Here are some helpful tips and tricks I have learned over a few years of baking as well as in the middle of doing some of my episodes. As I remember or come across tips and tricks I will add them on here. Do you have any tips or tricks? Comment below and I might add them to the list!
In almost every pastry recipe you should use room temperature unsalted butter. When butter is at room temperature it is in a soft pliable state that combines with ingredients better and allows for the creation of more air cells, which will aid in your finished products’ volume and texture. Not all pastry recipes use room temperature butter such as scones and pie doughs. These doughs take advantage of the cold butter to create flakiness and unique texture. You should use unsalted butter in your pastry recipes so you can control the amount of salt that goes into your recipe.
Whenever you have a recipe with a series of dry ingredients it is important to sift them.
Sifting helps aerate and mix your ingredients but the biggest reason to sift your ingredients is to break up chunks of ingredients that may have settled – like baking powder or cocoa powder. To sift your ingredients, measure your ingredients in a sieve or strainer. Gently shake the sieve over a large bowl.
When it comes to flavoring or any ingredient where there isn’t a specific amount, always add a little at a time and test it either by taste, sight, or texture/consistency. You can always add more, but you can never take it away. Some examples include adding cocoa powder to icing, adding water to royal icing, and adding cinnamon to apple filling.
Is your finished pie, cake, or other good sliding around on the plate or cardboard? “Glue” it down with a little ganache, corn syrup, or icing.
Gelatin is not vegetarian, vegan, halal, or kosher – it is typically made from pork. Keep this in mind when you are serving guests. Fish gelatin is usually halal and kosher but may impart a fishy flavor and is not vegan. Agar-agar, made from seaweed, is vegetarian, vegan, halal, and kosher but it gels differently than pork gelatin. Be sure to experiment with your recipe to get a feel for it.
When using tropical fruits (like passionfruit, pineapple, and kiwi) their juice/pulp needs to be boiled before adding gelatin. Tropical fruits contain an enzyme that breaks down gelatin and prevents it from setting up.
Gelatin must be bloomed before using. To bloom gelatin, place it in some liquid from the recipe – typically juice or water. Once bloomed it must be melted over low heat until all the granules have dissolved. Do not boil gelatin as it can break down the proteins and prevent the gelatin from setting up.
On average you want to have ¼ ounce of granulated gelatin for every 14-16 ounces of liquid.
When a recipe says “cream the ingredients together” you most likely should be using a paddle attachment.
When lining your cake pans, you don’t need to use a piece of parchment paper that fits the
entire pan. A small square, for example, is sufficient. All you need to do is spray the pan with pan release (pan spray like Pam) and stick the square of parchment right in the middle. As long as the cake doesn’t stick in the middle it will release.
One exception to the above rule is for cheesecakes which use a cookie crust. Those crusts could crumble apart if not carefully released all at once so in those cases use a parchment paper circle equal to the size of the entire bottom of the pan. Trace the bottom (not the top!) of a cake pan on parchment paper and cut out the circle. Use pan release to secure it and then spray it on top. Then build your cookie or graham cracker crust on top. You should still do this even with a springform pan.
When filling cake pans you should only fill the cakes ½ to 2/3 of the way up the pan. If you fill it all the way to the top your cake will most definitely spill out.
Do you need to scale up a recipe to accommodate for a larger pan size? The easiest way to do this is to find a pan that your cake recipe uses. Most cake recipes use two 9” x 1.5-2” round pans and this tip will use the 9” pan as an example. Fill the 9” cake pan with water up to where you would fill it with batter – like ½ way up. Then pour the water into the larger pan. Repeat this process (fill the 9” cake pan, pour into the larger pan) until you have filled all the larger cake pans ½ to 2/3 of the way up. This will tell you how many 9” cake pans it takes to fill the larger pans and will give you a very good idea of how to multiply out your recipe! This trick works better than weight because we fill cake pans based on volume. Each time we make a cake batter the volume can be slightly different and may or may not grow proportionately with weight. Plus it’s just easier to use this method than to do math, especially if you are using oddly shaped pans or pans of varying sizes or weights. If you are trying to make a three-tiered cake with lots of different sized pans, it’s much easier to use the water method to estimate the amount of batter you will need.
