Tips for bakers - Part 1

No need to worry if you don't have one of those fancy, new, commercial grade ovens in your kitchen. You can still turn out an unlimited variety of wonderful baked goods. Your family will thank you for your efforts when you surprise them with a fragrant loaf of homemade bread or a slice of  delicious coffee cake. So, what better reason could there be to bring out your ingredients and start baking.

  •    Oven temperature

Before you begin, make sure your oven temperature registers accurately.You may follow your recipes precisely, and still end up with baked goods that are either burned or under-cooked. Invest in a reliable digital oven thermometer and re-calibrate your oven. 

  • Measuring dry ingredients
Sift flour before measuring. Spoon sifted flour lightly into a measuring cup and level with a knife or spatula, without packing it down.

Spoon brown sugar into measuring cup, flattening with a spoon and firmly compacting it. Since exposure to air hardens brown sugar, it's best to store it in a covered container. You can quickly soften hard brown sugar in your microwave. Place in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with a damp paper towel. Heat on high for about 1  1/2 minutes, checking every 30 seconds. If you don't need it for immediate use, you can add a few apple slices or fresh bread to the sugar. Store in an airtight container for a day or two. Remove apple or bread slices once sugar is soft. A small  piece of clay (soaked in water for about 30 minutes) placed in your container will also keep the sugar soft. My friend Lynda, who knows that I'm a passionate baker, gave me a small decorative sugar disc a while back. The piece is made in Canada and comes embellished with a pretty maple leaf design. It works great and is my favorite way to keep brown sugar soft.

  • Butter, eggs, raisins, glazes, cocoa, almonds, lemons
Many recipes call for butter to be at room temperature. If you are pressed for time, try microwaving it for about 15 to 20 seconds on high power and keep checking every 5 seconds. This can be tricky, so be careful not to to melt the butter completely, as it will affect the outcome of your baked goods. The best and simplest way is to use a cheese grater and grate the butter. If you are like me and keep "back-up" butter in the freezer, this method works wonders. Bring eggs to room temperature by placing them in a bowl of warm water for about 5 minutes.

Mix raisins and other dried fruits with a spoon or two of  flour to coat lightly. This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom of your baked goods.

Before glazing your cake with any kind of liquid glaze like a chocolate ganache or powdered sugar glaze, try coating your cake with a thin layer of seedless preserves (apricot works well). Let dry slightly before pouring glaze over the cake. This method seals in any crumbs and your glaze will be smooth and shiny.

Cocoa often turns lumpy when mixed with milk or other liquids. Mix with sugar first before adding it to liquids to avoid lumps. The same applies to custard powder.

An easy way to peel almonds is to drop them them in boiling water and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes. Rinse with cold water and gently press out of their peels with your fingers. 

You'll get the most out of your lemons if you place them in a bowl of hot water before juicing. Let sit for about 5 to 10 minutes, pat dry, and roll on your counter top a few times before squeezing.  

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