The Baker’s Corner – Reading A Recipe
This new segment of our blog, The Baker’s Corner, features valuable insights from The Baking Journal’s host Stephanie. To view all content from The Baking Journal please visit https://www.thinktv.org/thebakingjournal/ and subscribe to our YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-pjrZPeeRenFKAF3kBuZcQ!
Here’s Stephanie’s first post! Enjoy:
Hello and welcome to The Baker’s Corner! I love everything about baking – experimenting with flavors, trying new techniques, and mastering classic recipes. But most importantly, I try to have fun in the process and my hope is that these blog musings will inspire you to get in your kitchen and bake. But honestly, even if your thing isn’t hanging out in the kitchen mixing cake batter or fussing over perfect decorative touches, I hope you grab a cup of coffee or tea and join me in my kitchen to watch the Baking Journal to have a little fun and maybe learn a tip or trick to make the time you do spend in the kitchen all the more rewarding.
And since this is our inaugural blog post, I thought we’d start at the very beginning – reading a recipe! It’s the foundation for anything we bake and knowing how to read one may take some of the fear out of giving baking a try. Or if nothing else, it may keep a few of your finished baked goods from landing in the “bin” (as the say on the Great  British Baking Show). Trust me that happens to us all! I know some of you may be thinking, seriously Stephanie, of course I know how to read a recipe, but stick with me, after reading these tips I think you will read your next recipe with a bit more of a critical eye.
The first step is finding a recipe that you’d like to try. Maybe you have a craving for something, maybe you are trying to recreate something you loved as a child, or maybe you just want to use up some ingredients you have in the pantry, but whatever the impetus, the search is on. At the risk of totally dating myself, I remember many years ago, sitting in a local bookstore on Sunday afternoons, searching all the cookbooks for a perfect recipe. One of my dear friends and I would sit there drinking our coffee and pointing to beautifully staged photos of fabulous looking pastries, trying to judge if our skill level was anywhere near being able to pull it off. We hardly ever considered reading the recipe all the way through to see if that would influence our level of confidence and/or help us be successful if we did give it a try! There were so many times that I would give a recipe a try, only to experience an epic failure. Could it have been because I wasn’t reading the recipe thoroughly and carefully? Hmmm maybe…. I guess we’ll never know (but at least it makes me feel a little better if it was that versus my actual skill). And now with all the recipes you can find for almost anything online, the choices can be overwhelming, making reading the recipe with a critical eye even more important.
Finally you find a recipe. Maybe it says it is failproof or has “easiest ever” in the title (gosh, I have fallen for that way too many times), the first thing you need to do is read it from top to bottom. Sounds obvious, right? But you might be tempted to focus on the ingredient list and not read the directions before you get started. I am here to tell you; I have ruined many a cake by doing just that! The instructions may have some ingredients not listed (e.g., Water) in the ingredient list or the instructions may tell you to split an ingredient into two applications (maybe half in the batter and then half in the glaze). If you don’t read the recipe all the way through, you might end up mixing together the wrong amounts of certain ingredients or omit others all together.
Next, pay attention to the order of a recipes’ ingredient list. It is usually set up in the order you will be using the ingredients. For example, if you read the recipe for Chocolate Brownie Cookies that I made on an episode of The Baking Journal, the recipe wants us to know that we are combining the chocolate with the butter by listing chocolate and butter first and second in the ingredient list. Then next up are the eggs, sugar and vanilla to be added to the chocolate and butter mixture. Listen to what the recipe is trying to tell you. Become a recipe whisperer!
Third up, on the recipe reading tips list is the use of commas. Every chop, sift, dice instruction after a comma in the ingredient list is to be performed after the ingredient is measured. For example, in our Chocolate Brownie Cookie recipe, we need 1 lb. of semisweet chocolate, chopped. In other words, if you want to snack on some chocolate while baking the cookies, buy more than 1 lb. to start and keep it separate from your chopped chocolate! But what if you are using a recipe that calls for 1 cup of chopped pecans? No comma, right? In this case, the recipe is telling you to chop the pecans first and then measure out a cup. Whole pecans are going to take up more space in your measuring cup and if you measured a cup of whole pecans and then chopped them to add to your recipe, you would be cheating your finished baked good from some delicious pecans!
When reading your recipe, it is also important to pay attention to ingredient list instructions like packed, softened, and preheat. A common ingredient in baked goods is brown sugar. If a recipe calls for packed brown sugar, you could do what I used to do…. pack it so tightly that not another grain of brown sugar could fit in and watch your baked good become a potential disaster! To learn from my mistakes, instead, take the back of a spoon and evenly press the brown sugar into the measuring cup until it is flush with the top (no weight lifting required!). Another common ingredient in baked goods is butter. Quite a few recipes list it as butter, softened. The recipe is telling you that the butter needs to be taken out of the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before you begin. I know how easy it is to forget to take the butter out and some of us (hmm…moi?) think we can get away with using cold butter or melting the butter in the microwave. But if you want the best odds for success, don’t try it (another lesson learned the hard way)! Just wait for the butter to soften on the counter. I am sure you can find something else to do for a half hour while you are waiting for your butter to soften. Use the time to get your other ingredients measured or put in a load of laundry or put your feet up and relax while waiting? You could take your butter out of the refrigerator at the same time you turn the oven on to preheat. Because pre-heating the oven is another recipe instruction that is critical to the success of your finished product. I am guessing that underbaked or overbaked cakes, cookies or pastries are not what you are going for, so please, please, please pre-heat the oven!
And last but not least, how do you know when your baked good is it ready to come out of the oven? Recipes usually give you a range of time for your finished product and a description of what it should look like (brown around the edges, springs back when gently touched). You have worked so hard and have been so careful to get it to this point, you want to pay attention to the descriptions in your recipe for when your baked good is finished.