tips

massivegiveaway

pantry

  • butter – always unsalted! this allows complete control over the salt content of your baked goods. i use Costco brand (very fancy).
  • cocoa powder – i almost always use Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder. it’s extremely rich, and has a deeper and more complex flavor than standard cocoa powder. if i’m using dutch-process or natural finish, i’ll clarify it.
  • chocolate – always worth splurging on. especially with white chocolate, because there’s a huge taste difference between high and low quality. for something like mini semi-sweet chips, though, it’s fine to use Nestle.
  • eggs- white or brown, large or small; egg amounts in recipes are usually pretty forgiving as long as you have some in there as a binder. it’s important to bring your eggs up to room temperature before you use them. this is hard to remember to do ahead of time, so i almost always run them under steaming hot water for a minute to warm them up.
  • flour – Pillsbury, all-purpose, unbleached. i rarely use cake flour or bread flour (will specify if needed). an easy substitute for cake flour is to take two tablespoons of all-purpose flour out of every cup and add in two tablespoons of cornstarch, then sift.
  • food coloring – Wilton gel. never the store-brand droppy stuff.
  • milk – whole or 2% are both fine. i never have buttermilk on hand, so i usually just make a substitute: 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar to 1 cup regular milk. also good to have at room temperature (you can heat in the microwave for 10 seconds if needed).
  • molasses – i LOVE molasses. molasses gives brown sugar its color, texture, and flavor. one of my favorite meals is grape nuts drowned in almond milk, then microwaved (the milk soaks in), then topped with sliced banana and drizzled with tons of molasses. i use Brer Rabbit brand.
  • peanut butter – Jif! Jif! i will defend Jif until the day i die. they’ve just perfected peanut butter. the kind where you have to mix the oil back in every time you use it freaks me out. sorry!
  • salt – kosher salt! always! clean, coarse, good for finishing as well as baking.
  • sugar – if a recipe just calls for ‘sugar,’ it means plain, white, granulated sugar. i use store brand. i’ll specify if i mean powdered sugar or light/dark brown sugar.
  • spices – always use dried, ground spices unless the recipe says otherwise (freshly grated nutmeg, for example).
  • sprinkles – keep as many on hand as possible. i love my little gold star ones. sanding sugar is also good to have on hand for sprinkling on handpies and such.
  • vanilla – pure! extract! i’ve recently gotten into vanilla paste, too, which can be easily substituted for vanilla extract using the same amount the recipe calls for.

