Sarah Lange is the very talented pastry chef behind one of LA’s trendiest restaurants, The Hart and The Hunter. It was named top Best New Restaurants by Los Angeles Magazine. When I first tried Sarah’s pastries I fell in love with the inventive ingredient combinations and overall baking perfection. Some bakers just “have it” and Sarah definitely has that magic touch. I first met her when we did an In the Mix post featuring her talents and I was instantly enchanted by her baking and fun-loving, quirky personality. I ask her share her top 10 tips for baking and she graciously created not just 10 but 11 amazing baking tips. Trust me, your baked goods will thank you for using these tips for baking from pastry chef Sarah Lange!
Tips for Baking
1. Buy a kitchen scale and use it. It’s the most precise way to bake, but more importantly, it cuts your cleanup time in half because you can measure everything into just one or two bowls.
2. An oven thermometer is also a good idea to have. They’re cheap and available at most grocery stores. Set your oven to 350 degrees and see what the thermometer says. If it’s 50 degrees off, you’ll know to adjust the dial accordingly.
3. Double the salt. Recipes in cookbooks tend to be very modest about salt. Baked goods rely on salt just as much as savory food does to kick up the flavor of the finished product. If you don’t want to double the amount, at least add an extra pinch or two.
4. Taste your batter or dough before you bake it. Maybe it needs a little more salt (see above), maybe a little more vanilla or lemon juice. The batter will give you clues as to the flavor of your cake and what it might be lacking.
5. Try substituting brown butter in recipes that call for oil. Muffins and quick breads especially will get a richer, nuttier, yummier flavor with brown butter. (To make brown butter, melt a pound of butter in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. When it starts bubbling up and you see small rust-colored specks in the bubbles, it’s done. Immediately take it off the heat and whisk it down so that it doesn’t overboil.)
6. Make your own crème fraiche. Combine 2 cups heavy cream (preferably pasteurized, not ultrapasteurized) and 1 tablespoon buttermilk in a glass jar. Let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours and then put it in the fridge to chill. Not only will it make whipped cream tangier, it will also make it more stable, so it doesn’t liquefy before you’re ready to serve it.
7. Always blind bake a pie shell before adding the filling. Line the shell with parchment paper or foil and fill it with pie weights, beans or rice. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights and continue to bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. This will keep the shell from being undercooked and soggy.
8. For a perfectly crimped pie crust—crimp the edge of the shell, line the shell with foil and fold it over the edge, now press the foil into each fold and blind bake as instructed above.
9. Always bake to golden brown. Everything looks more appealing with a golden, crackly crust, and underbaked items will taste like raw dough. If your scones still look pale, forget what the recipe says and continue baking them until they have a beautiful crust. They will look and taste one hundred times better.
10. Crumb coat your cake. When you go to frost a cake, apply a thin layer of frosting that will seal in your crumbs, and then store the cake in the fridge for about 20 minutes. When you go to add the final layer of frosting, the crumbs will be locked in and your cake will have a perfect coat of frosting.
11. Make enough frosting. It’s never fun to run out of frosting with your cake half covered and the party about to start. Double the batch, use what you need, and store the rest in the freezer, where it will be ready for your next cake when you need it. Oh, and make your own frosting. Do everyone a favor and spare them the stuff in the can.