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Give Your Microwave More Love

Give Your Microwave More Love: Maxing Out Your Microwave


sharp microwave


As I work on the article I have re-heated my tea a couple of times in my microwave, which I do everyday. As with many microwave models mine has a “baked potato” function that I use when I need a baked potato fast. Re-heat last night’s leftovers? Check. But I also use it as a serious kitchen appliance.

It’s time for you to examine how you are using your microwave as you might be missing out on all that your microwave has to offer. (See our review of our new Sharp Microwave Model R551ZS, with its really snazzy Softening feature for butter, chocolate, ice cream and cream cheese). In our Test Kitchen we consider it a vital appliance, right up there with our stand mixer, food processor and range oven. Sure, we re-heat beverages, but we use it for so much more. In fact, we use our microwave more than any of these other appliances, putting it into action several times a day. So how come so many people relegate its use to reheating and the occasional batch of popcorn?


What Do You Use Your Microwave For?

We think it is because you have just never thought beyond those tried and true uses, which it does so well. It also melts butter and chocolate, softens winter squash for easier cutting, warms honey for easier pouring and measuring, heats our tortillas, and helps reheat and cook dishes especially on busy food holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving. (Our main oven can only hold so much and the stovetop gets crowded so we always plan some dishes around the microwave as well).


Microwave Technology vs. Radiant Heat

Let’s first talk a little about microwave technology versus radiant heat (your standard oven). Microwaves ovens use radio waves that agitate water molecules in food; moisture in the food comes to a boiling point and heats the food from the inside. This inside-out heating is not optimum for every kind of cooking, so it behooves us to understand what it does well so that we can make our microwave ovens work for us, not against us. Radiant heat, which is what you have in your standard oven, is heat that is created via an electrical element or gas, and the heat literally radiates throughout the oven cavity, heating food from the outside.

What this means is that there are certain techniques to employ that will give you your best results from your microwave and you do have to think about it differently from your main oven.


Mug Cakes

If you have access to the Internet and an interest in food (and of course if you are reading this, that’s you!) then you know of the proliferation of mug cakes in the last few years. These are individual servings sized cakes, made in mugs, right in the microwave.

We were in a particularly snacky mood and decided to go for broke with one of our favorite decadent flavor combinations. Behold our Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Mug Cake. Or as we like to call it, Chocolate Crazy Monkey Mug Cake for One.


Toasting Nuts?

We came across a mention of “toasting” nuts in the microwave at and they referenced Harold McGee, whom we love for the explaining science and technical aspects around all things food. We were doubtful, but curious. Could we “toast” nuts in the microwave? The thing about his book, On Food and Cooking, is that every time we read it we pick up new things, such as this concept.

Our tests show that you can, but the results are not quite as good as when done in the oven, however, when we need let’s say just 1/2 cup of nuts to be incorporated into a dish, turning on the oven seems like such a waste of time and energy. Here’s how to do it in the microwave.

Whether you store your nuts at room temperature, in the fridge or in the freezer, spread them out in a single layer, well spaced apart, on a microwave safe tray or flat plate. Microwave on High power for 1-minute intervals and keep checking until nuts smell fragrant and have taken on some color. The timing will depend on the strength of your microwave, the amount of nuts and the temperature they were to begin with (sometimes ours are right out of the freezer). Now, with oven baking we always find that the construction of the pans that we use can greatly affect the heat conductivity and therefore the timing and the toasting results. With the microwave we experienced very even, reliable results every time.

Ripening Bananas

We have written about ripening bananas using a radiant heat oven, but what about the microwave? It can be done and it is fast. One caveat, while the bananas will soften to a good consistency for making banana bread, they do not sweeten very much as the sugars to not have time to convert during this process.

Pierce the unripe bananas, still in the peel, several times all over with a fork. Place bananas on a paper towel in the microwave and heat on High power for 30 seconds. Check bananas for texture. Depending on how green or ripe your bananas were to begin with, this process might have to be repeated 3 or 4 times, always in 30 second intervals, to get to the desired softness. Allow the bananas to cool, then use in a smoothie or baking recipe.

Reheating, Cooking and…Cleaning?

