Confession: I stole a set of measuring cups as a kid.
I wanted to be just like Mommy, flipping pancakes and baking chocolate chip cookies, so when she left the old tan set sitting on the counter, I slipped in, stood on my tippy-toes, and snuck off before anyone saw me. And despite banging them around my Fisher Price Kitchen for all of preschool, it took me another 13 years to finally figure out how to use them properly.
But I completely forgot to share those secrets with you!
So today, we’re going back to the basics. Many of you may know these tips and tricks already, but skim through them anyway—every one of them will convert you from a beginner into a baking pro!
- Read through the recipe completely before beginning. I know, I know… You’re probably rolling your eyes at me. But raise your hand if you’ve ever dove straight into creaming butter or mixing muffin batter after only reading the ingredients list. (Both of my hands are high up in the air!) It only takes an extra minute or two, but reading through every step will save you time, flour, and lots of burned cookies.
- Watch out for commas! It’s a subtle point, but how the ingredients are written dictates how you prepare and measure them. For example, “1 cup sifted all-purpose flour” means sift the flour before measuring, whereas with “1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted,” you would measure first and sift after. Perform any tasks on the ingredients in the order that they’re written: anything that comes after the comma is done second.
- Understand the language. Sliced, diced, chopped, cut, broken, beaten… Each word means something slightly different, so if you aren’t familiar with any of the terms in a recipe, look them up!
- Flours. All-purpose, whole wheat, gluten-free, PB2, cocoa powder, and even oats are all the same. Lightly spoon them into the measuring cup (I like to shake my hand back and forth a little, like you’d do with a hair drier) until the measuring cup is overflowing, then drag the flat backside of a knife across the top to level it off. Do NOT scoop the flours, cocoa powder, or oats directly out of the container with the measuring cup or pack them in. This results in 1.5 times more than is required in a recipe, which dries out your baked goods and turns them crumbly. Not good!
- Leaveners. With baking powder and baking soda, lightly fluff the leavener with a measuring spoon before scooping it out and leveling with a knife. Some containers have a flat edge built in—that works too!
- Sugars. For white sugar, use the same spoon-and-level technique described for flours. With brown sugar, lightly pack it into the measuring cup using a fork or spoon until the cup is completely filled and level (unless the recipe states otherwise). When you invert the measuring cup, the brown sugar should be packed tightly enough to hold its shape.
- Salt and spices. Treat them like the leaveners: fluff, scoop, level.
- Butter and margarine. Most stick-style butters and margarines are wrapped in a label with tablespoons marked on the side. Count out how much you need, and cut through the stick with a sharp knife. You should avoid using a butter knife because the blade is duller and you won’t carve off as accurate of an amount. With tub-style butter, margarine, and shortening, press the necessary quantity into a measuring spoon or cup, and level with a knife.
- Liquids. Milk, oil, juice, honey, syrup, and extracts are a little tricky. Place the measuring cup on the counter, pour in the liquid, and get down at eye level. The liquid at the edges tends to stick to the sides of the cup, while the liquid in the center sinks down a touch. (In science-speak, it’s called a meniscus!) You want to make sure the center of the liquid is even with the rim of the cup for the most accurate measurement. You can also use a clear measuring cup and the markings on its side instead. For teaspoons and tablespoons, fill them to the brim but not overflowing or bulging out the top. And be careful when pouring the liquids into the mixing bowl!
I may add to this post as new things come up in the future. But for now, it’s time to bake something sweet!