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5 Tips from Professional Bakers to Improve Your Home Baking
I spent a week cooking at a bakery again. This is the expert baking advice I'll be taking home with me.
07-15-2021
Carolyn Grillo

I wanted to reconnect with my professional cooking roots, so I recently spent a week as a hired hand (read: worked for free) at one of my favorite bakeries in Boston, Allium Market + Cafe

During my week there, I helped the pastry team make hundreds of baked goods: mixed berry scones, morning glory muffins, zucchini cakes, peanut butter miso cookies, pimento-stuffed pretzel bombs, chocolate croissants, and more. 

Working in a professional kitchen gave me some pearls of wisdom about baking, ideas that make me a better home baker. If you take away these five tips—as I did in my week at Allium—your cookies, cakes, muffins, and pastries will have a greater chance of success.

1. Weigh your ingredients.

It’s tempting to use a measuring cup. But baking is a science, and a few grams in either direction could be the difference between a wet cake and one that’s bone-dry. Weighing dry ingredients such as flour and sugar with a kitchen scale ensures accurate results. (This one's our all-time-favorite kitchen scale, by the way.) In the Allium kitchen every ingredient in each recipe is measured in weight rather than volume. Consistency is key, whether it’s for customers at a bakery, or for you at home.

2. Mise all of your ingredients before you begin.

Mise en place is a French phrase meaning "setting in place," and it refers to preparing all of a recipe's ingredients individually before you do anything else. Whether you're baking professionally or at home, this step is important. It keeps you organized and means you'll never find yourself rushing around the kitchen frantically searching for an ingredient at the last minute.

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3. Pay attention to the temperature of your butter, eggs, and milk.

If a recipe calls for softened butter, it's important to use softened butter. If it’s too cold or too warm, the butter and sugar won't cream as well, a process in which sugar crystals are whipped into softened butter to create air pockets. Softened butter means lighter, airier baked goods. If a recipe calls for room-temperature butter, it's a good idea for your eggs and milk to be room temperature as well, so the batter doesn't seize up from the late addition of cold ingredients.

croissant picture

Perfectly temped butter made these croissants possible.

4. Read through the entire recipe. Then read it again.

I know the urge to gloss over a recipe and dive right into it. I’ve been there. But reading it through carefully and deliberately—and then once more—allows you to internalize the details and anticipate any curveballs. Do you need to sift the dry ingredients? Do you need to chill or soften anything (see above)? Better to know that ahead of time. Recipes also tell you what tools you'll need so that you can have them close by, such as a silicone spatula for scraping down the sides of the bowl.

5. Slow down.

Baking is supposed to be an enjoyable experience and there's no need to rush. Plus, slowing down prevents mistakes and accidents. For example, I was rushing a bit on my first day in Allium's kitchen in an attempt to prove my competency. The large stand mixer had a slightly confusing speed panel. I assumed (never a good idea!) that the dial was listed in order from fastest to slowest. Instead of turning the mixer to its slowest speed, I chose the fastest speed. In seconds the dry ingredients inside exploded out of the bowl, covering all surfaces around the mixer. Thankfully, the only damage was to my ego. I finished the cookie dough, cleaned up my mess, and moved on to the next recipe.

We all make mistakes in the kitchen, no matter how long we’ve baked in the past. The simple act of taking a breath and slowing down will help prevent those errors.

Photo: YaroslavKryuchka, Getty Images

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