Gesine's Baking Do’s and Don’ts

The host of Baked in Vermont shares her best tips for improving your baking skills and making unforgettable desserts.

Photo By: Brent Harrewyn

Photo By: irene_k

Photo By: Renee Comet ©Renee Comet

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: InCommunicado

Photo By: Kana Okada ©Kana Okada 2010

Photo By: Violeta Pasat

Photo By: Jill Fromer ©(c) Jill Fromer

Photo By: DmitryLityagin

First, Always Be Patient

“Be patient.” My mother gave me this advice and it took years to really follow it and realize how true it was. But it’s crucial in baking, and in life.

You Don’t Need to Sift Flour

You really don’t. What you DO need to do is whisk flour with leavening to make sure it’s distributed well. Flours like cake flour sometimes clump and may need sifting but an all-purpose flour doesn’t.

Don’t Swap Out Different Types of Flour

For example, if a recipe calls for all-purpose, you shouldn’t use cake flour because you’ll lose the structure the all-purpose flour brings. You can’t swap out whole wheat for white flours one to one because you have to adjust moisture levels for the pastry to come out properly. And most importantly, you can’t replace a traditional wheat flour for a nut flour. Just because it’s called flour doesn’t mean that it works like traditional wheat flour.

Do Master These Three Recipes

A Swiss meringue/buttercream, a pie, and a moist and tender crumbed layer cake.

Don’t Overwork Pie Dough

It will get tough. Stop working the dough when it still looks a bit shaggy. Be gentle with it.

Do Calibrate Your Candy Thermometer

When a baker trusts a piece of equipment and it fails them, often times home bakers will blame a recipe because they don’t realize that the thermometer is giving them a false reading. What I recommend, aside from investing in a good quality (guaranteed calibration) thermometer, do the boiled water test: water boils at 212ºF at sea level. Check your thermometer’s reading in boiling water and then either calibrate the thermometer (if it allows you to) or do math to correct the misread.

Do Listen When a Recipe Calls for Room Temperature Ingredients

There’s a reason for the instruction. Things like a cake made in the “creaming” method are an emulsification and need to stay at a steady temperature. To fix this, be patient (see my mom’s advice). Or if you’re impatient, you can microwave at a low power for 30 seconds at a time until the butter is closer to temperature.

Do Learn to Make Laminated Doughs Like Traditional Puff Pastry

How a block of butter creates a flaky masterpiece is magical. Ignore ANY chef who says it’s not worth the time to make it. It is. The dough is so much better than store bought and the process is so satisfying. It’s a treat just to make it. The process, the time, is what seems so scary. Seeing the process helps because the language of pastry and lamination, ‘book folds,’ ‘turns,’ etc … doesn’t make any sense unless you SEE what a fold looks like and what a turn is.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes

Teaching and showing bakers what I know, not selling pastry, is my calling. I love sharing my love of baking and making bakers out of people who have sworn they have not one baker’s bone in their body. Mistakes, if they don’t put you in a fetal position and turn you into a blubbering mess, can teach you SO much and make you a much better baker. I’ve had so many bakers say, “I followed the recipe EXACTLY.” I have the honor of teaching students, watching their every move, and I will stop them COLD while they are “following a recipe exactly” and show them exactly what it is they are doing that isn’t right, that they have some bad habit that they don’t realize they have and once they are “woken up” they say, “AHA! That’s what I’ve been doing wrong.”

Don’t Live Without These Baking Tools

The right tools make a huge difference. Even the little things, like small offset spatulas and bench scrapers, can make baking so much easier and better.

You need:
A bench scraper
A stand mixer
A decent amount of pastry tips and pastry bags
Sturdy cake pans
Parchment paper
Offset spatulas
Large rubber spatula

Do Take Your Decorating to Next Level

  • • Have nice selection of decorating tips. Decorating tips, literally, can take your finished pastry to the next level. Practicing techniques will really give your cakes/pastries that extra little oomph.
  • • Get a bench scraper or a frosting scraper. Nothing else will get those gorgeous, smooth tops and sides of a cake.
  • • Invest in quality baking pans. Get baking pans that aren’t too dark, so your finished cakes don’t over brown on the sides and bottom