When you’re first starting out baking, it can be quite intimidating. There’s a ton of jargon to learn, techniques to perfect, and challenging bakes to overcome.
When I was very young and learning to bake, I had both my grandmother and my mum to tell me what I was doing wrong and show me how to fix common mistakes. They were able to give me the foundational baking tips and tricks I needed as a beginner to solidify my love for baking.
But not everyone has someone there to help them learn as they bake, which is why I wanted to collect my 20+ years of knowledge and secrets into a sort of Baking Bible that you can have in your pocket whenever you need a hand.
In this post are over 50 of my best baking tips and tricks that will help you become a better baker. These are things that make my job of developing recipes easier, faster, and help me turn out better results. I hope they do the same for you too.
Table of Contents
General Baking Tips & Tricks
1. Always preheat your oven. This is the best piece of advice I can give you. It’s so important to remember this step, because you don’t want your batters sitting out too long on the countertop or they won’t bake up right. The rise, texture, and flavour of your bakes depends on it!
2. Read the recipe through once before you start. This is the second best tip I can give you. Always know what you’re doing and what you need before you begin. I can’t tell you how many times I messed up as a beginner because I didn’t know a certain step was coming or was missing an ingredient. Read through first and you can look up unfamiliar terms or techniques (use this handy Baking Terms Guide I made!) and make sure you have all the right equipment and ingredients.
3. Prep your ingredients. Chefs do this all the time; it’s called mise en place - everything in its place. If everything is measured out and ready for you, it makes for a much easier, stress-free baking experience. If you don’t have time to do this, check out our baking kits – we do this step for you!
4. Don’t go rogue on baking recipes. You can do that all you want with cooking, but baking is a science, it’s chemistry. When you’re a beginner baker, it’s important to follow the recipe to ensure everything turns out right. Something will likely go wrong if you start adapting.
5. Room temperature isn’t a suggestion, it’s vital. Baking recipes require ingredients at room temperature so they combine properly. If you’ve ever tried to cream cold butter and sugar together, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You can end up with curdling or too thick or too runny batters. Check this post for specifics on ‘room temperature’.
6. Weather and altitude make a difference. If you live at a higher altitude, you might have noticed your cakes rising a bit higher, your bread dough proofing at a weird rate, or baked goods drying out. This is due to less air pressure. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do except test and adjust. Start with lowering your oven temperature and baking for less time than the recipe indicates.
7. Use the pan size listed in the recipe. The bake was developed using that specific pan, so you’ll get the best results if you use it too. If you have no choice but to swap pans, check out this article, which goes into detail about pan capacities and volumes.
8. Use light coloured pans over black or dark ones. If you find your bakes cook a lot faster and end up dry, your dark pans may be the cause because they conduct more heat.
9. Use a weighing scale to measure out, not cup volumes. You will have a much nicer and more successful baking experience if you weigh your ingredients. A scale is incredibly accurate, whereas cup measures are often anywhere from 10-50 grams off! If you simply have to use cups, be sure to use the fluff-and-spoon method.
10. Get an oven thermometer and learn to calibrate your oven. Unfortunately, most common home ovens aren’t accurate. They either run hotter or colder than what the internal temperature thinks it is in there, which can result in underdone or overbaked treats. Use your oven manual to calibrate the internal thermometer every 6 months or so, and grab an oven thermometer to double check it’s accurate every time you bake.
11. Don’t open the oven door. If you often suffer from sunken or collapsed bakes – this is the likely culprit! Opening the door, even a crack, lets heat escape and can drastically change the temperature inside. It’s best to leave it shut for the entire baking time. I don’t care if the recipe tells you to rotate the bake, it’s not worth the risk.
12. Use the right butter. There’s a HUGE difference between block butter and butter spreads/blends. You want to make sure you’re always using unsalted block butter when you’re baking. Spreads contain extra water and oil to make them squidgy and spreadable, even when cold; that extra moisture in your baked goods can result in soggy, underdone, or collapsed bakes. P.S. This goes for plant-based butter too – use the blocks when you want to bake.
Bonus Tip: Choose a quality butter to bake with if you’re not baking often. It has a much richer flavour which will make your cakes and cookies taste extraordinary!
13. Make sure your butter is at the right consistency. The recipe will tell you whether it needs to be cold, room temperature, or melted. This consistency is important to achieving the right result, so make sure you follow it.
