Baking is a science, and chemical reactions can be greatly affected by temperature. If your recipe calls for your ingredients to be warm, cool, chilled or room temperature, make sure they are so. When not specified, it's best to go with room temperature, as ingredients are then easier to mix together for a uniform consistency.
Soften your butter with a rolling pin
Many recipes call for your butter to be at room temperature. For a quicker way to soften a cold stick of butter, place it in a zip-close bag. Using a rolling pin, flatten the butter inside the bag into a thin layer. A rubber spatula will help you scoop the soft butter out.
Flouring your tools will make things go much more smoothly. Dust your work surface in flour to keep dough from sticking to it, and do the same with rolling pins and other tools. When cutting through dough with a knife or cookie cutter, flour will help you cut through faster and neater as well. If the dough you're working with is chocolate flavored, use cocoa powder instead to keep a richer flavor.
Wet your hands
When working with a sticky substance, particularly dough, wet your hands so that it doesn't keep sticking to you. This will conserve ingredients, and also make your work less frustrating.
Sift your dry ingredients
Lumps in your ingredients can keep them from being evenly distributed throughout your dough or batter. When using ingredients like sugar, flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, sift them first before adding them in.
Use cooking spray on your measuring tools
Give any measuring cups or spoons that you're using a quick spray of cooking oil before you use them. This will make it easier to tip ingredients out of them, particularly those that are stickier, and will keep you from wasting any.
Grate your butter
Break out your cheese grater when baking something with a flake, such as biscuits or crusts for a delicious pie. Creating smaller pieces helps distribute the butter more evenly throughout your dough, helping you achieve the perfect flake.
Use unsalted butter
Unless otherwise specified, use unsalted butter. You want to be able to control the level of salt in your recipe, and some of your other ingredients may have salt as well. If you're stuck with only salted butter, reduce any additional salt in your recipe by half.
Coat add-ins in flour
When mixing in fillings such as chocolate chips, nuts, or fruits, coat them in flour before adding to your batter. This will keep your add-ins from sinking to the bottom.
Drop your cake pan
Before putting your unbaked cake in the oven, drop your filled cake pan onto the countertop a few times. The pan hitting the counter will force any air bubbles up to the surface, making for a more even bake.
Use an ice cream scoop for uniformity
If you're making cupcakes or cookies, you want them all to be perfectly even and the same size. Cover an ice cream scoop with cooking spray and use it to scoop your batter into a cupcake tray or cookie tin. Not only will this make everything the same size, but it's a faster and neater way to divide up the batter.
Proof your dough in the oven
Proofing, a baking technique in which dough is left to rise, is an important step in baking goods that involve yeast. One trick to making sure you do this well is to preheat your oven to 200 degrees, then turning it off and sticking your dough in to rise. You can also simply put your dough in the oven with just the oven light on.
Chill your cookie dough for at least 24 hours
The inventor of the chocolate chip cookie herself used to let her dough chill overnight before baking it in the oven. Let your dough sit in the fridge for at least a day, and it will dry out slightly, making for a firmer dough and better flavor and consistency. Let the dough sit for 36 hours, and your cookies will bake even more evenly and have an even richer taste.
Bake bread alongside a bowl of water
Add steam to your baking process, and your bread will come out looking like it's straight from the artisan bakery. Place a bowl of water on a lower rack when putting your bread in the oven, and it will give it a nice, crispy crust.
Cool your cakes upside down
To flatten out the top of your cake, cool it upside down on a cooling rack. This is especially handy when making layer cakes, as it'll make the cakes easier to stack.
Cut cake with floss
If you're looking to cut a cake into layers, you don't need to use a knife or leveler. Take a string of dental floss (unflavored, of course) and wrap it around where you want to cut the cake. Gently move it through the cake so that it cuts through. The floss cuts through much more easily than a knife, and it's also less hazardous. You can also do this with rolls of dough, cheese, or any other softer ingredients you want to neatly slice through.
Squeeze two frosting bags into one tip for swirl icing
Frosting a cupcake can be tricky, especially when you want to use more than one color. For beautiful two-colored swirls, fill two frosting bags with two different colors of icing and squeeze them both into a single tip. As you frost your cupcakes, they'll come out in a picture-perfect swirl of color.
Make a DIY piping bag
You may not have the budget or time to always keep piping bags on hand, but you can probably make do with what you already have. Fill a zip-close bag with your desired icing or frosting and then snip off a corner to your liking.
Decorate on wax paper
Decorating directly on a cake can be tricky, and you only get one shot. A great work-around is to indirectly decorate using wax paper. Cut a piece of wax paper so that it's the size of your cake, then decorate the surface how you'd like and freeze it. This is a low-pressure approach, because you can wipe away any mistakes. After the decorations and/or letters have frozen, you can carefully peel them off the paper and place onto the cake.
Write or draw with a toothpick first
Another easy way to ensure neat writing or decorating on top of your cake is to trace it out first. Using a toothpick, you can trace out where each letter or decoration will be to make sure everything fits before piping over it.
Make chocolate cups using balloons
For a dessert with extra flair, make chocolate cups by blowing up a balloon and dipping the bottom third or half in melted chocolate. After the chocolate has hardened, all you need to do is pop the balloon and it'll hold.
Dip your icing spatula in hot water
Icing a cake can be frustrating and tricky, but dipping your metal spatula in hot water for a few seconds can make things a lot easier. Dry off the spatula and use it to ice your cake as you normally would, and you'll find that the warmth helps the icing spread more evenly, giving you a smoother finish.
Frost a 'crumb coat' first
A common rookie mistake when it comes to cake decorating is attempting to frost your cake in one thick layer. This doesn't work well, or look very good, as crumbs often get caught in the frosting, making for a messy finish. Instead, you should spread a thinner "crumb coat" of frosting over the cake in order to cover any stray crumbs before adding another thicker layer of frosting on top.
Use a hair dryer on your frosted cake
For a professional look, break out your hair dryer. Setting it to medium heat, use the dryer on a frosted cake until the frosting starts to melt. Once the melted frosting hardens again, your cake will have a glossy finish.
Make sure you're relaxed
Baking is a very precise art, and you want to handle your ingredients with delicacy. If you're not in the right state of mind, taking your stress or frustrations out on your dough or batter will make for tough baked goods, or even terrible-tasting ones if you're not paying enough attention to what you're doing. Take your time when baking, and remember that a relaxed mind is one of the most essential tools in the kitchen.
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