I love being in the kitchen and baking. I don’t always have a lot of time to do it or a lot of people to feed, but it’s one of my favorite stress relievers. With the holiday baking season in full force and a lot of parties to host and attend, it seems like a good time to talk about a few kitchen tips and tricks. I am absolutely not an expert in the kitchen, but I spent some time over the weekend thinking about some things that I’ve learned (often after many flops and failures) that I could pass along. Hope something in this list helps. 🙂
1. When it’s time to make those cute cut-out sugar cookies, a rolling pin really makes life easier. You just roll out your dough, cut out your shapes and you’re ready to bake those cookies, right? Yeah. Right. Have you ever tried to use a rolling pin? Let me tell you, I’ve made more than a few messes where I’ve ended up with perfectly good cookie dough stuck to the rolling pin and the counter. I’ve also added so much flour to the cookies to keep them from sticking that they were inedible. The solution? Saran wrap or wax paper. All you have to do is lay down a layer, put your lump of cookie dough in the center, put another layer over that and then use your rolling pin as it was intended. All you have to do when it’s flat is peel the saran wrap or paper away. Voila! Nothing sticks!
2. To make your cookies last longer, throw a piece of bread into an airtight container with the cookies. I grew up watching my mom do this and had no clue why until I was grown. Well, guess what? It really does work and extends the life of your cookies by days by keeping them soft and moist. The cookies will absorb the moisture from the bread and stay soft. Just change the bread every couple of days as it starts to get hard.
3. Make sure the butter is the right temperature. Ever notice how cookies often call for butter at room temperature and pies call for cold butter? It turns out, it really does make a difference. If your butter is too warm, it can cause your cookies to “spread” on the pan instead of fluffing up nicely. If it’s not cold enough for your pastries, it can also cause them to be greasy and not flaky enough.
4. For the longest time, when I made pies, I couldn’t get the crust to come out evenly. The center of the pie would be a beautiful, buttery brown, but the edges would be dark and crunchy. I tried covering the pie with foil until the last few minutes and then uncovering, but it never worked quite right. Eventually, it occurred to me that I was being stupid. If the center of the crust was coming out great, there was no need to cover it. Placing aluminum foil around ONLY the edges was the solution. Letting the pie bake with the foil around the edges until the last five minutes and then removing the foil was the perfect solution. Now, I have one of these handy, dandy tools (thanks to the hubby, who is always picking up fun kitchen gadgets for me), but it really isn’t necessary.
5. Read the recipe in its entirety before beginning. I can’t tell you how many times I have glanced at the ingredients list and thought, “Okay. I have everything and I’m ready to go,” only to get halfway through the recipe and realize that instead of splitting the milk between two different steps, I already used it all or some such mistake. It’s important to just read the whole thing through once to make sure you’re not going to screw anything up. It sounds like common sense, but sometimes, it’s easy to get in a hurry.
6. When it comes to baking, always mix the dry ingredients together and the wet ingredients together and THEN combine them. I’ve seen some people say it’s best to add wet to dry and others say its best to add dry to wet. I’m not sure, but I do know that it really is best to mix the wet and dry separately first. The reason for this is all about texture, especially when flour is involved. Once you add flour to the mixture, if you overmix the batter, it will often come out too tough and rubbery. By mixing separately and then combining, you can ensure that all of the ingredients are well incorporated, but not too overworked.
7. There is a difference between liquid food coloring and gel food coloring. Most of us are familiar with liquid food coloring and it is often used in icings and frostings. It is easy to find in the grocery store and it does the trick. Gels are a little more difficult to find (although becoming more common; I found some at WalMart), but usually produce more vivid colors, meaning you have to use much less. And for me, the biggest difference is again, all about texture. The liquid food coloring is made of, well, liquid. By the time you add enough to get the vibrant color you want, often your icing has become too thin. With the gels, you can add very little and do not have to change the consistency of your icing. This is also pretty important if you are actually dying the baked product, itself, such as the cake in Red Velvet Cake. If you use too much of the liquid food coloring, you will have to adjust your temperature and bake time accordingly.
8. If the berries or chocolate chips in your cakes and muffins sink to the bottom, the problem is that said berry or morsel is denser than your batter and therefore sinks. To fix this, simply toss them in flour and add them to the batter at the very end, just before you put it all in the oven. I have no idea why this works, but it really does. I had a lot of gooey-on-the-bottom confections before I started doing this. Now, only a few will sink. 🙂
I hope you have all found something here to help you in the kitchen this holiday season and beyond. Happy Holidays, everyone!