My dear friend Julianna is the best baker I know, and she’s as generous as she is talented. Every baked good she makes gets devoured in minutes, equally because it’s so delicious and because of how many friends she’s always sharing with. Pumpkin brownies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, pies, cakes, brownies, banana chocolate chip muffins- everything she bakes is a home run (by the way, she also likes baseball). She’s even bewitched/rightfully convinced every single one of our friends into understanding that raisins actually do have a valid use in baking- in her butter tart pan squares that basically changed my life.
Living with her last year, I picked up a lot of truly crucial baking tips that I would never have thought of- namely, and most deliciously, #2 of her list below. I don’t bake often, but when I do, I follow the Wisdom of Julianna. You should, too.
Without further ado, Julianna’s Chew on This guest post.
After eating cafeteria food for three of my four years at University, I managed to graduate without being able to confidently cook a single dish. Lucky for me, the first year out of my undergrad was spent living with Dahlia, who patiently taught me the basics and has always been my trusty source of easy and delicious recipes. While I can now cook more than a few dishes worth serving, my true culinary talents have always lied, and will always lie, in baking.
While I am definitely envious of my friends who are incredible cooks, no matter how good I get at cooking, I think I’ll always love baking just a little bit more. And it’s not because I have a huge sweet tooth – if I had to choose I’d say I’m actually more of a savoury person. The thing I love about baking is that the product is often so easy to share. Cookies, muffins, brownies- they’re all just waiting to be passed around or to be put in a container and brought to a friend.
Baking has always been the perfect way to both share something with friends and make new ones. In high school and in my first year of university, sharing baked goods served as an excellent conversation starter. Now, baking for my friends is an easy way to make their days a little brighter. On the flip side, it also can be a good way to get some alone time, as the baking itself is often time I spend alone in the kitchen, accompanied by some good music and an open bag of chocolate chips.
To start, here are my five most helpful baking tips to consider before you pick a baking project.
JULIANNA’S TOP 5 BAKING TIPS
(mostly from my mama, Jennifer Duholke)
- Does the recipe involve fruit or berries or chocolate chips? Add more than it calls for! I don’t know why, but recipes in their original form never call for enough fruit or chocolate. This can be a tricky tip to follow for new bakers, as you don’t want to overdo it, so if you want to play it safe and just follow the recipe, go for it. But the more you bake, the more I suggest trying this tip. Chocolate chips are really hard to overdo – I usually do 1.5x or 2x whatever the recipe calls for. Berries are also hard to overdo – probably 1.5x is a good place to start for your first time with a recipe. Bananas can be trickier – try adding an extra one to whatever you’re baking and see how it goes.
- Brown sugar and cinnamon on top! I almost never, ever see recipes calling for this, and it is really such a shame. If you are making muffins or a loaf or something along those lines (think banana cake, blueberry muffins, cranberry loaf), sprinkle some cinnamon and brown sugar on top before it goes in the oven. The end result will be a slightly crunchy and sweet topping which will take your banana muffins from “these are great” to “oh my god what did you put on this it’s so good!!”
- Parchment. Paper. The worst part of baking is definitely the clean up – especially if you have a small kitchen sink and you’re trying to soap up a long cookie tray with burnt crumbs on it. This is where parchment paper comes in and saves the day – putting it down on your cookie sheets will help keep your cookie trays clean and your cookies will likely bake more evenly too! Everyone wins!!!!
- Underbake! A common mistake first time bakers make is overbaking. Cookies come out of the oven super soft so it’s easy to think that they’re not ready. But whatever you’re baking, it will continue to bake and become more firm as it cools, so you should take it out of the oven while it’s still a bit underdone! Plus, in my personal opinion, having something be a little doughier and softer than you wanted is much better than a little burnt.
- Save money by sticking to simple recipes + buying in bulk. There’s obviously a million recipes out there on the internet and trust me that my “to-bake” list is a long one. But since I have limited funds, I tend to stick to just a few recipes that use basic ingredients. If you buy your flour, sugars, and chocolate chips in bulk, baking stops being an expensive hobby. Margarine can be substituted for butter in recipes to save on cash (and it is really difficult to taste the difference, despite what avid butter fans might say). The one expensive item is often chocolate chips – you definitely want to make sure you buy these in bulk as the little packages you’ll find at some grocery and corner stores are WILDLY EXPENSIVE and a waste of your time and money. I also always suggest semisweet chocolate chips rather than milk chocolate.
Now that you know all of the most important tips, it’s time to think about what you want to bake.
Some people are turned off by the “chemistry” aspect of baking – the fact that you have to be so precise with your measurements and ingredients, unlike with savoury cooking. However, this, for me, has always been the comforting aspect of baking – there’s no guessing or uncertainty. The key is just to make sure you’ve found a good recipe and then just follow along and you’re good to go.
That being said, here are two of my go-to recipes that never fail to disappoint. These are sure-to-be crowd pleasers, and are really hard to mess up:
Dahlia’s note: these are literally the best muffins I’ve ever had, and the perfect chocolate chip cookies. They both have a little softness and a little crispness, they’re chocolaty and sweet and JUST AMAZING, OK? MAKE THEM
Banana Chocolate Muffins
(adapted from this original recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/7013/mocha-chocolate-chip-banana-muffins/)
(makes 2 dozen)
- 1 cup margarine
- 1 1/4 cups white sugar
- 1 egg
- 3 ripe bananas
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1.5-2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- A little brown sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle on top (optional but actually VITAL)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Mix butter or margarine, sugar, egg, banana, water, and vanilla in a large bowl.
- Add flour, salt, baking powder, and soda, and mix just until flour disappears.
- Add chocolate chips and mix in with wooden spoon. Spoon mixture into 15 to 18 paper-lined muffin cups.
- Sprinkle some brown sugar and cinnamon on top of the filled muffin cups.
- Bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove from pan, let cool.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from my high school cooking teacher Mrs. Macario’s cookie recipe)
(makes 2 dozen)
- 150mL margarine
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1.5 cups semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
- In a large mixing bowl, cream the margarine. Add sugar and beat until combined.
- Add egg and vanilla and beat only until blended.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.
- One third at a time, add dry ingredients to creamed ingredients. Use a blender on low or a wooden spoon to combine.
- Drop by the tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake for 9.5 minutes
- Use a spatula to remove cookies and place onto cooling rack (or a plate if you don’t own a rack). Cookies will still be very soft when they come out of the oven – one or two may fall apart but that’s okay! Let them cool.