For over 25 years, Rose Levy Beranbaum has been dispensing priceless baking wisdom to home cooks via her meticulously researched cookbooks. With three James Beard Awards and celebrated titles such as The Bread Bible and The Cake Bible under her belt, this baking virtuoso is ready to release her magnum opus: The Baking Bible.
Brimming with extra-precise recipes and highly-detailed instructions for each—we, naturally, fell in love. We also gleaned steadfast rules to bake by from a section of her book aptly titled Rose’s Golden Rules. Here are those priceless guidelines (and two heavenly holiday recipes!) pulled straight from the pages of Beranbaum’s newest text.
Rose’s Golden Rules
Designate equipment to use only for baking, especially items that are prone to retaining odors such as from garlic or onions from savory cooking. This equipment includes cutting boards, measuring spoons and cups, wooden spoons, and silicone or rubber spatulas. Many ingredients used in baking, such as butter and chocolate, also are highly prone to absorbing other aromas.
Before beginning to bake, read the recipe through and note the ingredients you will need, special equipment, and plan ahead.
Be sure to use the ingredients specified in the recipe. Different types of flour, sugar, butter, chocolate, and many other ingredients produce different results in baked goods. Also, if at all possible, make the recipe the way it is indicated. Don’t substitute ingredients before making it at least once to see the way it’s supposed to come out. When preparing ingredients ahead, cover them with plastic wrap so that they don’t dry out or evaporate.
Be sure to use the flour specified in the recipe. If measuring flour rather than weighing it, avoid tapping or shaking the cup. This would pack in too much flour.
Use a high quality unsalted butter with standard fat content unless high butterfat is called for in the recipe, or when making clarified butter. Unsalted butter is preferable to make it easier to control the amount of salt added and for its fresher flavor. I recommend high quality butter such as Organic Valley cultured, Hotel Bar, or Land O’Lakes.
When a recipe calls for softened butter (65° to 75°F/19° to 23°C), it means the butter should still feel cool but be easy to press down. This usually takes about 30 minutes at room temperature, but slicing it into smaller pieces speeds up the process.
Use USDA grade AA or A large eggs and weigh or measure the volume. I recommend pasteurized eggs in the shell, such as Safest Choice, especially for buttercreams.
The correct amount of whole eggs, egg yolks, or egg whites is essential to the volume and texture of any baked good. The weight of the eggs and thickness of the shell can vary a great deal, even within a given weight class, as can the ratio of egg white to egg yolk. To achieve the ideal results, it is advisable to weigh or measure the whole eggs, egg yolks, and egg whites. Values for recipes in The Baking Bible are given for weight and volume, so it’s fine to use any size eggs if you weigh or measure them.
Bring eggs to room temperature by placing the eggs, still in their unbroken shells, in hot water for 5 minutes.
To break eggs the most evenly without shattering the shell, set a paper towel on the countertop to absorb any white that may spill out and rap the side of the egg sharply on top of the towel. The egg will break more neatly than if rapped against the edge of a bowl.
When separating eggs, especially for beating egg whites, pour each white into a smaller bowl before adding it to the larger amount of whites. If even a trace of yolk or grease gets into the white, it will be impossible to beat stiffly.
When beating egg whites, add ⅛ teaspoon of cream of tartar per egg white (¼ teaspoon for egg whites from eggs pasteurized in the shell). This magic formula stabilizes the egg whites so that you can achieve maximum volume without ever drying them out and deflating them by overbeating. Do not add more than this recommended amount; it will destabilize the egg whites. Use beaten egg whites as soon as possible after beating or they will start to stiffen and break down when folded into another mixture.
Use fresh baking powder. Check the expiration date, and if you are in a humid environment, replace the baking powder sooner. Both baking powder and baking soda are highly hygroscopic (readily absorb water) and are best measured rather than weighed, because the weight will vary.
Use fine sea salt because it is easier to measure, dissolves quickly, and is not iodized. Iodized salt can give an unpleasant taste to baked goods.
Chocolate and Caramels
Use the cacao content specified in the recipe. If the percentage is not indicated on the label, you can evaluate it by taste comparison. There is a vast range of the percentage of cacao versus sugar contained in what is usually labeled dark or bittersweet chocolate, which is why I’ve listed the percentages for each recipe.
When heating sugar syrups and caramel, be sure that the burner heat is no higher than medium-low as the mixture approaches the desired finished temperature. This helps to prevent the temperature of the syrup from rising after it is removed from the heat.
Weighing and Measuring
Weigh or measure ingredients carefully to achieve consistent flavor and texture. Weighing is faster and easier, but measuring will produce just as good a product, providing you measure carefully. Dry ingredients such as flour and sugar should be measured in solid measuring cups, that is, ones with unbroken rims. When measuring flour, spooning the flour into the cup before leveling off the excess with a metal spatula or knife will result in a greater weight of flour than sifting it into the cup.
When measuring liquids such as water, milk, sticky syrups, and juices, use a cup with a spout designed for measuring liquids and read the volume at eye level from the bottom of the meniscus (the curved upper surface of the liquid). Be sure to set the cup on a solid surface at eye level, not in your hand, which won’t be as level a surface.
When mixing ingredients in a stand mixer, start the mixer on low and then gradually increase the speed to prevent the mixture from flying out of the bowl. You can also use the mixer’s pouring shield or splash guard or cover the top of the mixer bowl with plastic wrap until the dry ingredients are moistened.
If you are using a handheld electric mixer, use a higher speed than specified for the stand mixer and a longer beating time. With both methods, it’s important to scrape down the sides of the bowl several times during mixing to ensure that the batter on the sides gets mixed in evenly. Be sure to reach to the bottom of the bowl, especially when using the stand mixer.
Always bake on the rack indicated in the recipe to ensure that the baked item will rise properly and for even baking and browning.
Recipes from The Baking Bible