For me, baking is one of those things that only works when you’re 100 percent into it.
From personal experience, let me tell you that cakes – even simple ones – will not come out the way you want them to without the right concentration and preparation.
Of course, there are those quick and easy recipes out there, perfect for those days when you have lots of other things to do.
All the same – whether you’re kneading dough or whisking eggs – it will only pay off if you do it with patience, care, and good technique.
What could be just as important, if not more important, than patience or technique?
Being prepared means having every utensil, bowl, and measuring cup in place, before you even begin. It’s a technique in and of itself: allowing you to work fluidly, with everything right there when and where you need it, through every single step.
This will save you time otherwise spent stressed out and searching for needed cookware in the midst of your baking mission – or combing tediously through the recipe instructions again and again… and again.
Patience, preparation, and technique are just three very basic overarching tips, and a general foreshadowing to what will truly make your baking adventure a smooth one – as smooth as that perfect batter!
But really, all this can be achieved with the help of many other neat techniques for efficient oven ventures – which we’ll take a look at in this article. It’s time to simplify your baking routine, and become a master!
What’s an important aspect of both preparation and patience? In two words: time management, by getting everything ready first, before you even begin.
For example – searching for whisks or oven mitts with a hot pan in the oven can quickly lead to trouble. Instead, manage your time and plan to have utensils and other kitchen implements ready to go, conveniently in place as you go through the steps.
In the same vein, mixing eggs or whipping cream is best achieved when all ingredients and equipment are exactly where they need to be, on hand for the task.
This is especially important since textures can be sensitive, batters and doughs can lose structure, and temperatures can be… well, temperamental. The right utensil needs to be there at the exact time when you need it in those cases, too.
As such, get everything that’s required ready beforehand – whether it’s ingredients or kitchen equipment. It also helps to thoroughly read the recipe you are to follow beforehand, so you know what you’re diving into.
1. Stocking the Basics
Baking should be a peaceful pastime, not a stress-ball of work!
For that reason, it’s always helpful to keep your basic ingredients stocked at all times, and to be prepared for anything.
Having those ingredients always on hand at home can motivate you to bake more – not to mention, this will help make baking much easier to adopt as an easy part of your routine, too.
Even better: think of all the time you’ll save, not having to make those emergency grocery trips in the middle of your baking heyday!
It’s also a good feeling when those special occasions come up, and you know that you have most of the basics covered already.
You might need to step out on an errand to get more specialized, seasonal items – but not having to worry about those basic ingredients will make you feel relieved, and more confident.
Exactly what are the basics you’ll need at home for some spontaneous baking? Here are a few:
- Sugar (granulated, brown, powdered)
- Baking soda
- Butter or vegetable shortening
- Dry yeast (fresh yeast has a limited shelf life)
- Cocoa powder
- Chocolate (chunks, glaze, sprinkles)
- Frozen berries and other types of fruit
Some optional goodies for stocking are:
- Spices (warming spices and vanilla in particular)
- Nuts (whole, ground, chopped)
- Shredded coconut
- Whipping cream
2. Only Choose Recipes That You Can Handle
Sometimes, you’ll know days in advance that a special occasion for baking is on the way – like a holiday party, birthday, group gathering… you name it. This will give you plenty of time to plan ahead.
With correct planning and time management, even the most extravagant cakes and tarts can be easier to make than you might imagine. Think about it: cake bases can be prepared even one or two days beforehand!
Some of them may even be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, providing even more flavor and moisture than if they were eaten right on the spot.
So if you’re having trouble finding enough time around parties or holidays to prepare at the last minute, search for recipes that allow you to prepare some steps – or sometimes even the whole thing – ahead of time.
What if you’re psyching yourself up to use a special type of baking equipment or exceptional ingredients, or to embark on a daunting baking project that’s a little out of your realm?
The answer: don’t stress yourself out. Rather than attempting to tackle a real beast for a high-stakes party or gathering, choose a simpler recipe with only a few fancy additions, to impress your guests and stretch your repertoire.
Think decorative patterns in the dough or on the icing, fresh fruit decorations, or flavored cream toppings instead of that seven-layer cake recipe.
Little flourishes like this are not so hard to do, but can really jazz up even the simplest of baked goodies with minimal effort.
So save those big baking challenges for less stressful occasions – when you’ll have time and focus available to really practice and master the craft.
