Many folks in Brazoria County are busy preparing for the county fair. The Junior Creative and Culinary Arts contest is just one of the many competitions youth are preparing for. This contest is exclusively for 4-H, FFA and FCCLA members, but you can participate, too. There are over 60 classes in which they can enter items from canning and baked confections and even photography. JCCA needs judges to sample the baked goods Oct. 5 and evaluate crafts and other items Oct. 7. If you have a sweet tooth or are willing to share your expertise with youth exhibitors, call or email Courtney at 979-864-1555 or clatour@ag.tamu.edu.

In the spirit of winning the grand champion cake or cookies, here are a few baking tips to keep in mind:

Always have the correct butter consistency. Butter is the starting point for an immense amount of baked goods, so it’s important to have it prepped as the recipe suggests. The temperature of butter can dramatically affect the texture of baked goods. There are three different consistencies of butter that baking recipes typically call for: softened, chilled (or frozen like in scones) and melted.

Most recipes calling for butter call for room temperature/softened butter. Room temperature butter is actually cool to touch, not warm. When you press it, your finger will make an indent. Your finger won’t sink down into the butter, nor will your finger slide all around. To get that perfect consistency and temperature, leave butter out on the counter for around one hour prior to beginning your recipe.

Room temperature is KEY. Speaking of temperature, if a recipe calls for room temperature eggs or any dairy ingredients such as milk or yogurt, make sure you follow suit. Recipes don’t just do that for fun – room temperature ingredients emulsify much easier into batter, which creates a uniform texture throughout your baked good. Think of rock hard butter – it’s not so easy to cream that into a soft consistency, is it? Same goes for eggs. They add much more volume to the batter at room temperature.

Read the recipe before beginning. This sounds sort of silly to type, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a complete and total disaster in the kitchen because I didn’t realize a certain step was coming up. Reading ahead will help you know the how, why, where and when of what you are about to do.

Always have ingredients prepped. Measure your ingredients before beginning a recipe. Read through the ingredients, get them prepared and ready on your counter, then read the recipe in full. There is very little room for error when you begin recipes this way.

Learn how to measure. Baking is a science. Excellent baking requires precise ratios, proven techniques and successful recipes that have been tested for taste. Unlike cooking, you can’t just bake something by throwing some ingredients together, mess it up and eat it anyway. One of the most crucial parts of baking is measuring ingredients properly.

Measure dry ingredients in measuring cups or spoons – these are specially designed for dry ingredients. Spoon and level (aka “spoon and sweep”) your dry ingredients. This means that you should use a spoon to fill the cup and level it off. This is especially important with flour. Scooping flour (or any dry ingredient) packs that ingredient down and you could be left with up to 150 percent more than what is actually needed.

Get an oven thermometer. Unless you have a brand new or regularly calibrated oven, your oven’s temperature is likely inaccurate. When you set your oven to 350°F, it might not really be 350°F inside. It could be off by only a little – 10 degrees or so.

Or more than that – 100 degrees or even more! Do you know what that will do to your cookies, cinnamon rolls and cakes?

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