If there’s one thing that I absolutely take pride in, it’s my baking. I was raised eating biscuits. Baking and cooking skills were a source of pride, and insulting somebody’s pie crust was akin to fighting words.
It was scandalous if you showed up to a gathering with a store-bought pie or cookies; I’ll even go so far as to say that a girl would be bake-shamed if she had the nerve to do that.
So I admit that I was socially conditioned to keep my kitchen skills honed, but it’s always been way more than that for me. I love it when somebody groans when they bite into my apple pie, or ask for the recipe to my key lime-pie cupcakes. It’s just what I do.
I was blessed enough to be raised by women who had mad kitchen skills, and I’ve honed my own over the years, picking up lots of tips and tricks of my own along the way. Now I want to share them with you!
If the article you’re reading provides less than you need about this old skill, grab my book – Forgotten Lessons of Yesterday – for more!
First, you need to understand the difference in flours and how to make substitutions. If you have all-purpose flour, you can seriously make anything that calls for bread flour, self-rising flour, or cake flour. It’s just a matter of taking a few extra steps.
- 1 cup self-rising flour = 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 ½ tsp. baking powder + ¼ tsp. salt
- Cake flour = 1 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tbsp. + 2 tbsp. corn starch. Sift them together well
- Bread flour = 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 tsp. vital gluten
Let me tell you, though, I’ve never used bread flour in my life. I’ve found that it’s expensive and, for the results, not worth it. I mean, you do get a lighter bread, but not by much. I’ve lived 40 years without it, so I probably won’t start now. If you’d like, though, go right ahead.
How often have you been half-way through pulling out everything to make cookies or a cake just to find out that you didn’t have any baking powder, cornstarch, or even eggs? Well, the next time that happens to you, pull up this article, or just print it out now and put it in your kitchen!
- 1 tsp. baking powder = ¼ tsp. baking soda + ½ tsp. cream of tartar + ¼ tsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda = 2 tsp. baking powder
- Buttermilk = 1 cup milk + 1 tbsp. lemon juice or white vinegar. Let it stand for 5 minutes
- Buttermilk = 1 cup plain unsweetened yogurt
- 1 oz. chocolate = 3 tbsp. cocoa powder + 1 tbsp. butter, veg oil, or Crisco
- 1 egg = ¼ cup applesauce (not exact, recipe will be a bit crumbly)
- 1 egg – 1 tbsp. flaxseed + 3 tbsp. water
- 1 cup sour cream = 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice = ½ tsp. cinnamon + ¼ tsp. ground ginger + 1/8 tsp. ground allspice + 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 vanilla bean = 2 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup vegetable oil = 1 cup applesauce
- 1 cup margarine … wait, what’s margarine? Butter. Always butter. Seriously though, margarine usually responds more like oil than butter in baking.
Remember that when you’re baking, it’s not like when you’re cooking – measurements matter. Let’s break down the science of what goes into things.
- Eggs add structure. They’re the glue of the recipe.
- Baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents. They increase the bubbles present in the batter or dough.
- Oils and butters give baked goods their texture and moisture.
- Oil adds moisture, but not flavor, so expect a soft cookie or a light brownie or cake
- Butter adds flavor but is denser, so expect a crispy cookie, a fudgy brownie, and a dense but buttery cake
- Shortening is all hydrogenated fat and has a higher melting point. Suitable for use in cookies and pie crusts. Cookies won’t spread and will be softer instead of flatter and crispy.
- Yeast makes bread rise by infusing air via consuming sugar and excreting carbon dioxide and alcohol.
- Fruits will always add baking time to any product, whether it’s fruit juice, puree, or whole fruit pieces.
- Chilling dough made with butter will make it spread less and will add more buttery flavor.
OK, now that you understand the basic physics, let’s get down to some tips.
There are a couple of secrets to making a crispy, flakey crust. First, use SUPER cold water. Second, add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar per crust to inhibit the formation of gluten; gluten makes your crust tough. Finally, use butter. Shortening will make it crispy and it’ll hold form a bit better, but it won’t be nearly as flakey.
To add an exotic flavor to white or yellow cakes, use almond extract instead of vanilla. It was always the secret ingredient in my wedding cakes and people just went nuts for it.
Let your batter sit for 5 minutes or so before you pour it in the pan and it’ll be lighter. It’s kind of like a pre-rise. With cakes, the more you whip them, the lighter they’ll be.
As we’ve already discussed, butter makes them crispy, margarine or shortening makes them cakier. Don’t ever use oil. Chill the dough if you don’t want the cookies to spread as much.
Always cream together the butter and eggs. It makes the texture smooth and easier to incorporate with the flour, and it adds air to make your cookies lighter.
Biscuits vs Bread
Use cold butter and cut it into your flour until you have pea-sized crumbles. Don’t add the liquid until last and don’t mix it any more than you have to in order to make a dough.
The more you mix biscuits, the tougher they get. The same thing goes for cornbread. Bread, on the other hand, should be kneaded for a while, until the dough is glossy and elastic. Kneading makes bread lighter.
Use lard or butter in your biscuits, or shortening is fine, but adds less flavor, so using at least a little butter is a must. Vinegar is a must in them, too.
Baking is one of my greatest pleasures, and I really hope that these tips were helpful to you. If you have any tips to share, please do so in the comments section below – it’s great learning new things!
If you’ve enjoyed these tips and would like to learn more of the skills that were passed down to me from my ancestors, get my book, Forgotten Lessons of Yesterday.
It comes with a ton of handy, useful skills that I break down in easy-to-follow steps and it comes with five free manuals that are incredible all on their own!