Mar 19, 2016

My Top 10 Favorite Baking Hacks

I love baking and have been baking for as long as I can remember!

I could bake every day and be the happiest girl in the world (assuming we can temporarily ignore the food waste and cost of ingredients for this happy hypothetical).

My friends and family know me as a good baker now, but that wasn't always the case. I've had my fair share of kitchen disasters and near disasters!

The person who set this pasta on fire.

I promise that's not my photo (it's cooking, not baking, anyway) and I have never set pasta on fire. But seriously - how do you set pasta on fire?

I'm also confused by this election, but that's a different topic.
The good thing about (mild) kitchen disasters is that they can be great learning experiences! Read on for some of my ten favorite kitchen hacks - some picked up from books and fellow bakers over the years and others learned the hard way!

1) Chill cookie dough to prevent spread.

If you want nice, high, bakery style cookies and you keep getting flat disks, chill your cookie dough overnight in the fridge before baking your cookies!

It makes such a difference.

2) Add vanilla and you can reduce sugar.

Increasing the amount of vanilla extract (within reason, of course - like increasing 1 tsp. to 2 tsp., not dumping the whole bottle in) adds indulgent flavor to sweet baked goods, so you can reduce the sugar a bit without adverse effects to the taste!

3) Store opened brown sugar with a slice of bread to prevent hardening. 

Brown sugar hardens once the package has been opened, so stuff in a slice of standard grocery store-bread before you tie the package (or close the container, if you've transferred it to one for storage) with the leftover brown sugar.

Keep your brown sugar soft from now on by storing it with a slice of bread.

It will keep your sugar soft, so you can use it again in the future!

4) Microwave hard brown sugar with a wet paper towel to soften.

If it's too late and your brown sugar has hardened into a brick, don't worry - you don't have to toss it and buy new brown sugar!

Put your brown sugar brick in a microwave safe baking dish and cover with a wet paper towel. Microwave for 20 seconds and wa-la! Your brown sugar has been resuscitated!

5) Make oat flour (a healthy, whole grain gluten-free flour choice) in a pinch by whirring oats in a food processor or high-speed blender!

It only takes a few seconds and can be both cheaper than buying special gluten-free flour and easier (assuming you have oats on hand, like all of us oatmeal and muesli lovers).

6) Use a wine bottle as a rolling pin.

Hopefully you'll never have to bake in a poorly stocked kitchen.

...realistically, you will.

Maybe it's your kitchen that's letting you down, or maybe you're baking cookies at your fellow millennial's apartment. Either way, sometimes it's just easier to find a wine bottle than a rolling pin! Wash the outside to make sure it's clean and you're all set to bake.

7) Replace cornstarch with all purpose flour 1:2 as a thickening agent!

It's not uncommon for soups or custards to call for cornstarch as a thickening agent. It is infrequent enough, however, that cornstarch isn't always found in all of our pantries. I, for one, am guilty of rarely having cornstarch on hand.

Luckily, you can replace cornstarch 1:2 with all purpose flour for thickening! If the recipe calls for 1 Tbsp. cornstarch, use 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour instead and you don't have to go buy cornstarch!

8) Ripen bananas quickly by baking them for 40 minutes at 300F.

This isn't a good trick for snacking on bananas, since they go soft and the peels brown, but it's perfect if you need ripe bananas for a banana bread or banana cream pie and don't have any ripe ones on hand.

The resistant starches break down and the carbs turn simple and sweet, making them perfect for baking!

9) Freeze cookie dough in ice cube trays for ready-to-bake snacks!

They're perfect if you babysit, have kids, or just have friends who like to pop over on short notice and also like to snack!

10) Be careful that the water isn't too hot when you're making bread dough.

This is more of a 'don't' than a 'do,' but be careful that your water is only lukewarm-warm, not warm-hot, when you make bread.

Mixing yeast with too hot water will kill it and you'll have a small, ugly, all-in-all unfortunate puck of bread instead of a gorgeous loaf!

Baking is so fun and even more fun when the results turn out well and everyone is delighted. Keep this handy baking hacks in mind to avoid future kitchen disasters!

That, and make sure to *clearly* label the containers 'salt' and 'sugar.' I though that mix-up was an urban legend, the sort of thing that only happens in sitcoms, but it happens in real life! Don't let that be you.

What are your favorite baking hacks?

Do you prefer baking or cooking?

Do you have any funny kitchen disaster stories?

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