Baking Hacks My Mother Taught Me

9:49 AM Amanda Prahl 0 Comments

Baking from scratch can be intimidating for many. There's a perception that it's all about precise measurements and time-consuming waits. And while that's true of some recipes, there are also a lot of hacks that can make your baking easier, tastier, and even healthier! I've been baking with my mom for as long as I can remember, so here's a compilation of some of the best tips she's taught me.

Use vanilla extract to take the "box" taste out of baking from mixes
Ignore the snobs: cake mix can be a godsend sometimes. It's all your dry ingredients pre-measured and pre-mixed; nothing wrong with that. But if you want to get rid of that plain "box" taste, there's an easy fix. Add about a teaspoon of real vanilla extract to the batter when you add the other wet ingredients to the dry mix. Splurge on genuine extract, not the cheap imitation stuff: it's more expensive, but a bottle will last you a long time. The brand I use is Nielsen-Massey, which is available at Williams-Sonoma, among other retailers. This dash of vanilla will give the cake that "homemade" taste without the hassle of baking from scratch.

Cut the butter
Let me tell you a secret: you don't actually need as much butter in most recipes as it calls for. If you want to make a sweet treat a little healthier, go ahead and cut out one-third or half the butter. A caveat, though: when trying a new recipe, you may have to experiment at bit to figure out just how much of the butter you can cut. If the batter is too dry, add a little more. And never cut more than half the butter.

A caveat: if you like your cookies thin and crispy, this tip is not for you. The butter is what makes the cookies spread out and get crispy, so cutting the butter would change this texture.

In quick breads: substitute fruit/nut "butter" or applesauce
A variation on the above hack that's exclusive to quick breads: replace some or all of the oil with a fruit butter or applesauce. I usually go half-and-half: half the amount of oil the recipe calls for, and a couple tablespoons of fruit butter or applesauce. For something like zucchini bread or banana bread, use applesauce. Pumpkin butter enriches the flavor and texture of pumpkin bread. You get the idea.

Don't ignore the salt!
Almost every baking recipe calls for a dash of salt. It seems like an easy thing to forget or ignore - after all, who wants salty cookies or cakes? But this is also one thing the experts never do. That little dash of salt - or, if it's a recipe with butter, salted butter instead of unsalted - is crucial because it cuts through the other ingredients to balance out the sweetness, enhances the flavors, and keep the final product from being too-too sweet. If you don't have a measuring spoon handy to measure out a quarter of a teaspoon, shake out a bit into your palm, about as big as your pinky fingernail.

Use coffee to bring out chocolate flavors
When chocolate is your primary flavor, a little coffee will enhance the richness of the chocolate flavor. Your brownies won't suddenly taste like a cafe mocha, I promise! Just substitute approximately half your liquid (water, etc.) with brewed coffee. Alternatively, you can add a teaspoon of instant espresso powder to the dry ingredients. Either way, the coffee will bring out some depth in the chocolate without changing the overall flavor profile of the dessert.

Any favorite hacks or tips you want to share? Comment below!