tools

  • baking sheets, pans, and tins – i most frequently use my 6-inch round cake pans and my half-sheet pans. good to have: 6-, 8-, and 10-inch round cake pans; quarter, half, and full sheet pans; glass 8×8 and 9×13 dishes; glass and aluminum pie tins; trusty cookie sheets; regular and mini loaf pans; springform and bundt pans.
  • bench scraper – this is essential for getting a cake iced smoothly. holding it vertically next to a cake while rotating it on a stand will get a perfectly smooth finish every time.
  • blowtorch – not a requirement, but comes in handy for creme brulee and charred marshmallows.
  • immersion blender – super helpful when making blended soups and ganaches.
  • measuring cups and spoons – always measure dry ingredients by scooping them into the cup with a large spoon. this ensures that you’re getting the right amount. you need glass liquid measuring cups for measuring oil, milk, etc.
  • microplane – must-have! needed for zesting citrus and finely grating cheeses, like parmesan, or fresh spices, like nutmeg.
  • microwave – should be your best friend. there’s no shame in using it. good for carefully melting chocolate or melting wafers, carefully softening butter (turn every 5 seconds to make sure it doesn’t melt), and bringing frosting to room temperature (again, carefully).
  • parchment paper – an amazing invention. paper! that can go in the oven! i use it to line all my cake pans (spray the pan with non-stick spray, line with parchment, then flip the parchment so that both sides are coated), and cookie sheets.
  • pastry brush – good to have for brushing soaks onto cake layers, or keep a dry one handy for brushing away excess flour or powdered sugar.
  • piping bags and tips – can be used for everything. for decorating cakes, i mainly use standard star, french, and round tips. i also frequently use my leaf and rose tips for piping flowers. piping bags can be used to pipe cream puffs, fill doughnuts, form uniform macaron, and much more.
  • rolling pin – i use a french-style rolling pin (it doesn’t have handles, it’s pretty much just a wooden rod). i got it at a yard sale. it’s my favorite thing in the world.
  • rotating cake stand – if you want to ice cakes smoothly, you need this. i use a Wilton one that was about $25. rotate while smoothing icing with an offset spatula or bench scraper.
  • scale – i use my scale more and more every day. some of my recipes list ingredients in grams or ounces, but they almost always have the equivalent cup measures. this is a great tool to have.
  • sieve – can double as a sifter, colander, and chinois. i use mine to sift cocoa powder, drain beans, catch citrus seeds, and smooth out vegetable purees.
  • spatulas – rubber ones: should have at least two of good-quality. i use these every time i make anything, sweet or savory. offsets: helpful to have a large and a small, for big and little cakes. help to spread batter out evenly, as well.
  • spoons and whisks – wooden spoons, wire whisks.
  • stand mixer – i use my stand mixer every single day. you need one. take good care of it; i often switch speeds on mine too fast, and the gears have begun to wear out. worth getting whisk and dough hook attachments as well as the basic paddle.
  • toothpicks – use for testing doneness of cakes (if they come out with a few crumbs attached, the cake is ready) and for incorporating food coloring into frostings and batters.
  • thermometers – i have a candy thermometer than i use sometimes, and a digital meat thermometer that i use for measuring the temperature of water i heat up to activate yeast.

methods

  • creaming butter and sugar – always do it for longer than you think you need to. best to use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, intermittently scraping down the sides of the bowl. the final product should be almost doubled in size, pale, and fluffy. then you can add in the eggs, one by one.
  • folding – use a rubber spatula to fold in ingredients without losing air that has been whipped into the batter. cut down the middle of the batter with the spatula, then carefully scrape around the sides of the bowl.
  • greasing the pan – use butter, non-stick spray, or vegetable oil. just make sure all surfaces are coated. then line with parchment paper (see above).
  • reading the recipe – read from start to finish before anything else. always.
  • utilizing the freezer – i am lucky enough to have two freezers. they allow me to prepare for big catering events months ahead of time. cookies, cookie dough, cake layers, brownies, pie crusts: these can all be frozen for weeks at a time. freezers are also useful for collecting leftover cake scraps and frosting, perfect to use in something like this chocolate lemon smash cake.
  • separating eggs – easiest to do while the eggs are cold. you can try using the shell to divide the yolk and white, but i find it easiest to crack the egg right into my hand and let the white fall away naturally. take care not to get ANY yolk in the white. this will ruin the final product.
  • scraping down the bowl – use a rubber spatula. this is just a really good practice; it ensures that all ingredients are evenly mixed.
  • tempering chocolate – this is a way to ensure that melted chocolate will set and keep its form at room temperature. there are many ways to do it, but it always requires manipulating chocolate to different temperatures. i like david lebovitz’s method:
    • melt a quantity of chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water, until it reaches about 115º-120º F.
    • remove from heat and let it cool to 80º F. drop a good-sized chunk of solid chocolate in, which provides insurance by ‘seeding’ the melted chocolate. while cooling, stir frequently.
    •  this is most important: bringing the chocolate up to the perfect temperature. this occurs between 88° and 91° F for dark chocolate, and between 86º and 88ºF for milk chocolate. reheat it until it reaches the desired temperature.
    • remove what’s left of the chunk of ‘seed’ chocolate. don’t let it get above 91° F or you’ll have to begin the process all over again. if it drops below the temperatures, rewarm it gently to bring it back up.
  • whipping cream – make sure your heavy cream, bowl, and whisk/whisk attachment are all chilled. this makes for a fuller whipped cream and cuts back on time.