Helpful Baking Tips

Hey everybody! If you're anything like me, you've undoubtedly had a baking meltdown. If you're not like me, let me break it down for you. 

Baking Meltdown [beyk-ing melt-doun]: noun Def: A term to describe the phenomena when a baker gets this great idea for a a baking project and she is just so excited that she jump heads first into it- not really checking that she actually has what she needs for this inspired product of a brainstorm of hers and just assumes that it's such an inspired idea that nothing can go wrong. And because Murphy's law exists, we know that this is a false notion but because she is on such a creative high she ignores all reason and jumps to the bowls. Then it hits her- she's knee deep in a bowl of unfinished frosting, her cake is flat because she didn't actually have the ingredients and she made up substitutions- the kitchen is destroyed with failed products and the baker is crying because everysinglething is wrong and she wasted at least half a bag of sugar that she could have been eating with a spoon which would be way more enjoyable than this catastrophe.

Yes, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't experience this at least once a month. So in order to prevent this, I've come up with some tips that can help you- me? I'm beyond help when I get inspired- prevent a mega meltdown and hopefully save some of your baking-gone-bad projects.

Before you start baking:

  1. Preheat your oven first- always. Even if you decide that you don't want to bake or you need a different temperature than originally planned, preheat your oven first. It is way easier and less time consuming to change the temperature or just shut it off then it is to wait for it to heat up from room temperature. 
  2. Make sure you have room for your finished product. If you don't have room for your cake in the fridge now, then you won't later. It's easy to say that you'll find room for it when you are finished, but it's much more stressful trying to move everything around while you have a cake with a ganache that needs to set instead of just doing it ahead of time so that you are guaranteed a space for it. Even if you don't end up baking, you will have a clean fridge! 
  3. Lay out all the ingredients that you will need. If you are feeling super ambitious you can even measure out all the ingredients and have them all set to go. It is a hassle, and can be time consuming but in the long run it will save you time when you are half-way through your cake batter and just have to reach to the side for the sugar instead of running to the store to get it because you realize you don't actually have any. Skipping this step is what often leads to my baking meltdowns. 
  4. Prep your pans: Line your pans with aluminum foil and then spray with cooking spray/flour and butter/grease with shortening, etc. It will make cleaning up much easier after your baking, just remove the foil and they will only need a light washing as opposed to scraping off any stuck dough or burnt mess that can occur. 

Easy Substitutions: 

For those of you who are like myself and just cannot get organized enough to set aside the ingredients ahead of time- you may find that you are halfway through a recipe and are missing an ingredient. Instead of having to run out to the grocery store or just toss all your hard work out . Here are some substitutions you can make from household ingredients.

  • Buttermilk: Put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar in a liquid measuring cup, add milk until it reaches the 1 cup mark. Let sit for five minutes or until you need to use it in your recipe.
  • Powdered sugar: In a food processor pulse together 1 cup of white granulated sugar with one tablespoon of cornstarch to produce 1 cup of powdered sugar. 
  • Brown Sugar: Whisk together 1 tablespoon of molasses to one cup of white granulated sugar to produce 1 cup of light brown sugar- for dark brown sugar increase the amount of molasses added to 2-3 tablespoons per 1 cup of white granulated sugar.
  • Eggs: Replace 1 egg with 1/3 Cup of applesauce or 1/3 cup of pumpkin (also use for healthier recipes.)
  • Sour Cream: Sour cream can be replaced with plain yogurt interchangeably (also use for healthier recipes.)
  • Vegetable Oil: Melted butter or shortening can be used to replace vegetable oil and vice-versa. (*Note*: measure the melted product not the solidified version for the amount of vegetable oil a recipe calls for.)
  • Baking Powder: mix two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda to create homemade baking powder.
  • Baking Soda: Use baking powder but triple the amount that the recipe calls for. 
  • Butter: Replace butter with mashed avocado or greek yogurt (also use for healthier recipes.)
  • Baking Cocoa:  1/4 cup of Cocoa powder can be replaced with one 1 ounce square of unsweetened chocolate and vice-versa. 
  • White Granulated Sugar: 1 cup of white granulated sugar can be substituted with 1 cup of brown sugar or 1 and 1/4 cups powdered sugar or 3/4 cup of honey or 3/4 cup of light corn syrup.

