Professional bakers prefer unsalted butter for many reasons. Salt can hide off flavors, so unsalted butter must necessarily be fresher than salted. Also, unsalted butter allows the baker to add the amount of salt he or she prefers. (A stick of butter can contain from ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt, depending on the manufacturer.) Because salt acts as a preservative, unsalted butter turns rancid more quickly than salted, so use it within a couple of weeks of its use-by date or freeze it for longer storage. If you must use salted butter, omit the salt in the recipe.
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Loaf Pans • Molds
Make home baked bread of the finest quality with heavy-duty bakeware that withstands years of use. More »
Cake • Springform Pans
Everything you need for every type of cake—these pieces turn your kitchen into a professional bakery. More »
Tools • Cookware
Delicate desserts are even more scrumptious with the help of utensils specifically designed for chocolate. More »
Rings • Cutters • And More
Form cakes into shapes or cut cookies into interesting figures. Find an assortment of shapes and sizes. More »
The most delectable pastries start with these indispensable implements of the highest quality. More »
Cookie Sheets • Cutters
Prepare soft-baked cookies fresh from the oven. These tools help them look and taste irresistible. More »
Pastry Tips • Couplers
Make beautiful cookies, cakes and pastries with tips and crimpers in virtually every size and shape. More »
Stainless Steel • Copper
Mix, measure or stage your foods in bowls in a variety of shapes for whatever your ingredients require. More »
Bags • Sculpting Tools
Decorate cakes and desserts with useful tools that shape and design fondant, icing, sugar-paste and more. More »
Pie Plates • Tart Forms
Pies, tarts and quiches are made perfect with our superior bakeware for sweet or savory pastries. More »
Silicone molds do it all: shape, bake and cool your aspic jelly, baked goods, frozen desserts and more. More »
Working with Butter
1. Grate the butter into the mixing bowl on the large holes of a box grater.
2. Cut the butter into ½” pieces and spread them on a plate placed near the oven as it preheats for about 20 minutes. More »
3. Knead the cubed butter in the mixing bowl with your hands until the butter is malleable.
4. Place sticks of butter into a resealable plastic bag, and beat with a rolling pin until softened.
5. Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed until the butter softens, then increase the speed to high and cream as usual. Don’t try to cream cold butter with a hand mixer. It is a good way to burn out the motor.
When creaming together butter and sugar for a cake batter, use your eyes to determine when the mixture is properly creamed. It should be very pale, almost white, indicating air has been beaten into the yellow butter. Allow about 5 minutes to cream butter and sugar with a stand mixer or about 6 minutes with a handheld mixer. The friction of beating can warm up the creamed mixture and deflate the air bubbles, so take care that you don’t overbeat. If you overcream the mixture, it cannot be repaired.
Take it slow when adding eggs to the batter. Adding eggs too fast (even one at a time) encourages curdling. Beat the eggs together in a bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, beat in the eggs about 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until the batter absorbs the addition before adding more. (One egg yolk equals 1 tablespoon, so if your recipe calls for adding the yolks one at a time, you are still adding them at the correct rate.) If the batter curdles despite your best efforts, increase the speed to the highest setting for about 10 seconds. This often repairs the broken emulsification.
Working with Dough
How can you tell when dough has been kneaded long enough? Use the windowpane test. Pull off a golf ball-size knob of dough and pat it into a rectangle. Pulling slowly and consistently from all four corners, stretch the dough into a thin, translucent membrane. If the dough tears easily, knead it longer. This technique won’t work with dough that includes seeds, nuts, or raisins, as they will tear the dough even if it has been kneaded sufficiently. If such ingredients have been used, check for stretchy, resilient dough.
Don’t chill pie dough until it is rock hard. It may seem convenient to make the dough a day or so ahead of using, but it becomes so firm that it is difficult to roll out. Instead, refrigerate most doughs for an hour or two, just long enough for the gluten to relax and the dough to get a chill without changing its malleable texture. If the dough is chilled until hard, let it sit at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes to warm slightly before rolling.