And no article on using your microwave is complete without mentioning the old sponge trick. Okay, it isn’t food, but we use sponges all the time for cleanup and the microwave can sterilize them, extending their lifespan.

Make sure sponges have no metal fibers. Place in microwave and power on High power for 2 minutes. Voila! Also, to clean the microwave itself if it should have some baked on crud, we do the following. Stir together a 50/50 mixture of distilled white vinegar and water in a microwave safe bowl and heat on High power for a few minutes or until some steam is created. The steam will soften the grime. Allow bowl to cool briefly in microwave and then wipe down the interior with your newly cleaned sponge.

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The Danger of Weight Charts

How to Use Weight Charts

weighing vs measuring

Did the word “danger” grab your attention? Okay so we are not talking about shark attacks or anything that dramatic, but how about when you take the time to shop for ingredients and make a cake from scratch only to get lackluster or horrible results? This is what I call a dessert tragedy.


weighing vs measuring2


There are many reasons why we might not get great end results – oven not calibrated, you substituted ingredients, batter is over worked – the list goes on and on. But let’s take a look at how a recipe is presented and how it is that you actually go about making it. For instance if the recipe says:

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

That is not the same thing as:

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour.

The first is suggesting that you measure the flour, then sift it. The second one, vice versa. These will give you different amounts of flour.

Now let’s say you are following a recipe, like the one’s on Bakepedia, that call for 1 cup all-purpose flour and you decide you want to weigh instead of measure by volume. Maybe you Google a substitution chart or maybe you have one from a baking book. If you use a search engine I assure you that you will find weights telling you that 1 cup of flour is 4 ounces, 4.5 ounces, 5 ounces and even other amounts. How come? Because we measure cups of flour differently. You have to know how the person who developed the recipe measured their flour or you will not have accurate results.

Do not use a chart from one source and apply it to another source.

So, our suggestion is always to make the recipe as described. If the person used weight and tells you their cup of flour weighs 4.5 ounces, then you are good to go as long as you have a scale. If the baker used a dip and sweep method after aerating the dry ingredient, then follow suit. That’s what we do in the Test Kitchen by the way and you can read more here at How to Measure Dry Ingredients.

Not get into the kitchen and bake!



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Do-Ahead Desserts

Do-Ahead Desserts

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 3.15.25 PM

No, I am not including a recipe here. Just some savvy tips on how you can turn almost any dessert into a Do-Ahead Dessert. How? Well, some desserts cannot be tamed, no matter what. For example a hot soufflé must be served forthwith. But usually, if you read through a recipe carefully, you will note that there are steps that allow you to pause. So even if the recipe isn’t called a Do-Ahead Dessert, you might be able to turn it into one. With no further ado, consider the following:

  • Any recipe that calls for refrigerator or freezer time in the midst of preparation means you can stop at that point and come back to it later. Take advantage of these rests – for you and the desert!
  • Frozen desserts are your friend. Look for recipes for ice creams and sorbets, of course, but also seek out frozen soufflés, semi-freddo, frozen parfaits and the like.
  • Any recipe with the term “icebox” must be made ahead and chilled. Use it to your advantage.
  • Many desserts can be frozen. Many butter-rich cookies freeze well such as shortbread and chocolate chip cookies.
  • Making pecan pies? Pumpkin pies? Did you know that the fillings can be made days in advance and refrigerated. Just bring to room temp before filling your pie shells.
  • Trifles are a perfect dessert for this time of year. They getter better when they sit at least overnight! Try our Spiced Pear White Chocolate version.

Now you are armed and ready to bake and create at your leisure!



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Fall = Pie Season: Our Best Pie Making Tips

Our Best Pie Making Tips

Craftsy using rolling pin to lift pie crust

For some reason fall always brings out the pie baker inside us. Sure, we make pie in the spring and summer with fresh berries but there is something about apple and pumpkin season to get our creative juices going. Pies are a funny thing. You hear of Grandmas throwing them together without recipes and having fabulous success every time and yet making and handling the crust can instill fear in many bakers. Here are some of our best pie making tips and ones gathered from some of our favorite and most trusted sources.

