Breads and pies bake best and will have the best crust when baked in a dark colored pan that absorbs heat well. Cookies, biscuits and cakes do better in a shiny pan that reflects the heat for a more delicate browning of the crust.
When a recipe calls for a "greased" pan, be sure to grease the pan with solid shortening or an oil unless otherwise specified.
Line baking pans such as cookie sheets, loaf pans and layer cake pans, with wax or parchment paper to prevent sticking and simplify cleanup.
If you're afraid it's "dead," test by putting 1 teaspoon into a cup of hot water. If it fizzes actively, use it. If not, buy a new box.
Biscuits will be crisp on the outside and flaky in the center if you roll the dough thin and fold it over once before cutting out biscuits. They'll also split open easily when you're ready to butter them.
There's no law that says biscuits have to be round. Roll the dough into a rectangle and cut out square shapes so you don't have to keep re-rolling it.
The sharp open ends of clean cans make great cutters for biscuits, scones and cookies.
To re-freshen and heat biscuits, put them in a well-dampened paper bag, twist it closed and put in a 300 degree F oven for several minutes or until warm.
If you want soft-sided biscuits, bake them in a pan with sides and put the biscuits close together.
If you want crusty biscuits, bake them on a cookie sheet and place them apart from each other.
Breads and Rolls
Keep bread fresh longer by placing a rib of celery in the bread bag.
For quick and easy garlic breadsticks, split a hot dog bun down the middle and cut each half lengthwise. Butter each strip; sprinkle with garlic salt or garlic powder. Place on a cookie sheet and bake or broil until toasted.
To butter many slices of bread quickly and evenly, heat the butter until soft, then "paint" it on with a flat pastry brush.
To thaw frozen bread and rolls, place in a brown paper bag and put into a 325 degree F oven for 5 minutes to thaw completely.
For a shiny bread crust, brush the top with a mixture of 1 beaten egg and 1 tablespoon of milk before baking.
Place aluminum foil under the napkin in your roll basket and the rolls will stay hot longer.
To glaze the tops of rolls, brush with a mixture of 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 cup milk before baking.
For a soft, well-browned but not shiny crust, before baking brush the loaf with a tablespoon of melted butter.
For a crisp, shiny crust, bake the bread for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and brush with an egg white that has been beaten with a tablespoon of water. Return the bread to the oven to finish baking.
Yeast will last longer than the specified date printed on the packet if kept in the refrigerator, or even longer in the freezer, for up to a year. If you bake a lot, it is wise to purchase larger amounts and freeze. Place in a tightly sealed plastic or glass container and mark the date of purchase. Bring to room temperature before using.
Use nonstick cooking spray to grease the inside of the bowl you'll be using to raise yeast dough, then spritz the top of the dough itself. This is a much neater method than spreading with oil.
If you're interrupted in the midst of bread-rising, set the dough in the refrigerator. A long, cool rise develops texture and flavor.
For a slightly browner and crisper crust, brush bread after 20 minutes of baking with a whole egg beaten with a tablespoon of milk.
Yeast breads are more moist when made with potato water (water in which you have boiled potatoes) than when made with other liquids. The potato water keeps the bread fresh longer and gives it a slightly greater volume, but coarser texture.
To keep holes and tunnels out of your cake, run a knife through the batter after you have finished mixing it. This removes air holes.
To keep loaf cakes fresher longer, cut slices from the middle rather than from the end. When you're finished slicing, firmly push the two leftover sections together to reform a loaf. This way, you eliminate leaving an exposed, quick-to-dry-out "end" slice.
To plump dried fruit for fruitcake, place fruit in a shallow baking dish, sprinkle generously with water, then cover. Place dish in oven while oven is heating for baking cake. In 10 to 15 minutes the fruit will be soft and plump. Cool slightly and add to cake batter.
To decorate a cake directly on its serving plate, slip strips of wax paper under the edge of the cake, allowing them to hang over the rim of the plate. Frost cake, then, with a quick motion, pull out the paper. This leaves the serving plate nice and clean without a trace of frosting.
To prevent a freshly-baked cake from sticking to the serving platter, dust the platter with confectioners' sugar.
An angel food cake will slice neatly without crumbling if you freeze it first, then thaw it.
