset, preferences, ingredients and techniques.

2. Use the type of flour the recipe specifies, and, whenever possible, use a scale for measuring it (and the cocoa, too!).

Weighing ensures that you really are using the same amounts as the person who created the recipe. If recipes do not give weights, find out (in an introductory section of the book, hopefully) how the author used her measuring cup: did she dip it into the flour, or spoon the flour lightly into it before leveling? This difference can profoundly affect baking results.

3. Locate equipment and measure all of your ingredients before you start to mix.

Doing so ensures that you won’t have to stop and search for supplies or ingredients while your batter deflates or your melted chocolate hardens.

Brownies Baked by Alice Medrich - on Craftsy

4. Oven rack position makes a difference.

Unless otherwise instructed, position the oven rack just below the center of the oven (also referred to as “in the lower third”) when baking one item, or in the upper and lower thirds when baking with two baking pans (convection ovens not withstanding). About halfway through the baking time, always rotate your pans from front to back, and, if applicable, from the upper to the lower rack.

5. Pan size makes a difference.

If a recipe calls for an 8-inch round pan, you might think it’s fine to use your 9-inch pan. But a 9-inch pan is actually 25 percent larger than an 8-inch one, so your cake will be much shorter and it will be done much sooner — and it will probably overdone by the time the timer beeps. If you don’t want to buy a larger pan, increase the recipe by 25 or 30 percent for a 9-inch pan, or by 50 percent for a 10-inch pan.

6. Pan material makes a difference.

A metal pan bakes differently than a glass or crockery pan. Use the type of pan called for. If you must use a glass pan when a metal one is called for, decrease the oven temperature by about 25 degrees and look for doneness a little early.

7. Learn to melt chocolate without burning or causing it to “seize.”

Here’s how: Chop the chocolate with a dry knife on a dry board and put it in a dry container; dark chocolate can be chopped coarsely, white or milk chocolate should be finely chopped. Melt dark chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water — it doesn’t matter if the bottom of the container touches the water or not, so long as the chocolate itself does not touch water.

Or, even better than a double boiler (trust me), put the chocolate in a stainless steel bowl and set it directly into a wider skillet of barely simmering water. In either case, stir frequently and remove the chocolate as soon as — or just before — it is completely melted.

What about melting white chocolate or milk chocolate? Do it the same way, but turn the heat off under the skillet or double boiler for 60 seconds before adding the container of chocolate to it.

Craftsy.com: Decadent Chocolate Cake on Pedestal

8. When white chocolate is called for, use the real thing rather than chocolate chips or “white coating.”

Real white chocolate is made of cocoa butter rather than palm kernel oil or other vegetable fats. Read the ingredient labels if you are unsure.

9. Stop using chocolate chips in recipes unless they are specifically called for.

Instead, use bar chocolate (or professional pieces) of the type called for in the recipe. If a recipe calls for a dark, bittersweet or semisweet chocolate with a specific cacao (cocoa) percentage, choose by the percentage rather than the name.

10. Try a recipe exactly as written the first time you make it.

Otherwise, when results are disappointing, you won’t know whether it was the recipe itself or the (seemingly unimportant) changes that you made.

Enter to win a FREE signed copy of Seriously Bitter Sweet!

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What’s your No. 1 tip for baking?

About Alice Medrich

Author, pastry chef and teacher, Alice Medrich is one of the country’s foremost experts on chocolate and chocolate desserts. Since 1976, Alice’s innovative ideas and insistence on quality ingredients have influenced a generation of confectioners, pastry chefs and home cooks. She has appeared on the Food Network’s Chef Du Jour and Baker’s Dozen, and Julia Child’s PBS series Baking with Julia. Her nine cookbooks have been honored by the Beard Foundation and the IACP. The latest is Seriously Bitter Sweet (Artisan Books, 2013). Alice lives in Berkeley, Calif., and keeps her fans updated at AliceMedrich.com.

37 Comments

Julie D

Read through the entire recipe once or twice before you get ready to attempt it. The age, type and temp of butter make a difference!

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Stephanie

Use parchment paper on your baking sheets for easy clean up!

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Elizabethdee

Use an oven thermometer to make sure you are baking at the correct temperature, and make sure you preheat the oven, too.

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Marla Ramaekers

If the recipe calls for “room temp” ingredients than plan your time to have it, and make the recipe as written the first time…you make like it as it is. It just shows respect to the “Author” of the recipe.

