8 Baking Hacks to Steal from Pastry Chefs

Find out how frozen butter, lemon-lime soda and your oven light can make baking more successful.

By: Colleen Travers

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Be a Better Baker

The skills you need to say, roast a chicken or grill a burger are very different than the ones you need to master a homemade cake or pie. But don’t let baking intimidate you. We asked pastry chefs for their best tips and tricks to make baking easier and faster. Try them in your kitchen and you’ll be surprised with just how fuss-free baking can be.

Make Your Own Frozen Pie Shells

Use your pie plate to turn dough into ready-to-bake frozen pie shells. "Pie shells can be made a week or more in advance," says Pastry Chef Ann Kirk of Little Dom’s in Los Angeles. "Form the pie dough in the pie tin and freeze. Pie crusts can go in the oven frozen, so there’s no need to thaw in advance." To prevent frozen pie crusts from getting soggy in the oven, blind bake them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 15 minutes — then add your filling and finishing baking.

Use Frozen Butter for Crusts

"When making your own pie crust, freeze butter and grate it into the dough," says Avery Ruzicka, partner and head baker for Manresa Bread in San Francisco. This trick will make your crust flakier; the butter won't start to melt until it goes into the oven, helping crate air pockets. Plus this move also helps you to not overwork your dough. Grated butter will also soften quicker than cubed, which will keep the pie crust's consistency even as it bakes.

Put Eggs in Warm Water to Bring Them to Room Temp

Pastry Chef Chris Teixeira of The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group in Chicago, IL says baking with room temperature ingredients is often best to ensure ingredients emulsify fully, but if you don’t have time to let eggs sit out, placing them in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes can have the same effect.

Make Your Own Cake Flour

"If you’re working with a recipe that calls for cake flour but all you’ve got is all-purpose flour, you can easily make your own," says Karina Orozco, pastry chef at Spill the Beans in San Diego. To do this, Orozco says to measure one cup of all-purpose flour, remove two tablespoons and in its place add two tablespoons of cornstarch. That’s it!

Coax Bread to Proof Faster

"If your home is too cold and your bread is taking too long to proof, you can place it in the oven with the oven light on," says Pastry Chef Kyleen Atonson of Acadia Restaurant in Chicago. "The bulb gives the oven just enough warmth for an ideal proofing temperature."

Get Smooth Icing With Hot Water

To ice a cake evenly (and with minimal frustration), dip a metal spatula in hot water before spreading on the icing, says Executive Pasty Chef Chaney Means of Hank’s in Austin, TX. "The warm metal helps the icing glide beautifully and leaves you with smooth edges," she adds.

Use Lemon-Lime Soda to Keep Apples Fresh

It’s hard to prep an apple pie (or any other apple dish) in advance without risking the apples browning. But Cameron Smith, an executive chef for Hammock Hospitality in Chicago has a foolproof fix. "A quick trick to prevent browning and add flavor is adding Sprite [or any carbonated lemon-lime soda] to sliced apples," Smith says. Just soak apples for two to three minutes and the citric acid in the soda will have an anti-oxidizing effect. Lemon juice also works — but you may find the extra sweetness from the soda enhances the apple flavor.

Use Balloons for DIY Chocolate Molds

Water balloons can serve as the perfect mold to make chocolate cups, says Fabiola Rojas, a pastry chef at Diez y Seis in Miami. "Make sure to inflate more balloons than you need, as some will pop in the process," he adds. Once inflated, dip the balloons into the chocolate and let them sit on a cookie sheet. When the chocolate has completely hardened, pop the balloon. "I recommend using a small needle to pierce a small hole at the top and be extra careful when removing so you don’t crack the chocolate," Rojas says.