Baking can seem a little bit intimidating to first-timers, but once you know what you’re doing, it’s really pretty simple. However, most recipes assume a few things about your knowledge base, and so don’t explain them outright, even though they’re pretty important. Here are some basics to help you avoid common mistakes:
Liquid ingredients and dry ingredients are measured differently (unless you’re talking about teaspoons and tablespoons). Liquids should be measured in a glass measuring cup that has the various amounts indicated by lines. Pyrex sells durable, commonly available glass measuring cups in varying sizes. The glass allows you to measure your liquid more exactly, the spout allows you to easily pour into the bowl, and the Pyrex material is microwave safe.
Dry ingredients should be measured in individual metal cups. Plastic measuring cups are also an option, but are thought to be less sanitary and durable over time. When measuring dry ingredients, do not shake the cup to even out the level: this packs the flour (or whatever you’re using) more tightly, giving you an inaccurate measurement. Fill the cup with a heaping pile of your ingredient and then level off the top with a knife. Brown sugar is the only dry ingredient that should be firmly packed into the measuring cup.
Of course, the most accurate measurement technique is using a kitchen scale. However, many people can’t afford a scale, or don’t see the point in purchasing an expensive appliance if they don’t bake often. Additionally, American recipes usually don’t include their amounts in grams.
Don’t forget to preheat your oven! Putting your batter in the oven before it’s fully warm prevents the cake from baking evenly and results in a dry cake.
If you’re baking a cake that you know will be extremely moist (or cupcakes/muffins for which you don’t want to use liners), prepping your pan is vital. Grease it thoroughly with butter or vegetable oil. Make sure it gets all the way up the sides. If you have a pastry brush, that can help with spreading the vegetable oil. After greasing the pan, pour a bit of flour in the pan and roll it around, occasionally tapping, until the flour covers the entire surface of the pan. If you’re really worried, cover the bottom of the pan with a circle of wax paper and grease the sides as usual. Using silicone bakeware is another option.
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