Baking Tips: How To Get Good Results Every Time

Tested & Perfected Recipes

It is often said that cooking is an art and baking is a science. There’s some overlap – you definitely need technical skills in cooking and artistry in baking. But in cooking, you create a dish as you would a painting, tasting and adjusting as you go while adding your own personal style. When baking, you need to be precise and follow the recipe, otherwise your cakes will fall, your cookies will spread, your pie crusts will be tough, and so on and so on. But with these baking tips, there’s no need to be intimated by baking! Most baking mistakes are easily averted by understanding the basics, avoiding substitutions, and following a few simple rules.

1. Measure Properly

Of all the baking tips, this is the number one most important rule in baking! Ideally, you should weigh your ingredients on a digital scale but if you don’t have one, the proper way to measure dry ingredients is using the spoon and level method: spoon the ingredients into a dry measuring cup and level or “sweep” the top with a straight edge. This might seem nit-picky but it’s important. A cup of flour measured in volume can vary by several ounces, so if you scoop it into the measuring cup and pack it in, you’ll end up with way too much flour and your baked goods will be dry. The only ingredient that you should ever pack into a cup is brown sugar.

Liquid ingredients should always be measured in clear measuring cups with pour spouts and gradations on the side of the cup. I love the ones that allow you see the measurement marks from overhead (the one pictured right is by OXO).

2. Invest in a good mixer

adding the eggs one at a timeI have a 5-quart Kitchen-Aid mixer that I leave on the countertop and use for just about everything. If you buy a good one, it will last for decades—mine once fell on the floor and it still works! An electric hand mixer is a good alternative.

3. Use Room Temperature Ingredients

eggs

When a recipe calls for room temperature ingredients, it’s important to comply. Cold butter cannot be creamed, and cold eggs can shock and curdle a batter. It’s best to leave ingredients on the countertop overnight, but I confess that I almost never remember to do this. To quickly bring eggs to room temperature, place them in a bowl and run them under warm tap water for a few minutes. If you need to bring butter to room temperature, you can use the microwave but keep a close eye on it because if it gets too soft, it can ruin a recipe. I usually cut the sticks into 1-inch [2.5 cm] pieces and zap them at 50% power in 10-second intervals until softened.

4. Check Your Oven Temperature

It’s a good idea to check your oven temperature every so often to be sure it’s accurate. Along the same lines, when you’re baking, try not to open your oven to peek until the recommended cook time is up. Otherwise, you’ll let cool air in, which interrupts the baking process. The only exception to this rule is to rotate pans halfway through baking if you’re cooking on multiple pans or if your oven has a hot spot; just do it quickly so you don’t cool down the oven.

5. Don’t Make Substitutions

Unfortunately, there are no good substitutes for all-purpose flour, sugar, butter or eggs. Remember, baking is chemistry; experiment at your own risk! However, the “recipe police” won’t come after you if you change little things that don’t alter the chemistry of the recipe, like adding nuts, or swapping orange zest for lemon zest.

6. Use A Light Hand

folding the blueberries into the batter

If you’ve spent any time baking, you’ve likely come across the phrase “Do not overmix.” This is because once you add flour to a recipe, mixing encourages gluten development, which creates a chewy or tough texture. We knead bread dough to activate gluten so that the bread has a good chew factor—but we don’t want that in tender cakes and muffins! When a recipe says, “do not overmix,” stir only until the batter is uniform.

In scones and biscuits, recipes often instruct, “Do not overwork the dough.” Again, you don’t want to activate the gluten, and you also don’t want to warm or melt the butter—the cold chunks of butter steam in the oven, lifting the dough to make tender and flaky baked goods.

7. Understand Leavening Agents

Baking powder and baking soda are used in many recipes to make baked goods rise without the need for yeast. They are not interchangeable. Baking soda needs acidic ingredients to activate, so it is used in recipes that contain buttermilk, lemon juice, cocoa powder, etc. Baking powder needs only liquid to activate, so it is used in recipes that do not contain acidic ingredients. Some recipes, like chocolate chip cookies, call for both baking powder and baking soda. These recipes typically contain some sort of acidic ingredient, like brown sugar, but baking soda alone is not enough to lift the volume of batter in the recipe so baking powder is added to pick up the slack.

8. Add Ingredients in Little Piles

dry ingredients in bowl

Maybe it’s just me, but I often lose track of what I’m doing in the kitchen. I always add ingredients to the bowl in neat little piles when I’m baking so that I can see what I’ve already added.

 

9. Line Pans With Parchment Paper or Heavy Duty Nonstick Foil

how to make cheesecake bars

Parchment paper is ideal for lining cookie and cake pans, and provides easy removal and cleanup. Plus, it can be reused again and again. Or use professional-style silicone mats; they are more durable than parchment, and can be used forever. For bar cookies, make removal easier by lining the baking pans with heavy-duty aluminum foil coated with cooking spray. Just lift the block out onto a board and cut! Be sure to use good quality foil, such as Reynold’s Wrap Heavy Duty; inexpensive brands can stick.

10. Prepare Baking Pans Properly

I usually use nonstick spray or nonstick spray with flour for quick, effective coverage. Hold the pan over the sink or open dishwasher to avoid a mess.

