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5 Easy Ways to Enjoy Successful Baking Projects

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

How-to-Cook 911: Back-to-Basics

Every month Eat Right Montana, a coalition promoting healthful eating and active lifestyles, publishes a packet of information written by Dayle. For 2010, the theme of the packets is Treasure Your Family’s Health: Back-to-Basics with Food and Fitness.

The new theme is based on several factors, including the trend toward more meals and celebrations at home. However, recognizing the reality that many Americans are desperately in need of cooking skills, we added kitchen basics in this year’s packets.

Visit to download the free tips on healthy living. Each monthly newsletter also features a delicious recipe, such as the surprising Bonus Brownies in the February 2010 packet.

Baking is a wonderful way to fill kitchens with tantalizing aromas and tummies with satisfying whole grain breads, rolls, and muffins, as well as cakes, cookies, and bars. Family baking projects are also great ways to teach cooking skills to children and to create lifetime food memories. Here are five tips to make every project a winner.

1. Follow directions precisely.
While cooking can be a delightfully creative outlet for many people, baking is one place to follow recipes exactly. Successful baking projects are a careful balance of ingredients and temperature combined in a precise sequence. Changing any one of these factors can result in baking failures: cakes that fall, bread that is tough, or cookies that ooze all over the pan.

2. Heat the oven correctly.
Most baked recipes call for the oven to be pre-heated so that the temperature is right when you put the item in. For most ovens, this takes about 10 minutes, so turn on the oven as you begin to measure and mix ingredients. Expert bakers often use an oven thermometer (around $6) to insure correct temperatures. This is especially important as ovens get older.

3. Measure accurately.
In terms of measurements, some ingredients are more critical than others. Leavening agents (ingredients that help baked goods to rise) are especially important. These include baking powder, baking soda, and yeast. When making yeast breads and rolls, take special care with sugar and salt, since these help control the growth of yeast.

4. Combine carefully.
The way that ingredients are combined is another key to getting the right texture. Here are three common terms and their meanings. Beat is to stir quickly and completely to add air into the mixture. Blend is to stir together until just combined (the mixture may be lumpy). Mix is to stir until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and uniform in texture.

5. Substitute sensibly.
While it’s easy to substitute one vegetable for another in a casserole or salad, baking is a different story. Substitutions can be made, but the replacement ingredient must be able to provide the same function. For a long list of basic ingredient substitutions and other cooking tips, visit Nebraska Extension at

For more fun, easy tips on healthy living, go to

Dayle HayesDayle Hayes, MS, RD
Author, Speaker, and Nutrition Therapist

Dayle Hayes is a registered dietitian committed to innovative, delicious nutrition solutions for busy families. As a consultant to Billings Clinic, she specializes in positive nutrition tips, eating disorders, and sports nutrition. Dayle graduated from U. Mass-Boston and received a Masters of Science in Community Health Education from U. Mass-Amherst.
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