To cool a cake quickly for frosting, pop it into the freezer while you make the frosting. By the time frosting is ready, the cake will be cool and ready to slip out of the pan.
To prevent cake filling from soaking into the cake, sprinkle layers lightly with confectioners' sugar before spreading filling.
Cake will be less like to stick to the pan if you put it on a wet towel to cool as soon as you take it from the oven.
For a fast topping, place a paper doily on top of the cake. Sift confectioners' sugar over it. Lift the doily off gently.
For perfect shaped cakes or jelly rolls, first grease the pan, then line it with greased wax paper. After baking, invert pan and peel off the wax paper. No more broken corners or edges!
When frosting cakes, always anchor the bottom cake layer to the serving plate or lazy Susan with a dab of frosting. That way, the cake won't slide around as you frost. This also helps keep a cake from sliding on its plate during transit. The frosting will hold the cake in place deliciously and your dessert will arrive in perfect shape.
To prevent icing from running off your cake, try dusting the surface lightly with cornstarch before icing.
When filling and frosting a cake, place first layers with bottom side up; place last layer with the top side up.
For best results in cake baking, let eggs, butter and milk reach room temperature before mixing.
A handy substitute for cake flour: 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour equals 1 cup cake flour.
To prevent nuts and fruits from sinking to the bottom of a cake during baking, warm them a bit in the oven and toss them with flour. Shake off excess flour before mixing them into the batter.
If cake flour is hard to find, you can make your own with all-purpose flour: for every cup of cake flour called for in a recipe, substitute a cup of all-purpose flour but replace 2 tablespoons of the flour with cornstarch.
To keep cake moist, put half an apple in the cake box.
If you sift dry cake mix before you stir in the other ingredients, it won't be lumpy.
Use paper coffee filters to line 8-inch cake pans. Just flatten one into a large circle and lay it on the bottom of the pan.
When a cake recipe calls for flouring the baking pan, use a bit of the dry cake mix instead, no flour mess on the outside of the cake.
Use cold coffee instead of water when making a chocolate cake from a box. It gives the cake a rich, mocha flavor.
When baking a chocolate cake, don't use flour to "dust" the pan. Use cocoa instead. This way, the white flour "dust" won't cling to the sides of the cake.
To cut a fresh cake, use a wet knife.
A little flour mixed into the remains of melted chocolate in the pan will get the last bit of chocolate out of the pan and into the cake batter.
To keep a cake from sticking to the pan, grease the pan with one part shortening and two parts flour mixed until it has a sandy consistency.
Heat fruits and raisins in the oven before adding them to cake batter. They'll be plumper and juicier.
When testing a large cake to see if it is done, use a strand of uncooked spaghetti. It reaches where a wooden pick won't.
Roll fruits, raisins and nuts in flour before adding to cake batter. The will be less likely to sink to the bottom of the cake.
If you don't have a ring mold for baking a cake, cover an empty, appropriately-sized can with aluminum foil, weight it, and place it in the center of a round, deep casserole dish.
If the cake sticks to the pan and threatens to split, hold the pan over a low flame for about 5 to 8 seconds and the cake will come out nice and firm.
Make a cake decorator by rolling up a piece of wax paper into a cone shape so that one end has a smaller opening than the other. Snip the small end with scissors to make a good point. Put icing in and squeeze it out through the pointed end.
For a fast topping for cakes, place a paper doily with a large design on top of the cake, then dust with confectioners' sugar. Gently lift doily off the cake.
To split a cake into layers, loop a length of waxed dental floss around the outside of the cake at the point you want the cut, then cross the ends and pull gently but firmly. The floss will cut right through the cake.
An easy way to split layers evenly: Measure halfway up side of each layer and insert wooden picks into the cake all around, about 1 to 1-1/2 inches apart. Rest a long serrated knife on wooden picks, using them as a guide on where to slice. Discard wooden picks before proceeding with the icing.
If the top of your cake is browning too quickly, place a pan of warm water on the rack above the cake while it is baking in the oven.
To prevent cakes from cracking while they cool, add one envelope of unflavored gelatine to the dry ingredients of any cake batter. This will prevent cracking, and will also make the cake fuller. The gelatin does not change the flavor or moistness of the cake.