While You're Baking:

  1. Set up a cooling station: lay down paper towels then top with wire cooling racks so that when your goodies are done you can easily transfer them for cooling and if it's a recipe that has a glaze or frosting, the the paper towels underneath will catch any drippings and make for an easier clean-up. 
  2. Prep Packages: If you are giving out your baked goods as gifts, set up the packaging beforehand. Line any gift boxes, bags etc. so that you can go from the oven to your cooling station to the packages (or if you're like me, your mouth; although if we're being honest, I sometimes skip the cooling station- my burned taste buds can attest to that.)
  3. Clean!: Easier said than done, I'm well aware; but if you clean as you go, you won't have a huge mess to deal with while you're also trying to transfer cookies to racks, frost your cake, and deal with anything else going on in your kitchen. If you made a frosting, switch it to a smaller bowl so you can clean the mixer and the attachments. Clean any bowl that you used for batters you are finished with, etc. Make the most out of your oven minutes. To make it interesting: try to set up goals for yourself to see if you can finish them all before your cookies are done, set more than you think you can to make it a challenge and push yourself- laundry, clean out your fridge etc. I like to pretend I'm on some weird version of Minute to Win It but instead of Guy Fieri, my dog is the host and my prize is a big piece of cake. (Hey it may not be a million dollars, but I'm way more likely to succeed, and chocolate is always a win for me.) 

Decorating Tips:

  • Want to class up a bundt cake or quick bread? Add a simple glaze. Whisk together 1/4 cup of powdered sugar with 1 tablespoon of milk and a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Substitute the milk and vanilla with coffee creamers to experiment with different flavors. I especially enjoy the Coldstone Creamery ones by International delight. 
  • Have fun with shapes! Have a basic brownie recipe or sheet cake? Cut them out with different cookie cutters to make them more fun. I always cut my brownies out with my heart shaped cookie cutter. 
  • You can never go wrong with sprinkles. I feel like this doesn't even need an explanation. 
  • If you are topping with frosting and chocolate chips or sprinkles: spread the frosting while the cookie/cake/brownie is still warm. The warmth will help spread the frosting and if you immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips or sprinkles, the heat will melt them a little and when they cool off with solidify with the frosting. Just don't spread the chips while warm, it will be messy and the colors of the sprinkles will bleed. 

Gifting Tips:

  • Cheap Packaging: Sick of spending money on fancy boxes, tissue paper and other gift packaging? Use ziploc bags. Tie it with a ribbon to make it look fancier or stick a sticker on the front. When you are out to eat, ask for to go containers so you can save them for baked goods. Decorate the front with different seasonal stickers or gift ribbons. Bulk purchase cheap tupperware then top with a gift ribbon and tag. 
  • Bake ahead of time!: if you are baking a cake or other baked good for a special event, always give yourself AT LEAST a day in advance. I cannot stress this enough. NEVER bake the day of. I promise you, it will NOT go bad by the time you gift it. But I will promise you that baking with a deadline the same day WILL lead to a meltdown. Giving yourself time gives time for things to go wrong and be solved. If you bake the day of you will be rushing and your finished product will feel that way even if it turns out okay. If you bake ahead of time, you have time to add more finishing touches and create a better product than intended. 

There you go! Following these tips, while they may not all be foolproof, will at least cut some stress out of the baking process. If things do somehow still go wrong, don't stress. Baking meltdowns happen, but you just have to let it go.

Things probably look a lot worse than they actually are. As long as your product is edible, I guarantee you people will eat it, and most likely- enjoy it. They don't know that your one layer cake with a store bought frosting was supposed to be a triple layer caramel chocolate crunch cake with a homemade buttercream frosting. They just know that it's a yummy cake.

Also, what's the worst that can possibly happen? You make such a bad product that you have to throw it all out but now you know what you need to improve and what NOT to do next time. So: 

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