Recipe Basics

spice cupcakesRecipes are the foundation of baking; follow them, and most of the time, you’ll have success. Below are some tips to keep in mind when facing even the most complicated recipes.

Read your recipe.

Before you begin, read your recipe. Read it a few times, in fact. Make sure you have all of the ingredients and equipment you need, and that you have enough time in your day or evening to make what you intend to make.

Fresh ingredients are the best, but you don’t have to buy the most expensive ones. I bake with store-brand flour, sugar, eggs, and butter, McCormick extracts, and a few higher-end spices from Penzey’s or King Arthur Flour. While some bakers believe the highest-grade flours make better treats, I’ve never had any complaints about the cookies, cakes, and pies I’ve created from the store-brand.

And yes, you can substitute…sometimes. Some ingredients can be swapped out for others, but not all are interchangeable. Check out my substitutions page for more info.

Then, follow it.

Much like your chemistry experiments from high school, it takes the right ratios of the right kinds of ingredients to yield certain results. For the best outcomes:

  • Be sure you’re using ingredients at the right temperature. For example, if you need to soften butter or keep it cold, do so. There’s a reason for it, likely relating to texture, and you’ll get the best results if you follow your recipe.
  • Use the right type of measuring cup for the ingredient. Dry and liquid measures are not interchangeable, so if you’re measuring flour, use a dry measuring cup, and if you’re measuring milk, use a liquid measuring cup.
  • When adding wet ingredients – like when adding milk to buttercream frosting – do so in small increments. You can always add more, but you can’t take liquid back out.
  • If your batter or dough seems too runny, you might have to add a bit more flour to stabilize it. This can happen for many reasons; maybe your large eggs were a bit larger than the recipe author’s. If you’re adding more flour, do so slowly, one tablespoon at a time. As with liquid, you can always add more, but you can’t take it back out.

But, don’t be afraid to be creative. 

If your suspect your recipe could use more vanilla, or a different kind of extract, or chopped nuts, go for it. If you think your scones could use a drizzle of powdered sugar glaze, by all means, drizzle away. Disasters rarely result from this manner of creativity, and you never know – you might just invent a new favorite.




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