The Confident Kitchen Series
“I love baking, but baking hates me!!” This is a frequent comment that I hear, which clearly illustrates people’s frustration with baking. Typically, after just a few questions, it quickly becomes quite clear why they are feeling this way. There are several key issues which arise again and again. In this “Confident Kitchen” post, I am going to address some of the necessary fundamentals of baking. For the purposes of this post, I will discuss Baking Dilemmas and apply “The Fix” to a recipe for muffins.
One of the very best things about being a chef is that I am able to adopt a “pay it forward” approach to cooking and baking. There are many barriers that prevent people from attempting baking or cooking which can be resolved easily.
The Baking Dilemmas:
- “My muffins are always dry or burnt” or
- “I love to mix, mix, mix” or
- “My muffins are always flat”
PREHEAT OVEN: First and foremost, give your oven time to preheat. The oven temperature can often be the culprit between a successful or disastrous baking session.
In one situation, I learned from a student that she had not turned on the oven until well after the muffins had been mixed. The oven was not yet preheated when the muffins were placed in the oven, contributing to a poor result. There are other factors to consider. For example; the leavening agents such as baking powder and baking soda react quickly (see below).
OVEN TEMPERATURE: Determine what the actual temperature is inside your oven, which can often be very different from what your oven display is indicating. This can be resolved with a simple internal oven thermometer (available at hardware stores for under $5), which is hung inside the oven.
After the oven is preheated, check the internal thermometer to the oven temperature display. Adjustments can be made accordingly. For example, if your oven dial is set to 350oF and the internal thermometer hanging inside your oven is displaying 325°F, then increase your oven dial temperature by 25oF (now 375°F) which should allow the oven to reach an actual temperature of 350°F.
STORE BOUGHT MUFFIN MIXES: When using a muffin mix (as was the case in the example above), the contents are often compacted in the package. I recommend taking a fork or your fingers, and squash any lumps in the dry ingredients BEFORE the addition of any liquid. The same principles apply when making muffins from scratch – use a fork to combine the dry ingredients together, eliminating any lumps, prior to adding the liquids.
OVERMIXING: Muffins are a quick bread method of baking and a light hand is required. This means that you are mixing only until the wet and the dry ingredients have been combined. The best results will come from a batter with a lumpy appearance.
BAKING: Muffins need to be baked promptly after mixing in a fully preheated oven because the leavening agents (baking powder and baking soda) start to work immediately after adding liquids to the dry ingredients. This reaction repeats itself a second time with the heat of the oven.
INGREDIENTS MATTER: Baking is a more precise art than cooking due to the chemical reactions and processes required in the recipes. Accurate measurements are critical to the outcome of baking. For example, a “free-pour” of baking soda will not only result in a volcanic eruption in your oven but an inedible soapy tasting muffin.
SUBSTITUTIONS MATTER: Sometimes, the best intentions can often result in an unsatisfactory result. For example, full-fat sour cream in baking (and cooking) will give a much better result than a no-fat version. The stabilizers that are added to the no-fat product just do not have the same properties that the natural milk fat provides. Artificial sweeteners are another example. Many recipes indicate one-to-one substitution of artificial sweeteners to granulated sugar, and this can result in a baked product that is too sweet.
SIZE MATTERS: If you switch the size of the baking pan (for example, mini muffin pans instead of regular muffin pans; small tart tins as opposed to one large tart tin, etc. ), keep in mind that the cooking time will also have to be adapted. A 24-well mini muffin pan will bake in a fraction of the time that a 6 or 12-well muffin pan would.
- Size Matters: Different size Muffin tins make a difference in baking times
OVEN SETTINGS MATTER: As pointed out in a previous article, Convection Ovens versus Conventional Ovens – Tips and Techniques, the convection oven settings on your oven, are very efficient and effective when baking items of this type. Keep in mind that you will be adjusting the oven temperature by 25°F less than the required temperature in the recipe when using the convection bake setting on your oven,
As well, items will bake more quickly when using the convection oven bake setting, so check for doneness sooner than the times indicated in the original recipe. (see below)
TIMING MATTERS: Just because the recipe states that it will take 35 minutes, don’t believe all you read! Every oven is different. Typically, when baking, use this rule of thumb: set your timer at least 25% less than the time recommended in the recipe. For example, if the recipe indicates 12 minutes, set your timer for approximately 8 minutes so you can check the progress, and then reset the timer, as required to complete baking.