Testing cakes for doneness is easy! The best way to check if a cake is done is inserting a tester (such as a toothpick or a knife) into the center of the cake. If the tester comes out clean – meaning no gooey batter is on the tester – then the cake is done. Other signs of a cake being finished: the cake starts to pull away from the sides of a pan (if a cake has pulled away greatly before being removed from the oven, the cake may be over baked. It is natural for a cake to pull away from the sides of the pan after being removed from the oven and allowed to cool); color – especially on white or yellow cakes; difference in texture – cakes will be drier, spongier, and take on the characteristic cake texture; rising – cakes that are baked will be taller.
To tier, or stack, cakes the easiest way is to you straight plastic straws. Place three straws
in a triangle right into the bottom tier of the cake making sure they’re as straight as they can be. Trim them to the surface of the cake then you can easily slide the top tier on top! Straws are surprisingly strong and because they are so thin and hollow they don’t displace any cake like columns do. Just be aware that if they are even a little bit slanted they won’t support any weight. Also, make sure they are supporting the edges of the top tier rather than the middle so they support the top tier better – ideally about ½ – 1” in front the edge of the top tier. Depending on the size of the tier you may need more straws and straws in the middle of the tier.
If you find that your cookies have gotten dry, hard, and stale move your cookies to a plastic container with a tight fitting lid (if you haven’t stored them like this already) and throw in a fresh slice of bread. In about 24 hours the cookies should be soft again. This trick also works for brown sugar that has gotten hard.
Are you trying to make super moist and chewy cookies? Try adding oil to your cookie recipe. Oil interferes with the structure building components of cookies to help make them tender while adding moistness to the finished product since oil will not evaporate or be utilized by structure building components (unlike water). Other tips include: using bread flour instead of all-purpose flour or adding a little instant oatmeal (ground in a coffee grinder).
Most recipes call for baking cookies at 350 degrees F. If you find that your cookies get over baked and burnt on the bottom and come out hard try baking them at 300 or 325 degrees F.
Do you want fresh baked cookies at a moment’s notice? Do what the bakeries and grocery stores do! When you make cookies, make a larger batch or bake less than the full batch. With the remaining dough portion it out on a sheet pan closer together than if you were going to bake it and then put the sheet pan with the dough in the freezer. Once the dough is frozen you have “cookie pucks” which are perfectly sized portions of dough ready to bake. You freeze the pucks individually so they hold their shape and don’t stick together but once they are frozen you can store them in a container piled together. You may want them to thaw out to room temperature before baking so they bake more evenly – although they may come out extra chewy in the center if you bake from frozen. You can also freeze a log of the dough and then slice off some dough for baking.
When making custard pies you will need to par-bake your pie crust. Once you have lined
your pie tin with your pie dough dock it lightly by poking lots of holes in the shell with a fork. Then place a coffee filter on top of the your pie dough. This will act as parchment paper. Place a pie tin of the same size on top of the of coffee filter lined pie dough. Fill the layered pie tin with something to weigh it down slightly such as an empty ramekin. If the weight is too light the pie shell may still puff up and if the weight is too heavy it may squish your pie shell. In a pinch, a sheet pan can work as a weight but sheet pans might be a little too heavy plus it’s difficult to check for doneness.
As a last resort if you do not having anything oven safe to weight down the layered pie tin, you can flip the entire package upside-down and bake it like that in the oven. Gravity will act as your weight. This is usually a good method for mini pie shells. Be sure to check your pie shell every once in a while throughout the baking process and press down on the entire package if you notice the pie shell starting to puff up.
Those methods do not work if you have a fluted edge. In that case, you will have to use a coffee filter that is as big as the entire pie shell and fill it with baking beans. These beans are usually called pie weights are available at most baking and pastry supply stores. As a last resort, you may be able to use dried beans, peas, or rice but be aware that these items could get burned or may be unusable for other uses after baking. You need to fill the pie shell with baking beans all the way up to the edge – if you don’t the pie shell’s sides could slump during the baking process.
After your par-baked shell has completely cooled, you may want to brush white chocolate
on the surface of your pie shell. The white chocolate acts as a barrier to moisture from the filling keeping your pie shell crisp for a longer period of time.
The graham cracker and cookie crumb crust recipe is very flexible. You will have to alter the recipe depending on the type of crumbs you use and if you choose to use an egg white or not. If the crumbs are somewhat moist you should be able to use less butter. If you use egg whites you should also be able to use less butter. Your crumbs should be wet enough to form a compact ball when squeezed but dry enough that they don’t make a squishy noise or drip liquid. Too much butter and the fat from the butter will act like pan release for the crumbs and they won’t stick together. Egg whites help make a stronger crisper crust and I highly recommend using it especially for crusts you plan to remove from the pan or tin.
