Buy Quality Ingredients
As a professional baker, Tosi says she learned a lot about baking at home while writing this cookbook, as she adapted the recipes for the home cook. One of the areas she says that home cooks tend to skimp on is quality ingredients.
In fact, she says, "I poke a lot of fun at my mom in this cookbook because she loves to be a home baker but misses this step." Her mom will want to use this "great margarine" that's supposed to be good for your heart for crack pie and this doesn't work for Tosi. She believes that it's important to use fresh and good-quality ingredients in your baking, particularly with butter, all dairy, and flour.
Click here to see the Crack Pie recipe (pictured at left).
If You Must Use Low-Fat Products...
Tosi actually has hereditary high cholesterol and grew up in a household that didn't cook with butter. Instead, she had a fridge full of low-cholesterol products and non-fat cheese (she had a very supportive mother). So she understands that if you need to use low-fat products for health reasons, it's definitely possible, but you will have to tweak the recipes in several ways. Why? It comes down to different chemical makeups. Skim milk, for example, has a different fat and water content than whole milk or cream and that will make a big difference in your baked goods.
Don't Rush the Churning Process
For cookies, if they’re not fluffy, then you need to keep mixing the butter and melted chocolate mixture. This process is important for good dough. Make sure to mix slowly, otherwise cookie dough will taste bready and not fluffy. And, that way you can avoid any dry ingredients flying up and creating an I Love Lucy moment in the kitchen.
Wax Over Foil
At Milk Bar, the cookies are baked on waxed paper instead of foil because foil conducts heat and might burn the bottom of the cookies. For more advanced bakers, purchasing a Silpat is a good idea.
Quick Tip: How to know when cookies are done? First, the smell (hopefully you’ve experienced the intoxicating scent of freshly baked cookies). Second, there will be a little crack on top.
Click here to see the Chocolate Chocolate Cookies recipe (pictured at left).
Know Your Oven
"You can have any type of oven, you just really need to know it." Tosi believes that this might be one of the most important things to understand about your kitchen. Every oven has a different cold or hot spot and this is something you will get to know over time so that you can ensure the best baking possible.
Also, the temperature inside your oven might not accurately reflect the number you set it at. Check out the next slide for her thoughts on oven thermometers.
While Tosi doesn't use thermometers at Milk Bar because they are baking all the time and are very familiar with their ovens, she says if you are still getting to know your oven, then it might not be a bad idea to buy one. Tosi explains that when she first started writing the book, she set out on a diatribe against oven thermometers, but soon realized she didn't want the home cook to spend 20 minutes getting the compost cookie ready if their oven wasn't at the temperature they thought it was, because then the cookies wouldn't come out right. So, know your oven, she says, and the rest will come.
Tosi recommends a stand mixer, particularly for recipes in this book, as opposed to a hand mixer. She uses a Breville mixer that has a retractable cord so it doesn't take up too much counter space. Other items? A really heavy-duty sheet pan that's good quality. Otherwise, if it's too thin then it might bend and you won't get an even bake on your cake or could end up with a lopsided cake. Lastly, a heat-safe spatula is great to have because a lot of baking includes homogenous batters, doughs, and mixtures.
Importance of Using a Scale
Baking is such a scientific process, so everything is measured to the gram at Milk Bar — especially because there are multiple locations and Tosi wants to make sure that there is consistency in the products sold at each store. However, because most home cooks use tablespoons and cups as measurements, the cookbook includes these as well. To be really accurate, she recommends using a scale.
Specialty Ingredients and Easy Alternatives
Glucose: A lot of the recipes in the book use glucose syrup, and if you don’t want to order it from Amazon.com, you can substitute half the amount of light corn syrup for the glucose in the recipes. Tosi warns, though, that corn syrup is much sweeter and looser, so you won’t get the exact same result in terms of texture and flavor.
Corn Flour: If you can’t find it, use cornmeal instead.
Butter: “Use expensive butter.” Why? Because it’s what makes the cookies taste buttery. Tosi spends a good amount of money on butter at Milk Bar because it really matters. As she sometimes says, “The more expensive the butter, the better.” She recommends buying unsalted butter so that you can control the amount of salt in the recipe.
“Secret to Cookies”: Using vanilla extract that people are used to, not actual vanilla beans.
