I went back and forth about the title of this post, and at the last minute I decided not to go with “Don’t Skip Steps or Your Cookies Will Be All F***ed Up”. Probably a good move from an SEO standpoint.
So, you guys know that baking is kinda my jam. I like to whip out new recipes. Sometimes it even helps me make a little extra dough.
Okay okay, enough puns. My point is, I’m pretty much always cooking up excuses to bake.
OKAY, now I’m done.
Despite baking being my outlet for anxiety, I’m still very familiar with that feeling that you just can’t wait to be done with a recipe. Maybe it’s because of a time crunch, or because I’ve been on my feet all day and the idea of spending another moment standing in my kitchen is more than I can bear. I get it.
So as much as I love baking, there are definitely days when I just don’t want to. What’s worse than that is when you see how much longer you have left to complete a dish and it feels like for-ev-er.
But no matter how much you think you can skip a step, or take a quick shortcut to get it done faster, there are some things you really just can’t skip because they’re going to result in an inferior product that you’ll be disappointed in.
Wouldn’t you rather spend a little extra time to get it right and have amazing results? I know I sure would. So here are a few steps that you’ll see in recipes that you really shouldn’t skip, and why they’re so important:
1. Read the recipe from beginning to end before you start
I’m serious about this. Personally, I try to front load important instructions so that you don’t end up 75% of the way through the recipe only to discover that you’ve done something wrong, left something out, or are now forced to scramble to get something done that you weren’t prepared for.
That’s just the worst feeling – it takes away from the enjoyment of process, it makes you feel rushed, and it can be incredibly frustrating. So just take a minute or two before you start to read through the whole recipe – beginning to end – to make sure you’ve got everything you need to succeed!
tl;dr: Read it so you don’t wreck it.
2. Prepare your ingredients before you begin
Consider this a (very important) follow up to #1. There are certain steps in recipes that are more time consuming than you realize and the last thing you need is to realize you don’t have that baking powder that you swore was in the top left cabinet.
Read through the recipe, ensure you have all the ingredients you need, and then get them ready to go so that you’re not fussing with trying to measure things out on the fly.
I highly recommend getting a set of good prep bowls, because if you measure out all your ingredients ahead of time, you can just grab each bowl as you need it and you’ll be amazed and how much less stressful (!) it makes the process.
tl;dr: Prep, don’t panic.
3. Use room temperature ingredients
You see this in my recipes all the time – I tell you to use room temperature eggs, butter, etc., and I can just imagine that some of you are standing in the middle of your kitchen clutching a stick of butter in one hand and an egg in the other groaning, “Whhhyyyyyyyyyyy?!?!” Well, I’ll tell you why.
I promise I’m not just saying it for my health (quite literally) – it’s because it makes a big difference in how your ingredients will come together during the mixing progress.
If you’ve ever tried to cream cold butter and sugar together, you know what I mean – it’s a disaster. You don’t get the volume you want (and need!) and you end up with big hunks of crumbly, grainy sand.
In case it’s not obvious, that is not creamed the way you need it to be for the rest of your recipe to succeed. It also results in your mixer doing that thing where it’s thrashing around like a shark out of water as it tried to break down the cold butter, and that’s not good for anyone (or your mixer – it has feelings, too).
Avoid the urge to skip it by trying one of these two tricks:
- I know people are very divided on this, but if you’re someone who bakes frequently I don’t feel like it’s an issue – just leave a stick of butter on the counter (in a covered dish that, oh, say, nosy cats can’t get into). While you could do the same with eggs, I don’t recommend it since I’m a bit paranoid – although I know plenty of people who live on farms and have no issues with it at all when it comes to the eggs they just retrieved from the chicken out back!
- If you’re opposed to that method, you can also fill a small bowl with boiling water and let it rest for a minute, and then dump out the water and place that bowl upside down on top of your butter for 10-15 minutes. The residual heat from the bowl will bring it to room temperature more quickly – but make sure to check on it every 5 minutes or so to make sure it doesn’t get too warm. I’ve done the same with eggs and had great results! Or you can cover eggs with warm (not hot) water in a bowl for the same amount of time.
tl;dr: Too-cool-for-school ingredients will flunk out. And upset your KitchenAid .
4. Measure your ingredients properly
Properly is the key word here. Flour is the trickiest one to get right that you can’t be lazy about, so I’m going to focus on that for the sake of example. Dunking a measuring cup into a bag of flour and hoping for the best is going to guarantee that you end up with way more flour than you actually intend to use.
You don’t want it packed down like you would with brown sugar, you want it to be fluffy (for lack of a better term, but I think you catch my drift). I actually get enraged and my left eye starts twitching when I see people stick their measuring cup into a container of flour. No. Don’t. STAHP.
What you actually want to do only takes an extra minute and it’s going to make all the difference:
- Fluff the flour (ideally with a kitchen scoop, but you can also use a spoon)
- Gently sprinkle or spoon the flour into a measuring cup
- Use a straight-edge utensil to scrape off the excess on top
tl;dr: If you stick your measuring cup directly into a container of flour, Leslie will find out about it and she won’t be mad at you… just disappointed.
5. Let it cool completely
I’m not going to pretend that I’m not guilty of skipping this step. There is no soapbox of high horse here. However… you should learn from my mistakes.
When it comes to things like cookies, I can’t blame you if you want one while the chocolate is still all gooey and you just know it’s going to warm your soul and make your heart sing. I get it. But when we’re talking about pastries, pies, brownies, cheesecake… let those bad boys be.
Letting them cool isn’t just to prevent you from burning your mouth (I’m looking at you, boyfriend) – it’s to let it fully develop its flavors, set to the proper consistency, texture or size, and sometimes it’s even necessary for the dish to completely finish cooking!
From time to time you’ll see me tell you to let something cool on the baking sheet itself, or in the case of something like meringue, it needs to cool in the oven! (read this recipe, it’ll make sense)
tl;dr: Be cool and let it cool.
That’s it for today – I hope these tips help you out in your future baking endeavors!