As you begin to think about what desserts you'll make over the next few months, I wanted to share some of my baking secrets, tips and tricks that I've learned over the years at HERSHEY'S Kitchens. Whether you're looking to impress the in-laws, want to be the most sought-after cookie at this year's cookie exchange, or simply want to improve your baking skills, then try these key tips below.
How to Become the Ultimate Baker:
- Pick the best pan: You may think that a non-stick, silicone baking sheet is the way to go; however, that is not always the case. Darker colored pans are typically lined with non-stick material and tend to absorb more heat, while lighter pans reflect heat and help baked goods cook more evenly. Regardless, it's best to choose durable, high-quality products that will last you years.
- Make sure staples are fresh: Check the expiration date on baking powder or baking soda to be sure that it is fresh. If you can't find the expiration date, or are unsure if your baking powder or soda are still good, you can do a simple check. For baking powder, add half a teaspoon to several tablespoons hot water and for baking soda, add half a teaspoon to several tablespoons of white vinegar. If there is vigorous fizzing, then it's releasing carbon dioxide gas and is still fresh to use.
- Room temperature: Room temperature eggs and butter are easier to work with and provide better results.
- Assemble ingredients in advance: Before you get started, make sure you have all your ingredients ready before you start mixing. Have all fruits, nuts and vegetables cut in advance and ready to add.
- Mix ingredients by type: Assemble wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls to start. Generally, you beat all wet ingredients first and then combine with the dry ingredients by mixing or beating together just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
- Lumpy batter is the best batter for muffins: Other batters should be mixed just until the ingredients are well blended. Overmixing will make your baked goods tough.
- Fold in additional ingredients: Gently fold in any fruits, vegetables or nuts. This is especially important for blueberries - vigorous stirring will break the blueberries and release the juice, which will make the batter gray.
- Don't be overzealous with mix-ins: While it may seem that more is better in the case of delicious mix-ins, this is the time to stick to the recipe and exactly the amounts it suggests. Do not increase amounts of fruits or vegetables called for in the recipe. Doing this may result in gummy, heavy baked goods.
- Rotate pans: To ensure even baking, rotate your pans about halfway through. Also remember to position your baking pans in the center of the oven.
- Toothpick test: You'll know your sweet treats are done when you test the center with a toothpick and it comes out clean or, for some recipes, almost clean.
- Cooling is key: Allow your desserts and treats to cool according to the recipe directions. Generally, cookies need to cool 1 to 2 minutes on the cookie sheet to allow them to set up before moving to a wire rack to cool completely. Brownies, bars and sheet cakes should cool completely in the pan. And cake layers should cool about 10 minutes before removing from pans to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Keep cookies fresh: Sometimes, day-old cookies can start to get tough and hard. To keep chewy cookies soft, store them with a half slice of bread inside a zipper-lock food storage bag. The bread will give out its moisture and dry up while the cookies stay soft. Keep crisp cookies crisp by storing in dry, airtight container.
- Use HERSHEY'S Kitchens ingredients: The HERSHEY'S Kitchens team produces a wide range of baking products to fit whatever recipe you are trying to whip up – from classic baking chips, to low-sugar alternatives. In fact, HERSHEY'S Kitchens recently expanded their line of baking chips, releasing NEW HERSHEY'S S'mores Baking Pieces made with Milk Chocolate Chips, Graham Cookie Pieces and Mini Marshmallows, and NEW HERSHEY'S Cookies ‘N' Creme Baking Pieces, which are a mix of White Creme Chips and Chocolate Cookie Bits. These new products, along with the everyday classics, are made to fuel creative recipes and unique treats in the kitchen.
My personal favorite HERSHEY'S Kitchens recipe to create during the holidays is Toffee Popcorn Crunch. Everyone seems to love this recipe and it is always a hit when taken to a party. I always have HEATH BITS ‘O BRICKLE Toffee Bits, popcorn and corn syrup in my cupboard, so if I need to take something to a party or need a last-minute hostess gift I have the ingredients on hand.
If you're looking for some baking inspiration this coming holiday season, HERSHEY'S Kitchens has a wealth of holiday recipes that can be found at www.hersheys.com/recipes including gluten-free options for those with dietary restrictions and recipes for our newest baking products.
I hope you all have a happy holiday season filled with delicious baked goods!