Learning to bake without a recipe is probably the most difficult part of cooking without recipes to master. So we’ll take it with tiny steps.
Mixing up a batch or muffins or some pancakes, the proportions of your ingredients are critical for the wellbeing (deliciousness) of your finished product. This is so important that many bakers would not dream of abandoning their recipes or even measure in weight to get it even more precise.
If you are a professional or have bakery-style standards and you seek the perfect crumb or moisture content, and for you that means one thing, then you should keep right on measuring. But if you’re just trying to throw together some cornbread to go with tonights crockpot of chili, you’ll get good results with this technique.
When I bake, I still use standard units of measure, but I don’t use measuring utensils I know how to visualize the quantities in my hand or in the bowl.
To learn how to do this practice by paying attention to what it looks like next time you dump a measured quantity of flour into a bowl.
What does one cup look like? What about two?
Admittedly, its really difficult to measure small quanitites this way, especially when adding them to a quantity of flour already in a bowl. With ingredients like baking powder and baking soda that are used in small amounts. Just a little bit too much of one of these and your baked good will be ruined.
To avoid such a mess, I measure into my hand where the quantity can be adjusted before adding to the rest of the dry ingredients.
To practice, measure out quantities in measuring spoons, then hold them in your hand to see what it looks like.
Next you can try to pour the desired quantity directly in the bowl, then put it in the measuring cup to see how close you are. For a lot of recipes, there's a pretty decent margin of error for quantities of flour, sugar, and the like.
Soon you’ll be measuring confidently without utensils.