Sometimes you wish you didn’t have to learn things the hard way. Baking will always be a game of trial-and-error, but having some tips can make the process go a little more smoothly. Here are some pocket-sized pieces of advice I’ve gathered through my years of baking:
Keep practicing. I don’t know when I figured out how to get buttercream smooth on a cake, but I know it took years of practice. Gallons of frosting. Tons of crumbs. Lots of swearing. (Hint: dip the offset spatula in hot water before doing your final smooth over the cake).
Bake what you love. It can be uninteresting if you make things you find tedious.
Start with a clean work space.
Plan ahead. Ingredients, plan of attack, equipment…all of it.
Use a scale. Grams, baby!
Scrape the bowl.
Find a base recipe you love. Then add ingredients for new flavors and textures in future recipes.
Get to know your cakes. Or cookies, or bread. Learn what they’re supposed to look like (and how to test) when they’re done rather than relying on a timer.
Use real vanilla. Ina Garten actually feels pain every time you don’t.
Add salt. It adds balance and makes the flavors and sweetness stand out.
Don’t be afraid to fail. When leavening and elevation and weather and exact temperatures and genre of background music and what you’re wearing all play a role in how things bake, you’re bound to have things turn out poorly sometimes. Happens to all of us (often). Just make sure you try again once you’re done throwing things.
Trust your gut. If a recipe looks like it just doesn’t add up, it probably doesn’t.
Take shortcuts at your own risk. I don’t often sift my dry ingredients, and about half the time I wish I had. If you do take a shortcut, understand the possible consequences first.
Add extra love. Cheesy, yes. But the things I bake quickly without much consideration never come out as good as the things I nurture as I make them.
Share. Probably my favorite part of the whole process.