14 Essential Cooking/Baking Tips for Beginners

ENGLISH | TÜRKÇE

You’re draining the pasta, your chicken is almost burning, the oven is beeping, the bolognese sauce has long boiled down to the point where there isn’t any water left and you finally start questioning- “Where did I go wrong?”. We all make mistakes in the kitchen, especially the beginners. However making a three course meal becomes ten times less intimidating if you follow these 14 simple tips.

  1. Always keep your eggs outside the fridge. While not all recipes require your eggs to be in the room temperature, it’s essential for some in order for your meal to turn out nice. Instead of looking up every time if your recipe requires room-temperature eggs and taking them out in advance if necessary- keeping them in the shelf saves you a lot of time and the peace of mind.
  2. Use a warm glass to heat up the butter you were supposed to get out of the fridge a long time ago. One thing that’s annoying is preparing all of your ingredients and then finding out that your butter was supposed to be in room temperature. In order to save you some time you can take a glass and either warm it in the microwave or pour some hot water so that it’s warm. Then slice your butter in small cubes and close the glass on top of them (you might need more than one glass). In 3-5 minutes, your butter should be pretty soft and ready to go.

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  3. Keep the recipe in front of you at all times. There are many times where my hands were drenched in the buttery dough and even TouchID couldn’t save me- then I either had to call my brother so that he could unlock my phone or had to wash my hands and unlock it myself- only to dirty them seconds later. Unless you have a very strong memory or a sous-chef that can help you with situations like these, print out your recipe, write it down on a piece of paper or change your phone’s auto-lock settings so that it stays on all the time for a greener but more battery-draining approach.
  4. Prepare the ingredients in advance. And also, there were many times where in the middle of the recipe I realized that we’d run out of sugar and sent my brother to get some from the neighbor or the market. Again, you might not always have a brother as helpful as mine, a nice neighbor that lends you food without any problem or a market nearby. For your recipe to succeed and to save you time while mixing and frying and sautéeing, having every ingredient measured and ready under your hand is a real time-saver.

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  5. When measuring with the same measuring cup always go with dry-ingredients first, then water, than any oily substances.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a very common mistake made by beginners. If you start with water/oil first than all of your flour will stick to the sides of your measuring cup and even worse, the oil may drip in the flour. It’s not the end of the world if eventually you’re going to mix all of these ingredients at some point. However if you’re not, you’ll either have to wash your cup after every ingredient or the end result won’t be as good.
  6. Learn what you can use as a substitute and how you can use them. Sometimes, you just won’t have one ingredient at home or you might not even find some things in your country. In that case, know what alternatives you can use and learn how to adapt. The taste won’t be exactly the same- but it’s better than giving up!

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  7. Don’t be afraid of eyeballing or experimenting. If you don’t have the exact measuring tools (a kitchen scale, a millimetric measuring cup etc), you can always use a converter or google it to find out how much that is in tablespoons or cups. If your dough is too gooey than the recipe asked for and you’ve added all the flour, don’t hesitate to add some more (of course slowly). Recipes aren’t always exact and you might need to make some adjustments in some cases, so don’t feel too restrained.
  8. Instead of going to the store with one recipe in mind, try to get the freshest ingredients that are in season and then find a suitable recipe. The thing that makes food delicious (aside from your cooking and baking skills) is the ingredients’ quality. What I always recommend is instead of going to the store with a very specific list, go with a more general one like 3 kinds of fruit, 4 types of vegetables and some dairy. That way, if the apples aren’t as fresh as you’d like you can get the peaches and make a peach cobbler instead of an apple pie. (Unless they’re hardcore apple pie fans, everyone would pick a fresh peach cobbler over an average, stale apple pie.)

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  9. If the recipe asks for you to preheat your oven, always to that first. I can’t count how many times people don’t want to turn on the oven too soon and then by the time they need to put the tray in the oven, it’s ice cold. Before you get into mixing, cutting, slicing, make sure you turn on your oven (and make sure it’s working).
  10. Have at least one recipe that you’ve mastered. This isn’t really a cooking tip but a life advice for those who absolutely cannot cook. Everyone should have that one recipe that they can cook very well. Then whenever you need to host someone or have to for an occasion, you’ll be able to at least easily cook that recipe.

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  11. Try to plan ahead your recipe. Again, recipes aren’t always perfect and you don’t have to follow their timeline. Before you start baking, read the recipe and try to detect what parts might cost you time the most. Let’s say you need to melt the butter and prepare some other ingredients. Since the butter will probably take 5 minutes to melt completely and then another 5-1o to cool down to room temperature you need to get down to that first. Then while you’re waiting for your butter to melt, you can line your trays with parchment paper and measure your other ingredients. While some recipes keep this in mind and will advise you to do this- some won’t and in that case you’ll have to figure this out on your own.
  12. Invest in kitchen appliances that make your life easier- not harder. Most people who like baking, buy lots of stuff that in the end they won’t even use because they require too much time to prepare, to wash after used or simply because they take up too much space. Using a banana slicer instead of the good old knife™ like this might save you 30 seconds (unless you’re slicing lots of bananas, which again, happens how often?) but it’ll take more time to wash the crevices of the plastic properly. A good example might be this chocolate melting pot, which is easy to clean, serves multiple purposes (using for fondue, making pralines, when you need to melt chocolate for a recipe) and is easier to use than the bain-marie approach since it eliminates the risk of burning yourself with boiling water.
  13. Try not to leave the washing until the end. While I try to make the least amount of dishes when I’m cooking, there still is a lot of to deal with. My best tip here would be to soak things in water while they’re still hot and/or wet in order not to try scraping things afterwards. After you’ve poured all of the dough into your tray, but your bowl in the sink and fill it with water. Bonus points if you quickly rinse it and get rid of the dough parts that are left. Then when everything’s in the oven and you don’t have anything left to do, wash the dishes as quickly as possible.
  14. Always start with a lower temperature and/or less time than indicated on the recipe. If you’re trying out a recipe for the first time, and the recipe indicates 180°C for 30-40 minutes; start with 170°C and/or 25 minutes. Check when you’re at 25 minutes and then continue baking while checking every 7-10 minutes until your meal is cooked. This is an important step because the temperatures might differ depending on the room temperature, the altitude, your oven or many other factors and in order to not risk burning your delicious cookies this is the best way to go. (Disclaimer: With recipes that require precise temperatures and length of baking such as cheesecake, macarons etc. always follow the recipe.)
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