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5 Expert Tips To Make Baking Less Stressful

Bake Smart is a new cookbook that reads more like a baking pep talk.

"I'm a cook, not a baker." If you've ever said this, it's likely because you've screwed up a baked good or two in your life and are too intimidated to try it again. And if that's the case, Samantha Seneviratne wants to ease your mind.

Seneviratne's new cookbook, Bake Smart: Sweets And Secrets From My Oven To Yours, out on November 7, is essentially a baking pep talk. "A friend told me that he can always spot my recipes because they contain the words, 'don't worry,'" Seneviratne told The Takeout.

As an in-demand food stylist, recipe developer, and author, Seneviratne wants her fourth cookbook to encourage people who might shy away from attempting cookies, cakes, and other treats because they've failed in the past. (An easy recipe is included below.)

"It's just about practice," she says. "I think people are scared to bake because they don't do it as much as they cook. You cook more often, so you are more comfortable with it."

Rather than write a "Baking 101" type of cookbook, however, Seneviratne wanted to "be in the kitchen with you and give you some helpful tips and tricks. People need reassurance or a little more information than a recipe can give." That led to the cookbook's format.

Each recipe in Bake Smart is broken down into steps, with Seneviratne adding a couple of annotated tips that explain something important to that method. The book is arranged by types of ingredients, ranging from butter to yeast, with suggestions for using each kind. Below, she offers some practical tips—hopefully they boost your ego a bit, too.

Soften butter more easily

In the butter section of her cookbook, Seneviratne offers a suggestion for softening butter: Rather than placing the unwrapped sticks on a plate, stand the cold sticks up, still in the wrappers, in a measuring cup. Microwave them in six- to eight-second bursts, then flip them over onto the other end. Within 18 to 24 seconds, the butter should be at room temperature. Add another few seconds depending on how soft you want it. (Note: This should only be done with paper-wrapped butter, not the foil-wrapped kind.)


Experiment with caramel

Seneviratne is a huge fan of caramel, which takes pride of place in her section on sugar. If you've ever watched The Great British Baking Show, you've frequently seen caramel featured—that wonderful combination of sugar, water, sometimes butter, and often cream—and sometimes the bakers fail.


"Caramel gives people anxiety, and it breaks my heart," Seneviratne says. Her method is basically to just "leave it alone." If you're worried about burning your caramel, keep a bowl of ice water next to the stove. Once the caramel reaches your desired color, set the pan in the ice water, which will bring down the temperature. Also, don't give up on caramel that has crystalized: Simply add some more water and keep stirring. Even if it looks grainy, "I'd rather have that than throw out a pot of tasty caramel," she writes.

Familiarize yourself with egg whites

When it comes to egg whites, fledgling cooks are often confused by terms such as "soft peaks" and "stiff peaks." In Bake Smart, Seneviratne painstakingly defines the difference between the pair and explains how to achieve each, both with and without sugar. One secret: Use tapioca starch rather than corn starch.


She acknowledges it is harder to get egg whites to achieve a stiff peak when sugar is not present, but it can be done. "You're looking for a stable foam that will hold a small, straight peak," she says. When in doubt, under-whip the whites rather than over-whipping them, because the latter can lead to dry results.

Learn a basic dough

Seneviratne says she can understand why some bakers stick with quick breads and muffins rather than attempt to bake anything using yeast. "It's tricky," she says. "I get it, and it took me a long time to get comfortable with it." To make things easier, just practice with one versatile dough recipe that can be transformed multiple ways.


She recommends that readers learn her basic recipe for enriched sweet dough, which can be turned into a variety of baked goods, from sweet rolls to babka and coffee cakes. Despite the pandemic sourdough trend, "Baking with enriched sweet dough is a lot easier," she says. "Butter, eggs, sugar, and yeast make it soft and rich, no matter what."

Don’t be put off by the baking masters

Like me, Seneviratne is both awed and intimidated by French pastry icon Cedric Grolet, known for the dramatic concoctions he displays to his 8.8 million Instagram followers. Most recently, he replicated giant coconuts in pastry formusing coconut milk, lemon, a disc of cake, and a mini blow torch. "I can't make what he makes. Nobody can," Seneviratne says. "It's art. It's for enjoyment. It is not something to be compared to."


The most important thing for home bakers to remember is this: "You might ruin something, but it's okay."

Try an easy recipe for yourself

Beginning a recipe without reading it all the way through first can spell certain disaster. Luckily, Seneviratne has provided a simple, effective recipe below that's easy to read over, prep for, and execute with minimal fuss. As she would say, "don't worry."


Hazelnut Croquant Cookies

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups toasted, skinned and coarsely chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • Preheat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, stir together the egg whites and granulated sugar until creamy. Stir in the hazelnuts, flour, chocolate, vanilla and salt.


    Scoop about half the batter in one-teaspoon scoops onto the parchment, about two inches apart. Bake about 12 minutes until the cookies are light golden brown and set. Transfer the sheet with the cookies onto a baking rack and cool completely before removing from the parchment. Repeat with the remaining batter and baking sheet.

    Makes about 24 cookies. They can be stored in an air tight container at room temperature for up to one week

A hazelnut tip

Hazelnuts have a bitter, papery skin that should be removed before using. Toast the nuts for about 10 minutes on a baking sheet at 350 Fahrenheit until the skins have started to separate from them. Immediately transfer the warm nuts onto a dish towel. Wrap them up into a pouch, and rub them down to remove the skins. It's okay if the nuts aren't completely clean.


Recipe from Bake Smart: Sweets and Secrets From My Oven to Yours by Samantha Seneviratne. Copyright 2023 by Samantha Seneviratne. Reprinted with permission by Harvest, an imprint of HarperCollins. All Rights Reserved.