Baking 101

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Baking should be creative and fun, not stressful. Follow these Baking 101 tips to help you along on your baking journey.

Flour, eggs, butter, chocolate, milk arranged on a table.

Ingredient quality is important!

Store your ingredients properly and check the expiration dates often.

Working with yeast. Yeast is a living organism that produces bubbles of carbon dioxide which cause bread to rise.

In all of my recipes, I use active dry yeast. If you want to substitute rapid rise yeast, you can do so by following the package directions for necessary changes.

It is always best to dissolve the yeast in warm water (105 -115) before adding it to the other ingredients. This allows you to see if the yeast is still good. If it doesn’t foam up in about 10 minutes then you will need to start over with fresher yeast.

Technique is key.

Don’t over mix batters. Allow batters to rest when called to do so. Handle doughs as little as possible.

Always use room temperature ingredients unless the recipe states otherwise. Most recipes fail due to poor technique, not a bad recipe.

All ovens are calibrated differently. Don’t rely on the time in the recipe as your oven may cook faster or slower. Set your kitchen timer to go off a couple of minutes sooner than the recipe calls for just to make sure you don’t overcook your baked good.

A small and large spatula laid on a counter top.

Baking powder and baking soda are two different ingredients.

They serve the same purpose but they do not react the same way.

Baking soda is plain sodium bicarbonate. It works by neutralizing an acidic component by creating bubbles which cause leavening. Some common acids in baking include buttermilk, brown sugar, yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, and chocolate.

Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate mixed with an acid, usually cream of tartar. Baking powder is used in baked goods that do not already contain an acid. It works the same way baking soda does. Generally, you can substitute baking powder for baking soda but not the other way around.

However, if you find yourself in a pinch and need a substitution for baking powder you can mix ½ tsp cream of tartar plus ¼ tsp baking soda per 1 tsp of baking powder called for in the recipe. When using baking powder in place of baking soda, you will need much more since baking soda is significantly more effective.

Check to see if your baking powder is still effective by adding 1 tsp to 1 cup of hot water. If it bubbles then it is still good. If not, then it is time to throw it out.

Measure ingredients properly.

To measure dry ingredients use a stainless steel or plastic measuring cup.

For flour, fluff the flour with a fork and spoon it lightly into the measuring cup. Let it mound, don’t shake the cup or pack down the flour. Use a straight edge such as a knife to level the top of the measuring cup.

To measure liquid ingredients, use a liquid measuring cup with a pouring lip. Set the cup on a level surface and read the measurements at eye level.

To measure brown sugar, use a measuring cup that holds the exact amount called for in the recipe. Pack the brown sugar into the dry measuring cup and then level it off with a straight edge.

To measure syrupy ingredients like honey, molasses, or corn syrup, first, coat the measuring spoon or cup with a light coating of cooking spray. This allows the ingredient to slip out easily.


About the author

Jen has a passion for baking and she’s dedicated to bringing you classic dessert recipes filled with more flavor and creativity. When Jen isn't in the kitchen she's traveling with her husband in search of the best places with the greatest experiences.

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  • Brianna

    I love your vanilla cake recipe! I was wondering where you live and what altitude you guys are at? I will be making this for a wedding in NM and we are above 5,000 feet. I was wondering if there are any adjustments I need to make to the recipe? Thank you!

    • Jen Sobjack

      I live in TN and we’re just a few hundred feet above sea level. I’ve never tried to bake anything at high altitude so I don’t feel I can give you the best advice here.