Use unflavored dental floss to slice evenly and cleanly through a cake or torte. Simply stretch a length of the floss taut and press down through the cake.
An apple cut in half and placed in the cake box will keep the cake fresh several days longer.
To frost a cake quickly without having it crumble, freeze the layers in the cake pans for about one hour, then remove them from the pans and frost them. This also prevents the layers from splitting in the center.
If tiers of a multi-layer cake slip as you are applying frosting, insert strands of uncooked spaghetti through the cake for support. Carefully pull out spaghetti when the frosting has set.
Fill cake pans about two-thirds full and spread batter well into corners and to the sides, leaving a slight hollow in the center.
The cake is done when it shrinks slightly from the sides of the pan or if it springs back when touched lightly with the finger.
When using a cookie crust recipe in the springform pan, bake the bottom crust first, then add the side crust and filling and bake the whole cake. An easy way to pat the dough up the sides of the pan is to remove the bottom of the pan.
After removing a cheesecake from the oven, keep it away from drafts and cold places while it cools. Too sudden a temperature change can cause the top of the cheesecake to crack.
Before cutting cookie dough into shapes, dip cutters into flour. Lift cutouts with a long, thin spatula. There's less chance of distortion.
To give a fruit flavor to your brownies, use flavored soda pop instead of water in the mix.
When mailing cookies, pack in unbuttered and unsalted popcorn to help keep them from crumbling.
Foil-line pans for baking bars. Once bars have cooled, you can lift the foil right out and cut the bars cleanly. The pans will need only a quick rinse and dry.
If you run out of cookie sheets while baking, spoon the remaining cookie dough on large sheets of lightly greased aluminum foil. When a cookie sheet becomes free, rinse it with cold water to cool, shake off excess water and lay the foil with the cookie dough right on the sheet.
Always bake bars on the middle rack in the oven and cookies on the top rack. If baking more than one pan at a time, place them at different angles on different racks to allow maximum circulation of heat. Alternate their placement on the racks halfway through the baking time.
Always cool cookie sheets between batches to keep unbaked cookies from melting and thinning at the edges before they can be set by the heat of the oven.
Don't have enough cookie sheets? Spoon cookie dough onto large sheets of greased aluminum foil. When a cookie sheet becomes free, allow to cool, then lay the foil with the cookie dough right on the sheet.
Put dough for refrigerator into empty frozen juice cans, then chill. When you are ready to bake, cut the bottom off the can and use it as a pusher to move the dough out as you slice the cookies. This makes perfect round slices every time.
To keep cookie dough from sticking to cookie cutters, chill the dough thoroughly before you roll it out. Dip each cookie cutter in oil before pressing into the dough and the cookies will cut cleanly. This treatment is wonderful when using cutters with intricate designs or cutters made of plastic. You can also spray the cutters with oil spray.
Bake a batch of gingerbread cookies in assorted shapes. Decorate with each guest's name and use as table place markers.
Cookies will spread if your dough is too pliable by allowing butter to get too soft. If your cookies are spreading too much, try refrigerating the dough for a couple of hours before baking.
Cookie dough can be frozen up to three months in an airtight container or refrigerated three to four days.
Check cookies at minimum baking time.
Let cookies cool completely before storing. Store different types of cookies in separate containers so they'll keep their original flavor and texture.
For a quick glaze for sugar cookies, beat an egg white until just frothy and brush over the unbaked cookies. Sprinkle with sugar and bake. This will give your cookies a shiny, sweet crust.
When cookie dough is soft and difficult to handle, place it between pieces of wax paper that have been floured. Roll to desired thickness, remove the top paper, and cut cookies.
Natural cereals ground in the blender or food processor can be substituted for all or part of the flour in most cookie recipes. Or use very fine unseasoned bread crumbs.
When you re-roll dough scraps, dust the pastry cloth with a mixture of half flour and half confectioners' sugar. This makes the cookies more tender than if they were rolled on a surface dusted with flour only.
To keep homemade cookies just-baked fresh, put a slice of white bread in the jar or container.
If you flour a cookie sheet after greasing it, cookies made from thin batters will be less likely to spread during baking.