Bread Baking Tips: How To Get Professional Results At Home
If you've ever made fresh bread at home, you know it's a labor of love. It takes a little bit of trial and error to get it just right, but once you have a few foolproof methods under your belt it will become easier. Obviously, home bakers don't have access to professional equipment used at bakeries, such as a proofer or a steam oven, but there are a few MacGyver-like tricks you can pull off to simulate the professional look, feel and taste of bakery shop breads.
Our tips and tricks in the slideshow below take their cues from professional bakeries, using radiating heat and steam to create loaves of bread that rise high, are cooked well from the inside out, and have an exceptionally crispy crust. If you haven't heard of these methods before, give one or all of them a try -- and many of the methods can be used in concert, so don't just stick to one.
Do you have any bread-baking secrets? Share them in the comments section below.
Sugar Stand-In 2: Dates
Dates bring many of the same perks as figs, plus a natural sugar shot. Puree 1 cup of pitted dates with 1/2 to 1 cup of hot water to make a thick paste. You can replace up to half of the sugar asked for in your recipe with this mix. Because it’s not sugar, you might have to experiment to get the right texture. Dates also pair great with scones and muffins. Chop them into your batter for added zing. You can even add them to salads.
3. Measure Properly
This tip also sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s where we most often make mistakes. The difference between a recipe success and a recipe failure could lie within 1 mis-measured tablespoon of sugar. Measuring ingredients properly is imperative.
Flour is the most common mis-measured ingredient. When measuring flour, use the “spoon & level” method. Do not scoop the flour out of the container/bag with your measuring cup. In some cases, scooping the flour could give you 150% of the correct measurement. Disaster ensues. Rather, using a spoon, scoop the flour into the measuring cup. Do not pack the flour down and do not tap the measuring cup– both cause the flour to settle in the cup. After you’ve spooned the flour into the measuring cup, use the back of a knife to level off the top of the measuring cup. Now you have spoon & leveled flour.
Baking is not very forgiving. Understanding the correct measuring technique for a particular ingredient will guarantee better baking results. See my post about how to properly measure baking ingredients for a deeper dive into proper measuring practices.
Top Tips for Baking Better Cupcakes
1. Read the Recipe
Read the recipe all the way through first. Preheat the oven, and assemble all ingredients and equipment before creaming, folding, baking and such. These basic strategies make the actual assembling of a cupcake much faster and easier.
2. Check Oven Temperature
If you've had suspicious results from past recipes (burned or still-liquid by the projected finish time), it's worth buying an oven thermometer. Some ovens can be off by 75 degrees F (any more than that and you will likely need repairs). Even a perfectly calibrated oven can have "hot spots," so plan accordingly: Place single tins on the middle rack and rotate halfway through baking. When baking two tins, place one on a rack in the upper third of the oven and the other in the lower third, and switch and rotate tins halfway through. And except for this rotation, keep the oven door closed at all times to avoid heat fluctuations.
3. Check the Dates
Baking powder and soda have expiration dates on them, after which they lose their lift. It's best to replace them after six months of usage. All spices lose their potency after a while. Old flour is also suspect — replace your bag if it’s been around longer than eight months.
4. Substitute with Caution
Experienced cooks are sometimes the guiltiest of trying to fiddle with recipes, but this can cause problems in baking, where recipes are a bit like scientific formulas. Cutting the sugar for less sweetness is tricky because that sugar is also responsible for producing a certain texture and moisture in the cupcake. Swapping dairy or cocoa can be problematic too — baking powder or soda may not get activated. Swapping oils, sweeteners, like molasses or honey, or types of flour can each cause different results. Cautious substitution can lead to tasty discoveries — and the occasional inedible hockey puck — so experiment when you don’t mind unexpected results.
5. Use the Right Temperature
Temperature makes ingredients behave differently, which is why it's good to pay attention to this information in the recipes. Cream whips higher when it's cold. Butter and eggs often respond better when brought to room temperature before baking. The eggs separate more easily and whip up into more voluminous foams, while the butter more readily marries with sugar for a fluffy batter base. Take these items out of the fridge an hour or two in advance. At the right consistency, for example, butter holds a thumbprint with a bit of resistance. If you want to speed things up, put eggs in a bowl of warm water for five minutes, and cut butter up into small pieces and spread them across a plate.