First let’s talk about temperature. Think Cold. Water should be cold (drop a few ice cubes in there), your fingers shouldn’t be overly warm (for when handling) and you can even chill your bowl and/or stick your flour in the freezer for 15 minutes. The fat, of course, should be very cold, too. Heat melts the fat and prevents all those nice air pockets you want to create.

Whether you make by hand with a Hand Blender, by food processor or stand mixer fitted with flat paddle is up to you. Making it by hand allows you to really feel (literally) what you are doing and will help with your understanding of the process. Here is a great video from Epicurious on how to make piecrust by hand.


pie plate comparison



Choosing your pie plate is important as well. Think you are looking at a 9-inch pie plate in your cupboard? You might be, or it might be a 9-insh deep dish or a 9 ½-inch plate, both of which have very different volume amounts than a classic 9-inch and can wreak havoc if they are not the sized intended by the recipe developer. Read more about Choosing Your Pie Plate before embarking on your pie making adventure. Now, let’s say you are taking the pie to a party and don’t want to lug one of your pie plates and you are eyeing those aluminum disposable pie plates from the supermarket. We used to say NEVER to those until a friend told us about a genius tip of hers. She forms and bakes her pie in the disposable but during baking it is nestled inside one of her Pyrex plates. The pie bakes more evenly than if in the disposable alone and for travel, she simply leaves the Pyrex at home. Problem solved!




How about do-ahead tips? We’ve got ‘em! Piecrust freezes very well, but waiting for a large hunk of pie dough to defrost tales forever and it often defrosts unevenly. We like to do the following: roll out your pie crust on parchment, then roll up inside the parchment, slip into a mailer tube and freeze. It’s like having refrigerator dough on hand but it’s homemade! Defrost overnight or simply take out of freezer and let stand until pliable. So handy (as long as you have room in the freezer).




If you missed Rose Levy Beranbaum’s new Pie Kit, you should definitely check it out (seen above). If you don’t have a good surface to roll your crust on, this can solve your problem.


Pie crust crimp with pearls

Bet you have seen plenty of images with crusts with picture perfect decorative edges…well nothing beats this article on Guerrilla Pie Crust Tips. Trust us…now go bake some pie!


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The Cheese Course as Dessert

The Cheese Course as Dessert

cheese display

Sometimes shaking it up a little bit is the exact thing that is needed. You don’t always have to end the meal with something baked and sweet. In many areas of Europe the mail meal is followed by a cheese course and I figured it was high time that we examined the Cheese Course as Dessert here at Bakepedia. When I am in France, in particular, and come across this tradition I never feel wanting for sweets. Rather I am entranced by the array of cheeses and dive in with gusto and a sense of adventure.

In our opinion the best cheese course provides choices. It’s almost like a sweet tray of mignardises. Now, there are similarities to presenting a dessert cheese display and creating one as an appetizer, but there are differences as well. If intended to precede the meal, I will often include other savory items such as charcuterie and olives, cornichons and perhaps some grainy mustard. When I am gathering cheeses for a dessert course I think a bit sweeter. In addition to the cheeses I will add fruit, both fresh and dried, and perhaps some nuts. When it comes to the cheeses, that’s where the similarities reign.

Sometimes I will present an array of goat cheeses from fresh, to semisoft, to aged and firm. Or do the same with sheep or cow as the milk source. More often than not I select an array of varied textures and also vary the milk source. So a fresh goat cheese might be next to an aged sheep cheese and so on. I like to have a raw milk selection and always something very pungent like a blue – they pair so well with fruit from fresh pears to dried grapes. The dried grapes on the vine in the image(see below) are from Earthy Delights and they are always a conversation starter. Ultra-creamy double and triple crème cheeses are most welcomed during a dessert course and one of our favorites is Fromager d’Affinois. Here we offered a garlic and herb version as a more savory option.

blueberry sauce on cheese

Here we are showing Laura Chenel’s Original Log Goat Cheese. Back in the early 1980s Laura began a mission to bring fresh goat cheeses to the masses and hers were the first we enjoyed that were US produced. This log is always popular. It is mild and creamy and always consistent. We topped it with a Maple Blueberry Compote.

The round in the front is a bit of a departure. It is a vegan almond milk “cheese” from Kite Hill. They have soft, ricotta-like cheeses as well as this semi-soft product.