Problem-Free Dough Preparation
There are lots of different dough variations to choose from when it comes to baking. And each of them requires its own special treatment and care.
While yeast loves some gentle warmth, for example, a shortcrust pastry on the other hand will only work well if it’s cold.
Before beginning, make sure you consider your dough’s specific needs, and how you should handle them! Here are some tips based on my own experiences.
3. Sponge Cake Batter
Sponge cake is more sensitive than one might think. When it comes to this batter, the ingredients each need to have similar temperatures to bind together properly.
For example: if the recipe combines eggs and butter, you should make sure they are both at nearly the same temperature before you begin (room temperature works best).
Otherwise, you may find your dough coagulating and forming lumps!
In fact, this tip applies to all kinds of dough you might prepare.
The danger of over-mixing does exist, and it can turn your sponge weak and stiff – not light and airy as you had hoped.
4. Shortcrust Pastry
What do we all want to achieve when making shortcrust pastries and piecrusts?
And for this, you’ll need cold butter.
But here’s a common problem – ever tried to knead or cut it into small chunks and add it to your dough? This can be a quite difficult venture.
You can’t just skip the work by melting it either, since the cold temperature is necessary to create the desired pastry texture.
Here’s an easy tip: simply keep a stick of butter in your freezer, then coarsely grate it into your dough. This way, the butter spreads evenly into the pastry, but keeps its required temperature.
Don’t worry about any small, visible butter flakes in the dough: this is precisely what makes for a wonderful pastry or crust.
Keep the dough cool after kneading and mixing for at least half an hour in the fridge before proceeding with the recipe. This will help everything to meld together, improving the texture.
Also keep in mind – it’s best to knead the dough with cold hands!
You can either rinse them with cold water for a while, or rub them with an ice cube, and then dry.
A rolling pin that can be put in the fridge to chill works great here too, as does a cool marble slab for rolling.
Otherwise, your pastry or crust will warm up quickly, becoming sticky and soft rather than flaky.
5. Yeast Dough
Many people are afraid of preparing yeast dough. This is absolutely uncalled for!
Whether you’re using dry or fresh yeast, it all comes down to patience – and temperature.
Yeast needs warmth, but don’t confuse that with heat. A temperature of approximately 95°F, or around body temperature, is perfect for handling this kind of dough. And it shouldn’t get any warmer than that.
Butter and eggs work great at a cooler temperature than yeast, around room temperature (70°F). This temperature is also important if they are to be combined with yeast in a dough, to sustain that needed warmth.
So whether you’re making dough from scratch or preparing it in advance, remember to take these ingredients out of the fridge 1 to 2 hours beforehand, to make sure they aren’t too cold.
Sometimes, milk will be called for in a yeast dough recipe. In these cases, gently warm it up in a small saucepan on low heat for a couple of minutes. Do not bring it to a boil or scald it.
Lastly: you will also need to take your time when baking with yeast.
Be careful to follow the directions exactly, and stick religiously to the recommended resting times for dough. Only then can you be sure that it will turn out just the way you want it to!
6. Prevent Soggy Cakes
Sometimes, an added topping, cream, or frosting recipe calls for liquids like juice or liquor that can soak right into a cake.
In some cases, this soak is very much desired, giving the base of the cake more flavor. However, a sopping, drenched base is not always what we want!
How can you prevent this from happening?
When preparing a cake or torte with fruits or creamy toppings (and especially if your baked convection has raised edges or a hollowed out center), here’s a tip that can be really helpful in preventing all that liquid from soaking into the middle:
Leave the base to cool down completely (possibly overnight in the fridge), and melt some chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave.
The microwave option may be more convenient, but using a double boiler on the stove offers more control over the temperature – and makes it easier to keep an eye on what you’re doing.
Spread a thin layer of this melted chocolate from the middle of the cake to the borders on the top, and then wait for it to set.
The duration of your waiting period depends a lot on the humidity and temperature of your kitchen. This can be achieved in cooler climes by setting your cake on the counter, but placing it in the fridge for about 30 minutes is a safe bet under all conditions – and this tends to work more quickly than what the ambient air might achieve.
Keep in mind, of course: this chocolate trick might not work with all cake flavors. If you’re in the mood for a little experimentation, try white chocolate, peanut butter chips, or butterscotch chips instead.
