Baking Rules

The other day in my post about Pumpkin Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars, I posted this:

“If I was in charge of writing The Rules You Must Bake By, I think that all cookies, brownies, and bars all should have a slightly crispy edge with soft centers.

And never be dry.  Dry = not worth my chew

And the pumpkin peanut butter oat bars deliver if held up to my self-created Rules You Must Bake By.”

Bria suggested in her comment to me that I do a Baking Rules post, so I thought I’d take her up on it.

Here are My Baking Rules:

(your mileage and opinions may vary, of course)

1. Nuts do not belong in baked goods.  If you put walnuts in brownies or macadamia nuts in white chocolate cookies, I will not be able to eat them.   There is something about nuts in baked goods that just doesn’t work for me, at all.  Blech!  And I will hunt you down for ruining perfectly good desserts by contaminating them with nuts.

2. All rules have exceptions though.

My Raw Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls are made of nuts, among other ingredients.

However, in that application, the raw cashews in the recipe take the place of butter and the finished product has zero nutty taste.

The cookie dough balls taste like cookie dough.  Not at all like nuts or nutty in the least.  If they tasted like nuts, I wouldn’t fiend for them.  And would spit them out instead.  I do like nuts (even if I really can’t eat them very much anymore), but I definitely do not want to “taste” them in desserts.

3.  All cookies, brownies, and bars all should have a slightly crispy edge with soft centers.

Case in point, Caramel Apple Bars

4. And never be dry.

Dry = not worth my chew

I want things that are moist and just melt in my mouth because they are rich, decadent, saucy, or drippy.

Deep Dish Double Chocolate Golden Grahams Smores Bars (Vegan & GF options) lives up to that rule

5. Do not confuse desserts with health food.

If I want healthy, I will eat more broccoli.

If I want desserts, I will eat those.

They each have their place but I don’t believe all foods need to be all things, i.e. desserts don’t have to be healthy.  They just need to be….dessert.

Sorry, I’m not into making desserts healthy.  And actually, I’m not sorry.  I like butter and sugar in desserts.  So there.

6. Which leads to this baking rule, about Eating Everything in Moderation

Yes, I eat every single dessert I make and feature on my blog.  A portion or two, whatever floats my boat that day.

However, I don’t take down a pan of bars or a dozen cookies in a sitting, either.

Moderation.

I do not believe that one brownie, two cookies, or even three big, drippy, gooey marshmallowey smores bars are going to “derail everything”.

If you think that one full-fat, fully decadent, full-on gooey brownie is going to “ruin everything” then I suggest you really look at your life, your food and exercise choices, your mental outlook, and perhaps make some mental shifts or other changes.  Or not.  Whatever works for you, of course.

For me, baking is not fun if I don’t eat what I make.  Or at have some BLTs when I’m mixing the batter <—Bites, Licks, Tastes

7. When it comes to baking things, err on the side of underbaking.

If you think something is maybe done or are unsure, take it out of the oven and wait 3-5 minutes.  You will be able to tell by then that it’s done as it has cooled a bit and come closer to room temperature.

If it truly isn’t done, then pop it back in the oven but it probably is done.

Remember, you can always put it back into the oven, but you can’t un-do overbaking, which leads to dryness.  Which would be breaking Rule 4.  Bad girl.

8. I’ve also read that once you can really smell the item baking, i.e. the smell of baking cookies is just beginning to waft through the house, that’s when they are done.  Or almost done.  Race to your oven and check on them.

9. If you can, I suggest just not leaving the kitchen when you’re baking.  If you can find something to do for 10 to 20 minutes, or whatever the recommended baking time is, just stay in the kitchen.

Work on all those dirty dishes

Organize your drawers

Just find something to do but try not to leave the kitchen if humanly possible.

I cannot tell you how many things I have ruined because I go into another room to check my email or just do “one little thing” and 3 minutes turns into 6, and the item is ruined.  Had I just not left the kitchen, it never would have happened.  When you’re baking, this is not the time to be in another room multi-tasking.  Stay close by your oven.

