“How-To” Baking – Docking

Pricking holes in a short dough (pie crust, shortbread, etc) prior to baking is called docking. Using a fork or special docking tool, prick small holes all over the dough. Doing this helps to vent the steam during the baking process and it keeps the pastry dough from puffing up.

“How-To” Baking – Water Bath

A water bath is simply a pan of boiling water that is placed in the oven during baking. The dessert can be submerged directly into the water bath or it can be placed on the baking rack above the water bath. There are two reasons why a water bath is used in baking, to add moisture to the oven and to provide a more even, slower heat source. Desserts such as cheesecake benefit from a water bath as the moist heat will help to avoid the cheesecake from cracking during baking and cooling. It also helps desserts such as custards from becoming rubbery.

To make a water bath, simply place a pan of boiling water in the oven. If submerging a dessert directly into the water bath, wrap the pan in tin foil to avoid water from seeping in. This is especially important when using a springform pan which is more likely to leak.

“How-To” Baking – Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is just granulated sugar and water that is combined together over heat until the sugar melts and becomes syrupy. It is used to flavor cocktails, lemonade, sorbets, frosting, candies and more. 

To make a simple syrup, combine equal parts granulated sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute without stirring. Let cool and either use immediately or store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Simple syrup will keep indefinitely. 

“How-To” Baking – Blind Baking

Blind baking means to partially or completely bake a pie or tart shell/crust before filling it. This technique is particularly useful when making pies that have very juicy fillings like a fruit pie, as they will cause the bottom of the pie to become soggy. Blind baking the crust prevents the crust from absorbing too much liquid. Other pie and tart fillings, such as a custard, require no baking so the crust will need to be fully baked prior to adding any filling.

To blind bake a crust, carefully roll out the pie dough then place it into a pie pan. Once the dough is fitted into the pan lay a sheet of tin foil or parchment paper on top and weigh it down with pie weights, dried beans, or raw rice. Bake according to the recipe instructions. If partially blind baking the crust, remove from the oven when the sides are just set but the crust is still pale. If completely blind baking the crust, remove from the oven when the crust is a deep golden brown. If the filling is not being baked in the crust, cool completely to prevent any sogginess.

“How-To” Baking – Tempering

Tempering is a technique that serves two different purposes. Tempering chocolate is a process where through heating and cooling of the chocolate, stabilized crystals are formed. These stabilized crystals allow the chocolate to be glossy and remain firm at room temperature. Eggs and other dairy products are tempered so that they can be incorporated into a hot liquid without cooking or curdling.

To temper chocolate, gently melt in a double boiler over low heat. Using a candy thermometer, cool the chocolate down to a very precise temperature. Dark chocolate should be between 88-89ºF (31ºC). Milk and white chocolate should be between 84-86ºF (29-30ºC). Another (easier) way to temper chocolate is to melt down part of it and then add in the remaining solid chocolate. Stir constantly until it is completely melted and smooth.

To temper eggs and dairy, add a small amount of the hot liquid to the cold dairy or eggs and whisk together until combined. This will slowly raise the temperature of the cold ingredients making it possible to combine them with the hot liquid without curdling. Add the warmed whisked mixture to the remaining hot liquid and combine.

“How-To” Baking – Cutting In

Cutting in is a baking technique that is used most often when making pastry dough and pie crust. When you take a cold, solid fat (usually butter) and combine it with a dry ingredient (usually flour) the fat particles become coated in the flour thus preventing gluten forming proteins from joining together which create a tough dough. Cutting in helps to create tiny pockets of butter which melt during the baking process and create a light, flaky crust.

To cut in butter, simply cut up very cold butter into small, even pieces and sprinkle them over the flour. Using a pastry blender (a tool with 5-6 curved parallel blades) OR two knives combine the butter and flour together. With a pastry blender, rock gently back and forth until the mixture becomes crumbly. Scrape the blades as needed while combining. If using knives, hold one in each hand, blades touching, and cut though the mixture creating an “X”. Continue this motion until the mixture becomes crumbly.

When completely combined the mixture should resemble a dry, coarse meal with tiny pea sized pieces of butter throughout. If during the mixing process the butter becomes warm and greasy, place the bowl in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes to get it cold again and then continue mixing until combined.

Spring Chef Dough Blender, Top Professional Pastry Cutter with Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Blades, Medium Size

“How-To” Baking – Fluting/Crimping

Fluting or crimping refers to the decorative shaping of the edge of a single crust pie. Double crust pies are generally crimped to seal the bottom and top crusts together as well as create a decorative pattern. This is done using a fork and pressing around the edge of the pie to seal the crusts.

To crimp a single crust pie, gently press a finger along the inside edge of the pastry and use the index finger and thumb of the other hand to to press the pastry around the finger. Do this around the entire pie.

Fluting a Pie

(Photo courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens)

“How-To” Baking – Creaming

Creaming means beating a fat (such as butter) with another ingredient (usually sugar) until it becomes soft and smooth. Creaming butter and sugar together creates tiny little air bubbles which help to expand the overall volume of the mixture. When adding other ingredients into the creamed batter be sure to not overwork it otherwise the air bubbles will be destroyed thus ruining the effect of the creaming.

When creaming, whip or beat the softened (NOT melted) butter alone until it expands, lightens in color, and sightly expands. This will take about 3-4 minutes in a stand mixer. Do not rush this step, thoroughly creaming the butter aerates it which adds to the lightness of the finished product. Once the butter is nicely creamed, add in the sugar and beat until well combined, light, and fluffy. At this point, the mixture may be referred to as a “batter“.

“How-To” Baking – Scalding

Scalding means to heat a liquid, usually milk, until it almost simmers. Milk specifically will easily boil over and scorch so recipes will generally call for scalding to avoid overcooking.

To scald milk:

  • Choose a pan large enough to allow for a few inches of rising.
  • Fill the pan with a little cold water, swirl it around, and pour out. The thin layer of water will help to keep the milk from sticking.
  • Pour in the milk and cook over medium heat, stir occasionally to avoid scorching.
  • Heat just until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan, remove from heat. Watch the milk carefully at this stage, it can boil over easily.

“How-To” Baking – Macerating

Macerating basically means to soak fruit in juice so that is becomes softened, juicy, and the flavor intensified. Fruit can be macerated in various liquids such as liquors and liqueurs, syrups, vinegar, citrus juice, and extracts such as vanilla or almond. Different fruits can be macerated together in order to meld their flavors. When doing this, start the tougher skinned fruits first and then add the softer fruits later in the process so they don’t become too mushy.

Some recipes might call for macerating fruits by sprinkling them with sugar. Although not *technically* macerating as there is no liquid being applied to the fruit, the sugar does serve to draw the moisture out of the fruit. When the moisture combines with the sugar in the bowl it creates a nice juicy syrup. This method works particularly well with fresh strawberries.