As Thanksgiving inches closer, so does baking season. My mom’s biggest season to bake is around Christmas, but Thanksgiving is like a warm-up for her. But how do you bake? Unfortunately, I have not been blessed with the skills to be the next Betty Crocker (even though she didn’t exist), nor am I even close to being as good of a baker as my mom (in the past she’s banned me from the kitchen). Still, there are basic tips both amateurs and pros should consider each time before baking.
Trying New Recipes
As classic as the chocolate chip cookie is, why not try something new? There are always recipe books on the racks near the check-outs at grocery stores offering fun recipe ideas. Many of them are also seasonal. My mom has plenty of these books throughout the house, and she’ll flip through them once in a while until something sparks her interest and inspires her to bake.
Let’s not forget about homemade recipes! See if your grandma has an old book of recipes she used to bake. On several occasions my mom has made icebox cake using her grandmother’s recipe. Even though she passed, using one of her recipes is a nice way to honor and remember a loved one. It’s also a way to keep tradition in a family. Every Christmas, my great-grandma used to make stained glass windows. At 89, her days of baking are over, but my mom is considering making the cookies this holiday season. The cookies have chocolate and colored marshmallows (they look like stained glass windows). It’s certainly not something you could buy just anywhere, but they’re delicious.
What’s on the List?
Before getting down and dirty in the kitchen, make sure you have everything you need! Whether you plan on making one recipe or multiple, go through each list of ingredients. Say you’re making two recipes, which call for four eggs. Make sure you have at least five eggs. The same applies to milk and sugar. There are few things worse than seeing my mom start to bake, only to realize she’s short of something.
Another solution is to stock up. Since my mom knows she’ll be doing a ridiculous amount of baking this season, she has already started stocking up on sugar and eggs. It’s a good idea to have these ingredients in the house since they are in many recipes. Also, take a look at the equipment list. Make sure you have everything you need. Say a recipe calls for a rolling pin. Go to the store and pay the $10. If you’re serious about baking, it will pay off in no time!
Timing is Key
Once you put your cookies or cake in the oven, set a timer. My mom often uses the timer on the stove, but you can use the microwave timer or your cellphone. Don’t just wing it. Say you put cookies in the oven, then your phone rings so you start talking to a friend or sister. It’s easy to get distracted. You may accidentally end up overcooking your dessert, and most people prefer not to eat charcoal.
It’s also a good idea to check on the baked good before the timer goes off. Depending on your oven, a recipe may take a little bit longer or shorter to finish. Also use your senses. If you smell something burning, there’s a good chance you burned something. Now I’m not suggesting you stalk the oven for 20 or 40 minutes, or however long the recipe calls for. However, keep an eye on your cake or cookies.
Patience is a Virtue
After taking your baked good out of the oven, it’s incredibly important to let it cool. Say you’re baking a cake. Put it on a wire rack and let it cool for at least 10 minutes. Wait to add finishing touches like frosting or icing until it’s completely cool, otherwise the frosting will start to melt and fall off the cake. Gross.
As for brownies, keep the batch in the brownie pan until they’re completely cool; don’t cut them yet! If you cut into the brownies while they’re still hot, they’ll crumble, and the brownies will stick to whatever it is you’re cutting with (a spatula, knife, etc).
When it comes to cookies, use a spatula to take them off the cookie sheet and put them one by one on a wire rack. (I personally prefer cookies straight out of the oven, but try to wait.) Let the hot cookie sheet cool in between batches, otherwise the cookies will burn. If you’re like my mom and like to make multiple batches, alternate between which cookie tray you use (it’s best to have at least two or three).
Baking vs. Store-Bought
Ultimately, I grew up in a household where you don’t show up to someone’s place empty-handed. Homemade baked goods are an easy but meaningful gesture that anyone appreciates at the end of the day. Sure, you could pick something up at the local grocery store, but they almost never taste as good, and it suggests you can’t be bothered to make something yourself.
My mom has a Hawaiian cake recipe she got from my great-grandma, who got it decades ago from a friend. It’s a yellow cake with pudding, pineapples, cool whip, cherries, and shredded chocolate on top; it’s to die for. When we celebrated my great-grandma’s 89th birthday in February, my mom made it; it’s my great-grandma’s favorite cake. My cousin Jenna begged my mom to make it for her birthday in July as well, so my mom made it again. It’s meaningful cakes like this which bring smiles to my relatives’ faces; something like that can’t be bought from the grocery store. Sometimes that extra but essential ingredient is love; and that’s something you can only get from a homemade dessert.