A pinch of knowledge for baking enthusiasts

Have you ever tried out a new recipe, closely following the steps, and ended up with a raw, discolored mess? The following are some simple tips to step up your baking game.


Sonya Sheptunov

Art by Sonya Sheptunov

Cathy Zhao, Photo Editor

Have you ever tried out a new recipe, closely following the steps, and ended up with a raw, discolored mess? The following are some simple tips to step up your baking game.

  • To produce perfectly baked items… Invest in an oven thermometer. Do your creations appear underbaked or overbaked even when you’ve followed the recipe for baking time? Oftentimes, home ovens are not calibrated properly, meaning an oven may not have reached the preheated temperature. Another possibility is that your oven heats unevenly; one side of your oven may always be hotter than the other. An oven thermometer can help you better gauge the temperature of your oven. 
  • To ensure you always have buttermilk on hand… Make buttermilk at home. Mix one tablespoon of lemon juice with one cup of milk (ideally 2% milkfat or heavy cream). Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. The acid from the lemon juice will curdle the milk, forming buttermilk that is slightly thinner than store-bought buttermilk, but has the same effect. This is convenient and prevents the issue of buying too much buttermilk that can’t be used up.
  • To store leftover egg whites… Freeze egg whites. If you tend to make a lot of French or Italian desserts— such as tiramisu— you may encounter the issue of having too many leftover egg whites. Pour the leftover egg whites into a sealable container or ice cube tray then add a sticky note to label the number of egg whites and expiration date. Egg whites can be frozen for up to one year. They’ll come in handy for making meringue-based desserts, since store-bought liquid egg whites often cannot be whipped. 
  • To achieve perfectly shaped cupcakes or muffins… Fill cupcake tins halfway up and muffin tins ⅔ of the way up. Overfilling a cupcake tin causes high-domed cupcakes that are hard to frost or muffin batter that has overflowed and formed one giant cake.
P.S. Only mix wet and dry ingredients until just combined. Otherwise, you run the chance of overdeveloping the gluten and making your final product tough, chewy or caved-in.


  • To more accurately preheat an oven… Preheat the oven higher than the directed temperature. An oven will lose heat quickly when it is initially opened, especially if multiple items are being placed inside. Preheat the oven to 25-50 degrees above the temperature as directed by the recipe, depending on how much time you anticipate needing to place items into the oven.
  • To prevent issues with bake time… Never open the oven when an item is baking. Every time you open your oven, hot air escapes, causing temperature fluctuations. Doing so runs the risk of changing how your baked good turns out.
  • To test the readiness of a cake… Press lightly down on a cake. If it springs back to the touch, then the cake is ready, no toothpick needed.
  • To achieve a clean cut of cake… Heat the knife before cutting. Carefully hold the edge of a knife near a flame (eg. burner, lighter) for a few seconds. Be careful not to overheat the knife, as excessive heat can damage the knife’s blade and wear it down faster. Then, cut the cake. This is especially helpful for frosting and mousses that tend to stick to the knife.
  • To maximize cookie dough texture and flavor… Always chill cookie dough immediately after mixing and again after being shaped.
  • To accurately measure ingredients… Use a digital scale. Some people swear by scooping and leveling, which packs dry ingredients densely, others prefer to spoon their dry ingredients into their measuring tool. Either way, measuring ingredients by volume (i.e. using measuring cups) is very inconsistent and can easily change the ratios of the recipe. To combat this, use a digital scale to weigh your ingredients.
  • To enhance chocolate flavor… Add approximately one teaspoon of instant espresso powder. The result is a richer, deeper and more sophisticated flavor profile.
  • To avoid being scammed out of real white chocolate… Always check the ingredients when buying white chocolate. Many companies (even Ghirardelli, on occasion) replace cocoa butter with canola oil, which defeats the purpose of chocolate. By definition, chocolate should contain cocoa butter. 

For more tips and techniques, visit https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/resources/baking-tips-techniques.

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