Top 10 Baking Tips for the Holidays
If burnt cookies and dry cakes have become your holiday tradition, consider these top tips our gift to you.
- Right tools for the job. For dry ingredients (i.e. flour and sugar), use measuring cups and spoons that can be leveled off for exact measurements. Better yet, measure dry ingredients by weight so you can skip the leveling all together. Liquid ingredients need glass or plastic tools with a pouring spout.
- Measured success. Because flour settles and compacts in storage, stir before measuring. Then, spoon into your measuring cup and scrape excess off with the back of a knife. Resist the urge to tap the cup on the counter or to shake it to level; both methods will pack the flour and you’ll end up with more flour than the recipe calls for. (Note: Flours have differing flavors, textures and weights, so don’t swap out in a pitch. Learn more.)
- Betta butta. Use unsalted butter for baking so you can control the amount of salt in your finished product. Hungry for flakier pastries, higher cakes, chewier cookies and better flavor? Use European-style butter, which has a higher proportion of butterfat to water and starts with the best quality cream.
- Easy as pie. As a time-saver, you can make pie crusts and cookies in advance, then freeze and bake straight from the freezer. We love slice and bake cookies for feeding holiday crowds. Baked, decorated cookies can also be frozen.
- Flaky & fabulous. For flaky pie crust, ensure all of your ingredients are super cold to keep the butter and other fats from melting. Chill the bowl, freeze small pieces of butter, use ice water and a machine (not your warm hands) to blend ingredients and work in the coolest corner of your kitchen.
- Cake boss. Cake, on the other hand, loves a little warmth. Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature before starting the process. Cold ingredients won’t trap and hold air bubbles efficiently, and air bubbles are what give cakes their grandiose height. Note: Warm cold shell eggs in a bowl of hot tap water for 10 minutes.
- Choosy chocolatiers. The best chocolate contains only cocoa butter and no other fats. Read the label; if the chocolate contains vegetable oils, it isn't the best quality chocolate you can buy.
- Behind closed doors. Let the oven do its job and resist the temptation to frequently check on your baked goods while they’re baking. Opening the oven door lets heat out and changes the air pressure of the baking environment, which can be detrimental to the final product. If you must, spy using the oven light!
- Spice world. Dried spices lose their potency and freshness within six months to a year from the date they’re first opened, so the spices from last year’s cookie bake-a-thon may need to be replaced. Buy small quantities of less-used dried spices in the bulk section to prevent waste, and always date new bottles of your tried-and-true spice cabinet favorites.
- Don’t fill 'er up! Fill cake, muffin and bread tins only about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way up leaving enough room for the batter to expand and rise as it bakes.