10 Baking Hacks You'll Wish You Knew Sooner

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There's little that flour, butter and sugar can't solve, so many of us gravitate to baking for comfort and stress relief. Anyone can follow the directions on the back of a box of cake mix. It's time to elevate your game in the kitchen with a few simple baking tricks that lead to delicious results.

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1. Boost Flavor With Milk Powder

From cakes to cookies and even breads, most baked goods can be improved with the addition of just a little powdered milk. This secret weapon adds silkiness and depth of flavor to a recipe without adding extra liquid. Add just a tablespoon of the powder to your other dry ingredients before mixing them with wet ingredients.

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Why waste money on customized cookie cutters when you can make your own at home? The thin aluminum of a soda can is just flexible enough for you to manipulate into a shape. Wearing safety gloves, use sharp shears to cut the top and bottom off the can and then wash the metal well. Cut down the side of the can to make a rectangle and then cut that in half to create two metal strips. Crimp the edges together to make one long strip. Bend down the sharp edges of the metal and form the long strip into your desired shape.

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3. Rescue Hardened Brown Sugar

Brown sugar has an unfortunate tendency to turn into hardened sugar rocks, which may be delicious but aren't great for baking. If you're going to accurately measure it and make sure the sugar is evenly distributed throughout the recipe, you have to soften it first. There's a super easy fix. Put brown sugar in a microwave-safe bowl and place a damp paper towel on top. Microwave the bowl for 20 seconds. Break up the sugar with a fork and repeat if necessary.

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4. Create a Makeshift Bundt Pan

No Bundt pan? No problem. Make that ring cake recipe you've been eyeing using a round cake pan and a clean soup can. Butter the cake pan and the outside of the can and place the can in the middle of the pan. Fill the can with dried beans or rice to weigh it down and keep it in place. Carefully pour your batter around the can and bake as directed. Remove the can before cutting and serving your cake.

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5. Grate Butter for a Flaky Crust

The key to a flaky pie crust is leaving chunks of cold butter in the dough, so mixing it by hand tends to overwork the butter and warm it up too much. Next time, try grating the butter on the largest holes on your box grater. Collect the shreds in a bowl and stick it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Then, mix the grated butter into your dry ingredients. The dough will come together with minimal work and should be threaded with strands of frozen butter.

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6. Make Your Own Powdered Sugar

When all you're missing for a recipe is powdered sugar, don't bother making a special trip to the store. Make a substitute in your blender or food processor. To make 1 cup of powdered sugar, combine 1 cup of regular white sugar and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Cover the top of the blender or food processor with a dish towel and then pulse the mixture until it's powder. (The towel will help keep the powder from getting everywhere.)

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7. Use Pudding as a Secret Weapon

Like milk powder, pudding mix adds extra creaminess and flavor to any number of baked goods. Keep pudding mix on hand to stir into boxed cake mix or add a small envelope of instant butterscotch pudding to a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Pudding mix can also be used to make buttercream frosting even more decadent and fluffy. In this case, you'll want to mix the pudding with milk before beating it into the frosting.

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8. Rise Dough With a Heating Pad

Cold days tend to be when we crave homemade bread the most, but the colder the kitchen, the harder it is to get dough to rise. Give your dough a cozy, warm place to rest by setting it on top of a heating pad set to low. Cover the pad with a dish towel, set the bowl on top and cover the dough with a second dish towel.

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9. Coat Pans With Release Paste

You can coat a cake pan with cooking spray or rub it with softened butter, but your cake may still leave behind a layer of delicious crumbs when you slide it out of the pan. That can make cake frosting and pan cleanup more difficult. Try coating pans with a paste made with equal parts of flour, vegetable oil and shortening. The paste won't affect the flavor of food and should allow anything you bake to slide right out of its pan with no crumb residue.

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10. Coat Pans With Cocoa Powder

When you're baking something rich and chocolate like brownies, try cocoa powder as an alternative to pan-release paste. Coat the pan with butter and shake cocoa powder all around the pan to cover the butter. It should help your brownies slide out of the pan, and if some crumbs remain in the pan, it's a small price to pay for an extra-chocolatey crust.

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