Basic Baking Techniques
Preparing baking dishes and pans
Rub a piece of butter over the inside of the dish with a paper towel, making a thin, even coating.
Sprinkle in some flour, then shake and tilt the dish until it is coated. Turn the dish upside down and tap out the extra flour.
Method 1: Put a sifter over a bowl, add the flour and squeeze the handle to force the flour through the mesh screen.
Method 2: Put a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl and add the flour. Hold the sieve by the handle and gently tap it against your other hand.
Gently but firmly tap the middle of the egg on the edge of a bowl to crack the shell.
Hold the egg over the bowl and pull the shell halves apart, letting the egg fall into the bowl.
Beating butter and sugar
Combine the butter and sugar in a bowl. The butter should be slightly soft for the best results.
Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until creamy, about 3 minutes.
Every now and then, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Cutting butter into flour
Scatter the butter chunks over the flour. The butter should be very cold for the best results.
Method 1: Using a pastry blender, make quick chopping motions, pressing down firmly into the butter.
Method 2: Using 2 table knives, cut through the butter and flour by pulling the knives in opposite directions.
The mixture is ready when it looks like coarse crumbs with small pieces of butter still visible.
Thoroughly rinse all fruits under cool running water. Lay them on a paper towel in an even layer to dry before using.
Peeling fruits and vegetables
Hold the fruit steady on a cutting board. Run a vegetable peeler down the fruit and away from you.
Keep turning and peeling until all the skin is removed.
Zesting citrus fruits
Using short strokes, rub the citrus fruit over the small holes of a box grater, turning the fruit as you work.
Rub off only the colored part of the skin (the zest). Avoid the white part underneath because it tastes bitter.
Juicing citrus fruits
Hold the fruit on its side on a cutting board and cut it in half. Twist each half over the cone of a juicer, then strain the juice through a fine-mesh sieve.
Hold the fruit steady on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut down through the center of the fruit at the stem.
Put the fruit halves, cut side down, on the cutting board. Cut each piece in half lengthwise to make quarters.
Turn 1 quarter of the fruit onto one side and trim away the stem and core. Repeat with the remaining 3 quarters.
Hulling (or coring) strawberries
Easy method: Using a small, sharp knife, cut across the top of the berry, removing the stem.
Advanced method: Insert the tip of a small, sharp knife near the stem and turn the blade in a circle, removing the stem.
Use the strawberries whole or cut lengthwise into halves or slices.
Working with puff pastry
Thaw the frozen puff pastry unopened in the refrigerator. Gently unfold it on a lightly floured or sugared surface.
When not in use, keep the pastry covered with a towel so it does not dry out.
Roll out the pastry with a rolling pin on the lightly floured or sugared surface.
Put the chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Select a saucepan in which the bowl will rest comfortably on top. Fill the pan one-third full with water.
Heat the water over medium heat until steaming. Place the bowl on top. Make sure the bowl does not touch the water.
As the chocolate softens, stir it with a wooden spoon until melted and smooth. Use a pot holder or oven mitt and be careful of the hot steam!
Testing for doneness
Using an oven mitt to steady the pan, poke a wooden skewer or a toothpick into the center of a baked cake or muffin and then pull it straight out.
If gooey batter is stuck to the toothpick, the cake or muffin needs to bake longer.
If no crumbs are clinging to the toothpick, the cake or muffin is finished baking.
Dusting with sugar
Put confectioners sugar in a fine-mesh sieve. Move the sieve slowly over the surface of the baked good while tapping it gently against your other hand.
Using an electric mixer on low speed, beat the cream. Increase the speed to medium-high as the cream thickens. It will take about 3 minutes.
Turn off the mixer and lift the beaters. The cream is ready if it stands in medium-firm peaks. Be careful not to beat the cream too long!
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kids Baking, by Abigail Johnson Dodge (Oxmoor House, 2003).