6. Take Time to Sift
It may seem like a throwback in this era of presifted flour, but when a recipe calls for sifting, don't skip it — this eliminates any clumps and aerates the flour for a super-light cake. The quickest way to sift: Spread out a sheet of parchment or wax paper, and place dry ingredients in a fine-mesh strainer. Shake or tap the strainer gently until all the contents work their way through onto the paper. Then pick up the sides of the paper, forming a big almost-tube, and let the ingredients slide right out one side into the mixing bowl.
7. Measure with Care
Precision in measuring gives you consistent results. To re-create the recipe at its best, measure ingredients the way the author did. Food Network Kitchen tested the recipes in this collection by lightly spooning dry ingredients like flour or cocoa into dry measuring cups, then leveling off using the flat side of a knife or the side of a spatula. Firmly pack down brown sugar into dry measuring cups. Place liquid measuring cups on the counter, and stoop down to read the markings at eye level to make sure the liquid is level with the line.
8. Cream the Ingredients
When a recipe calls for creaming the butter with the sugar, it means not only mixing them together, but incorporating air, resulting in a light and fluffy batter. For this reason, it pays to cream for as long as the recipe specifies for a feather-light cake — even if it already looks mixed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times. Electric hand-held mixers take a bit longer than stand mixers to achieve the same results.
9. Achieve Peak Performance
How do you know when your egg whites or whipped cream have reached the right texture? There will be no liquid left at the bottom of the bowl, and the foam will be quite stiff, holding the path of the whisk as it passes through. The difference between soft and stiff peaks? Stop whipping for a moment, pull the whisk out and hold it up. If the contents on the end of the whisk fold over (think Smurf hat), you've reached soft peaks. If the mixture stays standing straight up (more like a dunce cap), you've arrived at firm. Then stop whisking. Egg whites are meant to lighten batters by incorporating air. If overwhipped, they collapse, get grainy and make the batter dense. Overwhipped cream deflates and gets greasy.
10. Fold Like a Pro
When a batter — or whipped egg whites or cream — is just so, and heavier ingredients need to be incorporated, the instruction is often to fold them in. This is the technique: Take a large flexible spatula and slice it into the center of the batter. Then draw the spatula through the batter like an oar to lift as much as possible, folding contents from the bottom of the bowl over the top. Give the bowl a quarter-turn and do it again. Keep going just until the contents have a uniform consistency and won't deflate the batter — no streaks.
11. Mix Enough, But Not Too Much
Use a moderate hand with mixing. To prevent undermixing, scrape down the bowl as you go, which will keep ingredients incorporating evenly. Overworking the flour when folding, stirring or finishing a batter will result in a tough cupcake. Use a light touch once you add the flour for a light-textured cupcake.
12. Check for Doneness
Set the timer for the shortest time suggested in the recipe (or even a few minutes sooner, if your oven tends to run hot). Check if cupcakes are still visually liquid in the center (or very wiggly when you shake the tin). Close the oven door and check back in a few minutes. Done cakes tend to spring back when pressed gently with a fingertip, and a skewer, toothpick or paring knife poked into the center should come out clean, with no batter smears. (Check one cupcake from the middle of the tin and one from the edge.) Remember that cakes continue to cook in the tin.
13. Cool and Store
Cupcakes always need to be thoroughly cooled before decorating to prevent frosting from melting right off. Take note of recipe instructions: Some cupcakes need to sit undisturbed in their muffin tins for another 10 minutes after baking to continue setting, while others need to be promptly transferred to a cooling rack to halt cooking. A cooling rack allows air to circulate around and underneath cupcakes for even cooling. Once your cupcakes are completely cool, keep them in an airtight sealable container at room temperature until you're ready to decorate.
The Secrets to Making Perfect Macarons at Home, According to a Pastry Chef
The key to success is mastering the nuances of your own kitchen.
Photo by: Emily Suzanne McDonald/Getty
Emily Suzanne McDonald/Getty
In pastry school, we spent a full week learning how to make macarons. The cookies are notoriously fickle — the meringue must be perfectly stiff but not overmixed the ingredients must be gently folded to achieve the right consistency, then piped in uniform circles and allowed to rest. Even the baking requires your full attention.
After grueling days of precise work, our professor asked for a volunteer to make another batch on their own we didn’t have enough macarons and our chef didn’t have the time. I stepped up — and made the macarons without incident.