Pack cookie dough in clean empty frozen juice cans and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Remove one end to insert dough and tightly cover the can with foil. When ready to use, remove the other end and push the dough out. Slice and bake! Use a coffee can for jumbo cookies!
Before making oatmeal cookies, toast the oatmeal by spreading it on a cookie and baking it in a preheated 300 ºF oven for eight to 10 minutes until it has colored lightly. Cool oatmeal before folding it into the other ingredients.
When rolling out cookie dough to cut, use a thin dusting of confectioners' sugar instead of flour on the board. The flour tends to make the dough thicker and heavier, while the dusting of sugar will help the cookie to brown evenly.
For a just-baked taste for store-bought cookies, wrap two to four cookies in a paper towel. Microwave on HIGH for 30 to 45 seconds. Cookies come out tasty.
If you are in a hurry, instead of chilling, simply drop dough from a spoon and bake as you would drop cookies.
If dough is soft and difficult to work with, put bowl in refrigerator or freezer until firm enough to shape.
For square cookies, take an empty wax paper or plastic wrap carton, line with foil and pack dough in firmly. Then chill.
For an extra touch, roll chilled dough in colored or cinnamon sugar, ground nuts or flaked coconut before slicing and baking.
When slicing, use your sharpest knife. Give dough a quarter turn occasionally so the bottom doesn't flatten.
Cream Puffs and Eclairs
Bake cream puffs in muffin cups to prevent them from spreading. You'll get beautiful, airy cream puffs every time.
To fill, use a pastry bag of whipped cream or pastry cream.
Cupcakes and Muffins
To divide batter evenly when making cupcakes or muffins, use an ice cream scoop to transfer batter from mixing bowl to baking pan.
When baking muffins, fill unused cups half full of water to prevent warping the pan.
When having trouble removing muffins from the pan because the bottoms stick, place the hot pan on a cold wet towel for about 30 seconds, then remove the muffins.
To prevent muffins from burning around the edges, fill one section with water instead of batter.
Make heart-shaped cupcakes by lining a muffin pan with paper baking cups, then placing a small ball of boil between the paper liner and the pan, pressing in toward center so paper is indented into the shape of a heart.
If muffins brown around the edges before the centers are cooked, partly fill one section of each muffin pan with water. The extra steam will keep the edges from overcooking.
In the South, flour from soft wheat is often used for biscuits and other baked goods. This soft, southern wheat flour has a gluten content of about 8 percent. However, all-purpose flour is an acceptable substitute.
Bread flour, milled especially for baking bread, is higher in gluten (a protein) than all-purpose flours. To determine gluten content of flour, look at the panel on the side of the bag labeled "Nutritional Information." For bread baking you should use a flour with 14 percent gluten. The higher this protein percentage, the greater volume in your bread loaf.
When a recipe calls for one cup sifted flour, it means you should sift it first. When it calls for one cup flour, sifted, it means you should measure the flour before you sift it.
Keep a new powder puff in your flour canister. When a recipe says to "dust" a pan with flour, use the powder puff!
When making butter cream frosting for spice and carrot cakes, use one-half cup maple syrup instead of milk and vanilla extract.
When making frosting consisting of milk or cream and sugar, add 1 teaspoon white corn syrup for each cup of sugar used. Boil in the usual way. Your finished product will be much smoother and not so apt to become sugary.
Press cookie cutter shapes lightly into cake icing, then fill in the outline with tinted icing in desired colors.
Add 1 teaspoon cornstarch to fudge frosting for the smoothest frosting yet.
Canned frosting makes a quick, easy glaze for Bundt cakes and cream puffs. Just put it in a small glass or plastic bowl and microwave it for about 15 to 30 seconds on HIGH. You can pour it over the top of your baked treat with no trouble.
Try making confectioners' sugar frosting with peanut butter instead of regular butter. It is healthy, flavorful and colorful.
To make a smooth-looking frosting, first frost cake with a thin layer of icing. When this "base" coat sets, apply a second final coat. It goes on easily and looks superb.
To color and flavor confectioners' sugar frosting, add a bit of unsweetened powdered drink mix. Orange and lemon are especially tasty. Mix in until you get the desired color and flavor. The results are delicious!
