10 More Tips & Tricks
Four months and 15 posts later, I’ve easily amassed more tips and tricks that must be shared. Tack these 10 onto my original TOP 10 BAKING TIPS & TRICKS, and you’ve got yourself 20 (I can do math!) great tidbits of info that’ll set you on the right path to success in the kitchen. Without further adieu, in no particular order...
Unsalted. Unless it says salted or otherwise, you’re using unsalted. BAKE WITH UNSALTED BUTTER. That’s all.
2. Lining pans with foil:
Many types of recipes - brownies, bars, fudge, marshmallows, etc. - call for you to line your baking pan with foil and give it a light spray/greasing before adding your batter. Often when a recipe doesn’t call for it, I’ll do it anyway. Usually this is because it prevents sticking to the pan, and it’s MUCH easier to remove the item from the pan and then cut it. Also, if I’m making something that I’m going to save or give to someone, I can throw the whole pan in the freezer once it’s cooled, and once frozen I can lift it out and wrap it right with the foil in which it baked! Easy peasy! The trick to avoiding those pesky fingernail holes from trying to press the foil into the pan corners is a simple one.
Grab a piece of foil much bigger than your pan, make sure the bottom of your pan is clean, and then place the pan on top of the foil on a flat surface. Press the exposed foil up the sides of the pan, using your hands and fingers carefully to press it solidly into all the nooks and crannies and around the corners. Then, once you remove your pan, your foil should be the perfect shape to just drop it right in! You’ll still have to do a little careful pressing and poking (be extra careful if you have long fingernails!) to get it settled, but it should be much easier this way than starting from scratch.
3. Eggs, room temperature:
In my previous tips & tricks post I talked about how to bring butter to room temperature quickly. Typically recipes also call for eggs to be room temperature, and this one is a much easier and quicker process. When you’re gathering your ingredients, put your eggs into a small bowl of hot water and let them sit for at least 5 minutes, or until you’re ready to use them. Voila!
4. Keep apples from browning:
You know how when you’re baking with apples a recipe will often tell you to toss them in lemon juice, or sprinkle them with lemon juice, to keep them from browning while you’re peeling/cutting the rest, or doing the next steps in your recipe? It never really works, does it? If you’re like me, you always end up with brown-spotted apple slices and stinging fingers. No more! Prepare a large bowl of very cold water and stir in the juice of one or two lemons (depending on how many apples you’re cutting). Then, as you peel and slice, throw the apples into the water, and you’re all set! The water helps evenly disperse the lemon juice, and prevents the apples from being exposed to oxygen, which is what makes them turn brown.
5. Table salt vs. Kosher salt vs. Sea salt:
I’ll be honest - I learned this one exceedingly late in my baking career, and definitely had one of those “ah ha” moments. Similar to butter, recipes will usually not specify the type of salt you should use. When this happens, they are assuming you’re going to use table salt - the finest grain. However, if a recipe does specify that your salt should be kosher or sea salt, DO NOT substitute table salt! Because it’s so much finer you’re actually getting a lot more salt in 1 teaspoon of table salt than 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and even more if your recipe wants sea salt (the coarsest grain). Stick with what’s specified, or risk grossness.
6. Cake Flour hack:
Cake flour results in baked goods that are often lighter and fluffier than when all-purpose flour is used. This is because cake flour has the least amount of protein of all the types of flours, and therefore results in the least possible gluten development. Bread flour, its counterpart, has the most protein and is what gives bread its chewy, glutinous loveliness. But if you’re not an avid baker who lives in a kitchen mansion, how likely is it you’ll always have cake flour around? Well, make some yourself! For every cup of flour in your recipe, remove 2 tablespoons, and add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, and you’ve got your cake flour!
7. Splitting vanilla beans:
With a very sharp paring knife, cut your vanilla bean in half, then split each half lengthwise. On each quarter, flatten out the edges a bit, then with your finger pressing down on one end, scrape the edge of the knife away from your finger down the length of the bean half, scraping up all the seeds. Be careful you’re not pushing hard enough that you’re scraping up some of the bean pod insides - if you do, you’ll probably notice and can pull them out, or carefully pick them out of whatever mixture the seeds end up in. Because they’re very sticky, the seeds might need to be pushed off your knife with your finger or another utensil. If they get on your fingers they may stain for a short period, and will certainly smell. If this bothers you, you should wear gloves for this process. Or, you could just accept it because your hands will smell lovely.
8. Glass vs. Metal Pans:
You absolutely cannot substitute glass & metal pans and assume cooking times will remain the same. Often, however, recipes don’t specify which they want - they only tell you the size. For the most part I’ve assumed if it’s a loaf pan, and 8x8, or a 9x9, it should be metal. 9x13 or other larger rectangular sizes (e.g. 11x15) I typically assume to be glass. Here are some good resources to read more about what causes the differences, and what the cooking effects are:
9. How to tell when things are done:
If you ever take a baking class with a professional chef, you’ll note that maybe they use a timer for general reference, but they will NEVER decide when an item is ready to come out of the oven based on time. With enough experience you learn that literally every single oven is different - sometimes to a vast degree - and often even the climate can make a difference! (E.g. never try to make meringue cookies if it’s humid). For this reason, try to start paying particular attention to the cues recipes give you regarding doneness. Many cake and cupcake recipes will say the layers are done when they just spring back when touched - this is very true, so if they’re close to done and you check them and give a gentle press and they don’t spring back, make sure to come back and check no more than 2 minutes later. They’ll make that shift very quickly! With cookies you can often tell when you see the edges browning or getting more cooked than the center, and sometimes even you can smell when they’re done. Often, brownie and bar recipes will use the jiggle test - they’ll be done and solid on the edges (this happens first because they’re directly contacting a hot surface - the sides of the pan), but you want the middle to stay slightly undercooked - it should be slightly jiggly when you shake the pan gently, and it will finish cooking as it cools. Pay attention - practice makes perfect!
10. Cake tools:
Everyone seems to understand that high quality ingredients are key to successful recipes, but home bakers often underestimate the importance of good tools. A good pan or the right kind of implement can often make or break your result, since baking is is finicky, and the smallest difference in the way you combine or bake your ingredients can make a huge difference (chemistry!) Or - sometimes - you just don’t realize the many ways in which you can use something you already have! Here are some of my favorites:
Fat Daddio’s - their cake pans are awesome. Can’t explain why, but they’re widely regarded as the best out there.
Ateco Cake Stand - if you want to be able to decorate layered cakes really well, this is a must. Don’t try to use one of those plastic flimsy turntables.
Offset spatulas - get two sizes!
Wax Paper - essential for so many reasons - freezing cookie dough balls, strips to shield your cake board during frosting, turning out cakes without getting your cooling racks gross - the list goes on...
Ice Cream (cookie) Scoops - important enough that they got their own number.