When I pulled them out of the oven, they were perfect — with pronounced feet and smooth faces. The outside was crunchy and gave way to a soft, chewy center that was sure to pair seamlessly with the filling. I didn’t think of it then, but my flawless batch of macarons had everything to do with the professional equipment, the temperature-controlled kitchen, the watchful eyes of my professor and last — and least — my decent technique.
Things changed when I launched my own made-to-order bake shop from my home kitchen in New Jersey, and added macarons to the menu. Despite the lessons, my first batch of macarons did not look like macarons at all. The meringue never got to stiff peaks, the cookies cracked everywhere, the feet were nowhere to be found and some crumbled when I picked them up. It was a disaster. And it scared me into abandoning ship.
But after another few weeks, with the help of a newly acquired stand mixer, I achieved success — finally!
Macarons require leaning into one’s setbacks. While it would be idyllic to succeed on the first try, more likely than not, you’ll need a failed attempt to inform your success. The failures teach you about your kitchen – how your stove heats or how long you need to whisk to get the meringue just right. The nuances of your kitchen – and mastering them – are just as critical as the technique itself. In fact, it’s part of mastering that technique.
I found ways to adapt and replicate pastry school conditions to home baking. The process is involved but if you’re willing to persevere, you’ll be biting into beautifully executed macarons in no time. Here’s what I learned:
9 Bake Sale Tips for Easy and Impressive Goodies
Whether it’s for a fundraiser, a child’s school event, or just to make a couple bucks, you’ve signed up for a bake sale, and now you’re stressing over decorating your station, picking your signature dishes, and baking desserts that look just as good as they taste. While bake sales seem super daunting and overwhelming, you should know that they don’t have to be!
There are plenty of tips, tricks, and hacks you can follow to ensure you have the tastiest treats for way less effort than you anticipated. So take a deep breath and rest assured that, if you follow this advice, you’ll still have the most impressive stand at the bake sale.
1. Consider a Theme
Personally, I am a sucker for a theme. If I see anything that follows a theme, I automatically gravitate towards it, and I’m not the only one. People love a unified design and concept, and it may actually make your life easier if you follow one. A theme could revolve around a single ingredient (i.e., only chocolate– or fruit-based products), a single baked good (i.e., only selling cupcakes or pies), or a single aesthetic (i.e., a “glitz and glam” theme where all your goodies are covered in edible glitter, a rainbow/unicorn color scheme, or a sports theme where everything is decorated like a ball).
If you are working in one lane, you won’t have to worry about buying too many varying kinds of decorations or ingredients, and you’re not at risk of spiraling out of control because you tried to do too much. In a bake sale, it’s important to appeal to the eyes as well as the mouth, and a theme will definitely help you succeed!
2. Make Everything Disposable
While presentation and the general appearance of your bake sale setup are important, you want the bake sale to go as smoothly as possible for the sake of your own sanity. If the last thing you’ll want to do after the chaos of the sale itself finally dies down is put away decorations and wash out cake pans, prepare your treats in disposable tins and you can just throw them away as they empty out. Additionally, you can make your own decorations or buy them cheap online or at a party store. Along with a disposable tablecloth, party store decorations will save you money and are easy to get rid of once you’re done with them.
You can buy disposable cupcake tins in bulk on Amazon. Regular and bundt cake tins are also available, as are disposable table cloths and party decorations that can spruce up your station.
3. A Little Twist Goes a Long Way
You really don’t have to think way outside the box when it comes to bake sale recipes, because if you stray too far out of your comfort zone you risk making an unsuccessful dessert. If you make even the slightest change to a classic recipe, you will have a unique produce that people want to buy. These changes could be as simple as replacing the chocolate chips in your favorite cookie recipe with M&Ms, making marshmallow treats with Fruity Pebbles instead of Rice Krispies, or replacing plain white cake with Funfetti.
Consider, for example, this Red Velvet Crackle Cookie recipe. The use of red velvet instead of plain chocolate makes the cookies stand out amongst the thousands of chocolate cookies there are bound to be at a bake sale, and something so simple as powdered sugar on top looks fun and is guaranteed to catch a potential buyer’s eye very quickly. Plus, these cookies are just as simple to make as, say, plain chocolate chip cookies, so you’re not exerting any more effort than you normally would.