14. Use butter, not oil, to grease your pans. Cold butter sticks really well to the surface of pans, providing a better non-stick surface. If you struggle with parchment sliding all over the place, bakes stuck to the tin, or overbaked edges, try using butter instead of oil.
15. If you can’t be arsed to cut butter into your flour mixture, just freeze it and then grate the frozen butter straight into the bowl. Toss gently to combine and voila!
16. You can bring eggs to room temperature quickly by submerging them in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes.
17. Forgot to take your butter out of the fridge? Cut it into cubes to bring it to room temperature more quickly.
18. Separate eggs using your hands. Yes, it’s a bit messier, but it's also faster and there’s far less of a chance you’ll break the yolk with a sharp bit of shell.
Bonus Tip: On that note, always separate eggs into individual bowls before you add them to the main batter, that way, if you mess up, it doesn’t ruin what you’ve already done.
19. Scrape your bowl! There’s always something at the bottom needing to be mixed in, especially with a stand mixer. Use a good spatula and get in there!
20. Unless you’re kneading bread dough, treat your batters, pastry, and doughs like a baby. Be gentle with your actions, especially when folding and mixing. This will result in lighter, well-textured bakes.
21. Don’t leave batters out on the counter. You want to get the batter in the oven as soon as you’re done mixing so that you get a good rise. The longer they sit out, the higher the chance of a dense crumb. (This is why it’s important to remember to preheat!) Extra cookie dough should be kept in the fridge until ready to bake.
22. Always bake in the centre of the oven (unless otherwise instructed) and do cookies one tray at a time for even baking.
23. To get clean slices on your desserts, use a hot knife. Simply run your knife under a screaming hot tap, slice, then wipe the knife with a paper towel in between slices. This works especially well for cold desserts or chocolate coated treats.
24. Before you start baking, check the expiration dates on leaveners (baking powder, bicarb, yeast) and any spices. If they’re out of date, test them to make sure they still work or are potent. Read this post to find out how to test your leaveners.
25. Use real vanilla extract, not the imitation stuff. Trust me on this one. The difference in flavour will blow your mind. (You can use vanilla paste for even more flavour.)
26. Use unwaxed citrus if you need the zest, otherwise you’ll end up with wax in your bake. Mmm, delicious.
27. If you’re making a citrusy bake, try rubbing the zest into the sugar before adding it to the rest of the ingredients for a stronger flavour.
28. Use colour gels/pastes over liquid food colouring. Gels and pastes have a much higher concentration of colour, so you use far less than the liquid colouring. This is especially useful for bakes where you need a bright colour (ie. red velvet or rainbow cakes), because adding too much liquid colour can affect the batter.
29. Do your add-ins (ie. berries, dried fruit, chocolate chips) always sink to the bottom of your cakes? Try dusting them with flour before adding them to the batter; it should help them ‘float’.
30. Rehydrate dried fruit (dates, raisins, etc.) by soaking them in boiling water for 30 minutes, then drain before adding to your bakes.
31. Toast your nuts and oats! This is such a game-changing tip. You get a much stronger, nuttier flavour in your baked goods by toasting first.
32. Chopping nuts can be messy and a pain, so bash nuts or chocolate in a plastic bag or tea towel to break them up faster and with less mess.
33. Add coffee to your chocolate bakes. I know it’s weird, but coffee = more intense chocolate flavour. I always chuck at least a teaspoon of instant espresso powder into all my chocolate bakes to amp up the flavour.
34. If you’re making whipped cream, chill everything beforehand. The glass bowl, the whisk/beaters, and the cream itself should be cold to help speed up the whipping process.
Bonus Tip: Always whip cream by hand, especially if you struggle with over-whipping. It’s much easier to stop at the right ‘peak’, if you can feel the cream versus trying to see it in a mixing bowl.
35. Use a drop of oil (coconut or vegetable) to thin out melted chocolate before coating treats. It makes it so much easier and keeps the chocolate smooth and shiny.
36. I almost never buy buttermilk. Make your own by combining a teaspoon of lemon juice or distilled vinegar with regular milk. Let it sit for 5 minutes before adding it to your recipe.
37. Use sea salt, not iodised table salt. The difference in flavour is insane. Don’t believe me? Buy both and do a little taste test!
Cake Baking Tips
38. If the recipe says to sift the dry ingredients, do it. Sifting can be very important to the overall texture and crumb of a cake.
