So you need to whip up a batch of freshly baked something-or-rathers, but you're short on time. Sound familiar?
Are there any legit shortcuts that'll help speed things up ... or, because baking is such a precise art, will you just end up shooting yourself in the foot?
I asked some baking experts about the most popular shortcuts and faux pas and, based on their input, the answer is decidedly the latter.
Here's the specifics:
Shortcut #1: Melting butter for a recipe that calls for softened butter.
The Problem: Stephanie Petersen, a pastry chef and cooking instructor, says melting butter is a no-no because warming it to room temperature enables the fat to remain solid. "This fat will hold air whipped into it during creaming. This adds to the texture of the finished product," she says. "If that step is skipped, generally you will have a cookie or muffin that isn't as light as it could have been."
Shortcut #2: Bringing eggs to room temperature in water.
The Problem: Peterson says eggs will whip most dramatically when warmed to room temperature on their own instead.
Hope Jones, owner of Hope, Faith & Gluttony Bakery in Long Island City, New York, asks why you need warm eggs in the first place. "If you are whipping them into a foam/meringue or [have another] need for the protein in them to be warm (which helps hold the whipped form better along with ‘cooking' them with sugar), then yes, warm is better but not always necessary," she notes.
Instead, Jones says you can put your bowl of cracked eggs over a warm water bath and beat them until they are room temperature.
Shortcut #3: Not preheating the oven or not preheating it enough.
The Problem: Deana Gunn, one of the authors of Cooking With Trader Joe's, says you have to preheat for at least 10 minutes to make sure your oven is the correct temperature. If you don't, your baked goods won't bake evenly, the texture could be affected, and the cooking time will be off.
Shortcut #4: Not greasing and flouring pans.
The Problem: The obvious reason is not being able to get your cake out of the pan. But Gunn has another tip: If you're baking a chocolate cake, you should use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of flour so that your cake doesn't end up with a white haze all over it.
Shortcut #5: Mixing too fast or over-mixing your batter.
The Problem: "Enthusiastic over-beating with gluten-containing flours will create gluey, chewy, and tough baked goods," Gunn says. Instead, she recommends you mix gently only until combined, as recipes often note.
Shortcut #6: Peeking in the oven.
Gunn says that if you constantly open the oven door to see how far along your muffins or cookies are, you're going to disrupt the heat circulation and your baking will fall flat or the goods will bake unevenly.
Shortcut #7: Using twice the yeast to make fast-rise bread.
The Problem: Petersen says to avoid double yeast if you want well-rounded flavor in your dough.
"Unless it's for a quick breadstick or something you will be eating right away, don't do it," she says.
That's because the long rise and fermentation of the bread have a dramatic impact on the finished product. "Yeast action conditions the gluten in the bread. It makes it more elastic and supple," she says. "This allows the bread to hold more air when raising. If you skimp on that process, your bread will not rise as well or hold as much volume. The flavor will be very flat."
Shortcut #8: Sifting dry ingredients.
The Problem: Confectionary Artist Gail Dosik says you can't just sift with a sifter. That's because sifting will take the lumps out, but it won't ensure the perfect distribution of flour, salt, and baking powder. Instead, Dosik says you should whisk all dry ingredients together. Whisking will aerate just as much as sifting, but it will also incorporate everything. "Better yet, combine all dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, and stir slowly with the paddle attachment for 30 seconds," Dosik adds.
Shortcuts and Tips That Work:
Dry ingredients in one bowl. Jones says dry ingredients in little dishes all over the place merely means more dishes to wash. Plus, she adds, "The dry ingredients are best when all the spices, leaveners, etc. are put into the flour [and] then mixed throughout with a whisk so you won't get a lump of baking soda in one cupcake."
Freezing extra dough. Jones says freezing is better than refrigerating and it means you'll have something on hand for future last-minute desserts. Doughs can last up to six months in the freezer if they are wrapped well.
Replacing eggs with gelatin. This is especially noteworthy after recent contaminated egg scares or for anyone dealing with food allergies. Petersen says, "Gelatin is great to use when a food allergy is present, and it is fat free and almost totally calorie free."
All you have to do is let a packet of plain gelatin dissolve in 3/4 of a cup of warm water for about 5 minutes, and Petersen says it's the equivalent of three eggs. But be sure to use it right away. "It doesn't keep in the fridge, as it would obviously set up," Petersen says. "But the protein is just right for baking cakes, cookies, and brownies. Not so much for meringues."
Are your favorite shortcuts on the list? Will you be singing a different tune now?
Image via slgckgc/Flickr