Introduction: How to Read a Recipe

This may sound ridiculous but many recipes go awry simply because they aren't read correctly. And seriously, it takes less than five minutes to read a recipe thoroughly! To ensure success when using a recipe, do it right the first time and follow these simple steps:

1. Read the recipe carefully from start to finish — from the first ingredient to the last step in the directions. Not while you are feeding the dog, or trying to reason with a screaming toddler. This actually requires some level of focus! Why is this so important? Because ingredients may need to be separated or specifically prepared in some way.

For example, a scone recipe may have two eggs in the ingredients list. One egg for the dough and one for egg wash that goes on the top before baking. If you don't read the directions before starting and add two eggs to the dough instead of one you are going to end up with less than desirable results.

2. Read the recipe again and note any ingredients, tools, or supplies that you don't have but need. Depending on whether or not you can make substitutions, the recipe may need to be put on hold until you are able to acquire what you need.

3. Check and double check cooking temperatures and times. The difference between 325° F and 375° F is a huge difference in baking. Also, if a recipe says to bake cookies for 22 minutes and you notice they are smelling and looking quite done halfway through baking, test them and pull them out of the oven if you think they are done! Trust your instincts. After all, it's possible there could be a mistake on the recipe or your oven temp is way off!

Test Oven Temperature

Proper oven temperature is a must to become a successful baker. Once you have read through a recipe and preheated your oven to the appropriate temperature, I recommend testing with an oven thermometer to see how accurate your oven is.

It's as simple as placing an oven thermometer in the center of the oven on the rack where you will be baking. When the oven beeps to alert you it is preheated check the temp on the thermometer. If it's accurate, great! If not, adjust your oven temp accordingly. Do this every so often to ensure proper baking.

Unless a recipe specifies something different, most baked goods will be baked with a rack on the third or fourth rung option from the bottom of the oven (or slightly lower than the middle).

Test for Doneness

Testing for doneness when something is close to the final stages of baking is important so the final baked good or dessert doesn't dry out or burn.

The easiest way to test if an item like muffins, cakes, or brownies are done is to stick a toothpick (or cake tester), straight down into the center of the item. Pull it straight out to see if the toothpick is clean. Ideally the item should be removed from the oven when a toothpick still has a small amount of crumbs sticking to. This means the baked good is done but still moist.

I recommend testing baked goods three to five minutes before the timer sounds. That way if your oven temperature happens to be off you can adjust cooking time.

Testing for doneness in cookies is a little trickier. Inserting a toothpick won't help much since cookies are so thin. You will need to look at the edges and tops of the cookies. The edges should be a light golden brown color and the tops should be puffed slightly in the center.

Up Next: Lesson 9 — How Baking Works

In the next lesson, it's time to discover how baking works and how ingredients interact with each other. I hope you like my analogy!

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