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Top 5 Baking Tips For Beginners

Whatever it is we are doing, we all had to start somewhere. And, when it comes to baking, most people would agree that the best place to start is at the beginning. Learning best practices right off the bat leads to better results, which leads to the confidence to continue--and enjoy it!
So, we bring you our top 5 baking tips for beginners--in no particular order of importance:
1. Get your butter right.

The biggest factor affecting your butter's performance is temperature. This can dramatically affect the texture of baked goods. All recipes call for butter that is either softened, melted or chilled. Softened (room temperature) butter creates a light and fluffy batter when beaten with sugar. You should be able to dent it with your fingers, but it should not be greasy or melty.

Melted butter is used in baked goods that require gentle mixing, such as quick breads, muffins and brownies. These recipes use leaveners for their rise, and don't need creamed butter for that purpose.

Chilled butter has been well chilled in the refrigerator or freezer so that it does not melt during mixing. It's usually used in pie crusts and biscuits, and incorporated using a pastry cutter or pulsed in a food processor. This helps create tender flakiness in these more delicate doughs.

2. Bring dairy to room temperature.

Room temperature ingredients emulsify easily into the batter. This creates a uniform structure and texture throughout, and improves volume. Just as it's difficult to beat chilled butter into a soft consistency, it's difficult to beat cold egg whites into a froth.

Unless your recipe indicates otherwise, bring all eggs, milk and butter to room temperature before adding them in. Ideally, not with a microwave but by setting them out on the counter.

3. Prepare ingredients before you begin.

Most baking errors occur well before the mixing stage. Whether it's that moment when you realize you don't have buttermilk anywhere in the house, or that you didn't add the sugar because you forgot to put it out, lack of preparation can kill your efforts. Read the recipe through, then put out all ingredients in advance.

4. Measure properly.
It's all about precision. Ratios, chemical reactions and all that. If your measures are not accurate, you will throw off the proportions of liquid to dry, fats to sugar, etc. This guarantees that your batter or dough will not be within the margin of error necessary for success.
Obviously, measuring cups and spoons are specifically designed for this purpose. The trick is to learn how to use them properly. When measuring flour, for example, do not scoop it into the cup. This gives you far more flour than you need. Rather, spoon it in to above the top of the cup, then level off with a butter knife. For liquid ingredients, use a clear glass liquid measuring cup and fill exactly to the correct increment.
5. Invest in an oven thermometer.
This is literally a hot button issue for many cooks and bakers. Most start off thinking they can trust that their oven's temperature is accurate. Many failures later, they finally think to check and find out that (in the case of most older ovens) the actual temperature is far higher than indicated.
Ovens tend to get hotter over time, so start off with the mentality that yours will need to be checked periodically. Get oven thermometers (they usually last about a year) to verify your oven's temp, and after a few years, check the oven's thermostat. This is not difficult to do, just consult the manual.

So there you have it. These tips are simple but so important to success! Happy baking!

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