Many bakers use a bowl to hold bread dough, but a straight-sided clear plastic tub is ideal for keeping track of the dough as it rises. Mark the beginning level of the dough on the outside with a pen or a piece of tape, and then you can easily see when the dough has doubled. You can also use a glass bowl, but the doubling is a bit harder to define in a slope-sided container. Gently poke a finger into the dough. If the hole doesn’t refill, the dough has probably finished rising.
Perfect Pies & Cakes
To prevent cakes baked in Bundt or other decorative pans from sticking, butter the inside of the pan and then sprinkle it with fine dried bread crumbs instead of flour. Because the bread crumbs have a different consistency from the batter, they form an effective barrier that keeps the batter from adhering. This trick is helpful even with nonstick pans.
Let fresh-from-the-oven cakes cool in their pans on wire cooling racks, which allow air to circulate under the pans for more efficient cooling. In most cases, do not unmold a cake until it has cooled for at least 30 minutes, or it may break apart. The exceptions are Bundt cakes, which should be unmolded after they have cooled for 10 minutes, and chiffon and angel food cakes, which must cool completely before they are removed from their pans.
If you are making layer cakes, you’ll want to divide the batter evenly between the pans so the layers are the same thickness when baked. If you have a kitchen scale, you can weigh the pans with the batter to make sure they are equal. Or use a large ice cream scoop to portion the same amount of batter into each pan.
Sometimes the edges of a pie crust need to be protected from overbrowning. Instead of shielding them by wrapping a foil collar around the rim of the dish, try this: Tear off a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the pie. Cut a large X in the center of the foil. Remove the pie from the oven. Place the foil over the pie, and then peel back the cut edges of the foil to expose the center of the pie and cover the edges of the crust. Crimp the foil underneath the pie dish to secure it, then return the pie to the oven.
It’s a good idea to put a pie pan on a baking sheet to catch drips, but the sheet helps crisp the bottom crust, too. Unlike the wires of an oven rack, the hot metal sheet will create a solid surface to heat and brown the crust evenly. Place the baking sheet in the oven during preheating so it’s hot when the pie is placed on it.
Professionals use spring-loaded ice cream scoops to portion cookie dough, making cookies the same size that will bake at the same rate. A tablespoon-size scoop is the right capacity for most recipes.
For even baking and easy cleanup, bake your cookies on heavy-duty, rimmed aluminum baking sheets (half sheet pans) lined with parchment paper. To help the paper adhere, butter the baking sheet first. You can also line baking sheets with silicone baking mats instead of parchment.
There’s no need to transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. In fact, more harm can be done by transferring warm, delicate, pliable cookies to a rack than by letting them stand on the sheet. If you need to remove the cookies to use the baking sheet again, let them cool on the sheet until they are firm enough to move.
1. Use the right-size pan and prepare it as the recipe requires. Do not substitute another pan unless absolutely necessary.
2. Measure all of the ingredients, place them in appropriate containers, and have them all within easy reach when you begin to assemble the dough or batter. More »
3. Place the racks in the correct position and preheat the oven, allowing at least 15 minutes for it to reach the required temperature. If the recipe does not specify the rack position, it should be assumed that it should be in the center of the oven.
4. Follow the steps and the timings in the recipe. Be careful not to overbeat mixtures, a common problem. Overbeating will make baked goods tough and cause whipped egg whites to break down. If beating a batter, stop the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl often. Check the bottom of the bowl, too. The paddle attachment of some stand mixers doesn’t scrape the area well.
5. Place the pan or pans in the oven quickly, keeping in mind that every time the oven door is opened, heat is released. Space pans on the rack with plenty of room around them so air can circulate freely. Just in case your oven has a hot spot (and most do) that can cause uneven browning, rotate the pans from front to back halfway through baking. If you are baking two baking sheets of cookies at the same time, switch the pans between the racks and rotate them front to back halfway through baking.