39. Don’t overmix the batter – this is a cardinal rule of cake baking. Once you add the flour/dry ingredients, be very gentle and only mix until everything is incorporated. More often than not, some lumps in the batter are okay. You’ll get a much lighter cake because you aren’t overworking the gluten.
40. That said, ALWAYS cream butter and sugar until PALE and FLUFFY. If it’s still yellow or gritty, you aren’t done. This process usually takes about 5 minutes with a good electric mixer. Please don’t try and cream butter and sugar with a hand whisk, you’ll ever be able to incorporate enough air manually.
41. Ensure you don’t overfill your pans. The cake batter needs space to rise and expand. If you fill them too much, you’ll end up with an undercooked or domed cake. A good rule of thumb is to only fill to the ⅔ mark.
42. Cakes, cupcakes, cookies, anything you want to frost, must be completely cooled before you do so. Otherwise, you’ll end up with sloppy, melted frosting and sliding cake layers.
43. Cool your cakes upside down on a wire cooling rack to flatten any domed tops (or you can use cake strips when you’re baking).
44. Struggling to fill a piping bag without making a huge mess? Twist and fold up the narrow bottom and place it in a pint glass. Then, fold the top edges over the rim of the glass like a bin liner and fill with frosting. Voila!
45. Chill your cake layers before you frost. This will result in fewer crumbs and make it so much easier to level any domed bits.
46. Learn to crumb coat. This step is often overlooked, but will give your cake a professional finish. Check out this video I made to teach you how to crumb coat.
47. Put a little dollop of frosting on the plate/cake board to keep your cake in place while you frost.
48. Flip your last cake layer over to create a smooth, flat surface for frosting and decorating.
49. For even layers and to avoid lop-sided cakes, learn to level your cake layers. I made a video for leveling cake layers too!
Cookie Baking Secrets
50. If a cookie recipe tells you to chill your cookie dough, do it. Chilling the dough not only allows it time to ‘marinate’, which produces a better flavour, but it also helps the cookies keep their shape and produces a better texture.
51. Brownies, blondies, and cookies should come out of the oven when the edges are dry and they’re still gooey in the centre.
Bonus Tip: Brownies and blondies will pull away from the side of the pan when they’re done. Even if they appear underdone at this point, take them out of the oven and let them cool completely in the tin on a wire rack. They’ll keep baking from the residual heat of the pan, resulting in gooey brownies.
52. Don’t put cold cookie dough onto hot cookie sheets. You won’t get the same result, because the butter will melt faster and spread too much. Use two sheets and rotate them or wait until the tray cools before popping another batch into the oven.
Pastry & Bread Baking Tips
53. Need a warm place to proof your bread dough? Use your oven! When you’re mixing the dough together, preheat your oven to 70°C. Turn it off, then pop in your dough to prove.
54. Bake pies the day before you want to serve them. A professional baker once suggested this as it allows the flavours to develop and blend together, resulting in a much tastier pie.
Clean Up Tricks
55. Clean as you go! Everyone hates the cleaning up part the most, and it can often turn us off the idea of baking. It’s best to clean as you finish each major step. That way, it won’t be such a huge, intimidating job when you’re finished and you’re more likely to bake again!
56. Spray measuring cups or spoons with a bit of oil to keep sticky ingredients from sticking to them – they’ll slide right out.
57. Clean up a sticky mess by dusting a bit of flour on top of the culprit and then scrape it up with a bench scraper.
Some Kitchen Equipment Swaps
Don’t have a specific tool at your disposal? Try a few of these swaps:
A standard ruler is a great substitute for a bench scraper or dough slicer.
A wine bottle makes a fab rolling pin.
You can make parchment paper liners instead of using cupcake or muffin liners.
In a pinch, a plastic bag with a snipped corner will substitute for a piping bag.
Generally, you can use a 20cm square tin in place of a 20cm round tin and vice versa.
I hope this bible of baking tips and tricks was helpful for you and that you now feel even more confident to get started!
And if you want to make more time for baking and learn a ton of new skills, you should consider a Bookish Bakes subscription.
Our subscriptions are perfect for beginner bakers, because we send you everything you need to get started. Every kit comes with a fail-proof recipe, all the dry ingredients you need, pre-measured to save time, as well as any extras like pre-cut parchment paper, piping tips and bags, or cutters!
Check out our Subscriptions here.