Tis the season to bake all the things! When the first auburn and gold leaves flutter about in the brisk air of early fall, I get that baking feeling. It’s time to close and cover the grill and fire up the oven once again. It’s time to reap the gifts of the harvest and bring family and friends together to endure the colder months with good food and revelry. This chapter of the year, is full of cheer but also intensity for those of us kindred spirits in the kitchen. The following baking tips and tricks are my gift to you, Master of Ceremony, to help on your journey to dispense happiness one baked good at a time.
- Always read through an entire recipe before making it. This helps you conceptualize the whole process and eliminate mistakes or misunderstandings before you’re in the thick of things.
- Always pre-measure and prep your ingredients. This is called “mise en place” (everything in its place) and is integral to professional cooking or baking.
- For accurate, consistent, professional baking results, weight your ingredients instead of measuring.
- Bring all baking ingredients to room temperature before baking.
- For ideal baking results, when a recipe calls for room temperature butter the butter should be soft but cool to the touch.
- Forgot to bring your eggs to room temperature? No worries, place them in a bowl of warm water for 3-5 minutes, then you’re good to go!
- Oven calibration is often off by some degrees, affecting the quality and consistency of your baking. To avoid this problem, use an oven thermometer placed in the middle of your oven for a dependable temperature reading.
- When adding ingredients such as fruit, nuts or chocolate chips to a batter, first coat them in flour, then add them to the mix. This helps to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter and stay evenly dispersed as they bake.
- To portion batter for cupcakes, muffins or cookies, use an ice cream scoop. There are many sizes to choose from, they give you perfect portions in less time and without all the mess.
- Do not over mix or knead, batters or dough (except bread dough). Over mixing develops the gluten in the flour and will result in tough, gummy, lack luster baked goods.
- Raw dough is sticky, think cinnamon rolls or babka. To make precise cuts in raw dough, spray a serrated knife with cooking spray between each cut or incision.
- For clean slices when serving desserts such as pies, cake or cheesecakes, use a warm knife to make the slices. Wipe the knife clean with a cloth or paper towel in between each slice.
- The temperature at which you serve food is crucial for a pleasurable experience. When serving hot, warm, or room temperature desserts or baked goods, warm the plateware you’ll be serving it on. Just before serving place the plateware in a warm oven for a few minutes or microwave at 20 second intervals until warm (be sure the plateware is oven and microwave safe).
- Not an avid baker? You probably don’t use cake flour enough to keep it around or the box you bought months ago has gone paltry and stale. When you need cake flour, you need cake flour. All-purpose flour alone will not give you the same results. Cake flour is a low protein flour with a finer consistency that yields a tender, “store bought” quality cake. Fortunately, the fix is quite simple and only requires two pantry staples you probably keep on hand, cornstarch and all-purpose flour. Precisely measure and combine 14 tablespoons (110g) of all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons (16g) cornstarch. Problem solved!
- When making chocolate desserts like cake or brownies, add a pinch of salt and a little cooled coffee or espresso granules to enhance and deepen the chocolate flavor.
- When working with chocolate dough or batter, prep counter tops and/or pans with coco powder instead of flour. This not only compliments the chocolate flavor but also helps to eliminate the white, dusty appearance left on darker baked goods from white flour.
- Bundt cakes are delicious, beautifully festive and so easy to make but the unmolding process can be intimidating. These four steps will help you to unmold your Bundt cakes without fear.
- Grease the Bundt mold thoroughly. I mean absolutely nothing left unbuttered. For double protection sometimes I use a thin greasing of butter followed by good coverage from a cooking spray with flour added to it. This can be found in almost any grocery store.
- After removing the Bundt cake from the oven, allow it to cool completely before inverting onto a cooling rack.
- Once cooled and inverted onto the rack, allow the Bundt to sit in this position with the pan still attached for five to ten minutes before unmolding. This allows gravity to work its magic and assist you with the unmolding process.
