I was a professional pastry chef early in my career, and I still love to bake at home for special occasions. Here’s a roundup of my best baking tips culled from years of experience in a professional pastry kitchen. Make these secrets your own and you’ll create something show-off worthy every time! Why not start with our Baking Bucket List?
1. Weigh ingredients, but not just for accuracy
It saves time because you’re not dirtying measuring cups and utensils. Just put your mixing bowl on a digital scale, reset the scale to zero, and you’re ready to weigh ingredients right into the bowl.
Test Kitchen tip: If you don’t know the weight, go ahead and measure it as you usually would, then record the weight onto your recipe to save time next go-round.
2. Can this cookie be saved? Maybe…
If cookies or scones baked a little too long, get ’em off the pan fast. If you tend to get distracted when baking, or if you’re making a big-batch recipe such as these Chewy Chocolate Cookies, lining your pans with parchment paper is the way to go. That way you can slide the baked goods, parchment and all, quickly off the pan so they cool off fast.
Test Kitchen tip: If the cookie smells burnt, it is, and you won’t be able to get around it. If it’s dark but doesn’t smell bitter, it’s OK to serve. Just layer the dark cookies on the bottom of your serving plate or keep them separate to serve last.
3. Re-use your parchment
Again and again and again, with your cookies, breads and more. You heard us right: If the parchment isn’t gunked up with food, go for it! And don’t forget to flip the parchment and use both sides. Parchment is expensive but essential for efficient baking. Use it fully so you’re not throwing money away!
4. Act fast to rescue a dish you overcooked
Some of our favorite sweet treats, like custards and even ice cream, rely on adding eggs to warm ingredients. But what happens if you accidentally scramble your eggs in these recipes?
Quickly strain your mixture into a new metal bowl and place it in ice water. Whisk constantly to help the heat escape. Don’t scrape the pan. Ditto for pie fillings and custards that may have burnt on the bottom: quickly pour it out of the pan and leave behind anything that wants to stay.
Test Kitchen tip: Make custards and fillings in a heavy-bottomed pan for best results.
5. Use metal’s heat conductivity to your advantage
Stubborn, buttery cookie dough? Chill it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roll it out on the same sheet. The cold pan keeps the dough cool and easy to work with. If you have a metal countertop, you can quickly pull the heat out of cakes or other pans by moving the pan over the metal surface. Pretty cool! Heat is conducted away from the pan (and your precious baked goods) and diverted into the metal. Here’s another great way to pull a recipe back from the brink.
Test Kitchen tip: Granite and stone countertops are nice and cold, too. Just make sure yours are rated safe for hot cookware.
6. Frosting is good glue
If you’re transporting a cake to a special event, make it easier to tote with this little tip. Secure the cake, or cardboard cake circle, onto the presentation plate with a dab of frosting. Now the cake is less likely to slide around, even if you suddenly have to brake. And you’re the only one who’ll know the frosting is there!
Test Kitchen tip: Bring a little repair kit of frosting and decorations (just in case) along with your decorated cake. Wrap the items in a clean dish towel with an offset spatula and secure them with a ribbon. Bring the frosting in its pastry bag if you used one.
7. Simple syrup: It’s not just for cocktails anymore
Sure, a good batch of simple syrup makes a mean sour cherry shandy or batch of pumpkin pie martinis. But did you know you can flavor the syrup with booze and brush it over a cake, or mix the syrup with fruit puree for an instant sorbet base?
Test Kitchen tip: Store the syrup tightly covered in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
8. Find your favorite ingredients and stick with them
Baking is a science, but it’s also an art. The more familiar you are with an ingredient and how it performs, such as cane sugar or a certain brand of flour or vanilla, the more creative you can get when you’re working with those ingredients. You’ll feel brave and ready to take on patisserie classics like beautiful cream puffs.