December is the only month of the year when it's perfectly acceptable to set the diets aside and let the cookies, candy and cake reign. After all, it's holiday baking time! But baking for a crowd, whether it's for your office potluck, elegant dinner party or DIY gifts, can be challenging. We have to play by the rules when we bake, as opposed to that Monday pasta dinner that you can easily wing without a recipe. In the game of baking, attention to detail and sweating the small stuff makes a big difference.
But you don't have to be a scientist or mathmetician to be a decent baker.
Here are 7 easy ways you can create better desserts:
1. Use room temperature ingredients, specifically butter, eggs and milk. Leave the butter and eggs out overnight before your baking project so they'll be the perfect temperature when you start. This will make creaming butter and sugar a lot easier, and you won't have to guess how long to microwave that butter only to end up with a bowl of the melted stuff.
2. Invest in good bakeware. There's a reason we use quality products like Emile Henry and Chicago Metallic bakeware in our cooking classes. Flimsy pans and sheet trays simply won't yield good results.
3. Got a pan that needs buttering? Use your butter wrapper! It keeps your fingers clean and ensures no butter is wasted.
4. Use the right measuring cups. Dry ingredients call for dry measuring cups. Liquid ingredients should be measured in wet measuring cups. So, what's the difference? The metal cups below are for dry ingredients because you can level them off with a knife (or your finger) and get a more accurate measurement. They typically come as a set of various sizes like 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3rd cup and 1/4 cup. The plastic cup below is for liquid ingredients and is typically clear with measurements on the sides and has a spout for pouring. I love my OXO measuring cup because it has numbers inside as well, so that you know exactly how much you are pouring into the cup as you do it. The difference between the two are minimal, but can be crucial in a particular recipe. Want to be even more precise? Weigh your ingredients!
5. Mise en place translates to "put in place". Having everything prepared ahead of time and ready to go as needed is absolutely essential in baking. Running to the store when there's a saucepan of hot caramel on your stove is not an option.
6. Use an oven thermometer to keep your oven in check. It eliminates any guesswork out of baking. If you know your oven consistenly runs cooler, you can crank up the temperature to get the temperature to where you need it.
7. Use a timer, and set it earlier than you think it will take to bake your desserts. If the recipe calls for baking for 40 minutes, set the timer at 30 and 35 minutes so you can keep an eye on the progress. Even the best pastry chefs use timers!
Want even more tips on how to bake like the pros? Our chefs have collaborated their best tips in our new guide to Be a Better Baker.
It's a compilation of tried and true classic recipes from The Chopping Block that work well for holiday crowds, from cookies to cakes to Cinnamon Rolls for a Christmas morning treat. You'll get helpful tips along the way, including what can be done ahead of time and how to make your freezer your new best friend.