Every day in January I am sharing my best Tips for Better Baking. These are tips that have made my kitchen life easier and helped me become a better baker. Follow along on Facebook or check back here each Sunday for a roundup of the week’s tips.
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Tips for Better Baking #26 – Grate your Own Nutmeg
One of the easiest ways to add more flavor to your baking is by using fresh nutmeg. When recipes call for ‘freshly ground nutmeg,’ skip the ground nutmeg in your pantry and grate your own. You only need whole nutmeg seeds and a rasp grater, such as my personal favorite, the Microplane Spice Grater. You’ll be amazed by how much more fragrant and flavorful your baked goods are and I bet you’ll never go back to the ground nutmeg sold in the spice aisle.
Tips for Better Baking #27 – Use a Hot Knife to Cleanly Slice Cheesecake
Cutting a cheesecake can be a bit of a challenge and there’s nothing worse than ruining a beautiful cheesecake with messy slices. Next time, start by warming your largest chefs knife under hot water. Working quickly, but diligently, make your first slice in the cheesecake. Next, wipe your knife clean by running it under hot water or wiping it with a towel. Warm the knife under the water again and make your next slice. Working your way around the cake, continue the pattern of wiping the knife clean and warming it under hot water for every slice. If a sink isn’t convenient, fill a large pitcher with hot water and use it similarly.
Tips for Better Baking #28 – Freeze The Mixer Bowl and Whisk Attachment for 15 Minutes before Making Whipped Cream
Whipped cream is a simple, but important, part of any baker’s repertoire. It’s an essential ingredient in recipes such as whipped cream, can be used to easily frost a cake or decorate cupcakes, and is a beautiful complement to nearly any dessert. I like making whipped cream because it’s so simple, but you can really tell a difference when it’s done right. If you want to improve the taste of your desserts, never use store bought whipped cream and learn how to make it from scratch. I learned this trick in culinary school, and while I don’t always remember to chill my bowl and attachment, it makes a big difference when I do, as the cold cream whips more quickly and becomes more volumnous and airy.
Tips for Better Baking #29 – Heat Milk Before Adding it to Caramel Sauce
Caramel sauce is one of my absolute favorite things to make. I love watching the sugar melt, waiting for it to caramelize, and then adding the butter and cream and standing back while it sputters and steams.
But, when you add cold milk to hot caramel, it seizes and hardens. Then, you have to put the pot back on the heat and wait for it to smooth itself out. Instead, warm the cream up gently before adding it to the sugar. The warm cream whisks in easily and you’re left with a smooth, silky caramel sauce. Not all recipes call for this, but I make sure to use this trick every time I make caramel sauce.
Tips for Better Baking #30 – Trust Your Instincts
In today’s world, you’re one Google search away from any recipe you can think of, can be both a good and a bad thing. When I’m cooking a new dish, I believe in looking at many sources for ideas but I always go back to my trusted sources when I start to cook. With so many recipes online, it’s hard to tell what has been well-tested and will actually work to produce a delicious dish. For the best results, find sources you trust and stick with their recipes but always look other places for inspiration.
When we’re on the subject of recipes, let’s talk about baking times. When I first started baking, I took the baking times listed in recipes very seriously. I’ve since realized that these are more of just a suggestion, and some days they are no where near accurate. Depending on your oven, the altitude, and the heat of your kitchen, you may need to bake much less or much longer than the recipes call for. Always trust your instincts and if you think something needs to bake more, it probably does. Don’t be afraid of getting your baked goods a dark golden brown. That’s where the flavor comes from.
Question – Say you’re baking a cake and the recipe says to bake for 25-30 minutes. You need to do a few things in the other room so you set a timer so you don’t forget to check on your cake. How long should you set your timer for? If you said 25 minutes, I’m sorry but you just burnt your cake. Always set a timer for 5-10 minutes less than what the recipe suggests. That way you can check on it, and if it’s baking quickly, prevent a possible disaster.
Tips for Better Baking #31 – Invest in a Quality Thermometer
I’m lost without my thermometer. I use it when making custards, pastry creams, and checking to see if breads are finished baking. The thermometer shown below is the Thermopen from Thermoworks. It’s amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone who spends time in the kitchen. I have even been known to give it as a gift. If you’re looking for a smaller, less expensive option, I also use the ThermoPop and find that it does a great job.
Thermoworks offers this great list of chef-recommended cooking temperatures for everything from meat to candy and bread.
As always, please share your Tips for Better Baking. What makes your life easier in the kitchen? What do you struggle with? Are there any tasks you hate? Let me know and I’ll try to find solutions. Comment below or reach out on Facebook.