I’m not a trained pastry chef, but I do bake several times per week. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to the point where I know a lot of what I can substitute at the last minute (which is great, I’m infamous for my last-minute-need-a-recipe-now when I haven’t been to the grocery in a week). Plus, I there are certain baking tools and pantry staples that I think are essential for every kitchen. Here I’ve compiled my list of Baking FAQ, and I hope they help you on your way to a sugary treat!
I made your recipe and it didn’t turn out. What went wrong?
Honestly? I don’t know. As much as I wish I could be in your kitchen with you, I can’t be. The recipes I post are made by me. Sometimes I have to test things more than once. Usually if something works well the first time, that’s the only time I make it. We have to keep in mind that baking can be different for everyone. Experience, oven temperature, different brands, altitude, substitutions – these all make a difference in the outcome of the recipe.
That being said, I’d love to help you troubleshoot what went wrong. You can either email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment on the post in question. Let me know if you made any substitutions or omitted any ingredients. Did you use a different pan size or a different kind of flour? Knowing those things can help me troubleshoot what went wrong.
What is your favorite kind of milk to use in a recipe?
99% of the time I use nonfat milk in my recipes, unless it’s for a cake. I always use regular milk for cakes, because the extra fat in the milk makes the cake or cupcakes moister. Recently, I’ve been substituting almond milk or coconut milk for cow’s milk. It works the same as regular milk, and adds a little extra flavor. “Milk” in a recipe is whole milk, otherwise I will specify the fat content.
What kind of butter do you use in your recipes?
I almost always use regular, salted butter in my recipes unless I specifically state unsalted. I occasionally use unsalted when a recipe I’m following calls for it, but regular butter is just easier for me to use – I always have it on hand. I have to remember to buy unsalted, and, well, I usually forget.
I’ve started using unsalted butter in all of my recipes. Make sure you pay attention in the ingredients! If I’m using unsalted I just write “butter” and if I’m using unsalted I be sure and specify that.
Unsalted butter is better in baking because it lets you control the amount of salt in your food. While I understand that, I kind of hate it because it’s all a guessing game…especially before something is baked! If you are using unsalted butter where salted is called for, you need to add 1/4 teaspoon salt for each stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter. Reversely, if you’re using salted butter where unsalted is called for, reduce the amount of salt in the recipe by 1/4 teaspoon.
And while we’re talking about butter, I never remember to leave mine out to soften. I almost always take it straight from the refrigerator and microwave it to soften. I heat it for 10 seconds in my 1100 watt microwave. Then I flip it over and do 5 on the other side. Sometimes 10, but it depends on how cold it was to start with. And I never, ever put the butter in the center of the microwave. I always put it around the outer edge.
Tip: the same thing works for cream cheese, but be sure to remove it from the foil packaging first. I just put it on a plate or in a bowl before popping it in the microwave.
- Sweetened Condensed Milk: I always use fat-free. Eagle brand has a fat-free version, and the Walmart store brand does too.
- Greek Yogurt: I love to substitute non-fat plain or vanilla greek yogurt for oil or butter in baked goods. It will change the texture, so until you’re used to it, go half and half. This pin is a good substitution chart for greek yogurt.
- Cream Cheese: unless otherwise specified, I almost always use low-fat (Neufchatell) cream cheese. I don’t notice a difference, but you can use regular if you prefer. I wouldn’t use fat-free unless you’re mixing it with regular or low-fat.
- Graham crackers: often I use the box of crumbs. It just makes my life easier!
What baking pans must I have in my kitchen?
I think that everyone should have the following pans:
- 9″ pie plate or two (that’s the most “normal” size, although some decorative pie plates are up to 10″ – most of my recipes are based on a 9″ pie plate, unless otherwise specified)
- 2-9″ cake rounds
- loaf pan
- 2 regular cupcake pans
- 3 mini muffin pans
- Jelly roll pan.
- Cookie sheets, lots of them.
If you can, have at least two 9×13 and 9×9 pans or include an 8×8 in that mix. It’s always good to have more than one of any sized pan…just in case you need it. I also love my donut pans and my 6″ round cake pans are perfect for small cakes.
My Must-Have Kitchen Tools (get them if you can!)
These items are things I use on almost a daily basis. I know some of them can get pretty pricey, but if you can, splurge on them!
- KitchenAid Mixer
- Hand Mixer
- Food Processor (I have a 12-cup Cuisinart. Go big if you get one, at least 9-cups, more if you can. You’ll hate having to do small batches for larger recipes.)
- Whisks (in assorted sizes; I love my small ones for icings and vinigarettes)
- Heat-safe spatulas/spoonulas (lots and lots and lots of them)
- Measuring cups and spoons (I have so many sets, but I think at least two of each set is perfect)
- If you do any sort of candy making/dipping, I suggest getting an electric griddle. I love my Cuisinart Griddler, it’s my most used kitchen appliance after my stand mixer. I use it for everything, including keeping chocolate warm while I’m dipping truffles.
- Offset spatulas. I love them for frosting cakes and cupcakes.
My Pantry Staples
- Sugar: granulated, light brown, and powdered
- Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
- Baking soda and baking powder
- Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Bean Paste (the latter can be found at baking stores and high end grocers)
- Vegetable Oil
- Butter, salted
- PAM or store brand equivalent, plus the one with flour (Baking Joy or Crisco equivalent)
- Wax paper
- Peanut Butter
- Chocolate Chips (all kinds: white, milk, semi-sweet)
- Peanut Butter Chips, Toffee Chips, and every single chip ever made 😉
- Graham crackers, Oreos, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for baking emergencies (or eating emergencies)
- Baking Chocolate (white, unsweetened, and semi-sweet)
- Cake mixes (always yellow and chocolate and any other flavor I’m in the mood for, but I always have at least 2 each of yellow and chocolate)
- Pudding mix
- Brownie Mix
- Nonfat Milk
- Cool Whip
- Pie Crusts
- Sweetened Condensed Milk
The Store Brand vs. National Debate
If I’m being 100% honest, I use store brands 90% of the time. Food and baking supplies are expensive, and I buy a lot of them, plus all the food for the family. I grew up with that brand Generic, remember it? Bright yellow box? Anyway, buy store brands when you need to, but there are some exceptions to my be cheap rule, and these are them (and, by the way, the brands don’t pay me to say their names here; I just love them!).
- Pillsbury pie crusts, crescent rolls, pizza dough, biscuits, and cookie dough.
- Skippy Peanut Butter (I use Skippy Naturals in all my recipes)
- Cool Whip (I always use fat-free)
- Cake mixes, brownie mixes, and frostings: I like the Big Three brands.