Below is a list of tips and tricks that I have either learned from the pros (which really means from watching the food network), read in books, or figured out through trial and error (this is an ongoing process). I can say that following these guidelines has drastically improved my baking, and I thought it would be nice to share. I hope that some of these will help you too 😀
Recipe and Ingredients:
- Ingredients for cakes should be room temperature (take out of refrigerator approximately an hour before using), it allows the butter and eggs to be properly incorporated into the batter.
- To check freshness of eggs, put in a bowl of water–if they sink, they’re fresh. If they float and stand on one end, they’re not.
- ”Eggs” typically means Grade A, large eggs.
- “Milk” typically means homogenized.
- You can substitute milk with yogurt or sour cream, to experiment with different textures.
- To create a replacement for buttermilk, add 1 teaspoon vinegar for every cup of homogenized milk and stir
- Weighing ingredients with a digital kitchen scale is the most accurate method of baking.
- 1 large egg white = 37 grams, 1 large egg yolk = 20 grams. Eggs separate best when cold, but whites whip best when room temperature or warm.
- Egg whites can actually be frozen–just pull them out of freezer night before you need them.
- For best results, use pure vanilla extract – it makes a difference (you can make it yourself! All you need is plain vodka and vanilla beans).
- To bring cold eggs to room temperature quickly, you can put the whole eggs into a bowl of lukewarm water for 30 minutes.
- To bring butter to room temperature quickly, you can cut into small cubes on a plate for about 15 minutes.
- Semisweet Chocolate = Dark Chocolate. Bittersweet Chocolate = Extra Dark Chocolate.
- Semisweet & Bittersweet Chocolate are interchangeable.
- Unless otherwise listed, use unsalted butter for cake recipes. That way you can be sure of the amount of salt you are adding to your batter (different brands of butter use different amounts of salt).
- Incorporate dry ingredients together with whisk before adding to wet ingredients.
- When creaming butter and sugar, get the mixture very pale yellow and fluffy. It will add small air pockets into the mixture and help develop a wonderful, light texture.
- Always start and end with dry ingredients when alternating with wet ingredients (3 dry additions, 2 wet).
- Don’t over-mix once dry ingredients are added. Just mix on low speed until incorporated.
- Too much sugar can cause a dark crust, too little can cause too light a crust or tough texture.
- Beat egg yolks with fork before adding to batter.
- To retrieve stray eggshells in mixture, use the emptied half-shell–eggshell sticks to eggshell. If you don’t get them all, they will sink during baking…you can turn baked cake over when cool and retrieve them. I’d recommend fishing them out beforehand though.
- A pinch of salt brings out the flavors in sweet baked goods.
- When folding, you should always add the lighter of the two mixtures on top, using a gentle folding motion, to avoid deflating batter.
- When mixing egg whites for meringue, wipe all utensils and bowl with vinegar or lemon juice on a paper towel before they come in contact with the egg whites (including the mixer whisk attachment). Any trace of grease can jeopardize your meringue!
- If incorporating more than one flavor into a batter or icing, always start with the vanilla; vanilla enhances most flavors.
- For evenly-baked cakes, no domed tops, and no-fuss assembly, bake layer-by-layer. This means if you’re baking a 3-layer cake, use 3 of the same size/shape pan, and bake 3 shorter layers at same time.
- Use a small offset palette knife to spread batter evenly in pans. Don’t fill more than 1/2 full–2/3, at the most.
- Always wait for oven to reach necessary temperature before putting cakes in oven.
- Keep cakes away from sides of oven, and if possible a few inches from each other (when more than 1 baking at once).
- Rotate cakes after 20 minutes in oven (don’t disturb before 20 minutes).
- If baking a chocolate cake, make sure you chose a recipe that includes boiling water, or hot coffee. The heat from the liquid will help elevate the flavor of the cocoa.
- Use middle rack, unless otherwise stated in recipe.
- Typically, when in oven, cakes are almost done when you can smell the cake in the kitchen. Sounds weird, but you’ll see! Follow your nose.
- Leave cakes in oven when testing for doneness. When a skewer comes clean from center of cake (or with very few crumbs), it’s done.
- Don’t overbake! This is one sure way to end up with a dry cake.
Cooling & Frosting:
- Let full cakes cool in pans on wire racks for 20 minutes before removing from pans.
- Remove cupcakes from pan immediately, placing individual cupcakes on wire rack to cool.
- Before piping frosting, massage the frosting bag a bit. The heat from your hands will warm the butter in the frosting, and make it easier to work with.
- Brush away any stray cake crumbs with silicone pastry brush before icing.
- Apply even layers of filling using an 18″ pastry bag and large round tip.
- Apply thin layer of icing to seal in crumbs, then place in refrigerator for 30 minutes before second layer of icing.
- Use an offset palette knife/icing spatula for frosting top of cake, and straight palette knife/icing spatula for sides of cake. Use a bench scraper for super-smooth edges.
- If you don’t have time for frosting your cake, a good sprinkling of powdered sugar does wonders. Tastes and looks great on most cakes.
- For clean cut cake pieces and minimal crumbs, run your cutting knife under hot water (and dry) right before cutting.
- To give your frosted cake a glossy finish, you can use a hair-dryer on medium heat over the outside of the cake (right before serving).