I've been baking for as long as I can remember. While I'm not an expert by any means, I like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way. Holiday baking is a true joy of mine, and I want to share some tips that might help you elevate yours! They’re all from a result of many years of lots of baked treats, most successful but some not, and I hope they can help you in your endeavors whether you’re a professional amateur like me or would always prefer the box stuff.
- Brown your butter!
Browning butter is one of those things that seems intimidating until you do it and realize it truly is not. It is also one of those things that genuinely makes a difference in pretty much anything you make from cookies to bars to that pecan pie on your table. All you have to do is cook your butter over low, low heat for about 5-7 minutes until it starts to bubble and foam and you’re left with a golden brown color that smells delicious and intoxicating. It adds a complex, nutty flavor to everything you put it in. I think it’s liquid gold and worth every second you spend on it.
- Cream your butter and sugar for way longer than you think.
This changed my baked goods forever. I used to whip them together for thirty seconds until “combined” and it was fine, but once I started beating them for longer it makes everything airier and fluffier. If your butter and sugar still feels granular or like wet sand, keep going! The whole process should take about 3-5 minutes and it should feel like overkill.
- Bread isn’t that hard to make, actually.
This is less of a tip, and more of me breaking down gatekeeping by people who like to bake. People who make bread/any doughs (cinnamon rolls, etc.) will have you thinking it is a craft that only the few and brave can accomplish when actually the hardest part might just be the waiting. If you have the ingredients and the time, never shy away from a bread or dough recipe that is hyped up to be too hard, because you can probably do it.
- Put your pie on top of a tray in the oven.
This is a tip courtesy of my sophomore year of college when I attempted to bake a pie in my apartment oven and it overflowed onto the bottom of the oven and filled my entire apartment with smoke. That’s a mistake I never made again! If you’re baking any type of pie, it’s a really good idea to put that pie tray on top of another tray, like a cookie sheet, while it’s in the oven to catch any overflow that might happen. Especially for non-pros like us, a pie is bound to overflow at some point, and you don’t want to get your building evacuated for your tasty treats.
- Bake your cookies on parchment paper.
For a while, I never supplied myself with parchment for baking. I would either just over-grease a pan or use aluminum foil, and you should not do either of those things ESPECIALLY the latter! Over-greasing will cause your cookies to burn on the outside and still be raw in the middle, and aluminum will overcook them because it conducts heat so well. Buy some parchment or even a silicone mat for baking (I haven’t invested in that yet, but maybe that’ll be my recommendation later down the road). Your cookies will thank you!
- Put espresso powder in chocolate things.
Group this with things you’ve probably heard but discounted because surely it wouldn’t make a difference. It does! I hate the taste of coffee, but espresso powder (or even instant coffee powder) makes your chocolate goods so much richer and deeper in flavor. Anything chocolate-based will benefit greatly from a teaspoon or so of coffee powder.
- Don’t invest in certain niche baking ingredients.
You probably have plenty of ingredients in your house already for baking - flour, sugar, butter, etc. But if you ever feel dissuaded from a recipe because you don’t have a less common ingredient, don’t fret! You can probably make a simple substitution. You can easily make things like buttermilk (milk and vinegar or lemon juice), cake flour (regular flour and cornstarch), or powdered sugar (literally just blend regular sugar) with things you do have! Look up substitutions for things like this before you run to the store or reject a recipe.
- Don’t be boring!
This last one really has my own personal flair in it. If you’re tired of the regular old desserts for your family’s holiday, you don’t have to make it! Try new things, pair new flavors together, search the web for recipes that you find interesting and unique! That’s the joy of baking - it’s that you don’t have to adhere to any rules but you can explore and maybe create a new heirloom recipe for your family.