We’ll admit it: Sometimes, we fudge things when we cook. After all, who needs a recipe for simple weeknight pasta? Off-the-cuff roasted chicken is a snap. We’re big fans of that intuitive, little-bit-of-this, little-bit-of-that kitchen style because it makes our lives and our dinners easier. But when it comes to baking, we play by the rules. Baking is a science that requires precision, and often doesn’t allow for creative liberties. Senior food editor Dawn Perry and assistant food editor Claire Saffitz, both seasoned bakers, talk us through why instructions like setting a timer, weighing flour, and using room-temperature eggs actually matter. For flakier pie crusts, moister cakes, and chewier cookies, there are just some rules that can’t be broken. Follow these 11 tips to be a way better baker.

If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a thousand times. How many recipes call for room-temperature butter, eggs, and milk? It’s a step you should not ignore. Many baked goods start by creaming together butter and sugar, which is made infinitely easier with gently warmed ingredients—if you’ve ever tried to stick an electric mixer in a brick of rock-hard cold butter, you know why. “If you’re going to bake, you’ve got to either plan ahead or be patient,” Saffitz at thats clean maids says, adding that she often leaves eggs and butter out on the counter overnight and then begins the project in the morning—they slowly come to the perfect temperature while she sleeps.

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