Break out the flour and butter, folks.
Our in-house baking maven Deb Wise, author of Incredibly Decadent Desserts and recipe developer/tester for the Time Inc. Food Studios, gives us her top three virtues when it comes to the art of pastry. She says for her, “time, temperature, and patience,” are the most important rules to baking. Once you can get a solid grip on these concepts, the days of dry cakes and burnt cookies will be distant memories. And given that Wise regularly produces top-hitting baked goods featured across many the Time Inc.’s brands, such as her Sesame-Cashew Zucchini Bread (one of my personal favorites) and her genius Sheet Pan Oatmeal Toffee-Orange Cream Bars, I’m more than ready to adopt her principles as my own guiding baking light.
Before starting any baking endeavor, Wise is adamant that you read the entire recipe carefully and mentally prep yourself for what’s ahead. You never want to find yourself partially into preparing a recipe only to find that you’re missing a key ingredient. To prevent this, gather all of your ingredients and bakeware before cracking an egg. This may seem like a waste of time for the impatient, but trust—it’s well worth the few extra minutes. In the culinary world, this preparation is referred to as your mise en place (the French phrase for “everything in its place”) and it is imperative to conquering any baked goods recipe with confidence. So now that you’re all ready and set, here’s a deeper look into Wise’s pillars for baking success:
Wise advises all bakers to give themselves ample amount of time for a baking project. When you review the recipe, it gives you an indication of how much time you should set aside for prep and baking. “Make sure you have enough time so you are not rushed,” Wise says. Baking is a highly precise science, and there are many factors at play that determine how your final products will come out; you want to make sure you address each with full attention, rather than hurrying through. Wise notes that when you make a stew, for example, you can continue to adjust the flavors until it’s just right; but with baking, once the dish comes out the oven, it’s too late to adjust it if it’s not right. Also on the subject of timing, having a timer handy makes a world of difference when it comes to avoiding an under-baked or over-baked recipe. No one is immune (even the most advanced bakers) to forgetting items in the oven.
Not all ovens read heat the same and it’s important that you know where the hotspots are in your oven. Wise recommends that you calibrate your oven by purchasing an oven-safe thermometer to accurately gage the different areas of heat in your oven. This will allow you to know if you should check a baked good well ahead of time, because your oven runs hot, or let it stay a few minutes past the suggested bake time, because your oven loses heat quickly.
Temperature is also a key factor in regards to the ingredients that you use. In baking, you will see a lot of recipes call for ingredients to be a specific temperature—from ice-water to room temperature eggs. (FYI: Room temperature is 70°F). And while these directives may often seem more like suggestions than imperative instructions (particularly when you’re in a hurry), following these temperature cues is actually key to producing the final product the recipe developer intended. Wise also notes that if you are are a “once-a-year baker” and you store your flour in the refrigerator or freezer, you should allow it to come to room temperature before using, as you do not want to bake with cold flour. Doing so can drastically change the texture and often leads to dry baked goodies.
For Wise, baking is more than a flawless finished cake. More than anything, it is about joy. “It puts me into my zen moment. It is very therapeutic,” Wise explains. Baking can be a trying and meticulous task for some. There’s no doubt that it requires patience and focus to work through a recipe with precision. That said, a baker knows, there are tangible benefits in the final product to take those tedious extra steps, such as sifting your flour or whipping eggs whites to a stiff peak before gently folding them into a batter. Each step is crucial to overall success of your dish. However, with that level of dedication to every detail, comes a great satisfaction. Wise says, “I love to bake for family and friends to show appreciation and love.”