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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Baking Tips for a Mom - Part I


I bake a lot...like a LOT a lot, I really LOVE baking!  Its pretty quick to make a batch of cookies or muffins, I LOVE the taste of warm baked goods right out of the oven and I enjoy knowing exactly what's in my food. As such, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve that less frequent bakers might not know about and I thought I would share a few with you as well as a recipe or two!

Tip #1 - Booo to cupcake liners.

This is not a universal tip, its more about personal preference but for me I make muffins and cupcakes because they are easy "to go" snacks.  I can grab one on my way off to work or I can easily give one to a dinner guest that can't stay for dessert as something to eat on the road or once they get home.  Wrappers/liners tend to screw this up, its hard to drive and unwrap a muffin!  It requires too many hands and it gets crumbs everywhere!  Instead I like to do the butter/flour or butter/sugar method, it goes like this:

Butter your muffin tin, either with a stick of butter...

 Of with a paper towel/rag coated in butter (this is how I do it).

Sprinkle some flour or sugar in the buttered tins and twist/whirl it around over a sink until everything is well coated.  Then simply drop your dough in, sans liners!  They will pop right out of the tins with the help of a mini-fork once they are done baking.


Tip #2 - Never underestimate the power of good Vanilla and a glass of wine!

Good quality vanilla is often hard to find, frequently expensive, and the most important baking ingredient I own.  I cannot stress enough how much I love REAL vanilla extract and how much it can change the flavor of what you're baking.  My favorite brand tends to bounce around a lot but my current favorite is the Vanilla Bean "Crush" by Sonoma Syrup Co, it contains crushed vanilla bean bits and I love the look of them as they peak through a white vanilla ice cream or frosting.  I grabbed mine at Marshalls for about $10. 

As far as the wine goes, baking is therapeutic for me.  Its relaxing and enjoyable and having a glass of wine with me while I do it helps remind me that I'm doing it for fun and not to stress too much about a batch of overcooked cupcakes or frosting that didn't turn out quite right.


Tip #3 - Let the toddler lick the spoon!

This is mostly because I find it ADORABLE but its also because I want my toddler to enjoy my baking as much as I do!  She loves being involved, I frequently give her a tiny batch of batter to stir while I'm stirring the bigger batch (sometimes its just a bowl of water with a spoon!) and I might even give her my half muffin tin to "fill" as well.  

Obviously this one depends on the quality of the eggs you use (because most batter has raw eggs in it) and how frightened you are of salmonella and the like. 







Tip #4 - Cookie Scoops are AWESOME.

I love cookie scoops because they always give me consistent sizing, they keep my hands neat, they are easy to use and easy to clean, really they are just AWESOME.  I only got mine last year but I haven't stopped using them since!

I have a large one by Norpro (pictured below) that I bought on Amazon HERE.  I use it for muffins and cupcakes as well as large cookies.

I also have a smaller one that I got here which I use for smaller cookies and occasionally large truffles but honestly I use the large one MUCH more.


Tip #5 - Not every recipe works for everyone.

Recently my husband requested white cupcakes, no problem I thought and went to my go-to white cake recipe, a great one that you will see me use a lot.  I've used it for my daughter's birthday cake, I've used it for cupcakes and anytime I need a delicious, sturdy cake base. It from Add A Pinch and I just can't recommend it enough.

At the time of my husband's request I had a bunch of egg whites left over from a hollandaise sauce I made that morning and decided to try my hand at a Royal Icing, I'd heard of it many times and knew many people LOVED it but I have to say, it simply didn't work for us.  I used this recipe by Martha Stewart, which I'm sure is a fine recipe.  The frosting looked exactly the way it was supposed to but my husband and I both HATED it as a cupcake frosting, the texture was just not our style.  I liked that you could pipe it on or dip the cupcakes into it, that was neat but that was about the only thing I liked about it.  Lesson?  Just because there is a recipe that EVERYONE knows about and loves, doesn't mean its a recipe that will work for you.  You may not have done anything wrong, its just not your style and that's okay.  Give the baked goods away or toss them or whatever and bake something else tomorrow.


To end on a positive note, here is the recipe from Add A Pinch that I just LOVE:

The Best White Cake Recipe {ever}

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This White Cake Recipe will quickly become your favorite for so many celebrations and events. This simple white cake recipe is easy to follow and yields a moist, tender white cake you’ll love.
Author: 
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup whole milk, room temperature
  • ½ cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick baking spray or coated well with shortening or butter and floured, taking care to remove all excess flour.
  2. Cream together butter and shortening until light and fluffy with an electric mixer. Slowly add sugar one cup at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each cup before adding another. Add eggs one at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each egg before adding another.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour milks and vanilla into measuring cup and whisk together with a fork. Add to butter and shortening mixture alternately with milk mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.
  4. Gently stir all ingredients until well combined. Stop mixer and scrape down sides and bottom of bowl, making sure to have all ingredients mixed well.
  5. Evenly distribute cake batter between cake pans and place pans into oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove and allow to cool slightly in cake pans for about 5 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. Frost cake as desired.
Notes
- This recipe makes approximately 24 cupcakes when cupcake tin is filled more than ¾ full. When filled ½ full, this recipe makes approximately 36 cupcakes. Bake approximately 18 minutes.
- If you preferred the original white cake recipe, it used ½ teaspoon baking powder and 1 cup buttermilk with no whole milk.