Pastry Tips & Tricks

Useful Tidbits, In No Particular Order

Cream whips best when cold.  I usually whip cream in a stainless steel bowl set in a larger bowl filled with ice and a little water.  Egg whites whip faster at room temperature and tend to be more stable when heated and then whipped.

Adding no more than a teaspoon of water per egg white to your whites before whipping will get them started more easily with no appreciable loss in foam stability.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of salt.  Put it in everything.  Seriously.  If you think of salt as a substance that enhances flavor rather than one that makes things salty, this makes more sense.  Your chocolate will be chocolaty-er.  Your vanilla will taste more vanilla-y.  Your strawberries will taste more strawberry-y.  Your….

Always use metal bowls for ice baths.  Just as metal is used to make pots and pans to quickly conduct heat to food, it is just as effective for conducting heat away from food (and into surrounding ice).

Steep any sort of flavoring (vanilla bean, herbs, spices–whatever) in cold cream at least overnight to add an extra dimension of flavor to your whipped cream or custard.  Infuse a flavor in hot cream and you run the risk of extracting some undesirable bitter flavors.  So, if you have the time, cold infusion is better.

When making caramel, like for a flan, have a cup of ice ready nearby.  When your caramel is the color you want it, kill the heat and immediately throw in a handful of ice.  Stir it with a very long handled spoon or spatula.  Stand back–it will splatter madly, but it will lower the caramel temperature quickly enough that the color you want is the color you get.

When making ice cream or anything else that needs to be very cold, if not frozen, put the target container(s) in the freezer for at least 15 minutes before filling.  This slows pesky melting, especially if you’re putting your product into a metal container.

No lid for your pot?  Cover a hot pot with plastic wrap.  The plastic will even shrink up around the pot and provide a tight seal.  Need it to vent some?  Cut a small slash in the plastic with a sharp knife.  Remove the wrap with tongs or something else long.  Steam can give really bad burns.

You need 1/2 cup of liquid and all you have is a 1 cup dry measure?  No problem.  Hold the measure at a 45 degree angle then pour slowly so the surface of the liquid you’re measuring just comes to the lip of the cup on one side and just meets the bottom of the cup on the other side.  Voilà–1/2 cup!  Geometry at work.  And you thought you’d never have to bisect anything ever again!

Need a quick chocolate glaze on the fly?  Combine equal parts of corn syrup and heavy cream and heat them to just below a boil.  Add dark chocolate, a bit at a time, whisking all the while, until the mixture coats your finger (okay, or a spoon) without the skin (metal) showing through.  Cool over a water bath–it should thicken up a bit more as it cools.  The corn syrup is for shine, and don’t forget the pinch of salt!

Fan Karen reminds me: If you need buttermilk and don’t have any on hand, add a healthy squirt of lemon juice or vinegar to whole milk, stir to distribute, and let sit for ten minutes.  Also, be aware that pretty much any dairy can be subbed for other dairy products. Acidic dairy such as creme fraiche, sour cream, yogurt and buttermilk can all stand in for each other. And “sweet” dairy such as cream, half and half, whole milk and 2% milk can also stand in for each other in baking.  Just remember, the higher the fat content of the dairy, the more tender the final product.


Click here to learn to fold a paper cone out of a parchment triangle for decorating.

If your standard American icing, made with 10x powdered sugar, is too thin, don’t add more sugar.  Sugar is hygroscopic and will attract more water, and you will end up with a soupy mess.  Try adding more butter instead.

You know how they say to brush down the insides of your pan of sugar syrup with a wet brush to get rid of sugar crystals?  Don’t do that.  As soon as your water and sugar come to a boil, slap a lid or a piece of plastic wrap on top and let boil for 2-3 minutes.  This will wash off any errant sugar crystals, and you won’t end up with a sticky brush.

And as long as we’re talking about caramel, the darker you take it, the less sweet and more complex the flavor will be. The lighter your caramel is, the sweeter and more one-note the caramel is.  I tend to take mine to Pretty Darned Dark.  And always add salt to caramel–it will counteract any bitterness and really bring out the complexity of flavor, even in a light caramel.

After you use a vanilla bean, wash it well, let it air dry and then throw it in the sugar bowl.  You can also take the sugar and a vanilla bean and whir them up in the food processor for a couple of minutes.  Either way:  vanilla sugar.

Most cookie dough benefits from some ripening in the fridge. If you have the patience, cover and refrigerate your dough overnight. Or even over two nights. Even a couple of hours makes a difference. The rest allows the flavors to develop and marry happily and also for the flour to completely hydrate.

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