When using a white frosting, different flavors of gelatin powder may be sprinkled on top to produce different and unusual flavors and designs.
Use a new watercolor brush to write a message on plain confectioners' sugar icing. Dip the brush in food coloring and write the message.
For a nice decoration on white frosting, shave colored gumdrops very thin and stick on. They will curl like little roses.
A good topping for gingerbread, coffeecake, etc. can be made by using the syrup from canned fruit and adding 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon lemon juice to 2 cups fruit syrup. Heat until bubbly, then thicken with 2 tablespoons flour.
Use coffee instead of water in the batter.
General Tips for Adapting Sea Level Pastry Recipes to Altitudes Above 3,000 feet:
* Reduce the sugar in your recipe 1 to 3 tablespoons per each cup of sugar used.
* Increase the liquid by 1 to 4 tablespoons.
* Reduce each teaspoon of baking powder by 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon.
* Increase oven temperature by about 25 degrees F.
To prevent it from weeping, add 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch to each tablespoon of sugar before adding to egg whites.
Meringue will not shrink if you spread it on the pie so that it touches the crust on each side and bake it in a moderate oven. Turn off the oven and open the door a crack when the meringue has finished browning and let the pie cool slowly in the oven. This will keep the meringue from cracking and "weeping."
For the highest meringue, add a pinch of baking powder to room-temperature egg whites before beating.
To prevent "weepy" meringues, add 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch to each tablespoon of sugar before adding to egg whites.
To remove meringue shells from the baking paper, lightly moisten the underside of the paper with cool water. Slide a spatula carefully under the meringue and it should lift off easily and in one piece.
Oven Temperature and Baking Times
Cooking and baking times specified in most recipes are merely guidelines. Since oven temperatures can vary from oven to oven, it's best to check your dish a few minutes before recommended. For instance, if a recipe instructs you to bake a batch of cookies 10 to 15 minutes check it 7 or 8 minutes into baking. But don't belabor it and keep the door open for a long period of time or you'll lose a great deal of heat.
A plastic sandwich bag makes a good pastry bag. Spoon frosting into the bag, then snip off one corner of the bag to create the size opening needed. Poke a tiny hole in one corner for an extra thin writing tip.
For the ideal disposable pastry bag, use heavy-duty, quart-size self-sealing plastic bags fitted with a cake decorating coupler and tip. The filling can't work its way out of these bags because they're sealed tight.
Working with phyllo dough can be tricky. For ideal results keep the box refrigerated until you are ready to use it. If you buy it frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. When ready to use, unroll the pastry onto a work surface and keep it covered with a slightly damp towel (moistened with a mister rather than drenched under the faucet.) If it gets too wet, the moisture will cause the sheets to stick together.
If you don't have a pie bird, insert tubular macaroni into cuts in the top layer of pastry on fruit pies to prevent the filling from overflowing. This also works for lattice tops.
For topping winter pies, such as pumpkin or apple, try using rum flavor for the whipped cream instead of vanilla extract.
Put a layer of miniature marshmallows in the bottom of a pumpkin pie, then add the filling. The marshmallows will rise to the top, and you will have a nice topping.
Before freezing fruit for pies, store it in a sealed, airtight plastic bag and place the bag in a pie tin. The fruit will freeze in the shape of the tin, so that when you're ready to add it to your crust, it will fit perfectly without gaps.
Prevent soggy crust when making a custard-style pie, such as pumpkin, by carefully breaking one of the eggs for the pie filling into the unbaked pastry shell, swirling it around so the egg white covers the entire surface and then pouring the egg into the filling mixture. Brush beaten egg white over pie crust before baking to yield a beautiful, glossy finish.
Baking a pie on a pizza stone absorbs excess moisture and makes the bottom crust crisper, especially if you use a pie tin with a hole in the bottom.
For a two-crust pie, brush a little water around the edge of the bottom crust before placing the top crust. This creates a good seal once the two are crimped together.
For a decorative top pie crust, us a thimble to cut holes, then replace the cut-outs back in their holes. The holes will get bigger as the pie bakes, making an interesting pattern.