- Lastly, using the back of a spoon or butter knife, tap the inverted pan forcefully enough to help dislodge any cake that may still cling to the pan and carefully unmold your creation. Nothing is 100% fail proof. Should this method fail you, crumble all that wonderful cake into inch sized pieces and layer it in a decorative serving bowl with fruit and whipped cream for a stunning trifle instead. Win/win, no fear necessary.
- To prevent cookies from spreading, always chill the dough thoroughly before baking. Pre-portion or shape your cookies, put them on a parchment lined baking sheet and into the refrigerator or freezer. When the dough is cold and stiff, put the baking sheet directly into your pre-heated oven and bake.
- Still having trouble keeping your cookies from spreading? Try this trick from the cookie maven herself, Dorie Greenspan, use a muffin tin. Make your cookie dough, precut or portion the dough and put them into muffin tins. The cookies bake evenly, keeping their shape and rise versus spread thanks to this genius trick.
- For softer, more tender cookies, add an extra egg yolk to the recipe.
- To keep leftover cookies soft, store in an airtight container with a piece of bread. The cookies will absorb the moisture from the bread keeping their texture.
- For easy sugar cookie decorating, use edible food coloring pens. They can be found in many baking and culinary specialty shops, as well as on Amazon. They are cheap, fun and make cookie decorating with children or cookie decorating parties, a breeze.
- Another great cookie making tip from Dorie Greenspan, addresses how to keep cookie dough from developing a flat side as it chills in the refrigerator. Her tip? Wrap your dough in parchment or plastic wrap and place in a repurposed paper towel tube. All you have to do is slice the paper tube open lengthwise and slip the wrapped dough inside! No more flat sided cookies. I recommend you start saving your tubes now so you have an abundance whenever a cookie extravaganza is called for.
Pies and Cobblers
- For better butter prep when making pie dough (or biscuits), premeasure your butter and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes. Once frozen, remove it from the freezer, roll it in flour for easy handling and grate over a sheet of parchment paper. Return the butter to the freezer for 15-20 minutes. When re-frozen, add the butter to the dry recipe ingredients, toss to coat the shavings and proceed with the remainder of your recipe instructions. This trick helps to give you cold evenly dispersed pieces of butter throughout your dough.
- Par-baking pie dough is an essential part of pie making. First you form the dough to the pie plate, cover with parchment, add weight via pie weights or baking beans and bake lightly before adding the filling and finish the baking process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself wrestling with the parchment paper to keep it in place. All my parchment wrangling came to an end when I started crumpling the parchment sheet before laying it on top of the pie dough. A little crumple and the parchment will stay in place without a fight.
- To avoid cracks in the top of you beautifully executed pumpkin pie or cheesecake, let them cool in the oven. After baking, turn off your oven, prop the door open and let your pie or cheesecake cool to room temperature before removing. This method allows them to cool more gently thus avoiding cracks. Should you still get a few cracks, add a yummy topping that is both delicious and can cover imperfections. Try jams, jellies, curds, toasted nuts or coconut shavings.
- Fresh fruit makes a great cobbler but so does frozen fruit. Frozen fruit is accessible year-round, cuts down on prep and can be better quality than fresh fruit, when flash frozen at peak season. If using frozen fruit, just be sure it’s high quality and fully thawed before use.
- Coat your cobbler fruit in 2-3 tablespoons of cornstarch, granulated sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, a teaspoon vanilla extract or paste, a pinch of sea salt and just like that you have luscious cobbler filling.
- Do not over crowd your cobbler top. Scoop the biscuit-like topping onto the fruit, leaving a little space between each portion so moisture can escape and the fruit becomes lightly caramelize instead of soggy.
- One of the hallmarks of a good cobbler is contrast in textures, soft baked fruit and a cakey dough with a crunchy crust on the top. The best way to achieve a beautifully browned crunchy cobbler top, is to brush it with 1-2 tablespoons of buttermilk or heavy cream and sprinkle with granulated sugar, just before baking.
Now go and bestow sweet goodness to those you love and those in need of love. Good baking makes the world a better place!