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Tips & Tricks

As many bakers know, the second or third time you make a pastry it often tastes better since you’ve learned tips and tricks for that specific recipe. I have compiled various tips that can help with baking in general or with specific types of recipes.

During a class at Sur la Table Los Gatos titled “4 Hour Fearless Baking Workshop,” Chef Nikki B. Frias shared many helpful tips for baking, ranging from the importance of the temperature for ingredients, the setting of the oven, the technique for creaming, the varieties of chocolate and the details of fruit.

Temperature

The temperature of eggs and butter is almost always noted in the recipe, either at room temperature or cold. Nikki said that eggs and butter should be taken out of the refrigerator two hours before baking. A lot of times people forget to take them out beforehand and think that sticking the butter in the microwave will do the same thing. However as I learned, microwaving butter separates the milk solids from the fat solids and causes the baked good to bake unevenly. You’ll end up with a partially baked cookie in some places and a burnt cookie in other places. As for the type of butter, always choose unsalted butter because with salted butter, you have no idea how much salt was put into the butter and therefore lack control in managing the salt content.

If you forget to take the eggs out of the refrigerator two hours beforehand, it is easier to cool the temperature of them without affecting your finished product. Place the eggs in a bowl with warm water to bring the eggs to room temperature.

Another misconception – by putting something in the freezer, it cools the entire ingredient faster. When something is put in the freezer to speed up the process of cooling that the refrigerator is meant to do, the outside of the ingredient is cooled but not the inside. With uneven cooling, the ingredient will not be the same temperature throughout, which could cause uneven baking. Sometimes recipes such as pie doughs call for cold butter. The purpose of using cold butter is to ensure that the butter will melt in the baking process, not during preparation.

Ovens

Convection bake versus regular bake. What’s the difference? Well convection bake is only good for certain types of baked treats, according to Nikki. Custards, cheesecakes and creme brulees shouldn’t be baked using convection because the air will blow the tops off. Convection bake can be used for cupcakes, cakes and cookies. If you like cookies with a crisp outside but gooey inside, convection is the way to go. If you’re using convection bake and want to prevent browning on the outside, place foil on top of the cake or cookies. Check the oven 15 minutes before the baked good should be ready since convection bake often speeds up the baking process.

A good standard rule is that if it’s baking at a low temperature around 300°, the temperature at which most custards and cheesecakes bake at, then convection bake should not be used.

Creaming

When asked to cream, the butter should change two shades to become a light and fluffy white. For cookies it typically takes about 4 to 5 minutes and for cakes about 8 to 9 minutes. A key to good creaming is to break the egg yolk before mixing it into the batter in order to prevent overmixing.

The age of the eggs matters as well. The older the egg whites, the firmer the peak. This is key for macaroons and meringues. However for cookies and cakes the age of the egg doesn’t matter.

Chocolate

It is one of those flavors that is so savory and satisfying yet difficult to handle when a beginner baker. Choosing the chocolate is a very integral step to the process. Chocolate chips have the highest ratio of a preservative called lecithin. All chocolate has lecithin which holds the shape of the chip very well. Because of that, chocolate chips are great for cookies but not for souffles. Disc or bar chocolate is best for baking in which you don’t want the chip form to be preserved. As for cutting the chocolate into the proper size, always use a serrated knife because the chocolate will dull down and lose grip with a chef’s knife.

Fruit

Berries are wonderful to bake with for cakes, cookies, souffles and much more. The washing method is significant to how the berries will bake. I always stick the berries under the running water to ensure that they are clean. However, low and behold the running water allows too much moisture into the berry, causing it to explode with water in the baking process. Instead, Nikki recommends wiping berries off with a wet paper towel. Even though it may be tedious, the results will be well worth it!

Whenever baking with citrus, Nikki advises to use a non-metallic pan because citrus reacts badly with metal in the pans.

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