Insider Training: Part 1

While baking my last cake order, I realized something.  There are a LOT of little tips and tricks I’ve picked up through the years that not every baker knows.  Whether little shortcuts or new techniques, each of these tips has made baking a lot easier.  And a LOT less stressful.

Let’s not beat around the bush.  I’ll get right to a few of the main tips I thought about while decorating.  Not all of the tips, just some for now.  Always leave them wanting more, right?? 🙂

1.   Preparing baking pans:

No matter what you’re baking, you don’t want it sticking to the baking pan.  Most recipes will tell you to grease and flour the bottom of a cake pan.  A couple of things here.  If you DO go that route, grease the pan and use flour for white or other flavored cakes; use cocoa powder in place of flour for chocolate cakes so the outside of the cake isn’t dusty white.

I highly recommend using parchment paper to line the pan instead.  Why?  It helps the cake come out easier, it’s faster, and serves as a great way to hold the cake together when you take it out of the pan and transfer to a cooling rack.  To do this, cut parchment paper in the shape of the pan, using just enough to cover the bottom of the pan.  If you’d like, you can still grease the sides of the pan but not flour them.  Totally up to you.

2.   Softening butter:

Recipe call for softened butter?  No problem.  Place the unwrapped butter on a plate, pop it in the microwave on medium power, and watch it like a hawk.  To test if it’s soft enough:  press on it.  If your fingerprint is left behind, it’s soft.  If you see melted butter anywhere on the plate or the butter collapses when you touch it, it’s too soft.  Just FYI, butter that’s too soft will cause cookies to spread too much.

3.   Only the best!

Good ingredients make a good final product.  Using quality ingredients will lead to a better overall flavor and texture.  Well, usually.  I don’t mind getting store brand sugar, flour, butter, etc.  But when it comes to extracts and cocoa powder, go for the good stuff!  Especially cocoa powder.  After all, it IS the part of the recipe that makes a chocolate something-or-other, well, chocolate.  You want it to taste good and not be chalky.  Also pay attention to the expiration dates on things!!  Spices that are old will not yield the same amount of flavor.  And flour or baking powder that is old will not provide the right leavening for your baked goods.

Mounds Cake

4.   Make even cupcakes:

Using a standard ice cream scoop will get even, correctly-sized cupcakes or muffins every time.  Your products look more professional when there is size consistency, and this tip will help make that happen.  Using an ice cream scoop also helps make filling a cupcake pan less messy and faster.

5.   Cool down:

Before you take a cake out of its pan to cool completely, be sure you can handle the cake pan without using pot holders. Why?  This ensures that your cake has cooled enough to take it out of the pan. If you try to take it out too soon, the cake will crack.

6.   Level with me:

When making layered cakes, don’t forget to even out each layer.  To do this, cut off the domed top (if there is one) before stacking the cakes.  Best tool for this is a long, serrated knife.  Trust me, someone in the house will usually be more than happy to eat the discarded cake tops. (This was my roommates’ favorite part of me baking in college!)

7.   Sculpting:

Sculpting is an advanced art, so expect it to take a little while to get the hang of it.  But there are a few tips that will help.  Biggest one:  CHILL YOUR CAKE!  Stack the layers and pop the cake in the fridge to chill out for a while (usually a few hours).  This firms up the cake a bit so it will not crack, crumble, or be destroyed while you’re sculpting. Another important tip:  take off a little bit at a time to get your favorite shape.  You can always take more off, but you can’t put it back on.  Slow and steady is the best way to carve.

That’s all the tips for now.  Have something you’ve wondered about?  Ask!  Others are probably wondering too.

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