The lovely wedge in the front with the ribbon of vegetable ash is an aged goat – Humboldt Fog. Guests always ask about the demarcation beneath the rind; it is a natural occurrence with this cheese as it ages.


Spanish cheese closeup

On the right, served with Quince Paste and Marcona Almonds, is a hunk of the smoked, Spanish Etxegarai sheep cheese from the Basque region. It is smoked over beech wood and has a full, sheepy finish.

For the blue on the left I went local – to me, anyway. This is Great Hill Blue made with raw unhomogenized milk in Marion, MA. If you are lucky enough to live near cheese producers, this is a nice touch.

For the dessert cheese course I always include a plain and simple baguette. I leave the rosemary scented and olive loaves for appetizers. The one exception is a nutty bread or a bread featuring dried fruit, like the cranberry walnut pictured. These can work quite well with the dessert course. We added some gluten-free crackers to our basket, too.

You could consider serving a small simple salad. Perhaps with a mixture of greens, including some bitter greens such as arugula and frisee. A simple olive oil vinaigrette won’t overpower the cheeses. I have always been a fan of salad later in the meal.

As for amount of cheese, it can vary depending on how rich the preceding meal was, and can range from anywhere from ½-ounce to 2 ounces per person per cheese. It also depends on the number of cheeses. The thing with cheese, however, is that leftovers are always nice to have, so I like to be generous with my purchasing. I wouldn’t necessarily by a pricey cheese for an omelet, but if I have it I use it and breakfast the next day is heavenly.

Temperature is very important! Cheeses must be room temperature. Soft cheeses should be spilling forth from their rinds…the flavors will be at their best. I cannot over state this. Give your cheeses several hours at room temperature.

In addition to the grapes and strawberries and candied pecans we chose you could offer fresh figs and have a small jar of honey available for drizzling. Steer clear of citrus, though, which does nothing to enhance the cheeses.

You can recommend to your guests to begin with the milder cheeses, like the Laura Chenel goat, and proceed to the more robust, ending with the blue. Personally, I just dive in and hop around and eat to my heart and palate’s content.

As for display, we like to use large pieces of slate or natural stone. A wooden cheese board can work well, too.

Dessert wines such as a tokai, late harvest gewurztraminer, sauternes or a Moscato d’Asti would be a nice addition, or consider a sherry such as Pedro Ximenez. Sweet beers could work as well.

I hope this has given you some food for thought and next time you are planning dessert, why not think cheese.


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Dump Cakes

Dump Cakes



Who doesn’t like a good homemade dessert? No one I know. But the reasons I hear the most often for why folks don’t bake are that it is too hard or time consuming. Dump cakes promise to streamline the process. They are, like they sound, a dessert that involves dumping ingredients into a bowl or even right into the baking pan to mix. That’s it. They are supposed to be about convenience. But if you have been hanging around Bakepedia for a while you know that high quality ingredients and taste are usually how we decide to make a recipe and so many of the dump cake recipes we come across use boxed cake mix and canned pie fillings and the like. We went into the kitchen and took a stab at making a dump cake from scratch with great results – check out our Peaches and Cream Dump Cake.

But let’s look at where these came from. The history is murky and there is also some overlap with what are sometimes called Wacky Cake and also Crazy Cake. From what we can tell, the “dump” cakes of late are of the boxed cake mix/canned fruit variety, but way back in the early 1900s there were cakes that were made by mixing everything together, sometimes in a prescribed order. The techniques varied from mixing right in the baking pan, to mixing in a bowl and transferring to baking pan(s), to recipes where the directions are unclear. But they were all meant to be easy and basically a dump-and-mix approach. In the lean times of both world wars the recipes were often eggless and butter-less, due to ingredient shortages, and their “wacky” and “crazy” titles were comments on how amazing it was that they worked!

Whatever you call them, there is certainly something to be said about a dessert that can be made and baked in the same dish and prepared in the time it takes the oven to preheat. Go to the farmer’s market, get some fresh peaches and try our Peaches and Cream Dump Cake today. It would work with blueberries, raspberries or blackberries as well as other stone fruit.



