This month’s instructor tips come from Peri Halma, a family and consumer science teacher at Stilwell Junior High and an avid baker. She has entered baked items including cakes, pies, breads, cookies, and candies in the Iowa State Fair for the past 20 years. Peri loves to see the joy of cooking in young people and wants to inspire them to continue this joy at home. She will teach Community Education’s Summer of Learning Baking Academy class this summer.

Peri Halma’s Top Five Baking Tips

1. Use the best ingredients available. Think you won’t be able to tell the difference between imitation and real vanilla extract, or that Dutch Processed Cocoa won’t make a difference? Think again! Using quality ingredients makes a huge difference.

2. Bring ingredients to room temperature. Okay, confession: I don’t always do this — but I really should. When you use eggs or milk straight out of the fridge, they don’t combine as smoothly with the dry and room temperature ingredients. This can result in clumps of one ingredient sticking together and making an appearance in one unfortunate bite, which is no fun.

3. Preheat your oven, and then take the temperature. It goes without saying that you should preheat your oven, but I’ll say it anyway: preheat your oven! If you put batter in before the oven is ready, it will mess up their baking process. Ovens can also be finicky. Invest in a good oven thermometer, and then use it! Double-check the temperature of your oven before you put your batter in.

4. Bake in the center of your oven. When you’re ready to bake, set pans on the center of a rack set in the very middle of your oven. This will ensure good airflow and help even out heat distribution, preventing overcooking on any one side of the pan.

5. Resist the urge to peek. I know that baking is exciting, but don’t open the oven door over and over to check on your progress! If you slam the door open or closed towards the start of cooking, it can cause fragile air bubbles in the batter to burst, and you’ll end up with a dense product.

Check out Halma and her students in action in these photos of her Kids in the Kitchen class from the WDMCS Community Education Adventures program.