Hello foodies! It’s Christine here for Sweet-Tooth Friday! As the holidays roll around, it’s time to show off your culinary prowess! To go along with my post on how to be a healthier baker, I thought I’d let you in on some more general (but uber-important) tidbits I’ve picked up as a professional baker.
Ten Tips for Better Baking
- Ditch the timer
That cake is done when you say it’s done! One of the biggest mistakes you can make is blindly following the time given in a recipe. Sure, you can use the time given as a guideline, but it can totally vary based on the size of your pan, the nuances of your oven, and even altitude! I always start checking on my goodies at least five minutes earlier than the time listed. Keep an eye out for signs your cake is done: edges that are pulling away from the sides of the pan, an unjiggly center, and a knife that comes out clean! If whatever you are baking is browning on top but still not done in the center, just loosely cover with a piece of aluminum foil.
- Get an oven thermometer
I cannot stress this enough: setting your dial to 350 degrees does not guarantee your oven will heat to 350 degrees! Many ovens I have worked with are fifty degrees too hot, so setting it to 350 actually means 400. This is a sure-fire way to over-bake or burn your creations, so before you unnecessarily chip away at your baking confidence, just go get a thermometer already! Mine works great and was less than ten bucks.
- Know thy oven
Does your oven have a hot spot in the back left corner? Do cakes on the bottom rack burn if they don’t have sheet pan underneath them? That’s how my oven is! If you’re not sure about yours, try to stay in the center of the oven and rotate your pan around about half way through baking. When you have something on both the top and bottom racks, swap positions there too.
- Make every stir count
For light and fluffy baked goods, it’s important not to over-stir. Over-stirring strengthens the gluten, which can make your cake tough. There are several ways to efficiently stir your batter. First, make sure your dry ingredients are completely mixed together before you get them wet. Next, instead of stirring vigorously like a cartoon chef, gently scrape down the sides and bottom of your bowl and mix with a folding motion, constantly incorporating a new section of batter.
- Use the right pans No, you probably don’t need that teddy bear sheriff cake pan. But if you only have your trusty 9×13 casserole dish and muffin tin, it may be time to branch out. A 12 cup bundt pan makes an effortless presentation, plus it requires less icing than a normal cake. A springform pan has a removable bottom, and is nice for coffeecakes and other tarts so you don’t have to flip it. Finally, an insulated cookie sheet will bake your cookies without scorching the bottoms.
- Chill out
Let your cake or cookies cool before taking them out of the pan. (Better yet, let them cool on a wire rack so air can circulate around the bottom.) Otherwise you risk getting burnt, or more tragically could cause your baked goods to break. Breads, brownies, and “custard” pies especially need time to finishing baking after they come out of the oven so just let them be for twenty minutes of so. And you! Yes you, Johnny Impatient. Don’t even think about icing a hot cake or cupcake- you’ll be much happier with the room-temperature results.
- Find a trusty recipe source
If you are going to use your valuable time and ingredients, you should know your source. I’ve had great success with epicurious.com and as you know I also love to “ask Betty“; Matt really likes finecooking.com. For vegan fun, nothing tops Isa and the gang at The Post Punk Kitchen. And, ahem, there’s yours truly. You can always hit me up with your baking questions in the comments.
- Make the recipe yours
Substitutions are your friend when you can’t find the healthy recipe you want. See my post on healthy baking on how to veganize any recipe. Also, remember to read recipes with a critical eye- typos do exist. If something seems really off, say a quarter cup of salt, it probably is! Finally, feel free to mix up the flavors and add-ins, but don’t go too crazy. One to three flavors usually work best. For example, Lemon Cake is good, White Chocolate Lemon Cake is good, and White Chocolate Lemon Cake with Raspberries is good. White Chocolate Lemon Poppy Raspberry Walnut? Too much.
- Don’t forget the finishing touches
Sometimes a dash of rainbow sprinkles is all you need to pull a dessert together. A dusting of powdered sugar is also a nice professional touch- just a teaspoon goes a long way. A drizzle of melted chocolate or chocolate syrup looks elegant on the dessert and the plate. Fresh berries make a lovely garnish too.
- Get out of your comfort zone
Still hoping for that pie crust to roll itself? Wary about yeast breads? If you’ve been avoiding recipes that require seemingly complicated skills, go ahead and give it a shot! It takes some practice, but it’s not rocket science. Just don’t save your experiments for an hour before your big dinner party.
And finally, I hope this is obvious, but have fun! The holidays are a great opportunity to get your oven revving, and your friends and family are sure to thank you for it!
Have a sweet Thanksgiving!