It’s no secret that baking is not my forte, but a chance encounter with Mexico City’s beloved baker, Eliceo Lara, inspired me to pull out my rolling pin, sprinkle a bit of flour on my face, and get my bake on. I first crossed paths with Eliceo while on one of my summer trips to Mexico.
My Insta-amigas Nicole of Flan and Apple Pie and Daniela of The Spiced Kitchen invited me to join them at one of his baking classes in Mexico City. Once I learned what was on the menu, I couldn’t resist: conchas. I know conchas seem to be the “it” pan dulce right now, but I remember as a little girl walking to the panedería with my father to pick up a paper bag full of these sweet treats. Needless to say, I was eager to learn the secrets behind homemade conchas.
Today I am sharing a guest post with the man, the myth, the legend: Eliceo Lara. I’ve asked him to share a few tips and tricks that will inspire you to try that cake or pie crust you’ve been dying to master. Here’s more from Eliceo.
Before going to pastry school, I had my fair share of epic fails in the kitchen. And you better believe that I still have them – just not as often as before. Even so, these moments reflect a willingness to take risks and a desire to step out of my baking comfort zone. We can all recall a time when the cake on which we spent hours of our day unexpectedly collapsed, cracked, or stuck to the pan right in front of our eyes. This of course leaves us powerless, with that sweet craving unsatisfied, and with no other option than to eat those store-bought cookies that have been sitting in our pantries for months.
Now that I’ve been baking for years and taught tons of baking classes (you can check out my baking adventures on Instagram), I’m putting together three simple rules that I wish somebody shared with me before throwing away well-intentioned recipes and lovely ingredients that did not manage to be part of a beautiful and delicious pastry.
Weigh your ingredients and keep an eye on your oven temperature
One of the first things they tell you in pastry school is that you will never get to use those beautiful ceramic measuring cups you inherited from your grandma, at least not in any respectable kitchen. This is a non-negotiable, especially with dry ingredients. One cup of flour will weigh anywhere from 110 to 160 grams and is contingent on various factors: whether or not it’s sifted, packed, or if it has been sitting in your cupboard since you moved in (don’t use that, by the way). These factors are important because baking is a science and science is accurate.
Now, don’t go telling people that you don’t weigh ingredients because it’s complicated or expensive. Nowadays, the tools you will need to do this are easily accessible in terms of price and availability. There are affordable, durable, and user-friendly options like this one just a few clicks away.
The same principle applies to the temperature of your oven. Have you seen those nice temperature readers on your oven? Believe me when I say that they lie! Most baking failures arise from trusting a miscalibrated oven (they’re all miscalibrated) so order a nice, inexpensive oven thermometer and start turning your baking misfortunes into successes. You’ll thank me later.
Learn your baking basics
One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen home bakers make is to get ahead of themselves. When we have an amazing food experience in a bakery or restaurant (especially while traveling), we oftentimes want to recreate this experience at home. And yes, of course we can. But first we have to master the basic recipes and techniques in order to achieve good results with more complicated ones. Want to replicate that stunning lavender chocolate soufflé you had on your recent trip to Oaxaca? Sure! Start with mastering some pretty little baked meringues. Practice those folding skills making a simple sponge cake. Learn the basics and you’ll be a baking boss in no time.
Know your recipe
Any given day I receive a message asking why someone’s cake managed to taste raw and overbaked at the same time. The dialogue often goes a little something like this:
Me: Where did the recipe come from?
Student: From this random Facebook post. Why?
Me: Infinite eye roll…
Whenever you are investing time and money on a baking project, you want to make sure you have a solid foundation. This equates to quality ingredients and a flawless recipe. Good recipes usually come from dependable blogs like Lola’s, informative and fun baking classes like mine, and well-edited baking cookbooks.
Knowing where your recipe comes from is extremely important because you might want to adjust the leavening agent (baking powder or soda) in case the recipe comes from an area with altitude that’s different from where you live. High altitude baking is a huge topic but for now I can tell you this: in high altitude you would use half the amount of baking powder or soda than at sea level. This only applies to cakes and not breads (yeast) – cakes are delicate creatures, bread is more forgiving. And baking is science, I warned you about that.
Follow these three rules and you will up your baking game instantly. You will be save time and ingredients and overall, you will be a happier baker. Feel free to tag me on Instagram (@eliceolara) on your next baking adventure. ¡Hasta la próxima!
This is the base for the guava tres leches cake we made in Eliceo’s class.
Leading up to Day of the Dead, Eliceo’s pan de muertos class fills up fast, so be sure to grab a spot if you’re in Mexico City!
How beautiful is this Otomi-inspired cake he made?
Pastry photos provided by Eliceo Lara
Lola Wiarco Dweck
Lola is a Mexican-American recipe developer, writer, and cooking instructor who loves sharing her culture with the world. Growing up in California and spending summers in Mexico, Lola celebrates her family’s Mexican recipes and vibrant culture through Lola’s Cocina.