Cooking

5 tips to help you bake like a star chef

Dec. 15, 2011 at 3:37 PM ET

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Baking can be intimidating. Exacting measurements, yeast (it’s alive!), frosting, creaming properly— it can be a little stressful, especially if the results aren't what you hoped for. But baking shouldn’t be viewed this way. As Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar puts it, “You’re baking because it’s something that brings you joy and pleasure. Just keep your cool.” 

While that might be easy for someone who is one of the most loved bakers in New York City to say, it will soon be the mantra you share with your newbie baking friends after following Tosi’s helpful tips below.

Buy quality ingredients

As a professional baker, Tosi says she learned a lot about baking at home while writing her "Momofuku Milk Bar" cookbook, as she adapted the recipes for the home cook. One of the areas she says that home cooks tend to skimp on is quality ingredients.

In fact, she says, "I poke a lot of fun at my mom in this cookbook because she loves to be a home baker but misses this step." Her mom will want to use this "great margarine" that's supposed to be good for your heart for crack pie and this doesn't work for Tosi. She believes that it's important to use fresh and good-quality ingredients in your baking, particularly with butter, all dairy and flour.

If you must use low-fat products...

Tosi actually has hereditary high cholesterol and grew up in a household that didn't cook with butter. Instead, she had a fridge full of low-cholesterol products and non-fat cheese (she had a very supportive mother). So she understands that if you need to use low-fat products for health reasons, it's definitely possible, but you will have to tweak the recipes in several ways. Why? It comes down to different chemical makeups. Skim milk, for example, has a different fat and water content than whole milk or cream and that will make a big difference in your baked goods.x

Don't rush the churning process

For cookies, if they’re not fluffy, then you need to keep mixing the butter and melted chocolate mixture. This process is important for good dough. Make sure to mix slowly, otherwise cookie dough will taste bready and not fluffy. And, that way you can avoid any dry ingredients flying up and creating an “I Love Lucy” moment in the kitchen.

Wax over foil

At Milk Bar, the cookies are baked on waxed paper instead of foil because foil conducts heat and might burn the bottom of the cookies. For more advanced bakers, purchasing a Silpat is a good idea. 

Quick tip: How to know when cookies are done? First, the smell (hopefully you’ve experienced the intoxicating scent of freshly baked cookies). Next, there will be a little crack on top.

Know your oven

"You can have any type of oven, you just really need to know it." Tosi believes that this might be one of the most important things to understand about your kitchen. Every oven has a different cold or hot spot and this is something you will get to know over time so that you can ensure the best baking possible.

Also, the temperature inside your oven might not accurately reflect the number you set it at, so if you don’t know your oven, Tosi suggests using a thermometer. 

Make Christina Tosi's chocolate chip layer cake and candy bar pie

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