10. In general, I find that if a recipe calls for the items to be done in 10-12 minutes, take them out at 1o.  And start watching at about 8 minutes.  I never use the upper end of the baking time guidelines.  Never.

I always wonder who writes those guideline ranges.  Most people I know like things a bit chewier and softer as compared to dry hockey pucks that crumble everywhere.  Just a couple minutes in the oven can make all the difference from soft and wonderful to crumbly and gross.

Mrs. Fields did not become a multi-billion dollar empire because she overbaked.  Everything in my opinion is a touch underbaked.  Just the way I like it.

11. When working with peppermint extract, it’s not at all like vanilla extract.  A little, tiny bit goes a long, long way. 

Add far less than you think you need because you can’t undo it.  It’s very strong, very powerful, and be careful with it.  Christmas baking is coming up and a touch of peppermint is all you need and unless you enjoy drinking Listerine, go light-handed with peppermint extract.

And make these Creme de Menthe Bars (No-Bake, Vegan) if you are a peppermint fan.  Just watch it with how much you add, and they are always a big hit with folks.

12. Don’t be afraid to experiment!  You never know what is going to work out, what’s not going to, and you can “save” almost any dough:

If it’s too wet or runny, add more oats, flour, or dry ingredients

If it’s too dry or not coming together, add liquid sweeteners, butter/margarine, egg/flax egg, nut butter

If it’s too sweet, add some unsweetened cocoa powder in chocolate baking or other flour/dry ingredients in non-chocolate recipes to cut the sweetness <– I’ve never actually had anything be too sweet.  Ahem.

If it’s not sweet enough, add sweeteners (either liquid forms like honey/agave/maple syrup or dry forms like white sugar/brown sugar/stevia)

This is not rocket science, it’s baking.

You will never know if something is going to work until you just try it!

And if for some reason it’s a total flop, you probably have less than $5 worth of ingredients invested.  And in exchange for that, you’ve learned valuable lessons in the kitchen and what to do, or not do, next time.

This is coming from me, a woman who in my early 20s couldn’t boil water, but I have learned how to bake.  And do so as a vegan/vegetarian + Gluten-Free baker in most of my recipes.

So take everything I’ve said, of course, with a grain of salt.  Or with a heaping cup of sugar, which is how I’d prefer it.

What baking rules do you live by?

What cooking, baking, or kitchen lessons have you learned?

Thanks for the Manna Bread Giveaway entries

   

20 Responses to “Baking Rules”

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    1
    Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles — October 4, 2011 at 10:58 am

    I totally agree with all of these except #2. I love nuts in baked goods!

    Reply

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    Amber K — October 4, 2011 at 11:06 am

    YES! Can I get an AMEN? ;)

    I agree with all of your food rules. Which is actually shocking to me that I completely agree with someone when it comes to food. I’ll help you hunt down those silly people ruining our baked goods with nuts. Nuts are great…on the side. Don’t mess up my chew when I bite into what should be a soft/chewy brownie or cookie!

    Reply

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    Amy @ FitMommas — October 4, 2011 at 11:36 am

    What a great list! I LOVE to cook, and will spend hours experimenting in the kitchen with spices, oils, meats, veggies. But baking scares the crap out of me. I just don’t seem to be good at it! And the idea of experimenting with baking freaks me out. Won’t there be some sort of chemical cross contamination that will result in a sunken cake or a hockey puck cookie?

    I am with you on the Dry = not worth my chew. This is how I view all food, actually. I don’t diet, I believe you should eat whatever you like, in moderation. So don’t waste your time eating anything you don’t love. Esp. dried out baked goods. Blech.

    And if I had a dime for everything I’ve ruined by stepping out of the kitchen for “just a moment…”

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — October 5th, 2011 at 3:44 am

      stepping out for just a moment until someone needs a diaper change, and email reply, folding one too many laundry items…yep, BTDT and ruined plenty of food!