4. Don’t Bake
I know you’re preparing for a bake sale, but hear me out. You can actually make it through preparing for your bake sale without ever having to wait for your oven to preheat. There are so many recipes out there for easy fudges, cereal treats, no-bake pies, cheesecakes, cookies, and any other traditionally baked good you can think of. They’re a time saver and just as delicious.
Here are some no-bake holiday desserts, several of which work for year-round bake sale convenience. And here are some summery no-bake dessert recipes, in case you’re planning on setting up a bake sale table right next to your lemonade stand.
5. Keep It Simple, Keep It Clean
While every recipe is unique, there’s a reason you start to see the same kinds of baked goods at every bake sale. Cupcakes, pies, brownies, and cookies are so much easier to serve and eat than, say, cobblers, mousses, or big cakes by the slice. As good as your homemade ice cream bars may look, they may not sell because they’re going to melt as soon as someone starts to eat them. The same goes for a cobbler or cake if it’s at risk for too many crumbs or spills or drips, people may not want to bother with it.
Try to focus your products on things that are just as easy for you to serve as they are for your customers to eat, and then you can get creative with the recipe and flavors. Cupcakes and cookies are a staple, chocolate covered pretzels are always an underrated hit, and even fudge and bars (lemon, chocolate, peanut butter, etc.) would save you a lot of time and your customers a lot of napkins.
To get you started, check out our Easy Peanut Butter Fudge recipe that looks fancy, tastes delicious, makes 64 pieces and, most importantly, is incredibly easy to make and eat.
MontoPack Baking Cups, $6.99 on Amazon
These paper baking cups are perfect for serving individual bites of fudge.
6. Sell the Vessel, Too
If you’ve just read my last point about serving neater foods and are bummed because you have a cake or mousse recipe you’ve been dying to try out, that’s totally fine! If you’re planning on serving notoriously messier desserts, it all comes down to presentation. It’s a thousand times easier for you and your customers if you bake a cake into a mug or jar, and then sell the entire jar. That way, you won’t have to worry about a slice of cake falling apart when you cut it, or all the good parts of a crumble getting left behind on the spatula. Your customers will get the best of your whole dish and, let’s be honest, not having to worry about the cleanup is a huge plus for you!
7. No More Daunting Decorating
There’s no need to be intimidated by well-decorated baked goods anymore. In fact, you too can make and sell Instagram-worthy goodies for your bake sale as simply as possible. You don’t even need to have a steady hand or know how to use decorating tools if you follow some common household hacks. My advice is to start by making food coloring your friend. If you are baking to raise money for breast cancer awareness, for example, vanilla frosting and white cake can be dyed pink. There is also nothing that can’t be dipped in or drizzled with chocolate, which is a guaranteed plus in both taste and presentation! Finally, you should take advantage of flashy decorations like glittery sprinkles, edible gold leaf, and small sugar candies, because the outer appearance of a baked good is the first thing that will pull customers in.
However, if you are looking to get a little fancy with your frosting, check out this royal icing tutorial for starters. There’s nothing like colorful sugar cookies, and you’re not limited to holiday colors or designs (though this comes in handy if your theme is Christmas in July!).
Harissa, a spicy North African paste of chiles, garlic, and spices, is available in many large grocery stores and Middle Eastern markets—some brands come in tubes, others are sold in jars. If you can’t find it, though, substitute by mixing together your favorite hot sauce, tomato paste, a pinch or two of ground cumin, and a drizzle of olive oil. Keep playing with the ratios until you have a medium-spicy paste.
Consider this a two-ingredient tart. Besides the plums and pastry, we bet you have everything else on hand.
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Fail-Proof Caramelized Sugar
Caramelizing sugar is less tricky when a small amount of water is added to help dissolve the sugar. Water also acts as a thermostat to slow the rapid heating of the sugar, decreasing the chance of burning. Check out these tips.
Take steps to prevent crystallization or a grainy texture. Use a recipe that calls for a small amount of corn syrup only stir as the recipe directs (not too often).
Use the correct pan size. Cara­melizing sugar will bubble up as it cooks. Use a pan that feels heavy for its size and is light in color.
Seriously, it&rsquos hot! Use oven mitts, and go slowly when moving the pan or pouring the hot sugar mixture from the pan. Do not taste!
Keep an eye on color. In seconds the sugar can go from perfect dark amber to overdone. Start over if the sugar burns.