Hello friends! I’m so excited to be baking together with you here at Cook the Vineyard. I’m a cookbook author and cooking teacher, and I’m passionate about demystifying baking. (You can find out more about me and my latest book, The Everyday Baker, in “The Cook and the Book” section of Cook the Vineyard.) 

We’re introducing this Baking Together column so that we can form a baking community on Cook the Vineyard where everyone can feel free to share their baking highs and lows and everything in between. With each new column, I’ll include a recipe, and after you try it, we’d love your notes and ideas in the comments section below the recipe. What did you and your family think of the recipe? Did you change it up, vary the flavors, add special decorations or create a unique presentation? We want to know so we can try it ourselves!  

To start us out on the same baking page, I’m going to share my six steps to better baking (see below). It’s a fun, if cheeky, summary of some of the key baking principles I’ve learned over the years that will truly help you meet with success. Each step is equally weighty, and it’s important to think about each one every time you are heating the oven and cracking open that bag of flour.

I’m a firm believer that every day is a great day for baking. But that doesn’t mean I’m up for baking challenges or big projects every single day. The recipe I’m offering here — an easy-to-make cupcake — is just right for busy days when I want to squeeze in a smidge of baking or for those occasions when the last-minute celebrations pop up. You know, those times when a colleague blurts out “Did I mention it’s my birthday tomorrow?” and everyone shouts “Let’s have a party!” You’ll be baking-ready with this gem in your back pocket. One bowl, a handful of on-hand ingredients, and a whisk are all you’ll need to whip up the batter for these lovely vanilla-scented cupcakes. Even better, they bake in the time it takes to clean up – 15 minutes. Serve them straight up or smeared with the satiny-smooth milk chocolate frosting I’ve included. Either way, your pals will be delighted and only you need know that they were a snap to make.

I’m looking forward to baking together.


Author photo: Winnie Abramson; cupcake photo by Abigail Johnson Dodge

Abby's Six Steps to Better Baking 


1. Imperfect is the new perfect.

Perfection is unattainable so let’s agree to let go of that goal right now. It doesn’t matter a lick if your finished product looks exactly like mine (remember, I’ve been doing this for eons), if the bread is lopsided, or if the frosting is speckled with cake crumbs. What you handcrafted with care will still taste delicious!

2. A ruler is a baker’s bestie.

Size does matter! Using a ruler to measure your lengths, widths, and slices is the only way you’ll know that your pan or pastry/cookie dough is the same size that’s called for in the recipe.

3. Gauge your available time and be realistic.  

Before diving full-speed into a recipe, make sure you choose one based on the time you have available. Trying to squeeze too much into a limited time will only make you feel crazed, and your results will suffer. For those time-pressed bakers or those who want or need to plan ahead, take a look at the make-ahead tips I include whenever possible. 

4. Trust your nose — and your instincts. 

Engage all of your senses (sight, smell, touch, taste), and remind yourself that baking takes some patience and sometimes, a little courage to try something new. Trust your instincts – you’ve got good ones!  

5. Time to take your temperature … of your oven, fridge, and freezer.

Because temperatures are so important in baking, it’s not enough to trust the digital read-out on your oven, fridge and freezer. You need to take their temperatures and adjust the controls as needed until the temp on the thermometer is accurate.

6. Baking is like making a stir-fry.

Have you ever made a stir-fry? If so, you know how important it is to have all the ingredients prepared and measured before you start cooking. The same holds true for baking. Mise en place — French for “put in place” — is the process of organizing and prepping your ingredients (and equipment, too) so that you are 100% sure you have everything and can work through the recipe smoothly and efficiently.