Baking tends to be a bit of a chemistry experiment. Accidentally use baking soda instead of baking powder, and you’ll end up with metallic-tasting brownies. Or haphazardly measure flour, and you could end up with a cake that’s hard to swallow. "You have to look at recipes like formulas. To get the correct end results, you want to make sure you focus on considering certain variables," says Lena Kwak, a culinary mastermind at Napa Valley’s The French Laundry.
Here are five tips to keep in mind for your baking equation:
PULL THE INGREDIENTS FROM THE FRIDGE. Unless a recipe calls for ingredients to be a certain temperature, keep your ingredients at room temperature — especially butter and eggs. Pull the butter and eggs at least an hour before you start cooking. — Lena Kwak, research-and-development chef at The French Laundry and co-founder of C4C gluten-free flour
PUT IT ON A SCALE. The most accurate way to measure ingredients is by using a scale (I like My Weigh digital scales), but if you’re stuck with measuring cups and spoons, use a knife to skim off the excess (your finger will take off too much). — Sebastien Rouxel, executive pastry chef for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group
DON’T BUY VANILLA EXTRACT. Make your own! Anytime a recipe calls for whole vanilla beans, wash the scraped beans and let them air-dry. Then put them in a clean jar with bourbon. Continue to add to the jar every time you use a pod. You can also add fresh seeds to speed the process. (And try slipping a whole bean into your sugar.) — Toni Lynn Dickinson, pastry professor at The International Culinary Center
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SCOOP CAREFULLY. You know that overworking a dough or batter can make a tougher cake or cookie because of the gluten development, but keep this in mind when you’re filling a muffin tin. Scrap along the sides of the bowl and work your way toward the center. If you start from the center, you’ll overmix the batter. — Amy Scherber, owner of Amy’s Bread in New York
BE PATIENT. Don’t open the oven door to check on your dessert — you’ll be tempering with the consistency of the heat zapping your cake. Also make sure to allow your baked goods to cool fully. I know, it’s hard, but it’ll be so much better if you wait until it’s cooled properly. Cooling time should be equivalent to the amount of time it took to bake. — Lena Kwak
Read More From Women’s Health:
• Best Packaged Sweets And Treats
— Sara Cann, Women's Health
This post was originally published on August 21, 2012.