Tips and Tricks

We are on the verge of some big baking months.  As the weather gets crisper, so do the apples, and apple pies are in high demand.  Then we transition to pumpkin season with Thanksgiving (I’ve obviously gotten a head start on that), and finally: dreams of peppermint and gingerbread dance in our heads in December.  Ladies and Gentelmen, start your ovens.

Though I’m not professionally trained, here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way:

1. Read it over.  Make sure you read the entire ingredients list and recipe a couple days before you plan to make it.  I’ve learned this one the hard way, having been caught without a specific piece of equipment, or debating how long the dough really has to rest if I need the cookies to be ready sooner.  Things like extra prep activities, or unfamiliar techniques can catch you off guard espcially if you’re in a time crunch.

2. Less is more.  Though dough is fun to play with, resist the urge to over mix or over work the dough.  Usually you need to mix to combine, but once it looks fairly combined you need to stop because you will over-work it and develope too much gluton.  This will likely make the final product tougher then intended.  And when it comes to rolling out the dough to make cut out cookies or forming drop cookies, as my mom always says: you don’t want the dough to taste like your hands.  Stop touching it and playing with it so much!

3.  Leave it be.  Be stingy about opening the oven.  When the oven has reached the appropriate temperature, open it sparingly.  I will crack it once or twice to sneak a glance, but you need to be careful not to let the temperature drop too much, because it can definitely affect your final product.

4.  Chill out.  Allow baked goods to cool completely on cooling racks after they come out of the oven.  If you pack them up or put them away prematurely, you risk trapping moisture in the container.  This will make baked goods soggy or introduce mold.  So be patient, and think about placing cooling racks in strategic places where you and/or guests won’t be tempted to eat the final product earlier than intended.  Brothers and fathers are particularly good at sneaking tastes.

5.  Test it out.  This is one of Martha’s golden rules.  Don’t make a recipe for the first time when you’re cooking for a crowd.  If you’re trying out new desserts for the holidays, give them a test run a few weeks earlier just to practice and make sure it’s all that you dreamt of.  Answer questions like: how big is the batch?  how difficult is it?  is it really the fudgiest brownie ever, or is my old recipe better?  if I substitute an ingredient will it still work?  In the mean time, find some test subjects.  Co-workers on a Monday always seem to be a willing test audience for me.

Like I said, I’m not professionally trained, so these are tips from my own experience, my mother (who is professionally trained), Martha, and everyone on the Food Network.

Do you have any mishaps from holiday baking extravaganzas?

I have done everything from forgetting to add the sugar, to under baking, to burning, to spilling batter all over the oven, the list goes on…

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