How is everyone’s week so far? I am currently in my hotel room, in a small Albertan town, taking a break from work… Sadly, the closest thing to an oven in my hotel is the low-quality coffee maker, so there will be no baking here. However, I have a few baking tips to share with you guys today:
1. Become besties with your kitchen scale
I’ve had several people ask if using a scale really makes a difference. Well, that depends on what you do in your kitchen. If you mainly make recipes where you eyeball how much of each ingredient to add, then having a scale will probably not change your life. However, if you’re planning on pursuing baking further, maybe trying some more complicated recipes, then yes, a kitchen scale is totally worth it! Even for relatively simple recipes, scaling your ingredients will make a huge difference. The same ingredient ie. flour can weigh a significantly different amount depending on the type and how its packed or scooped. Having the wrong amount can really impact how your final product will turn out and the only way to ensure you have a precise amount in your recipe is to use a kitchen scale. This becomes infinitely more important when making delicate sweets like macarons, eclairs, etc. Plus, using a scale makes clean up in the kitchen way easier since you can measure everything into one bowl and just tare the scale in between.
If you’re in the market for a good scale, there are plenty available. I love my Cuisinart one but I’m sure other similar brands are just as good. You can get them at Kitchen stores or department stores and won’t need to spend more than about $40-$50 for a reliable scale – money well spent if you ask me!
2. Calibrate your oven
I’m sure you have heard this a million times, but each oven is different (just like snowflakes)! And nothing is more frustrating than working really hard to make the perfect batter or dough, only to have your product end up burnt. So to avoid all that frustration, I recommend calibrating your oven. A great tip I read on oven calibration was from the Bouchon Bakery book, which recommended buying some ready to bake biscuits, cookies etc. and baking them in your oven exactly as per the package instructions. Those doughs are extensively tested so the baking times should be very precise.
I’ve actually been having problems with my oven lately… sometimes it heats up too much and other times it seems like it’s not even on so I decided to do a calibration last weekend. I got some ready to bake croissants, which before I go on, I need to say that they were awful! Who would buy these? They were salty and bitter and whatever fat was used to make them just tasted terrible – avoid buying them other than for calibration purposes. The instructions indicated that they should be ready in 17 minutes. After baking for 17 minutes they were overdone – the picture might not show it that well but the bottoms and corners were borderline burnt. So I know that in general I should set my oven to a bit of a lower temperature or reduce the baking time.
Another oven tip from Bouchon was to ensure your oven was fully and evenly heated before baking. This is complete when the oven has cycled on and off three times. If you don’t want to stand by your oven and watch the temperature increasing and decreasing, then turn on the oven and set a timer for about 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, the oven will be fully and evenly heated and will have cycled 3 times. Make sure to do this before calibrating your oven.
3. Measure temperatures
Just like scaling, measuring temperatures becomes increasingly more important when you start working with more complicated recipes. A professional food thermometer is super handy when making macarons, caramel, meringues, etc. I would say that at about $50 this is another great investment you won’t regret making. Plus, you can use food thermometers to ensure your meat is perfectly cooked so I’m sure you’ll get a lot of use out of it.
4. Practice “Mise en Place”
I have heard this term used so much lately – in cooking classes, books, TV, etc. Its a French term which means “everything in place.” When you guys cook or bake does the kitchen ever end up looking like a disaster zone? I have to admit, this happens to me a lot! Well, “mise en place” is supposed to prevent that. It involves being organized before you begin. Read through the recipes carefully before starting off to make sure you are familiar with all the steps and have everything you need. Arrange all your ingredients so they are ready, washed, chopped, etc. When you are done with something, put it away to avoid unnecessary clutter. I definitely need to keep working at this, but its a good goal to strive for. Having an organized kitchen keeps you from making mistakes during baking or making a mess and having to deal with the aftermath.