Ten Baking Tips from a Professional Baker

When I found out about the KAF field trip, I was very excited to be learning from a pro. I would definitely call myself comfortable with yeast but I still learned a TON in the class. I think that even the most novice bakers in the group walked away feeling more confident and knowledgeable about baking.

1. When measuring dry ingredients, make small piles around the perimeter of the bowl. Susan explained that this is useful in case something interupts you or you lose track of where you are… You can simply look down in your bowl and see what you’ve already measured out. I did this for the crackers as you can see below.

2. When topping a pizza, go light on the toppings, starting with the sauce. If you overload your pizza, it will be soggy on the bottom and won’t rise up while baking. Susan said you should simply “annoint” the pizza dough with sauce and then sprinkle on your toppings.

3. Don’t put raw veggies on a pizza. Since raw veggies release water as they cook, they will make your pizza soggy. Instead, if you are going to use vegetables, be sure to pre-cook them prior to topping your pizza.

4. When rolling dough of any kind, always start from the center and roll out. Most bakers know this, but it’s always good to be reminded of the proper technique.

5. Sticky sticks to Sticky. Most bakers know to flour their kneading surface prior to beginning. Susan explained that you should never put flour onto the dough itself. If you do, that flour will encorporate into the dough and will give a tougher texture. Instead, place flour on the surface and your hands. If the counter gets sticky, add a dusting of more flour to the surface. Or use a bench scraper to scrape away the sticky parts.

6. To knead dough, simply Fold, Roll, Turn. These three little words just stuck in my head and convinced me that I was being way too tough with my dough when I kneaded it. You should be gentle but firm with the dough.

7. Keep the heat inside your oven. Check out this awesome KAF oven. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one of those? Susan explained a variety of reasons why their oven can be so precise. For one, the doors are very small compared to the inside of the oven so very little air gets in when you open the oven door. At home, you have a very large opening for the door. Another thing she talked about was the thermostat in the oven. At KAF, their thermostat kicks in if the oven goes 2 degrees off. At home, an electric oven’s thermostat will kick in when it is 10 degrees off and for a gas oven, it’s more like 30 degrees.

8. The smell that most people associate with whole wheat flour is actually the smell of rancid whole wheat flour. Susan had us smell a bucket of rancid whole wheat flour, then a bucket with fresh whole wheat flour. She said most people don’t like whole grain baked goods because they are using rancid flour. Your whole wheat flour shouldn’t have a strong smell to it if it’s fresh. To keep it fresh in your house, store it in the freezer, away from the door.

9. Measure flour correctly. Again, most bakers know that you don’t want to pack flour into the measuring cup. Susan recommended lightly sprinkling the flour into your measuring cup using a spoon/scoop. Once it has filled to the top, use a straight edge to level it off. A cup of flour should be around 4 ounces.

10. Use a flour wash to get the gunk off your hands. When dealing with a dough, you’re going to get messy. Susan recommended keeping your fingers together as a good starting point. When you do get all messy and sticky, don’t wash your hands with water. No matter how dry you think you got them, they will still be damp and will put more moisture into your dough. Instead, pat your hands in the flour on your surface and rub them together. The sticky stuff will come off your hands and they’ll be clean.
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13 Responses to “Christmas in July – Homemade Vanilla Extract”

  1. #
    SimplySweeter — July 26, 2010 at 12:22 pm
  2. #
    How To Be Perfect — July 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Fantastic idea, I will have to give this a go x

  3. #
    Kristen — July 26, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    What a great idea! Now I just have to think of what to pair this with to give as gifts.

  4. #
    The Cooking Photographer — July 26, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Hi Jen,

    Great minds think alike!! I have been brewing vanilla extract for months for Christmas gifts.

    I thought I’d answer your question here. I love your idea for frosting. It would be heavenly!


  5. #
    Jenni @ Project Cookie 365 — July 27, 2010 at 2:20 am

    What? You can just add more vodka to your supply? I had no idea! I just used the last of my homemade vanilla, and it was soooo deliciously dark 🙂 Now that I know that, I’ll have to remember when I make my next batch! Do you have a favourite type of bean? I used Tahitian the last time, and it didn’t have that “normal” vanilla scent to it… I’ll have to find which beans give that traditional scent (though, really… any vanilla works for me!)

  6. #
    Calm In The Kitchen — July 28, 2010 at 1:41 am

    This is definitely on my gift giving list.
    I received homemade vanilla once and it is still one of my favorite gifts.

  7. #
    Debbi Does Dinner Healthy — July 28, 2010 at 2:18 am

    I have always wanted to try this!! My brother did it once but that was before I was into cooking and I totally didn’t appreciate it. I would now! Thanks!

  8. #
    bcallegra — July 28, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I think it’s the perfect idea for a gift and never even thought of making it myself. Of course, if I do end up making it, I’ll probably just end up using it all before I give it away! 🙂

  9. #
    jmanley — July 28, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    how many beans did you put in the vodka bottles to start?.. love the idea.. Thanks

  10. #
    Jen — July 28, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    jmanley – I put 24 beans in each bottle of vodka. They were the big bottles of vodka. As you can see in the pictures, I used skyy, which is great, but I couldn’t watch the color of my vanilla change! Definitely try to get clear bottles or pour the vodka into a clear jar so you can tell when it’s ready.

  11. #
    jmanley — July 29, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    thanks for the quick response.
    Love your website:)

  12. #
    KV — August 5, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    what type of vanilla bean did you use – does it matter?

  13. #
    Jen — August 5, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    KV – The type of bean you use will have an impact on the flavor. I used Bourbon-Madagascar beans for my vanilla.

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