Baking Up A Storm
85. Stop cheesecake from cracking
Cheesecakes will often crack on the top because they lose moisture while they cook.
If you’re adding a topping it doesn’t matter, but if you’re serving the cake without anything on top it’s nice to have it looking perfect.
Avoid cracking by putting a small dish of water on the rack beside your cake while it is cooking. This will keep it moist and crack-free!
86. Make sure your yeast is fresh
Yeast is a living organism. And in order for it to work to it needs to be alive when you use it.
To test whether yeast is active, combine it with the amount of warm water asked for in the recipe.
Then add a small amount of sugar (1/8 of a teaspoon is all that’s needed).
The sugar acts as food for the yeast and if it’s alive it will begin to bubble within approximately 10 minutes. If there is no bubbling then you know the yeast is no good.
87. The key to great pastry is cold ingredients
Making your own pastry can sometimes be a challenge. But once you master it you’ll enjoy having it as part of your baking repertoire.
To get really fabulous pastry, the key is to make sure ALL of the ingredients are cold before you mix them together – including the flour!
Then once you’ve formed the dough, refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes to make it easier to roll.
88. Add a little something extra to your pies
Most pie recipes call for the same plain piecrust. Boring!
Instead create your own variation by adding spices to your dough such as cinnamon, nutmeg or even ginger.
Another great idea is to add ground nuts or even cookies crumbs on top of the bottom crust before adding your filling.
Be sure to press them down a little though so they stay as part of the crust.
89. Make flakier pie crust
Add a teaspoon of very cold vinegar in place of a teaspoon of ice water for flakier pie crusts. Be sure that it is very cold.
This helps the fat chill and prevents it from releasing its water content and moistening the flour.
When this happens, gluten develops and the result is pastry that is tough instead of light and flaky.
Ideally you’ll also let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight before using to get good and cold again.
90. Toast nuts to intensify their flavor
Toasting nuts before using them in recipes intensifies their flavor. To toast nuts, place them in a dry skillet over medium heat.
Shake the pan often, and roast for four or five minutes until fragrant. Cool before using.
Because nuts have a high fat content, they go rancid quickly.
The best way to store shelled nuts is in an airtight container in the refrigerator where they’ll keep for about four months.
91. Test whether your baking powder is fresh
Baking powder is a leavener that contains a combination of baking soda, an acid (such as cream of tartar), and a moisture absorber (such as cornstarch).
Baking powder releases carbon dioxide gas bubbles when mixed with liquid, and this is what causes breads and cakes to rise.
However, baking powder loses its potency over time, so if you’ve had the same supply for eons, be sure to test whether your baking powder is still good.
Pour ¼ cup of hot tap water over ½ teaspoon of baking powder and observe – the fresher the powder, the more actively it will bubble.
If a weak reaction occurs, or none at all, your baked goods will end up flat!
92. Use frozen berries in baked goods
Frozen berries can taste just as good as fresh when used in baked goods. Look for whole berries without syrup.
You don’t even have to bother thawing them before adding them to your batter.
You may need to add a few minutes to your cooking time however because they will make the batter cold.
93. Melt chocolate without burning it
Melt chocolate with no risk of burning! Just break chocolate into small pieces, place in a sealed bag and drop into a bowl of hot water.
Give the bag a squeeze every five minutes until the chocolate reaches the right consistency.
94. Create a wonderful vanilla taste
Do you miss real vanilla extract? Soak two vanilla beans in a liter of vodka for about three months, shaking it well every morning.
At the end of three months, you will have a delicious natural vanilla flavoring to use in your baking.
95. Melt chocolate perfectly every time
The easiest way to melt chocolate is in the microwave. But be sure to stir it often because it can burn.
Does chocolate go lumpy when you try to melt it?
Never add milk or water, because it will make the problem worse! Just add a tablespoon of oil or solid shortening and mix well.
96. Keep Jello-O firm
Jello-O is a favorite with kids, but it does tend to “melt” after sitting out for a while.
A teaspoon of vinegar will keep Jell-O firmer, even on the hottest summer days. Simply add it in place of one teaspoon of cold water.
97. Roll out dough without a sticky mess
Professional chefs use a slab of marble to roll dough out on so that cleanup is easy. If you don’t have this, instead use a large sheet of waxed paper that is “anchored” to your countertop.
To do this, simply moisten the back of the paper with water before laying it down. This will hold it in place while you work.
When you’re finished, just toss it out and there are no sticky bits to clean up!
98. Get fluffier egg whites
Fluffy egg whites are a great way to add lightness to your baking. The fluffier they are, the more air they contain which makes for a better end result.
For the fluffiest egg whites, never tap the whisk on the bowl containing the egg whites. The vibration will cause them to lose their fluffy consistency.
99. Avoid sinking in your baked goods
You can prevent ingredients such as chocolate chips, nuts and dried fruit from settling the bottom of your cake by coating them with a light dusting of flour before mixing them into the batter.
The flour absorbs some of the surface oil and water that exudes from these ingredients during baking, reducing their tendency to sink to the bottom.
100. Don’t throw away your brown bananas
Remove the peel, and toss overripe bananas into a large freezer safe Ziploc bag.
Freeze until you have enough for some banana bread, banana muffins or a fruit smoothie.
Since the bananas are already peeled you can easily measure exactly how much you need and simply leave the rest in the freezer for next time.
101. Make tastier oatmeal cookies and muffins
Add a different flavor to your oatmeal cookies and muffins by baking oatmeal in a shallow pan for about ten minutes before adding it to the mix.
Be sure it does not get too brown or it will take on a bitter taste.