If you are having any of these baking dilemmas and issues that have been addressed in this post, try some of these easy fixes and you will be amazed at the results which will make you more confident in your kitchen.
And for those of you that “love to mix, mix, mix”, I would highly recommend recipes such as How to Make Risotto or How to Caramelize Onions which require a great deal of patience, stirring and of course, lots and lots of mixing!
APPLE CINNAMON STREUSEL MUFFINS
CHEF TALK: Let’s practice some of the points that we have discussed above by using a quick bread method with one of my family’s favourite muffin recipes. This recipe was made for Easter breakfast when my two daughters were very young, and it has been a favourite ever since. It is really yummy! I have also provided gluten free and dairy free alternatives in the ingredient list. (Shown below are gluten-free muffins)
- Apple Streusel Muffins with Creamy Cinnamon Spread
APPLE CINNAMON STREUSEL MUFFINS
Yield: 12 large muffins
FOR THE MUFFIN BATTER:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour blend
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp. Baking powder
- 1 ¼ tsp. Cinnamon, ground
- 1 tsp. Salt
- ½ tsp. Baking Soda
- 1 cup Sour cream (full-fat) or dairy-free alternative
- ¼ cup Butter, unsalted, melted (or coconut oil, melted)
- 2 large Eggs, beaten
- 1 tsp. Vanilla extract
- 1 cup Apple, unpeeled, small diced (I like using a firm red-skinned apple like Pink Lady for this recipe)
- Streusel Topping (recipe follows)
- Preheat the oven to 400oF (375oF if using a convection oven). Line the muffin cups with muffin papers. CHEF TIP: lightly spray the muffin papers with pan spray so that the paper liners peel off easily.
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Using a fork or a whisk, combine the dry ingredients together to blend evenly.
- In a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, butter and eggs, vanilla extract and grated apple. Mix well to combine.
- Add the wet ingredients all at once to the dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.
- Fill the muffin cups, dividing the batter evenly between all twelve of the muffin wells.
- Sprinkle evenly over the top of the muffin batter with the Streusel Topping.
- Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until topping is nicely golden brown.
FOR THE STREUSEL TOPPING:
CHEF TALK: If you like lots of streusel topping (and who doesn’t?), double the recipe below for and sprinkle it generously on top of the muffin batter before baking for crunchy goodness.
- Lots of Crunchy Streusel Topping | urbnspice.com
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour blend)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold (or dairy-free alternative like coconut oil)
- In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
- Cut in cold butter until mixture forms coarse crumbs.
- Sprinkle the streusel on top of the raw portioned muffins. Bake following the directions above.
- Adding the Streusel Topping to the Muffin Batter
STORAGE: Refrigerate any leftovers in a covered container and use with a day or two for maximum freshness – the muffins stay moist and crunchy. For longer storage, these muffins freeze very well in an airtight container.
CHEF TIP: Gluten-free ingredients often require special attention. Instead of 12 large muffins, divide the muffin batter into smaller portions (I used a #1 -5/8 oz scoop – yellow) to make 16 – 18 muffins. Gluten-free flours do not brown as readily as all-purpose flour, therefore testing with a toothpick to ensure the muffin is baked is advisable.
- Scoops: useful for many tasks
Please CLICK the link above to access my UrbnSpice LEARNING TIPS, which are listed alphabetically on the Learning Tips blog post under the following subheadings:
- Importance of Ingredients
- Oven Temperature Accuracy
- Gluten-Free Flour Blends
- Vanilla Extract
Happy Baking, Everyone!
The UrbnSpice Chef
MORE URB’N’SPICE TIP & TECHNIQUE POSTS:
FURTHER RECIPES TO PRACTICE BAKING TECHNIQUES: