Boost your kitchen magic skills to the next level
Baking is chemistry performed in a kitchen instead of a lab. Every step matters, the order matters, the temperature matters, the timing matters. To make your baking experience a joyful occasion and help you take your baking skills to the next level, check out this cheat sheet with eleven hacks and guiding principles.
After all, baking is a very meditative exercise; you focus on the tasks at hand and can lose yourself a little in the process. It’s a worry-free state of mind, as you need to be in the now and can forget about all the other stuff that goes on in your life for a while. Therefore, I am convinced that baking should be fully recognized as a viable mindfulness activity.
Baking Hack No. 1: The temperature of your butter makes all the difference
You might think that butter is butter and that is the end of it. Nope, it’s not. The temperature of the butter makes or breaks your baked creations. The eternal butter rules command the following: Use melted butter if your aim is to get chewy results (for instance, if you aim for the perfect chocolate chip cookies.
Room-temperature butter is ideal for cakes and cupcakes, as it allows for a little spreading while also giving your sweet treat a fluffy texture. Cold butter (cold, not frozen) is your butter of choice for doughs that should retain their structure and not spread out or rise, like quiche dough or galettes, or like these veggies boats.
Baking Hack No. 2: Make your own protein flour, i.e., gluten-free flour
Are you dedicated to your workout goals and want to increase the share of protein in your diet, but still be able to say a whole-hearted “Yes!” to that tasty-looking slice of cake? Do you have a gluten intolerance, but crave a sweet treat? Do you want to eat healthy, but acknowledge that healthy includes mental health, which means also treating yourself to something good? If you want to try to go gluten-free, check out this Article by Harvard Medical School.
The reasons for not wanting to use standard wheat flour can be as complex and numerous as the types of cake in this world. Oats however, these unassuming and rather boring-looking flakes, present a simple solution that does not make you compromise on taste and are therefore baking hack number 2. You can swap oats for flour at a 1:1 ratio. If your recipe requires 7 ounces/200 grams of flour, simply weigh the exact same amount of oats and put them through a blender. Shred the flakes for about a minute or two tops and tata… you just created oat flour.
Baking Hack No. 3: How to keep brown sugar soft
Unlike their white brothers and sisters, brown sugar crystals have the annoying tendency to harden in their storage containers. You can avoid that with this simple baking hack: add one or two marshmallows to the jar and the sugar will stay soft.
Baking Hack No. 4: How to test if your eggs are still good
Place the egg in question in a bowl of water. If the egg sinks, it’s fresh. If it stands on one end, use it right away. If the egg floats, however, toss it as it’s no longer good for use. Not only a niffty baking hack, but also extremely helpful for scrambled eggs.
Baking Hack No. 5: How to quickly bring a refrigerated egg to room temperature
Your recipe asks for room-temperature eggs, but you accidently overlooked that part and need a quick solution? Try my baking hack number 5. Don’t worry, you got this. Simply fill a bowl with luke-warm water and let the egg sit in it for 15 minutes.
Baking Hack No. 6: Save time and energy by using parchment paper instead of cooking spray or butter
Forget about baking spray or buttering a cake mold, and most importantly, those lengthy post-baking clean-up sessions. Use parchment paper for your brownie pans and cake molds. It makes everything hassle-free and is therefore a very cherished baking hack of mine. Not only does it drastically reduce cleaning time but it also makes it much easier to get brownies or cakes out of their molds without accidently breaking them or making things difficult.
Baking Hack No. 7: When to use baking soda vs. baking powder
People often ask if they can simply replace baking soda with baking powder or vice versa. The sad truth is: no, you can’t. They are not substitutes.
The chemical reason behind this is that baking powder contains an acid that can create a rising reaction in the dough, whereas baking soda is sodium bicarbonate and does not have that acid. This means that the baking soda needs the acid and a liquid to be activated and thus induce the dough to rise. Baking powder only requires a liquid to work its magic.
