Joe’s Rules for No-Fail Baking

1. Give yourself lots and lots of time.

Especially when it comes to more involved pastries, most home bakers don’t give themselves nearly enough time to work. We’ll start a few hours before company comes, not realizing how involved the components are, or how much time they need. Which is why I give myself at least a week to make a pastry. I’ll focus on one component every day (or every other day), and try to make each one as perfect as I can. I’ll take the final day for assembly so I can focus and build. Good music and a bottle of suds are essential.

2. Use good – not necessarily great – ingredients.

All good food starts with good ingredients. In the case of pastry, decent flour, decent sugar (cane sugar), good fruit and chocolate. Find above average, reasonably priced sources and leave it at that. Most pastries are ensemble performances — lots of competing flavors and textures. For that reason there’s no need to go nuts buying “the best” unless the preparation is very simple and one or two of the ingredients are playing a starring roles: perfect pears for a tart, or great butter for laminated pastry. Joe’s Inverse Law of Ingredient Quality states: the more ingredients you have, the less fabulous each one needs to be. Just making pastry from scratch is enough to knock most people out, don’t forget that.

3. Use only fresh leaveners.

How old is that tin of baking powder in your cupboard? Six months? A year? What about those yeast packets? Uh huh, that’s what I thought. Leavening is abundant and cheap, so shop for it fresh at every opportunity.

4. Use only room-temperature (or warmer) ingredients.

Most recipes don’t say it, but it bears constant repeating: unless specifically stated, always make sure your ingredients are at least at room temperature (slightly warmer is better for eggs) before you start a baking project.

5. Measure, measure, measure.

You’d be surprised how many talented cooks still use dry measures for wet ingredients (and vice versa), who don’t own accurate digital thermometers, and who don’t weight their ingredients (on digital scales). Baking is a precision sport. If you want to do it well, you need the right tools for the job.

6. Follow instructions.

I amaze myself at how often I fail to read a recipe all the way through before I begin it. This one simple step, even when applied to recipes you know (or think you know) inside and out, is your surest way to avoid both catastrophic mistakes and those last-minute dashes to the grocery store.

So there it is, pretty much everything I know, all in one post.

7 thoughts on “Joe’s Rules for No-Fail Baking”

  1. Hi Joe
    I recently discovered your blog while searching for an Opera Cake recipe. You have been very helpful in new new venture as a self taught pastry chef and baker for a new Austrian/ German restaurant that I make desserts for. The tutorial was exactly what I needed.
    Your practical common sense approach is appreciated by someone who don’t have a lot of time to waste on rambling on and on about the creation. You don’t overuse photos, which I also find refreshing.
    A lot of food blogs are just too frustrating. You scroll through all those photos of the same dish from every possible angle and there isn’t even a recipe for it!
    I guess I’m being a little harsh here, bu when you are trying to create a unique version of a classic dessert, some of which I have never heard of, much less tasted, you can get a little anxious!
    I have successfully mastered my own version of this French cake that is rapidly becoming a favorite at the restaurant.(there are plenty of authentic desserts as well).
    I have been researching Austrian and German desserts and pastries for over a year preparing myself and getting familiar with the methods. There have been flops and a few laughable disasters along the way, but now that I have discovered your blog, it’s like having an expert on hand whenever you need one. Thank you, Joe!

  2. I just found your site while trying to answer some questions. I research every baking project extensively before I begin/experiment. I wish I had found your site months ago! You likely have an avid reader now. Thanks for your hard work!!

    1. I love what I do, Jennifer! Thank you. Visit often and don’t hesitate to ask any questions you think I might be able to answer!

      Cheers and welcome,

      – Joe

  3. I love that everything is so precise! I may have to change my ways. Coming from a family with no “family recipes” or secret sauces, I tend to be a bit more….loose, I guess is the correct term, for my measuring and baking. For example, the cookies are done when they smell a certain way, the glassiness is gone… A teaspoon is the (dare I say it) haphazardly ‘measured’ pile in the palm of my hand, and 1/8 or 1/4 tsp is hardly even worth measuring. Plus, the only thing I’ve destroyed as of late has been pan fried tofu, and that doesn’t even counts as a baking disaster, technically. =)
    Because I want to make the tarte tropezienne, I think your rules will now have to become law….so when attempting something new, Joe Pastry, I raise my spatula and refer to your wisdom. =) Thanks for making this site. I do LOVE to bake yummies. It has such a calming effect. And now, you have generously provided me with the technical ins and outs to whip up so many other wonderfully fragrant goods. *high five*

    1. You flatter me greatly, Erin! (Not “Eric” as I worte in my last reply….sorry!)

      However I am greatly pleased to be able to provide you with a little bit of, let us say…methodology. Please tell me how the tarte turns out and keep be apprised of your baking adventures!

      Very nice to know you, E.

      – J

  4. Hello Joe,
    I am a beginner in baking so any info you can give is very much appreciated!
    I have tried several times to make a Polish Easter babka cake/bread using yeast, each time it’s flat.
    I made sure the instant yeast is fresh, according to recipe I proofed it anyway in warm milk and sugar before adding to other ingredients-it foamed so must have been OK.
    I researched on internet the correct temp for proofing/correct temp of ingredients and this is where I get confused-temp varies depending on the websites, anything from 30-42 Celsius. As per your suggestion I have a thermopen. (I can’t find info about this on your site and I maybe stuffing up this step.)
    Do you know what is the best temp or what temp do you have eg for milk/water so the yeast can do it’s job? How warm is “lukewarm”?
    Thankyou for your website and I hope to hear from you:)

  5. Hi Joe

    Can I use the basic bread recipe to make my own bread and butter pudding ? Or what sort of a bread should I get?

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