Tips and Tricks

As I blog my way through the adventures of baking, I decided to share some tips and tricks I've learned from my own experiences....and by experiences I more than likely mean mishaps! If you have a tip or trick you think would benefit the good of the people, please let me know and I'll add it to the list!

1) Some General Rules for Buttercream
When it comes to the consistency, buttercream is something that can easily be fixed. Because the basic ingredients are pretty simple, it is just a matter of adding a little something here or there to help get the right consistency.

Too runny or thin?
-add some more powdered sugar, I suggest by 1/3 cup increments.
Too dry?
-try adding some liquid: water, milk, juice or cream (I suggest by the TBS).
-don't be afraid to add a little more butter or crisco
Too thick?
-Liquid can also be used to thin on a super thick icing.

*If you're still having trouble, let your icing sit for a few minutes. The heat from the mixer is basically reacting with the butter and sometimes its best to take a step back and let it reach room temperature again.

- Never forget to add some vanilla extract to your buttercream
- Don't be afraid to experiment with flavors... there are a ton of different extracts out there and juices or even drink mixes. Just remember, start with small amounts.. you can always add more flavor but you can't take out flavor.

Butter vs. Crisco
-Some people will tell you that full better is the way to go with buttercream, while others will tell you Crisco is just as good. Personally, I've tried to both and I have found the best way to go is using both.
-For a large batch of icing I use an equal amount of both butter and crisco or just about... sometimes I do 3/4 cup Crisco and 1/4 cup butter.
-For smaller batches I usually use a little more butter than crisco (see my Banana 3 way icing recipes)
-Keep in mind, if you use only Crisco in your icing (and water instead of milk) it will keep longer and you don't have to refrigerate it. This means left over icing could be placed in tupperware and stored for a few weeks before going bad.
-Using only butter means that your icing isn't going to last as long and if you were going to try and keep the leftovers you would have to refrigerate them and it will last maybe a week.
-If you want perfectly white icing, you have to go with the Crisco only icing.

swEEts Basic Buttercream
Yields 4 cups of icing

1 cup butter or 2 sticks (unsalted)
1 cup crisco
8 cups of powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 -1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

For chocolate: add 1/2 unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/2 cup melted chocolate

Simple Ratio for Buttercream
2 cups of icing- 1 cup of butter, Crisco or combo: 4 cups of powdered sugar                            
1 cup icing-  1/2 cup butter, Crisco or combo: 2 cups of powdered sugar
*a tsp of vanilla will never fail you and add liquid in small increments.

2) Parchment Paper
This stuff is heaven sent. If you do a good amount of baking, this is one of the best things to buy. By using parchment paper, you don't have to worry about your cookies and cakes sticking to the baking sheet or pans.
Cookies: place a piece of PP on the cookie sheet before plopping down your yummy cookies
Cakes: Always grease and flour the bottom and sides of your pan. But if you want to make sure your cake comes out smoothly, cut a piece of PP and place on bottom before pouring your batter.

3) Making the Perfect Cake
-Don't over mix your batter! The more you mix or beat your batter the more air you're adding and you don't want a lot of air. You'll end up with a dry cake and miss out on a yummy moist tasty cake.
-Your batter doesn't have to be perfectly smooth, those little lumps in your batter are A-O.K.
-Once you place your cake in the over DO NOT re-open the oven door until the time is right. That's how you get a cake with a sunken in middle.
-If your baked cake is pulling away from the sides, it's probably a little over done. That does not mean you failed!! it is just something to take note of for the next time you bake.
-If your cake has humps: no worries! just shave off a little of the top with a sharp one will ever know and you've gotten the chance to taste it!
-When making a layered cake, after you've leveled off the top arrange the cakes upside down- that way you have a perfectly flat surface to work with.

4) Muffins
-To get those glorious muffin peaks, always bake at a higher temperature than 350..I usually go with 375 or even 400.
- If you want your muffins to last longer and stay moister, use brown sugar instead of white.
- Applesauce makes a perfect substitution for oil or butter in muffins and lends to a moister muffin.
- If you're worried about an even distribution of the fruit you're add, toss them lightly in flour first

5) Scones
- Want fresh scones on weekday mornings? Unbaked scones can be kept in the freezer for up to 2 weeks if well wrapped with saran wrap...pop em in the oven and increase the bake time by 5-10 minutes.
- Scones are best served the day of baking, but they will keep for about 3 days if placed in an airtight container. I often place my day old scones in the oven for 10 minutes- perfecto!
- Brushing a fresh out of the oven scone with a little melted butter and sugar combo will keep scones fresher longer.

6) Cheesecake
- To check if your cheesecake is done, tap the side with a knife and look for a jiggle. You want your cake to move like jello, in one motion.
- To keep your cheesecake from cracking while cooling, run a knife around the side after you take it out of the oven.