Acids that work with baking soda include buttermilk, brown sugar, yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, molasses, applesauce, cocoa powder, or honey. Thus, while soda as a base (chemically-speaking) needs the acid to work, it is also three to four times more powerful in its effect than baking powder and thus enables fluffier, lighter dough textures to be achieved. It also means that you need significantly less product in comparison.
Baking powder is your go-to solution if your recipe otherwise does not require any acid. Some recipes require soda AND powder, as the acid in the recipe is not enough to achieve the desired rising effect. A good example of this is buttermilk pancakes or my cottage cheese protein pancakes.
Baking Hack No. 8: How much baking soda and/or baking powder do I need?
Your ratio should be ¼ teaspoon of baking soda per cup of flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour. Because baking soda and baking powder create an instant chemical reaction, keep in mind that any recipe that requires either of them is not suitable to make in advance. When you combine your ingredients into the dough, both the baking soda and the powder will become activated right away, even though you will only see the effect take place in front of your eyes once the cake/cookie/cupcake is in the oven.
Baking Hack No. 9: What kind of chocolate for which kinds of results?
There are essentially three main options to choose from that all have very different effects: Chocolate chips, baking chocolate, and cacao powder. Here a quick baking hack overview on when to use what.
If you want to have little visible chunks of chocolate in your baked goods, always opt for chocolate chips, as they do not melt when exposed to heat, which is thanks to stabilizers and preservatives. This is what makes them perfect for chocolate chip cookies.
Baking chocolate, however, does melt and is perfect for creating a chocolate ganache or a frosting. It’s also usually JUST chocolate, which means it tastes a little bitter and does not contain any added sugar. That being said, if your recipe requires you to add baking chocolate, use baking chocolate and not just any given chocolate bar you found in the candy aisle, as it will drastically change the outcome and probably make the result way sweeter than you desire. This also means that a recipe tends to refer to dark chocolate, a.k.a., bittersweet chocolate.
Only use white baking chocolate when it is explicitly noted, as it’s technically not chocolate since it only contains chocolate butter but lacks the chocolate liquor of dark and milk chocolate. If you want a sweeter substitute for dark chocolate, use semi-sweet. Milk chocolate for baking is the sweetest of the bunch, as it only contains 10% cacao, although that kind of sweetness is just the right solution sometimes.
Last but not least, a few words on cacao. It’s actually a really funny one, as cacao powder is the result of a fermentation and roasting process of cacao beans during which most of the cacao butter is removed, leaving essentially just the chocolate liquor. This liquor is then dried and ground into what we use as cacao powder.
Baking Hack No. 10: Timing is everything
That also means that you do not want to sit there and do high level math calculating how much more time you should give your cookies, now that you decided to slide them into the oven before it reached the desired temperature. While it’s all nice to nibble on raw cookie dough, don’t diminish your cookie eating fun by having mushy, half-baked treats.
This also includes not leaving cookies on the baking tray after taking them out of the oven, as the heat of the tray will essentially mean you prolong the baking process. You would thereby risk burning them or making them needlessly hard. Simply let them slide onto a cooling rack or a clean fabric kitchen towel.
Baking Hack No. 11: Choose the right kind of cookie storage
Nothing is more saddening than investing a lot of time and effort into baking the perfect cookies, only for them to become super hard or extremely soft rather quickly. Cookies are like strawberries – delicate little entities that want to be handled with tender love and care. If you have cookies or ginger bread that tends to harden up easily, lay a piece of apple in the cookie jar. The moisture from the fruit will keep the baked treats soft. Alternatively, use a couple of marshmallows; it sounds crazy, but it DOES work.
Cookies that have a chocolate or icing cover should be stored using parchment paper as a separator, otherwise they will become glued together and you’ll end up with one gigantic cookie rather than multiple small ones.
Ideally, opt for a metal or glass cookie jar, and do not use a plastic box, as the plastic will make your cookies go soft. If your goal is to keep the cookies very soft (like chocolate chip cookies), then yes, use plastic. In any case, do not store them in the fridge.