Now you can top it with juicy fruits or cream without being afraid of a sloppy base – even if you need to chill it for another couple of hours before serving.
And let’s be honest: who wouldn’t enjoy a sweet layer of chocolate hidden in between their cake and its toppings? Definitely not me.
7. Blind Baking for Crusts
In the case of tart, quiche, or pie crusts, here’s a nifty way to make sure it doesn’t collapse or develop bubbles in the oven: a technique called “blind baking.”
Why blind baking? Sounds a little risky!
But really, the phrase refers to when you cover the crust with parchment paper or aluminum foil that’s weighted down and then bake the empty shell – the crust is hidden, so you’re baking blind.
Ceramic pie weights, available on Amazon.
Other theories on the origins of this term refer to a secondary definition of the word “blind” in English, which can mean empty or closed up.
And another claims this term may originate from the French cuire a blanc, or “to bake white,” which may have been a mistranslation of blanc to “blind” in English.
There, that’s not so scary.
The only two things you’ll need are parchment paper or foil and pie weights or dried legumes (beans, peas, lentils) or rice. You want to use something that isn’t going to burn or impart any flavor into your crust.
To blind bake a pie shell, follow these steps:
1. Place the crust into your pan or baking dish, and poke it with a fork a few times around the bottom and edges of the dough. Be careful not to poke right through the pan if you’re using the disposable aluminum kind!
2. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper or foil with a bit of an overhang to go over the edges of the pan, and press it in gently to line the pan. Then spread the dried legumes on top in an even layer, to weigh down the paper or foil.
3. If the pie filling also needs to be baked, bake the crust for just 10 to 15 minutes. If the filling is cold and doesn’t require baking (like a pudding or custard, or fresh fruit), you can leave the crust in the oven for a little longer to cook it fully, about 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Carefully remove your weights by gathering the edges of your liner and lifting it out of the pan, then leave to cool on a wire rack.
You don’t need to throw the legumes away after this procedure. Just leave the beans, rice, or whatever you choose to cool down completely after baking, and keep them in a screw-top jar to use again later, as your dedicated pie weights.
If they start to look burned or very dried out, throw them away.
Tip: When covering crusts with juicy fruits or cream, wait for them to cool down completely before filling the pie shell. Otherwise, they might become soggy and unstable.
8. Cutting Layered Cakes
Whenever you prepare a cake with multiple layers – sometimes filled with cream, jam, or other ingredients – it can be a difficult beast to cut correctly without crumbling or otherwise falling apart.
But here are some tips to consider, for an easier cutting procedure.
The best thing you can do? Prepare the cake batter and bake it one day in advance of your party, before it’s needed.
Of course, you’ll want the layers to have a level, even appearance. If you own a long bread knife, you can cut the cake simply using your own visual judgment, if you’re confident.
In most cases, this will work just fine. But there is another way to make sure your cake layers don’t look crooked!
Here’s how: get yourself a long thread (like an undyed piece of white thread from your sewing kit, or an unflavored piece of dental floss).
Hold it taught in both hands, as if you were flossing, and tighten it right around the cake where you want to divide it, passing it right through the cake and creating two even layers.
Imagine you are lacing up the cake, and gently pull the thread through – no misplaced cuts with knives will disturb the look then!
Practical Knowhow for Special Ingredients
Whether you’re a beginner or a cake pro, sometimes things just go higgledy-piggledy. In the twinkling of an eye, the milk is burnt, the egg whites won’t stiffen, or the glaze won’t stick to the cake.
All those little problems can be taken care of with some simple tricks.
There is no additional equipment needed for these. A simple stick of butter, for example, can be a great helper for bringing milk to a boil.
The next time you’re using a special ingredient like berries, egg whites, or you want to spread a shiny glaze on your baked goodies, just remember these tips. You’re good to go!
9. How to Prevent Milk from Boiling Over
Bringing milk to a boil for baked recipes can sometimes be a tricky matter. During that brief moment that you look the other way, your simmering milk always seems to take that opportunity to bubble over and become a scalded mess, with an unsightly skin on top!
To prevent the milk from rising over the top: grease the inner and upper sides of your saucepan with butter. It’s fascinating – the fat will actually keep the milk at the bottom, preventing it from boiling over.
However, be sure to still keep an eye on the stove so that it won’t burn! Using a bit of butter won’t be enough to prevent all milk-related mistakes from happening.