      Reply

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    Heather (Where's the Beach) — October 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    I don’t bake like I used to and often over bake forgetting that they do indeed keep baking after you pull them out. I used to know that LOL. I’m really bad about starting on something else as well and forgetting. I have gotten better though and try to force myself to stay in the kitchen and I set timers!

    Reply

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    Jess — October 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    With you on all of these…except…I LOVE nuts in my quick breads :) Well, walnuts at least. And I love your “brave” cooking style – just try it! I’m all for that…and it’s what I do, too! I mean, sure, sometimes I have to doctor things up by spreading on a little peanut butter, but at least I know what to do different next time!

    Reply

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    Katie — October 4, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    I could have written this myself. Well said. I think nuts in baked goods are the devil. Its right up there with mayo for me. If I’m really craving a brownie and the only one around has nuts – I’ll pick around them.

    Reply

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    lee — October 4, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    There are two of your rules that I absolutely loved (and have said myself in some variation over the years):

    1. Nuts have no place in baked goods. For example, fudge – fudge should be creamy. Fudge should melt in your mouth. Without leaving behind little nuggets of peanuts or almonds or walnuts or whatever other nut some nut decided to put in the fudge. =) (Couldn’t resist the play on words.)

    2. If you want healthy, eat healthy. My baked goods? Are not going to be “healthy.” I want real butter and eggs and sugar. Now that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried “healthier” baking recipes…but for most of the recipes I use, nothing works as well as the good stuff. I once had a colleague ask me in the midst of our office “biggest loser” program if I could use margarine instead of butter in a recipe I was making for a potluck the next day. She was upset when I told her no, but my thought was – moderation!!

    I think the other “rule” I tend to stick with in baking is that, unless I am baking a recipe specifically for someone else, I bake what I want, how I want. So if it means that someone at the office doesn’t like berries on their cake, but I’m making a cake with berries, then hopefully they’ll like the next thing I bake. =)

    Reply

    • Averie @ Love Veggies & Yoga replied: — October 5th, 2011 at 3:43 am

      Glad you enjoyed the rules and your last one, I am the same. If I am making it, it’s going to be to taste. i.e. MINE. If someone else doesnt like the recipe or the final product, they can make it to taste on their own, i.e. their taste :)

      Reply

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    Bria @ West of Persia — October 4, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    Just now seeing this! I’m psyched that you took the idea and ran with it. I agree with every single rule.

    Especially the rule about nuts. OMG, so TRUE! With a few notable exceptions, I’m not a fan of nuts in baked goods.

    I think baking times are based on overcooking, because so many baked good have eggs, and companies don’t want a lawsuit slapped on them if someone gets salmonella from underbaked goods, baked according to their guidelines. Sad but true.

    Great post :-)

    Reply

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    Christine (The Raw Project) — October 4, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Great rules, you are the baking queen! :-) Agreed on the crispy edge and never being dry, that’s why I detest sheet cake so much. Truthfully I haven’t been much of a baker lately, so I have no good rules to share. But kitchen lessons I’ve learned since getting into blogging have been to use the wholest ingredients possible and making things from scratch is not as hard or time-consumming as I once thought.

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    Pure2raw twins — October 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    I have no rules, just bake or unbake whatever I feel like, and never really measure, but getting better at that

    Reply

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    Stella — September 9, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    I love your rules!! Especially to underbake everything. I totally hear you on NEVER using the upper end guidelines. I usually go for a minute under the lower end. People who don’t like gooey brownies or chewy cookies just don’t know what they’re missing.

    Reply

    • Averie @ Averie Cooks replied: — September 10th, 2012 at 12:15 am

      The upper end, I swear, was written in 1952 when everyone seemed to just cook the daylights out of things! Places like Mrs.Field’s didn’t become billion dollar empires b/c they serve rocks. They serve gooey decadence :)

      Reply

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