Two sure-fire ways to keep meringue toppings from shrinking. First, spread on the pie while the filling is hot. Second, make sure the meringue touches the crust all around.
Cut out rounds of leftover pie dough. Turn a muffin pan upside down. Press dough rounds onto bottoms of muffin cups. Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 7 to 8 minutes or until lightly brown. Invert pan onto a wire rack. Use tart shells for pudding and other desserts or fill with creamed sauces.
Always chill pastry dough before rolling and cutting, and always chill it again afterwards, before baking, to further relax the gluten.
Before you refrigerate cream- or meringue-topped pie, insert four wooden picks around pie's edge; cover with plastic wrap. Wooden picks stop wrap from marring the pie's surface.
To prevent the bottom crust from becoming soggy, sprinkle it with unseasoned dry bread crumbs before adding the filling.
Never put hot or even warm filling into a raw piecrust. Bake the shell for 5 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. This is a bakery trick.
Brush frozen pies with melted butter before baking. The butter eliminates the dryness that freezing causes.
Use wax paper to measure pie dough. The standard pie pan is 9 inches in diameter so you'll need a 12-inch circle of dough. Since wax paper comes in a 12-inch width, simply tear off a piece 12 inches long, then roll your circle of dough so it touches the center of all four sides of the square.
For a flakier piecrust, use cake flour 7/8 cup of cake flour instead of one cup of regular.
Brushing the top of your pie crust with white vinegar a few minutes before it is done baking will give your pastry a nice sheen.
Piecrust edge won't burn if you cut the center out of a foil pie plate and turn it upside down over the pie as it bakes. Remove during the last 5 minutes of baking.
Fold the top crust over the lower crust before crimping to keep the juices in the pie while baking.
Brush the unbaked bottom crust of a fruit pie with well-beaten egg white before filling. This prevents soggy pie bottoms.
Brush the bottom crust with lightly beaten egg white. The coating will help prevent the absorption of liquids from the pie.
When baking fruit pies, put a thin layer of fine cookie crumbs over the bottom crust. This will prevent a soggy crust. Try using crumbs from ginger cookies with making an apple pie.
To prevent a soggy crust, sprinkle the bottom crust with a combination of equal parts of sugar and flour before adding the filling.
To prevent a soggy crust when making cream pies, spread a layer of finely ground nuts on the bottom.
For a richer pastry, substitute light cream or sour cream for the water called for on a package of pie crust mix.
If juice from your pie runs over in the oven, shake some salt on it, which causes the juice to burn to a crisp so it can be removed.
When baking custard-type pies, bake at a high temperature for about 10 minutes to prevent a soggy crust, then finish baking at a low temperature.
Give your pies a unique look by using pinking shears to cut the dough. Make a pinked lattice crust.
To keep the top crust attached to the shell of a two-crust pie, moisten the edge of the shell with beaten egg yolk or milk before pressing the edges together.
For extremely flaky pie pastry, measure the flour and fat into the bowl and chill at least an hour before you begin mixing.
Brush frozen pies with melted butter before baking. This eliminates the dryness that freezing causes.
When making cream pies, keep them firm for cutting by mixing in a one-half package unflavored gelatin.
When working with piecrust dough, spray the counter with nonstick vegetable spray and then flour it. The dough will come right off.
To thicken juices of fresh fruit fillings, use one tablespoon of quick-cooking tapioca for each tablespoon of all-purpose flour the recipe calls for. Juices will be clear, and it adds a great texture to the pie.
When a recipe calls for sifting, it works just as well to put all dry ingredients in the mixing bowl and stir with a whisk.
Cream the vanilla extract with the shortening or butter portion of the ingredients. The fat encapsulates the vanilla extract, preventing it from volatilizing in the baking process.
To get yeast dough to rise faster, turn the dishwasher dial to "dry" for a minute to warm the inside, then put the dough inside the dishwasher.
When kneading, keep a couple small plastic bags within reach. Then if the phone rings or someone is at the door, slip your hands into the bags.
If dough won't rise, place bowl on rack over a bowl of hot water OR set on a heating pad covered with a clean towel OR place in an oven that has a pilot light.
When yeast dough has risen sufficiently, an indentation will remain when you press two fingertips about 1/2 inch into the dough.