Five tips to make you a better baker. Pexels

Rose Levy Beranbaum is the author of  Rose's Baking Basics and has some big-picture advice to help you become a better, more confident baker:

Follow the directions

  • "If you don't want to follow directions, it's better to make savory dishes," Beranbaum says. "Baking is best for precise people," or people who give up their idea of how a recipe should be made at least the first time they attempt it. 
  • Do you really need to whip those egg whites separately? Does the dough really have to be kneaded that long? The answer is probably yes.
  • Read the recipe - preferably multiple times - before you start doing anything. Not only do you want to make sure you have all the ingredients you need, you also want to have a good idea of what all the steps are in advance. 

Be wary of substitutions

  • I know it sounds like we're being sticklers here, but baking is often so much about chemistry that ingredients aren't necessarily interchangeable. 
  • If you are bound and determined to swap things in a recipe, "The first time, make it the way it's written," Beranbaum suggests.
  • "Otherwise you'll never know what you're supposed to be getting." 
  • Flours and sugars are two main baking ingredients that can have a dramatic effect on your results. 
  • Changing flours, for example, can alter the structure and density of a baked good. Sugars differ in flavor, texture and how they interact with water, so using the wrong one can also mess up the bake.

After writing authoritative baking cookbooks for almost 40 years. Rose Levy Berenbaum directs her latest at beginning bakers. Photo for The Washington Post by Tom McCorkle.
Make a recipe your own

  • Have I killed your intrepid spirit yet? I hope not, because there are plenty of ways you can tweak a baking recipe. 
  • In fact, Beranbaum's new book is heavily sprinkled with "Make This Recipe Your Own" sidebars that provide suggestions on A-OK substitutions. 
  • She gets it: "People want to put their own imprint on something, and that's so often why they want to substitute," she says. 
  • Some of the best places to start playing around are add-ins: chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts. 
  • You can experiment with different extracts and flavored simple syrups (even alcohol, where liquor is used for flavor). Spices, within reason, are ripe for personal preference.

Pay attention to temperature

  • It's more than just a matter of how comfortable you feel.
  • "Temperature is everything in baking," Beranbaum says. It's important to follow the directions when a recipe calls for ingredients to be at a certain temperature. 
  • Often, that means room temperature. Beranbaum says the sweet spot for room-temp butter is 65 to 75 degrees. 

Measure carefully

  • Here's another one that goes right along with "follow the directions." 
  • Just as recipes can be affected by which ingredient you use, they can be impacted by how much you use. 
  • So, yes, as most dedicated bakers will tell you, weight is the most accurate method for measuring (not to mention easier, because everything can be measured into a single bowl where appropriate).