6. Use a timer, but don’t rely on it alone. To check for doneness, follow the visual cues in the recipe, too.
7. Set up sufficient space for cooling. Cookies, in particular, need plenty of room. If you are inverting a cake onto a rack, have an extra rack on hand to facilitate the procedure.
8. Allow baked goods to cool before removing from the pans. Too often, bakers try to remove cakes and other delicate baked goods from their pans before they have time to cool and set, which can cause them to crack.
When blueberries come into contact with a batter that contains alkaline ingredients, such as baking powder or baking soda, the berries can develop unattractive green spots. Acids counteract this phenomenon, so use a recipe that includes an acidic liquid, like buttermilk or yogurt./span>
Top Tips for Baking Tender, Flaky Biscuits
Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crackers and peas. It is important to have some large, pea-size pieces of butter in the dough to ensure the biscuits will be flaky. More »
For tender biscuits, handle the dough very gently.
Pat or roll out the dough 1 inch thick for tall biscuits.
To avoid scraps of dough that have to be rerolled, cut the dough into wedges, squares, or rectangles.
For easy removal of brownies from a baking pan, line the bottom and two sides of the pan (short sides if baking in a rectangular pan) with a “sling” of aluminum foil or parchment paper, letting the excess foil hang over the sides as handles. When completely cooled, lift up on the handles to remove the brownie slab in one piece, then cut as desired.
Stir 1 teaspoon cider, distilled white vinegar, or lemon juice or 1¼ teaspoons cream of tartar into 1 cup low-fat milk. Let the mixture stand for a few minutes at room temperature to curdle and thicken before using.
When preparing a pan for baking a chocolate cake, sift together equal parts cocoa powder and flour for dusting the greased pan. Flour used alone can leave a whitish residue on dark cakes.
To check the freshness of baking soda, stir ½ teaspoon baking soda into 2 tablespoons vinegar. If the mixture bubbles and fizzes, the baking soda is still good. For baking powder, stir ½ teaspoon baking powder into ¼ cup hot tap water. If it fizzes, it’s fine.
Flour packages are often labeled “presifted,” but that doesn’t mean that you can skip sifting the flour if a recipe calls for it. Even if the flour was sifted at the factory, it will settle during shipping. Sifting aerates the flour, making it easier to incorporate it into a batter. It also combines dry ingredients much better than just whisking them together. (This is especially true if the recipe includes baking soda, which can form pellets during storage that can only be broken up by sifting.)
A cake is easier to frost if it is elevated above the work surface. If you don’t have a cake decorating stand, turn a wide bowl upside down, and place the cake on its platter on the bowl. Be sure that the bowl is wide so the platter will be stable.
If your recipe doesn’t yield enough batter to fill all the cups in your muffin pan, don’t leave the empty cups or your muffins can bake unevenly. Half fill the empty cups with water and then bake your muffins.
Use an ice-cream scoop to transfer muffin batter to the pan—it is much easier and less messy than a spoon
Few ovens are spot-on accurate. Always double-check the temperature with an oven thermometer. Place the thermometer in the center of the oven, not near one of the sides or the top or bottom where the temperature can be thrown off by the metal wall. Allow at least 20 minutes for the oven to preheat fully before checking the temperature.
Parchment paper is often sold in rolls, so when you want to use it, it remains in a curl. When you buy a roll, take a few minutes to cut it into lengths to fit your baking sheets. Put the stack of cut sheets between two baking sheets, then store them together to “iron” the parchment flat. If you have to use curly paper, butter the pan first to help the paper adhere.
In a pinch, use a 1-quart resealable plastic bag as a substitute for a pastry bag. Snip off one corner of the bag to accommodate a pastry tip. Reinforce the area around the snipped opening with a few strips of transparent tape.
If you are out of parchment paper, you can use waxed paper to line the bottom of your cake pans. Waxed paper will smoke when exposed to high temperatures in the oven, but as long as it is covered with batter, it will be fine. Do not use waxed paper to line baking sheets for cookies.