These baking tips for beginners are all the tips I wish I knew when I started out! Baking is meant to be fun and relaxing. But if you spend time and money only to end up with a failed dessert, you might end up feeling frustrated instead of happy! I’ve compiled here all the baking tips and tricks I could think of, to ensure baking is exactly what it should be: satisfying and delicious!
Tip #1: Get To Know Your Oven
Most ovens have hot spots. If you’ve already used your oven a few times, you might have noticed that the cookies (or other baked goods) on one side of the baking sheet brown faster. If not, you can test this out by placing slices of bread on a baking sheet. Bake them, then write down if they browned evenly or if there is a notable difference.
The slices of bread towards the front side of my oven browned more, especially those close to the edges (pictured below). The middle slice of bread towards the back of the oven browned the least.
Knowing where the hot spots are will help you deal with them. Several recipes call for rotating the baking sheet during baking, for more even browning.
Ovens take a while to preheat, generally between 10-15 minutes. Preheating the oven is actually a very important step to ensure your baked goods are fully cooked, rise properly and have the desired texture and flavor.
Some ovens aren’t calibrated properly. This means that when you set the dial to 180°C (356°F) for example, the actual oven temperature might be 160°C (320°F). You’ll end up with underbaked goods with a strange texture even though you followed the recipe to the letter! The best way to find out if this is happening with your oven is to use an oven thermometer.
Some recipes won’t mention which oven shelf to use. This can be very confusing for baking beginners. But if it’s not specified, it’s safe to assume you should bake on the middle shelf.
When baking, don’t crowd the oven! You should leave enough space between baked goods for the air to circulate evenly.
And as tempting as it is when you’ve just started baking, you should resist the urge to open the oven door frequently! The temperature will drop quite a lot! I was skeptical until I started using an oven thermometer so I’d really recommend using one for proof! And if you absolutely must open the oven door (to rotate the pans for example), try to do it quickly. Don’t keep the oven door open.
If you are using a convection oven instead of a conventional oven, you’ll probably need to lower the temperature by about 15°C/25°F and reduce the baking time a little.
Set Your Timer Early: All ovens are different. It’s best to always check your baked goods a few minutes before the recommended time.
Tip #2: Read The Recipe Before Starting
Even if you’ve baked similar recipes in the past, it’s always best to read all the steps before starting. You don’t want to be caught off-guard during baking!
If you’re a new baker, I would recommend picking recipes with step-by-step pictures (such as the recipes on this blog, wink wink). If you know what each step is supposed to look like, you’ll be much more likely to succeed. Watching videos can also be very helpful when learning baking techniques, such as piping.
Tip #3: Follow The Recipe
It’s not enough to simply read the recipe ahead of time. You should actually follow it as well! When a recipe calls for chilling the dough for example, it serves a purpose. Don’t skip it!
Tip #4: No Substitutions On The First Attempt
Try making a recipe as it is written before attempting to change something. It’s best to know what the texture and flavor are supposed to be like before tweaking the recipe in any way. If for some reason you absolutely must make a substitution on the first attempt, keep in mind that you might not get the desired result.
Tip #5: Prepare Your Ingredients And Baking Tools
Take out all the necessary ingredients and tools before starting, to make sure you have everything. There is nothing more frustrating than to realize halfway through the recipe that you are missing a key ingredient!
Lining them up on the counter will also remind you to actually use them! The number of times I almost forgot to add flour into the brownie batter! Once the chocolate is in the batter, I forget everything else!
Tip #6: Weigh Your Ingredients
I strongly recommend using a kitchen scale when baking. Weighing the ingredients will give you much more consistent results.
When weighing one cup of flour for example, the results will vary quite a bit between bakers. Adding more flour than the recipe calls for will lead to dry and doughy baked goods.
Tip #7: Use Room Temperature Ingredients (unless otherwise stated in the recipe)
When a recipe calls for room temperature ingredients, be sure to remove them from the fridge ahead of time. If you use cold ingredients, you’ll have trouble combining all the ingredients and the batter (for example) will be more likely to curdle.
And when using hot ingredients, such as melted butter and chocolate, cool them down slightly at room temperature before adding them to the batter. If you add hot ingredients to a batter with eggs for example, you might end up with scrambled eggs instead of the delicious cake you were dreaming of!
Tip #8: Choose The Right Ingredients
New bakers might be unaware of the fact that we can’t just randomly pick a pack of flour from the store. There are different types of flours that have different uses. Flour that is meant for bread making for example would make cakes tough (as it has a higher protein content).
The same applies to other ingredients, such as sugar. White sugar, for example, will make cookies crisper. Whilst brown sugar, which has molasses, will make them softer and chewier. Recipes will usually specify what type of flour or sugar to use.
If they don’t, you can either assume you should use all-purpose flour and white granulated sugar. Or use another recipe which is more detailed and better geared for beginners.
The quality of the ingredients you use will impact the quality of your baked goods. When making chocolate pudding for example, the chocolate is the star ingredient. If you don’t like the chocolate (or cocoa powder) you chose, you probably won’t like the pudding!
Tip #9: Test Your Leaveners
Leavening agents (baking powder and baking soda) are used to help baked goods rise. But they can easily lose their effectiveness if not stored properly. It’s best to test them once in a while, or when in doubt.