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Bourbon Balls Step-by-Step

Easy To Make Bourbon Balls


This post was a last-minute addition. My son, Freeman, went to culinary school but he is not a baker. He needed a recipe for a cookie contest at his place of employment. He wanted something approachable, delicious and festive – I said, make these Bourbon Balls! I had no idea that he would take pictures of the process but as soon as I saw them, I wanted to share. There are many tips to be gleaned here for first-timers.


OK, first things first. He went to Whole Foods to find the Lyle’s Golden Syrup and some good chocolate (he chose Guittard) but he bought some organic vanilla wafers instead of what the recipe called for. That’s when I got a phone call. He said, “Mom, I only got 2 cups of crumbs out of the box of cookies”. (Recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups). I said that was odd because I had recently made them and had extra left over from my box of wafers. I asked him some questions and he said something about the “organic vanilla wafers” and I said WHAT? The recipe calls for Nabisco Nilla Wafers. He said Whole Foods hadn’t had them so he bought what he thought was an equivalent product. I said it didn’t surprise me that Whole Foods didn’t have them but that the recipe called for Nabisco Nilla Wafers; he had now tampered with the recipe and I couldn’t guarantee his results. He wasn’t near any big markets. I said go to the corner bodega.

A short 10 minutes later he called. Success! He had indeed found the correct cookies at the corner store and was ready to go. (He had combined the first cookies with the ground pecans so he had to buy more nuts, too. I told him to save his initial crumb mixture to make a crust for a cheesecake. He liked that idea a lot).

I explained to him that when you make any recipe, but particularly recipes with so few ingredients, you must pay attention to each and every one. They all make a big difference in the outcome.

Our recipe differs in a few important ways. Most recipes call for light corn syrup. It acts as a binder and adds to the texture, which is necessary, but light corn syrup offers no flavor. The Lyle’s tastes like liquid toffee and adds a sophisticated nuance. If you look at many bourbon or rum ball recipes they will suggest cocoa for the chocolate component. We upped that quotient and use a good quality melted chocolate. All of these seemingly small changes add up to a big difference. And of course use a good bourbon like Four Roses.

bourbonballs mise enplace

Like a good culinary school grad he laid out his “mise en place” as seen above. This is simply the process of laying out all of your ingredients before you start. You can see that you have everything and that they are all measured out properly.


Above is the chocolate melted properly so that it is nice and smooth, with the Lyle’s and the bourbon ready to go.


The recipe calls for the cookies and the nuts to be very finely ground, which you can see in the bowl above, shown here along with the confectioners’ sugar.

These Bourbon Balls are so easy. It is really just a dump and mix kind of recipe – you add the wet to the dry. Once the mixtures are combined a 30 minute wait time is suggested to make rolling easier.


Freeman decided there was a way to make the wait more interesting.


You don’t have to put them in fluted paper liners but it makes them a little more fancy. Sealed in a tin these will last quite a while. I think they even improve upon sitting; the bourbon will mellow and the flavors and texture will improve over all. Here they are in their finished glory. He did a great job rolling the balls small and evenly. If you have a small scoop it can help keep them similar in size, but he just went by eye and rolled them up like tiny meatballs. The roll in sugar gives them a sparkly finish.

You can watch me make these on our Bakepedia segment on The Better Show.


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Making Coffee Latte Art at Home

Make a Cup of Latte Art at Home to Go with Your Homemade Baked Goods

snowman latte1

Millions of coffee drinkers worldwide enjoy a cup (or 2 or 3) everyday – sometimes with a morning muffin or after dessert, other times as a treat unto itself. We recently chatted with George Kim, the Coffee Quality Manager of the international chain, Caffebene – he trains the baristas at every location. He also takes part in barista competitions and participated in “America’s Best Espresso” competition in Seattle’s Coffee Festival as the sensory judge. Through an interpreter we sat down and had a chat about how to choose coffee to go with our baked goods and how to start making latte art at home.


Dédé Wilson: George, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. I thought we could first talk about coffee in general and then get to the latte art that you are known for. Many people like coffee along with their breakfast pastries and also sometimes after dessert at dinnertime. Do you have recommendations for choosing coffee for each instance?

George Kim: In the morning to accompanying breakfast I suggest something lighter like a pour-over or drip process. During lunch, something smaller like an espresso. Late in the evening I suggest decaffeinated coffee.