11. Measure and Scoop Batter Evenly

strawberry muffin batter in muffin tin

Use cookie scoops and ice cream scoops with triggers for measuring cookie dough, muffins, and cupcakes. The scoops will be more consistent, the baked goods will cook more evenly, and it’s a much faster way to get the job done.

12. Use Quality Ingredients

Believe it or not, the brands you use can make a huge difference in baking, especially when it comes to flour. When I bake, I use the following ingredients (unless specified otherwise):

  • Flour: King Arthur Flour (This brand has a slightly higher protein content than many other brands of flour, and it gives baked goods more structure.)
  • Butter: Unsalted Land O’ Lakes
  • Vanilla: McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract
  • Eggs: all of my recipes are made using large eggs.


13. Make Adjustments at High Altitude

Baking at a high altitude requires adjustments for best results. These are some general guidelines from King Arthur Flour (click the link for more detailed guidelines); depending on the elevation where you live, some adjustments may be necessary:

  • Oven temperature: Increase 15 to 25°F; use the lower increase when making chocolate or delicate cakes.
  • Baking time: Decrease by 5-8 minutes per 30 minutes of baking time.
  • Sugar: Decrease by 1 tablespoon per cup.
  • Liquid: Increase by 1 to 2 tablespoons at 3,000 feet. Increase by 1-1/2 teaspoons for each additional 1,000 feet. You can also use extra eggs as part of this liquid, depending on the recipe.
  • Flour: At 3,500 feet, add 1 more tablespoon per recipe. For each additional 1,500 feet, add one more tablespoon.

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Comments

  • Thank you Jenn for this valuable information. Very appreciated!

    • — Susan Grondin on December 3, 2021
    • Reply
  • Re. chocolate chip cookie recipe. I use directions on the Nestle chip package EXCEPT i use Crisco in place of butter. Using butter left ny cookies flat. Will try your recipe .

    • — John on December 2, 2021
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  • Hello Jenn,
    My wife Holly & I love all your recipes. Once upon a Chef had become my “go to” for most things we cook. I had my mom’s vintage glass containers that held flour, sugar & coffee. Recently however the lids on 2 of them broke. I like the ones you have pictured in many of your recipes. Could you provide me with a source for them? Thanks so much
    Holly & Larry

    • — Larry on December 2, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Larry, So glad you enjoy the recipes! The glass containers are from The Container Store.

      • — Jenn on December 2, 2021
      • Reply
  • Big KA flour fan here! Never bromated and no added folate. Love that olive oil cake!

    • — Anita on July 31, 2021
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  • This was so good to find! I’m told I’m a great cook but I hate to bake, I’m not a good recipe follower….I will say that the only baking I do are your recipes. Had no clue about the room temp eggs, flour and altitude tips..will certainly remember. Thanks for all your great recipes.

    • — Doreen Mann on July 31, 2021
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  • The Peach Crisp is the best I have ever made. I did cut down on the amount of sugar as the peaches were already very sweet.

    • — JoAnn Rombough on July 31, 2021
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  • What can I use instead of Corn Syrup..it is not available where I live.

    • — Nathalie Marlin on July 31, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Nathalie, there’s not really a one-size-fits-all answer to that as it really depends on the recipe. If you have questions about a specific recipe of mine, I’m happy to weigh in!

      • — Jenn on August 2, 2021
      • Reply
  • This is so great thank you! Would you mind one more question? I haven’t quite figured out what the difference between different cocao powders are (i.e. dutch-processed versus natural). In one of your recipe comments, you mentioned that they aren’t interchangeable but didn’t say why. Which type do you buy typically? Thanks in advance!

    • — Naomi on July 30, 2021
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    • Hi Naomi, This article explains the differences nicely. (And glad you’ve found the other tips helpful!)

      • — Jenn on July 30, 2021
      • Reply
    • Hi Jenn,
      Just wanted to say how your recipes have never steered me wrong! I have 8 grandchildren (ages 10-18) and I’m always looking for a different treat for them as they visit the Cape, where I live, all summer. I call it Grandchildren Central during the summer months! A big part of the appeal, as is with most kids and adults, is the food. Each and every recipe I’ve ever made from you has been a winner! Tonight I made your chocolate chip cookie in a mug recipe for dessert. They went crazy over it! It was so easy and so delicious and no baking was the frosting on the cake. Haha! They all got their own mug with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and they were in heaven. Thank you so much! While on the subject, your pasta e Fagioli and your sausage lasagna are two of my most favorite recipes. I entertain often. Everyone always asks for my recipes. When I tell them about you and recommend your book “once upon a chef,” they aren’t just being polite when they say they’re going to buy your book. I have gotten calls back from at least five different friends saying they got your book and inevitability tell me about a recipe they made and loved. Most recently a friend who moved to Las Vegas texted me and said, “ who on earth would make pasta e Fagioli soup in the middle of a heat wave? Even though it was 114 degrees in Las Vegas, I loved the pasta e Fagioli recipe so much, I made it twice after having it at your house.” Now if that isn’t the ultimate compliment, I don’t know what is!!! Hats off to you for being able to provide the most awesomely delicious recipes that are easy to follow, and never disappoint. When I am cooking or baking, I feel like I hear your words of wisdom in my ear. I’ve learned so much from you. Thank you!! Please keep me posted for your next book! A book signing would be the ultimate for me!!!
      All the best wishes for continued success.