Most ovens have 5 slots where you can place your sheet pans – the top one is very close to the upper heat element and the bottom one is very close to the lower heat element. The middle rack is ideal but reduces the number of pans you can keep in the oven at the same time. The upper third and lower third racks will most likely be your best friends.
Are you having issues with your cakes being over baked or burnt on the bottom? If you have the oven space, use only the middle rack. On the rack directly below the middle rack (the lower third rack) place an empty sheet pan. This will help redirect heat away from the bottom of the cake pan. Your cake may take longer to bake but the bottom will most likely not get burnt.
Are your cookies get burnt on the bottom? Try double panning your sheet pans (stack two sheet pans together and use them as one) or using the above trick. Are your cookies baking unevenly? Rotate your pans halfway through baking. To rotate your pans, switch the upper pan with the lower pan as well as literally rotating them so that the cookies that were closest to the oven door are now closest to the back of the oven. Many ovens have hot/cold spots where the heat is uneven. By rotating your pans all of your cookies will spend the same amount of time in the spot where the heat is uneven.
Carry over cooking is the concept where a hot pan continues to cook a baked good even after it is out of the oven. For most baked goods this isn’t a huge issue but carry over cooking can adversely affect cookies. You can take advantage of carry over cooking by pulling your cookies out of the oven a 2-3 minutes earlier than what you are aiming for. Leave them on the pan to cool and they will cook to exactly what you were aiming for. If your cookies are very close to being over baked, remove them from the hot pan immediately with a pancake turner/plastic spatula and place them on a wire cooling rack to prevent your cookies from over baking.
Use a cheesecloth to help keep extra water from dripping down into your product. Hold the cheesecloth in place using the steamer’s lid. Afterward, let the cheesecloth dry out completely so you can reuse it again.
Is your icing soft, soupy, and low in volume? This may be due to your meringue not whipping up properly. To help get the most volume and strength out of your meringue use a paper towel dampened with vinegar and wipe out your electric mixing bowl, whip attachment, and any tools/bowls that will come in contact with the egg whites. The vinegar breaks up and removes any fat residue you cannot see. Fat inhibits egg whites from whipping up properly, which can cause soupy and low volume meringues. Remember to separate your eggs as cleanly as you can as egg yolk (which is fat) can prevent your egg whites from whipping up properly.
Is your icing really soupy and not staying on your cake? This means your icing is too hot and the butter is all melted. Try refrigerating your icing and whipping it up slightly (only for a few seconds to break up the chunks – whipping it too much will just melt your icing again). Refrigerating your icing also works when you are whipping the butter into your icing and it doesn’t seem to come together. When you are icing your cake you should do your best to keep the room you are working in cool as well.
Polka dots are really popular with cake designs but sometimes the you just don’t have a cutter small enough to make the sized dots you need. You could get an aspic cutter which is teeny-tiny and could make the sized dots you’re looking for. A better more convenient solution is to use your straight (100s) piping tips as cookie cutters! This opens up an incredible range of sizes for you to use plus, unlike many biscuit cutters, there are no seams to worry about!
Do you have caramel stuck inside your pot and your arm just can’t take any more scrubbing? Fill your pot with water and boil it! The caramel will dissolve right into the water. This trick works for a lot of stuck on messes.
Removing a cake from a cake pan
After your cake is properly baked and removed from the oven let it cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Your cake should begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. If your cake is pulling away from the sides before you remove it from the oven, it may be a little dry or overbaked. After you cake has completely cooled, run a butter knife along the edge of the cake to help release the sides better. Then place a wire cooling rack, sheet pan, or cardboard cake circle on top of the cake pan. Holding the cake pan and the cake circle as one package flip the entire package over so the cake pan is on top and the cake circle is on the bottom. The cake should release easily from the pan if the pan was well-greased and parchment paper was used. If the cake is sticking or is not coming out, grab the entire package again (cake pan on top, cardboard cake circle/sheet pan/wire rack) and bang the package against a hard surface like your table. This is easiest when using a cardboard cake circle, especially if it fits inside the cake pan. Bang the cake pan along the edges around the entire circumference of the pan – then try to release the cake again. Repeat until your cake comes out.