Do you do a lot of baking? Less than you would like? Is your lack of baked goods at home the result of not knowing some of the secret tricks of the trade? I personally came to baking late. I could fry and roast and wok and saute with the best for a long time until I even got serious about learning to bake. Because, like many of you I’ll wager, my efforts at baking failed precisely because of those little secrets to the trade. So if you would like to bake more but have put it off because of disappointments and failures early in the process, you came to the right guy.
A lot of really good cooks give up on baking because they run into problems working with dough. I was nearly one of those. The first thing you need to know is one that really pains my anti-consumerist heart to make, but it’s unavoidable: pay the premium price to invest in a highly quality rolling pin that feels good in your hands and is easy to work with. Doesn’t matter which kind of rolling pin you prefer–ceramic, wood or fiberglass or whatever–just make sure you get one that are comfortable using. That means determining whether you want the pin to roll in the middle while the handles are stationary or whether you do away with handles altogether. Great baking also depends on your finding a rolling pin that isn’t tool heavy for intense use or too lightweight to do the job of spreading dough.
Kneading and Shaping Dough
A lot of cooks turn their back on baking because they have trouble kneading dough once they’ve rolled it out. I was the poster boy. To a point, I still am. Here’s some tricks to make it easier on your baking desires when the recipe calls for kneading or shaping dough. Try working with dough on a non-stick cookie sheet if you are having trouble with the dough sticking to your current surface. When it comes to shaping pizza dough into a crust, I tried just about everything and failed. Then I learned the magic of plastic wrap. Place your pizza dough onto the non-stick cookie sheet and then place the plastic wrap over it. Get your rolling pin and go to work. Trust me: you will soon be finding yourself baking homemade pizzas more than ordering out.
If you don’t bake a lot already and then you use these tips to get into the swing of things in the kitchen, you may find yourself out flour when you get the itch to bake something. Want to know how to avoid ever running out of flour again? Or, at least, severely lowering the risk. When you find flour on sale, stock up big time. Then open the flour bags and pour them into freezer bags. Flour freezes very effectively and having a go-to reserve of flour in the freezer during emergency situations is never a bad thing.
Lard it Over Butter
When a recipe for dough calls for butter and you are shooting for a flaky crust, substitute lard for the butter. You will give up a little of the flavor that butter affords, but if a flaky crust is more important, lard will bake your crust up better than butter.
Juicy Pies, Not Soggy
Are you one of the legion of kitchen chefs who have given up on making fruit pies because they never turn out like those you buy at the store? Too soggy, right? Too much juice from the fruit. It’s a common problem for those who want to bake fruit pies but never studied the work of the masters at a fancy culinary school. There is a trick. A secret little trick not widely available to those baking fruit pies at home and it doesn’t involve the nasty and pointless exercise of squeezing the excess juice from the fruit. When you have made that pie dough crust and poured in your blackberries or cherries or apples or whatever and you find that the result really just does seem likely to produce a soggy pie rather than a juicy pie, add just a tablespoon of tapioca. The tapioca will absorb enough of the fruit to keep your fruit pie from being too soggy, but not so much that it won’t be juicy.