I have never considered myself a baker, but have always enjoyed the art of baking. And an art it is. But there are a few learned tips. Over the last 30-plus years of trial and error, here are my top five tips to better baking:
• Always use a dry measure for dry ingredients and a liquid measure for liquids. This sounds self-explanatory, but it is crucial to correct measuring. If you don't have a good set of either, buy them. A set of reliable dry cup measures costs less than $10, and a set of two or three (1-cup, 2-cup and 4-cup) glass liquid measures is usually less than $15. The same goes for a set of measuring spoons. Do not use your tableware for measuring.
• Always spoon your dry ingredients into your cup measure by sifting or shaking lightly. Swipe away the excess ingredients with a smooth edge and never scoop the ingredients -- especially flour. You can get ¼ cup to ½ cup too much flour if you scoop instead of spoon and sprinkle. The exception to this rule is brown sugar, but follow the directions closely. They should indicate whether the sugar is loosely or tightly packed. If it doesn't specify, go with loosely packed.
• Do not overmix cakes, cookies, breads or other flour-based baked goods. Over mixing can cause dry, tough and dense results. Most recipes warn against this with instructions that say "just until mixed" or "gently fold." The directions may give an exact mixing time.
•Make sure your oven is fully preheated before placing the pan inside. Changes in temperature can vastly affect the results.
• Use an oven temperature gauge/thermometer. Remember: The oven may read 400 degrees, but the only way to know is with a thermometer. If your oven is off by 25 degrees, consider getting it professionally calibrated.
Today's super-easy recipe has minimal measuring and will wow anyone. Follow the tips above and you'll never be disappointed! Enjoy!
• Alicia Ross is the co-author of "Desperation Dinners!" cookbook series. Write her at Kitchen Scoop, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or firstname.lastname@example.org. More at the Kitchen Scoop website, kitchenscoop.com.