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Cake and Cookie Baking Tips for Beginners

Are you new to baking cakes and cookies? Not sure how to read and follow recipes? Here are some baking tips to get you started.

All ingredients should be at cool room temperature.

Unless the recipe states otherwise, use unsalted butter. If you have only salted butter on hand, reduce the amount of salt in the recipe by 1/4 teaspoon per stick of butter. Use regular butter, not whipped, and don’t substitute margarine unless the recipe gives it as an alternative.

Unless otherwise stated, eggs used in baking recipes should be the large size.

Use dry measures for dry ingredients and wet measures for liquid ingredients. Measuring cups for dry ingredients come in individual sizes (1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup, 1 cup). You fill the cup completely with the flour or other dry ingredient and level it off. Liquid measures are marked with lines for various amounts (1/3 cup, 4 ounces, etc.), with some space at the top so the liquid doesn’t spill. You pour the liquid in up to the desired line.

To measure flour, stir up the flour, then swoop the measuring cup into the flour, and level the flour even with the top of the cup using a knife or the side of your hand. To measure sugar or cocoa, spoon it into the cup. To measure brown sugar, spoon it into the cup and pack it down with the back of the spoon. When measuring sticky ingredients such as molasses or honey, lightly oil the inside of the cup first.

You must sift flour for cakes and confectioners’ sugar when you’re using it in icing. For cakes, sift the flour, measure it, then sift it again with the dry ingredients. You don’t need to sift flour for pies or most cookies.

Chocolate must be melted over low heat or it will burn. You can melt it in the top of a double boiler (a pan with two parts; the top sits in the bottom pan, which contains boiling water). You can also put it in a microwave-proof container and heat on 80 percent power for 1 minute. It should still be lumpy when you remove it; keep stirring until it is smooth. If it is still lumpy, return it to the microwave and heat in 10-second increments on 80 percent power until smooth.

To cream butter (with or without the sugar), beat it at high speed on an electric mixer for about 2 minutes, or until it is fluffy.

If a recipe tells you to fold in egg whites or cream, it means to spoon the egg whites or cream over the batter, then move a rubber spatula in a circular motion from the bottom of the bowl to the top of the batter, “folding” in the whites or cream. You can also use a wire whisk to gently whisk in the eggs or cream.

Use the size of pans indicated in the recipe.

Always turn the oven on for at least 15 minutes before you will be using it, so it has time to reach the proper temperature.

Baking (cookie) sheets come with and without sides. Some recipes refer to a baking sheet with sides as a jelly-roll pan. Cookies bake the most evenly on a cookie sheet without sides, but it’s OK to use one with sides.

Space drop cookies at least 1 1/2 inches apart on the baking sheet so they have room to spread.

Most cookies should cool on the baking sheets for a minute or two to “set” before they’re removed to wire racks to cool completely. Cakes should cool completely in the pan before being inverted onto a plate or cardboard round. Run a knife between the cake and the sides of the pan first to loosen it.

Virginia Van Vynckt