10. Keeping Berries from Coloring Your Batter
You may have encountered this problem before.
When preparing cakes or muffins made with berries, sometimes they can take over and color the whole cake with an unpleasant mix of purple, gray, and red.
How can you keep this from happening?
The trick: add them to the batter last, when all of the other ingredients have already been combined, and stir them in gently.
Another hint for when you’re using frozen berries: do not thaw them! Just take them right out of their bag or container directly before using, breaking them up first as needed.
Place them in a small bowl, dust with plain flour, and gently mix. The fruits are then covered with a thin layer that prevents them from leaching their natural dyes into the mix! Add this to the dough, and then give it a quick stir.
The same procedure applies for fresh berries. Wash and then leave them to drain completely. Cover with flour, then carefully stir in.
These tips are also useful for when your added fruits sink to the cake’s bottom while baking.
11. Stiffening Egg Whites
When whipping egg whites, every little detail counts.
The most annoying detail, though, is when they just won’t stiffen – and your hard work is then of no use in your recipe.
How to avoid this? First: make sure absolutely none of the egg yolk has made its way into the egg whites. If you didn’t know this already, even a little drop of yolk can prevent your whites from whipping properly!
An easy way to keep in control of this when separating eggs is to crack each one into a smaller cup or bowl before combining the white with your bigger batch.
That way, if any shells or a bit of yolk sneak into the mix, you can easily scoop it out (or put that one to another use, like making an omelet to eat while you wait for your angel food cake to bake) without contaminating the whole bunch.
Another reminder: don’t use kitchen equipment that has just been used for another purpose or that needs some cleaning, even if it looks relatively clean to the naked eye.
What you may not realize is that these may still be coated with a layer of fat, oil, or grease that can interfere with achieving the texture you want – particularly plastic bowls, mixer beaters, and rubber or silicone spatulas.
For the very best beaten mousse meringue using egg whites, stick to using cold eggs only. Plus: a little pinch of salt or cream of tartar can help to speed up the stiffening process, and hold those peaks!
Also take into account the freshness of your eggs. To determine this, all you need to do is a simple, common household egg test.
Here’s how: place an egg into a glass filled with cold water. Fresh eggs will float perfectly horizontally and parallel with the surface of the water and the tabletop.
Older, less viable ones may contain trapped air that can cause them to “flip,” making them float bottoms-up, top-up, or generally perpendicular to the water surface or tabletop.
If that’s the case, put them aside – and use them to make a high-heat omelet, egg bake, or quiche instead, so they won’t ruin that angelic texture!
12. Applying Glaze Properly
The magic words for glazing many cakes: apricot jam!
I know, this sounds pretty specific. But the technique of using it as a “primer” layer for your icing, frosting, or glaze is actually a very widely known baker’s trick!
Not only does it help the glaze to cling to your beautiful work, it also provides a subtle, fruity twist that pairs well with the flavor profile of most baked goods.
Even so, do feel free to replace the apricot jam with any other fruit jam flavor you prefer for your baking – others will work, too.
To achieve an even, shiny glaze coating throughout, the jam must be free of any fruit pieces, seeds, or chunks. There’s three options to prevent this:
1. Blend the jam with an immersion blender until completely butter-smooth
2. Press the jam through a fine mesh sieve
3. Buy a smooth variety, like a fruit butter or jelly without any pieces
Once you have a smooth, non-chunky jam, place it in a small saucepan with a few tablespoons of water or juice, just enough until the texture feels easily spreadable. Too much liquid and you risk making your carefully prepared baked good soggy.
Bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Then take it off the stove and immediately spread it on top (and/or on the sides) of your baked good that’s in need of glazing – all while it’s still hot and fresh out of the oven, for the best results. Leave to cool down completely.
You can use jam not only as a frosting primer, but to also give your baked goodies a shiny look. This works great with fruit cakes, or as a base for chocolate or lemon icing.
With the jam underneath, it will be lot easier to spread the icing and make it stick. Plus, the jam coating will stay on the outside of the cake, without soaking in or making it crumble!
Saving Time and Trouble: Quick Tips for Baking Success
Spontaneous guests or relatives have announced they’re coming over, and now it’s you who’s in charge of setting up the coffee table and preparing some sweet treats.
