Baking tips from D.C. pastry chefs

December 24, 2013

The one thing all pastry chefs have in common is organization, so it comes as no surprise that the No. 1 tip offered by seven of the Washington area’s most inventive pastry chefs was to read a recipe all the way through before you begin to bake.

Also high on the list: Keep your work station clean, always sift dry ingredients, preheat your oven at least 15 minutes ahead of time, and don’t freak out.

“You have to treat your baked goods like children,” says Ryan Westover, the pastry chef at Georgetown’s 1789 Restaurant. “Give them lots of love, don’t smother them and be patient.”

Here are more tips to keep in mind, but first, one of my own: To ensure even layers when baking a cake, weigh the batter and divide by the number of layers you’re making. (Place the measuring cup on the scale, tare it, then weigh the batter. Put each cake pan on the scale, tare it and fill with the exact amount of batter necessary.)

From Padua Player, of Susan Gage Catering and the Suga Chef: Always separate your eggs when they’re cold. It’s much easier to do when they are chilled, and it will reduce your chances of breaking the yolk.

Invest in equipment that simplifies the process: silicone baking mats, ice cream scoops (for consistent measuring), a digital scale and disposable pastry bags, which are, in fact, reusable.

From Brittany Frick, of Doi Moi on 14th Street NW: Don’t throw out vanilla beans once they’ve been scraped for a recipe. Put them in a small jar and cover them with equal parts rum and vodka. In a few weeks you’ll have a great extract. Or submerge spent vanilla beans in a jar of sugar. They imbue a subtle vanilla flavor that’s great for baking or in your morning coffee.

Repurpose baking mistakes. If a cake comes out a little underdone or cookies a little too crunchy, break them into pieces and freeze them to fold into ice cream for sundaes or “blizzards,” or to use as layers in parfaits.

From Agnes Chin, of Palena Restaurant in Cleveland Park: If you don’t bake frequently, make sure to throw out old baking powder, yeast and spices. They all lose efficacy over time.

From Beverly Bates of Ris in the West End: Bake a cake the day before you want to decorate and serve it. Cool the layers and wrap them in plastic wrap. They will not get stale overnight (the butter, sugar and eggs will keep them moist; that’s their job) and they will set up better and not crumble as easily when you’re icing the cake.

Never wash a rolling pin with water; wipe it off with a clean, damp cloth. Don’t scrub baking sheets or pans with scouring pads. The surfaces will get scratched over time and start sticking to everything. Use a soft plastic abrasive sponge or a loofah.

Hagedorn is a former chef and frequent Food section contributor.

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