Organization is key.

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When baking, thoroughly preparing and staying organized are of the utmost importance. Baking is a science relying on a strong technical foundation. Recipes are designed to facilitate and control a series of chemical reactions, like the leavening of bread or thickening of custard; if even one step goes awry, your baked goods will likely reflect the error. Seasoned bakers are often able to troubleshoot based solely on the final product: Sunken cake layers are signs of underbaking or the addition of too much leavening agent; a cracked cheesecake may be the result of overmixed batter or ingredients that had not reached room temperature.

While there is no way to ensure that your baked goods will turn out perfect every time, there are certain factors throughout the process that you can control. The most important one? Preparedness. For today's lesson in kitchen organization, we're turning to some of the original masters: The French, who coined the term and kitchen philosophy mise en place. What does mise en place mean, and how is it put into practice? We're breaking it down for you.

What is mise en place?

You may already be familiar with the French term mise en place, which translates to "everything in its place." This is a concept that many cooks, but particularly bakers live by.

If you've ever glimpsed inside a professional kitchen, you've likely noticed various small containers set up, each containing an ingredient or component of the dish—diced onion, sliced jalapeños, or shredded lettuce. You'll be hard-pressed to find line cooks mincing garlic in the middle of a busy dinner service; preparatory tasks like this are executed beforehand to save time and streamline the cooking process. The same goes for baking. Before they begin the actual baking process, bakers process the various components of the dish—they cube the butter, sift the flour, measure out the baking soda, and crack the eggs—and set them out in individual bowls. They also set out any tools they'll need throughout the process, such as a whisk. By the time they're ready to start baking, all of the ingredients and supplies are organized, accounted for, and ready to go.

Mise en place means to have all your ingredients prepared and organized before you even begin cooking. It's having your butter softened, your flour weighed out, and your eggs cracked, each set out on your countertop in individual bowls—and that's all before you even get baking. Talk about organization.

Devoting one bowl to each ingredient means that every component of the recipe is accounted for. It may take quite a few bowls, but this technique really helps you understand exactly how all the various components of the recipe will come together in the end, giving you a bigger-picture understanding of the baking process. Once you're familiar with the practice of mise en place, you can minimize the amount of dishes by combining ingredients that will be added together—for example, eggs and vanilla can go in the same bowl if they'll be added to the cookie dough at the same time.

Mise en place is particularly useful in time-sensitive situations. The last thing you want to be doing when you have hot caramel on the verge of burning is measuring out cream; having this pre-measured ensures that you can add it to the mix at just the right moment. Putting together your mise en place might take more time than actually executing the recipe. Once it comes time to bake, a thorough mise en place makes following the recipe a breeze. No more frantic egg-cracking or flour-whisking while your butter and sugar cream; mise en place ensures that everything is set up ahead of time, keeping you on schedule.

How to set up your mise en place

To set yourself up for mise en place success, get a set of bowls in various sizes that can hold individual ingredients. We recommend investing in some glass Pyrex bowls, which double as mixing bowls. You can purchase a set of miniature glass bowls, too, but personally, I use a set of inexpensive kid's plastic bowls for my mise en place—they're the perfect size to hold small quantities of egg, baking powder, or any other ingredient.

Let's say you're making a carrot cake (perhaps our best-ever carrot cake). Before you even get started, read the recipe in full. This will give you a sense of the scope and general outline of the baking process, as well as knowledge of any special tools or materials you may need later on. Does that cream cheese need to soften for the frosting? Best to know that now and set it out in advance.

Next, instead of jumping right into the first step of the recipe, spend some time preparing all of your ingredients. Grate the carrots and set them aside in a bowl. Combine the grated carrot with the other fix-ins that'll be added to the batter at the same time—drained, crushed pineapple, flaked coconut, and chopped pecans—or set each in its own individual bowl. In a separate bowl, measure and combine your dry ingredients; finally, measure out each of your wet ingredients (eggs, sugar, vegetable oil, buttermilk, and vanilla) and combine in the bowl of your stand mixer. At this point, you have not even started to bake yet, but you've set up all of the ingredients, making it perfectly clear how everything will ultimately come together.

This inherited French practice will help you bake with organization, precision, and confidence.