      • — Donna on July 30, 2021
      • Reply
      • Hi Donna, thanks for your incredibly kind words! I’m so glad you like the recipes enough to have spread the word about the blog and the cookbook! And your friend’s comment about making the pasta e Fagioli in the middle of a Las Vegas summer made me laugh! Thanks for inquiring about another cookbook. I do have one being released on September 14th and it’s available to pre-order now. You can read more about it here. Thanks again for all your support! 💗

        • — Jenn on August 2, 2021
        • Reply
      • Dear Donna:

        Loved reading your review, so heartwarming! I agree with you, Jenn’s recipes have always been “spot on” and so good.

        Blessings,
        Susan Grondin

        • — Susan Grondin on December 3, 2021
        • Reply
  • Thanks for explaining so many things I had questions about, also wanted to share that parchment paper is the greatest! I actually use it to cook bacon in the oven, no spatter, no turning, no mess!

    • — Ann DeLong on July 29, 2021
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    • 👍

      • — Jenn on July 30, 2021
      • Reply
  • Thank you Jenn! I was so excited to actually meet you at your book signing a few years ago. You are my Super Power in the kitchen. Your recipes never fail me. Baking always seemed so intimidating but with your recipes and tips, I’m a lot more confident!

    • — Veronica on July 29, 2021
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    • You’re so sweet — glad my tips have helped up your confidence in the kitchen! 🙂

      • — Jenn on July 29, 2021
      • Reply
  • What type of salt do you use when the recipe calls for generic “salt”? There are so many nowadays, and they have different levels of saltiness so I’d love to use what you do! Our family has enjoyed making your recipes together, even my husband has gotten the cooking bug!

    • — Jennifer on July 29, 2021
    • Reply
    • So glad you like the recipes! When a recipe of mine says salt in the ingredient list, I am referring to regular/table salt. If it calls for something else like kosher salt, I will specify that in the recipe. Hope that clarifies!

      • — Jenn on July 29, 2021
      • Reply
  • I’m one of those people who moved to a high elevation and never realized that there would need to be adjustments made to my baking recipes until I had a major cookie failure—the cookies all became one giant, dry ugly cookie! I only use King Arthur flour now, too. Your recipes that you share are ones that I know I can trust to turn out well and are truly delicious.

    • — Barbara Ann on July 29, 2021
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  • Thank you, thank you! One can never stop learning about the science of baking!

    • — ERL on July 29, 2021
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  • Thank you for your timely and accurate tips. I have gleaned a few from other recipes and my own experience that may help.
    1. Place your loaf pan or baking sheet on top of another baking sheet or pan (doubling up) when baking to improve heat consistency and to virtually eliminate burned bottoms.
    2. When using nuts (walnuts) pre-toast for a few minutes to enhance the nutty flavor before adding to your batter.
    3. For dense batters such as banana, cranberry, rye or challah breads, start the initial bake at 25F higher (375F instead of 350F) for the first 25%-30% of the total baking time, then reduce back to the original temp (350F). So, for an hour total bake time I set at 375F for 18 min and dial down to 350 for the rest, then of course use the omnipotent toothpick test. Eliminates the problem of a doughy, underdone middle without over baking the outside. This really works!

    • — Larry Taitelbaum on July 29, 2021
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    • Thank you for sharing your expertise and these great helpful tips!

      • — ERL on July 29, 2021
      • Reply
    • Thank you for your knowledge on baking very helpful

      • — Sharron Biccum on September 16, 2021
      • Reply
  • Thank you Jenn. I never knew some of these tips. They are so very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

    • — Fran on July 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • Great suggestions and tips Jenn! I would add that heavy high quality baking pans are worth the investment. I never enjoyed baking until I threw away my cheap pans and bought really nice ones from a reputable store. When I am invited to a bridal shower, my go-to gift is a couple pans along with my favorite brownie and chocolate chip cookie recipes!

    • — Margaret on July 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • These tips are so helpful, especially the ones regarding high altitude baking.
    Thank you!

    • — Barb Armstrong on July 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • Thanks for the tips. i have been measuring flour after reading your tips and also using eggs at room temperature and my baking has greatly improved. Can you please tell me which digital scale is good as I need to invest in one.

    • — Irene on July 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is extremely helpful! Thank you so much for taking the time to walk us through all these details! Your blog/recipe book are already my go to’s and I do not take for granted the advice you give out for each recipe (e.g. specific brands you recommend). My cooking/baking style has completely changed since I discovered you a few years back when I was looking for a quiche lorraine recipe. “Jenn’s recipe” is a common phrase in our household 😊. Thanks for all you do to make us super stars in our own kitchen 🤩

    • — Frenchiecoikingmama on July 29, 2021
    • Reply
    • ❤️

      • — Jenn on July 29, 2021
      • Reply

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