To test baking soda, you can try pouring a teaspoon of vinegar over a little bit of baking soda (about 1/8 teaspoon) in a cup. If it bubbles immediately, it’s good to use. If nothing happens, it has probably lost its effectiveness and should be replaced.
To test baking powder, pour about 2 tablespoons of hot water (30 g/1 oz.) over 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder. If it doesn’t bubble up, it might be time to replace it. I found it best to buy small sachets of baking powder. You’ll go through open sachets much faster when they are small so the baking powder is less likely to lose its potency.
Tip #10: Don’t Overmix
When making baked goods where a tender crumb is desirable, such as cookies or cakes, it’s important not to overmix. Overmixing will yield tough products.
Why? When you add flour to the wet batter, gluten will start to form. The more you mix the batter, the more gluten will be formed. Gluten makes baked goods chewy and elastic which is desirable when making bread for example.
Tip #11: Don’t Forget To Grease Your Pan
Your cake rose beautifully in the oven and smells amazing! But when it’s time to invert it onto a plate, it won’t budge! To prevent this scenario, make sure you grease your pan, even if it’s non-stick. And to give yourself the best chance, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
How to grease a cake pan
There are several ways to grease the pan:
- Cut a small piece of cold butter and rub it all over the pan. Tip: Wipe your hands with a paper towel before using water to wash your hands. If you use water straight away, you’ll just spread the fat all over your hands.
- Melt some butter and use a pastry brush to coat the pan. If you don’t like getting your hands dirty, this method is probably more suitable for you.
- Use a non-stick cooking spray. I have to admit, I’m not crazy about these sprays although I love how convenient they are. They sometimes have a strange smell which ruins the smell of baked goods.
How to flour a cake pan
Some recipes will also call for flouring the cake pan after you’ve greased it. To do this, you simply pour a small amount of flour over your greased cake pan. Then gently tilt it around to coat the bottom and sides of the pan with flour. Once you are done, you can invert the pan over the sink and gently tap it, to get rid of the excess flour.
You can sometimes use cocoa powder instead of flour to coat the pan. This applies when making chocolate cake for example, where you wouldn’t want white streaks from the flour on the surface of your cake.
Tip #12: Use The Right Pan
Use the pan size the recipe calls for. When making cakes for example, if you use a larger pan, your cake will be thinner and will bake faster. If using a smaller pan, your cake will be taller and will need longer to bake.
The type of pan used will also affect the baking time. Different materials conduct heat differently. Glass and ceramic heat up slowly making them a good choice when baking custards such as crème brûlée.
Silicone doesn’t conduct heat well. Cakes baked in silicone molds won’t brown as much and might not have a crispy edge.
If you are using aluminum pans, heat transfer is much better (than with glass or silicone) which results in a shorter cooking time.
The color of the pan also matters: desserts baked in darker pans will bake faster and brown more than those baked in light colored pans.
Tip #13: Different Sizes Bake Differently
When baking individual desserts, it’s best to stick to one size. Small cookies will bake faster than larger cookies for example. If they’re all on the same baking sheet, you’ll have to open the oven to remove the smaller ones which is an unnecessary headache.
Try to portion your desserts equally. You can use an ice cream scoop to measure cookies for example or weigh the dough balls.
Tip #14: Start With An Empty Sink And Dishwasher
It’s so easy to get carried away whilst baking! Before you know it, you find yourself under a pile of dirty bowls! You roam around the kitchen trying to find some empty space to place your cake pan!
But if you start with a clean kitchen, you’ll find it a breeze to wash the dirty dishes while your wonderful dessert is in the oven!
Tip #15: Keep A Notebook With You
Sorry, nerd alert! Having a notebook handy whilst baking will help you keep track of any issues you might encounter. You can also write down detailed recipe thoughts, baking time needed for your oven etc.
I also find it really helpful to take pictures of my baked goods before and after baking. When you are starting out, being able to analyze your notes and pictures will help you learn so much faster.
Tip #16: Pick The Right Recipe
If you need a day long baking project to shake you out of your boredom, you can have some fun with elaborate recipes. But if you tend to get impatient when baking, stick with quick recipes. Or try to find ones which can be done over several days. Baking should be fun. It’s important to find the recipes that match your mood so you can enjoy the process.
Want quick, easy recipes? Then you’ll love these:
- Lazy cake
- No chill chocolate crinkle cookies
- Triple chocolate chip cookies (pictured above)
- Light and fluffy pancakes
Looking for a baking project? How about:
- Chocolate choux with salted caramel filling
- Chocolate royal cake
- Lemon meringue tart
- Fraisier with mousseline cream
Tip #17: Location Matters
It might sound strange but your location and the weather will actually affect your baked goods. If the weather is very humid for example, you’ll need to bake your desserts for slightly longer to get rid of excess moisture. Dry weather on the other hand might require shorter baking times or slightly more liquid in the recipe. You’ll also need to make some adjustments to recipes if living at a high altitude.
Tip #18: Ask Questions
If something you made doesn’t turn out right, don’t despair! Ask questions! You can leave a comment below or send me an email and I’ll do my best to help you. Baking is a learning process and you’ll feel more confident in the kitchen the more you bake.
Hope you found these tips useful! I’m sure you’ll be baking the most delicious desserts in no time!