Let us take the fear out of baking.

By Sarah Wharton

Lesson 1: Rest Your Dough

Photo by Con Poulos

Seriously, do it. Your cookies will be so much better! For our Neapolitan cookies, the first resting period allows the moisture to evenly distribute throughout the dough and the fat to solidify again, making the dough firm enough to roll out. The second rest sets the layers so they’ll be sliceable and hold their shape when baked. Even chocolate chip cookies benefit from resting: A dough that’s refrigerated overnight bakes up browner and with a richer flavor thanks to properly hydrated flour and a breakdown in protein and starches. You want to put the dough into the oven cold; this allows the fat to melt evenly, which controls the spread and gives your cookies a nice soft center. 

Other cookie tips

Cookies with a high fat content, like the Neapolitan Cookies, can be baked directly on a sheet pan. But for cookies that might stick to the sheet—like meringues or cookies rolled in sugar—parchment paper and silicone mats are a smart option. You may sacrifice some deep browning on the bottom, but they’ll be easier to remove. 

Pay attention to the temperature of your ingredients. Butter too warm? Briefly pop it in the freezer. Too cold? Try  pounding it with a rolling pin,  cutting or grating it into smaller pieces or  sealing it in a bag and floating in lukewarm water.

Lesson 2: Handle with Care

The purpose of whipping egg whites is to beat air into them, giving them volume and structure—then you need to be gentle with them so they don’t deflate! Follow the folding tips below to keep them fluffy. And FYI, coating the soufflé dish with sugar isn’t just for flavor: The sugar granules act as little footholds for the aerated soufflé batter to climb. Once you've got the technique, try our amazing tangerine soufflé recipe.

Photo by Con Poulous

How to fold in egg whites

  • With a rubber spatula, gently stir about 1/4 of your whipped whites into batter (they will deflate but will loosen batter).
  • Add remaining whites in 2 batches, using this technique: Pile on the egg whites. Bisect whites and batter with the spatula. Then, starting from bottom of bowl, scoop up batter and gently flip it on top. Give bowl a quarter turn after each fold. Bisect and flip again.
  • Continue to fold just until there aren’t any streaks.

Lesson 3: Weigh Your Ingredients

Photo by con Poulos

Yes, we know it sounds like a pain in the butt, but we swear it’s the single best thing you can do to improve your baking. (Umm, hello, how do you think pound cake got its name? A pound of each ingredient! Even bakers back in the 1700s knew better.)

Here’s why it matters: People have a tendency to pack dry ingredients—particularly flour—into their measuring cups, which can lead to dry, dense baked goods. To test yourself, measure your flour as you normally would and then weigh it: 1 cup of flour should come in at 4 1/4 ounces; a cup of sugar should weigh 7 ounces. Even a little bit more or less than that can impact the texture and flavor of the final product.

Lesson 4: Don't Be Afraid of Yeast

Photo by Con Poulous

Yeast is an organism, which tends to make people nervous—you do actually have to determine if it’s alive or dead. Put about 1/4 tsp yeast and a bit of sugar in a small bowl of warm (not hot) water. Let it sit for about 10 minutes. If it foams up, you’re good to go! Now try our amazing cheese-stuffed pull-apart bread recipe.

Tip: Help yeast do its job. Don’t shortchange the kneading process: It develops the gluten that ultimately gives your bread its structure. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic and bounces back when pressed with your thumb. And let the rising process run its course: If your dough doesn’t double in size in the time the recipe says, all is not lost! Room temp is likely the culprit—if your kitchen is cool, it’s going to take a little longer for the yeast to lift that mass of dough.

Photo by Con Poulous