Heed These 7 Baking Tips Straight From a Pastry Chef
Maria Perrine never imagined that baking with her parents when she was a kid would lead her to a career as a baker. “When they divorced, I kept baking cookies for school bake sales or Girl Scouts as a way to keep the fond memories alive, but I never actually thought I would make a career out of it as an adult!” she recalls.
Maria enjoyed her time as a pastry chef, working in the kitchens of hotels like Sofitel and Shangri-La before she left the city to pursue a more laid-back pace in Bukidnon. There, Maria settled into a bucolic life with her husband and daughter, but her passion for baking never let up. If anything, moving to the countryside taught her how to be more resourceful. Relates Maria, “Nothing was accessible if I wanted it, so I had to continue to learn to both cook and bake anything our hearts desired in order to enjoy it. I had access to farm-fresh ingredients that also challenged me to get creative with recipes tailored to seasonal produce.“
Maria’s favorite pastry to bake? Carrot cake, which is a staple in their household whenever there is a special occasion or get-togethers. “It's just so warm, cozy and comforting—with the cutest decorations!” The most challenging for her, on the other hand, is making French macarons. These exquisite goodies were “the hardest and most delicate thing to truly perfect,” she adds.
Here, Maria shares a handful of do’s and don’ts for those who want to try their hand at baking.
…hoard all the baking tools. If you are still testing the waters, just buy the basics first: measuring cups and spoons, whisks and spatulas for mixing different kinds of batters, and mixing bowls of various sizes. It may be tempting to immediately invest in a top-of-the-line electric mixer. However, it will only be wasted money if, down the line, you realize that baking is not your cup of tea.
…work with cold ingredients. “The golden rule is to always have your ingredients at room temperature before you use them,” says Maria. Key baking ingredients, like egg and butter, makes for a creamier batter when they are at room temperature. The creamy mixture results in thick cookies and fluffy cakes.
…take shortcuts. Baking is an exact art, which means you need to be patient and diligent if you want those muffins to come out great. It’s important to read the entire recipe, stresses Maria, and to follow the steps by the book. Setting the timer is also key.
…start with the basics. It may be exciting to try and bake that lovely cake you found on Pinterest, but hold your horses. “Learn how to walk before you can run,” says Maria. “So learn the doughs, creams, and icings before you jump straight into making an éclair, for instance.” As with any hobby or endeavor, master the basics first before moving on to more advanced techniques.
…preheat the oven. This may seem like a no-brainer, but forgetting to preheat the oven is surprisingly a common—and costly—mistake. Preheating ensures that the oven is at the right temperature so the food cooks properly and is done within the desired amount of time. A preheated oven is especially important when baking because the heat gives your dough the right temperature it needs to rise and brown.
…be unique. There has been a “pandemic baking boom” since the world went on lockdown last year. People stuck at home took to finding distraction and calm in the kitchen, with some taking their baking hobby to the next level: selling baked goodies to augment their income.
But with the many bakers competing for attention, how do you set yourself apart? “Either be unique in your product or be the best in a particular product. You don't need to have a huge menu. Perfect one recipe and be the go-to person for that one particular thing,” Maria advises.
…learn from your mistakes. Baking is no easy feat. You need to learn certain techniques especially if you want to pursue it as a serious hobby or business. In the process, you are bound to make mistakes, like a burnt batch of cookies or a soufflé that failed to rise.
To master the craft, Maria keeps a bread journal where she chronicles her baking notes so she can easily refer to them. “You'd be surprised how valuable those notes will be to you,” she relates. “You're not always going to get it right on the first try. And even if you do, you will still need to practice a single recipe over and over again until you can really understand the marriage between the science and art of baking. Don't be afraid of failure!”