What to do when you need a quick fix at the last minute?
In this section, we have gathered some tips that will save you some time when it comes to being quick and creative in the kitchen.
With some simple ingredients in stock, you can create wonderful crusts. And in just a few steps you can take a delicious treat out of the pan that’s ready to serve.
So, let’s take a look at the best tricks that will help you to shine in the kitchen when you’re short on time.
13. No-Bake Crusts
The Cookie Monster would love all those simple ingredients you have at home for making no-bake crusts – because the greatest ones are made of cookies, of course!
A crunchy, crumbly, crispy crust can be prepared in less than 10 minutes, and with practically any type of cookie or cracker (though certain types come more highly recommended by me).
Especially for no-bake cheesecakes, fruit tarts, and chilled pies, this is a wonderful solution.
You can use almost any kind of crumbly cookie (or even other types of crunchy, crumbly ingredients) you can think of, including cereal. Some excellent examples are:
- Graham crackers
- Amaretti cookies
- Crunchy ladyfingers
- Shortbread biscuits
- Chocolate or peanut butter cream-filled sandwich cookies
- Chocolate biscuits
- Animal crackers
- Speculoos biscuits
Alternatively, you can place the ingredients of your choice into a zip-top freezer bag, releasing as much air as possible before sealing the bag.
Using a rolling pin, meat tenderizer, or frying pan, gently beat the cookies, crackers, or cereal into crumbs.
For a springform or pie pan of approximately 10 inches in diameter, you’ll need about 7 ounces of cookies, crackers, or cereal, and 1/3 cup butter (less if you’re using a cream or peanut butter-filled cookie).
Gently melt the butter, and mix it with the crumbled cookies. Place the mixture into the pan, and work it flat into the bottom.
You can either use your hands for this and press the crumbled cookies into the pan with your palm and fingers, or use the bottom of a wet glass to even out the surface.
Leave it to set in the fridge until the butter has become firm, about 1 to 2 hours – or stick it in the freezer for even faster results.
Better yet, prepare a few of these in advance, and keep them ready to go so you can pull one out and prep a delicious dessert at a moment’s notice!
While it’s chilling or defrosting, prepare your filling or topping. A French silk mousse makes a wonderful option, as does vegan avocado chocolate pudding, or German-style chocolate or vanilla pudding with a little whipped cream on top.
14. Doubling Recipes
When you’re really in a baking mood, you should take advantage of that perhaps fleeting feeling.
Why not save some effort for next time, and double up whatever recipe you might be working on?
For example: you can freeze shortcrust pastries, crusts, and yeast doughs (before resting) for up to three months. For surprising your guests or on spontaneous celebratory occasions, simply thaw your past creations, and you have a whole new baking project ready to go – and most of the work is already done!
Think about it: you only need to prepare it once, but you can benefit from your hard work twice.
15. Getting Your Cake Out of the Pan Whole
Baking bread or cakes is tons of fun! But it can be a buzz-killer when that treat you worked so hard on just won’t slide out of the pan.
It’s always a pity when some pieces stick to the sides, and the product doesn’t come out whole – and sometimes this happens even if you greased the pan.
Have you ever thought about lining your loaf or springform pan with parchment paper completely, instead of just covering the bottom?
Simply create a sling, with two pieces placed perpendicular to each other in the bottom of the pan, and pressed into the sides. Leave a few inches of overhang for easy removal.
After giving it a few minutes to cool off, this makes it so much easier to take cakes out without any crumbles or remains left behind. It works great for me every time!
And Now, Let the Baking Begin!
With these helpful ideas and suggestions, your next baking session will surely be a success. It’s the baker’s tips and tricks that can turn a regular sweet treat into a perfectly gorgeous and heavenly delight.
And if you are looking for even more assistance with making cakes, I suggest reading our basic cake baking guide for the best tips and tricks!
Still a little scared to bake some sweets? Get started with our easy, no-bake recipe for chocolate butter balls. No oven required!
What about you? Do you also have some foolproof tips of your own when it comes to baking? Or do you have your own secret to fluffy batter or a shiny glaze?
Let us know what you think about our baking tips and share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas below.
Preparation and baking technique photos by Kendall Vanderslice, Nina-Kristin Isensee, Felicia Lim, Nikki Cervone, and Lorna Kring, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Adrian White and Allison Sidhu.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.