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Amy

Get an oven thermometer! Ovens can be temperamental and not always keep accurate temperatures. The only way to know that you’re baking at the exact temperature specified in the recipe is to keep a thermometer in your oven and recognize its patterns.

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Susan

Always set the timer for about a minute earlier than the suggested time, and take a peek in the oven. That way, you’ll prevent over-baking. It also helps, with an unfamiliar cookie recipe, for example, to bake one test cookie before doing an entire sheet, to see if the temperature of the timing needs adjusting.

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Julia Hyland

Always read the entire recipe through before starting it. You may find out that you need a batch of another recipe to complete your product, or find out that your recipe calls for a 3 hour chill right in the middle that you were not expecting.

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Laura Armato Tyler

All of these tips are great and I loved Alice Medrich’s craftsy class.. Excellent class with great information. I have her book “Chewey, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy”. Everything I have tried from there has been wonderful. I would love this new book! My tip: use the highest-quality ingredients that you can find and afford–especially the chocolate!

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Karen

Always start with fresh ingredients, clean pans and measure everything correctly.

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toni

I cannot find “real” white chocolate anywhere. Any tips are appreciated.

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Emigue

I agree with the #10 tip, although, I often need to substitute at least one ingredient. My family has a nut allergy, so I either leave out nuts or substitute for the nuts. The one recipe I do this with is a Cinnamon-Apple Cheesecake which calls for walnuts in its crust. I sub sesame seeds for the nuts and it comes out fine

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Corinne

The size of eggs and the temperature of ingredients make a difference.

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debbie jackson

Always use fresh ingredients. Spices and baking products have a short shelf life.

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Stacey

My number 1 baking tip is when melting chocolate use a crock pot! It melts consistently and doesn’t burn; use the low setting.

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DaLisha`

My No1 tip is to trust in yourself and don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

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Ann Marie

Measuring is critical. Always line cake pans for easy removal. Oven temp equally important. Read recipe first and assemble ingredients. Baking is a science.

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Julie

Great tips! I’m just a beginner and loving all these great tips!

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Anne Kennedy

Use a nice chocolate that you like to eat in a recipe…grrr not “cooking” chocolate. And certainly don’t scrimp on the quality of cocoa :)

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Sari McIntyre

Baking ~ have fun with it and enjoy the process! Try new recipes and new ingredients!

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Maria Poulimenos

Foil cupcake cases are better than your standard case, as they keep in moisture, leaving your cakes moist for longer

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Janine Moberg

Read twice, measure once and if you make a mistake don’t be afraid to throw it away and start over.

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michael serrano

Use the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can, it does make a difference, also make sure to double check your measurement and prep everything before starting your recipe and make sure the oven is pre-heated to the right temp ;)

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Charmaine Lovett

After reading the recipe thoroughly, I locate all equipment and measure all of your ingredients before you start to mix.

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Lee

Always read the recipe properly and make sure you add in all the ingredient that you nee. No one likes a cake that tastes like baking soda, or even an uncooked muffin. So always remember to add in all your ingredients and read the recipes properly.

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Lee

You guys make amazingly scrumious baking, it looks yummy and beautifully decorated. You guys are very creative.

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Carol

Read directions thoroughly, have all ingredients ready before starting, check project at the minimum baking time, and don’t stress about it, have fun! If it doesn’t turn out right don’t be afraid to try again! Also read the reviews before starting.

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Jessie Lewis

My Number One baking tip!: As a gluten-free baker, I’ve had to learn to modify many recipes. I’ve learned to weigh my flours. Weighing ingredients and understanding how to substitute ingredients, is far and away the most important tip I’d share. WEIGH your dry ingredients, if you weight nothing else.

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Nadia

read the recipe before hand and get all your supplies and ingredients ready before starting

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N. Fulks

Clean as you go! Always important to keep a clean work area. Down time between prep and baking is a great time to get dirty dishes out the way.

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Anna (sixtyfourcolorbox)

Always, always, always read the entire recipe before starting!

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Leezette James

Checking your oven temperature! It is my first lesson I learned the hard way. Other wise I am learning as I am going along from friends and those wonderful folks who share their experience with me. Thank you!

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Lee James

Thank you so very much for the cookbook. I am thrilled!

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