Have their been any advances for producing decaf in last few years?

I do recommend water process decaf but also recommend adding flavored syrups, like hazelnut or vanilla, so the coffee is more interesting.


George, you are known for our latte art. What coffee and what dairy do you like to work with when making your artful cups of coffee?

I like an espresso blend and for dairy it is easier and better to use whole milk. Milk with more fat creates a foam that is dense, which is what I want. If you use skim or lower fat milk it is harder create a good latte art.


What are the best temperatures for coffee and for milk when creating latte art?

200°F for coffee and the best temperature for milk – for best taste experience – is between 142°F and 160°F. The closer it is to 140°F the milk is sweeter and better; higher temperatures and the milk tastes off. 170°F to 180°F is too hot to drink and also alters the taste…


So your answer focused on the taste of the milk. How about the best temperature for creating the art? Is it the same range?

Yes, 142°F and 160°F also applies to latte art…over 160°F and the foam gets fluffy and dissipates…and any good barista who knows what they are doing keeps the pitchers in the refrigerator.


So you start with cold milk? Does it make a difference?

Yes, both the milk and the pitcher in which you foam the milk should be very cold. The colder the better.


How about non-dairy milks? Can you use them to make latte art?

You can’t create or draw latte art with detail when using non-dairy milk. Because it is not possible to create foam out of non-dairy; only thing you can do is a simple “heart” shaped latte art. But nowadays, there exists a soy-milk made for latte art. If you use this specific non-dairy milk for latte art, you can create milk foam that is close to the quality of whole milk foam. (Ed Note: at Bakepedia we have had good luck with Pacific Barista Series Original Soy Beverage).

Do you have a favorite mug/cup to use for latte art?

It is harder if the cup is deep and small. My choice is a cup with a rounder bottom and not too deep.


Because it gives more surface area?



All the better to see your pretty designs! If our community members want to try their hand at latte art at home, what tools do you recommend for home use?

There are two different gadgets that I recommend. One is a hand held milk-frother and the other is a professional model; there are pros and cons to both. It is actually best to use the hand held because it is easier and the foam doesn’t get to thick…of course you also need an espresso machine and there are many ways to make espresso at home.

(Ed. Note: The hand held George recommends is the Kuissential SlickFrothAlternatively he suggests the Nespresso Aeroccino3 3594 Black Milk Frother but these are much more expensive).


How does one get started making those pretty patterns?

Best to practice at home. Steam and then froth the milk then fill cups with 80% milk…and it is very important to keep times between each step very short.


So you have only 20% volume of espresso in the cup first?

Yes, the espresso first then the milk will be 80% of the total.


Here are George’s instructions for making a simple heart shape – a good one to start with:

1. Tilt the cup toward you as you pour about 80% of the steamed milk into the cup.

2. Bring the pitcher to the cup’s edge that’s nearest you and shake it quickly from left to right (as you are pouring the milk into the cup) to make a round shape of milk and foam.

3. After you create a round shape, move the pitcher in a straight line across the cup, away from you, to form a heart.

4. Serve to your special someone.



Once you get some practice under your belt, try your hand at a snowman!

1. When 40% of the milk is added to the cup, pour the steamed milk right into the middle of the coffee.

CB 1


2. Once a circle is formed, create another circle on top of the first circle. (slightly shake the pitcher left to right to make better circle)

cb 2


3. Once you have the shape of the snowman, use the pin to draw the face and snow flakes around the snowman.

cb 3


 George, thank you for your time and expertise! We are ready to give this a go at home.





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Your Biggest Baking Mistake Might Be Happening Before You Get Home from The Supermarket: Egg Size – It Matters!

Look at the Difference Between Sizes of Eggs

egg comparison image 1

We always stress that following a recipe exactly – especially the first time – is of upmost importance if you want to achieve success. The specific ingredients called for should be purchased and prepped as described. This Tip is about egg size. We use eggs so frequently, whether we are making a large important celebration cake or simply whipping up weekend muffins or chocolate chip cookies for the bake sale. When at the market, make sure you are buying what is called for. The top image shows two pretty brown eggs: large on the left and extra-large on the right. You can see that they are different sizes. Most recipes call for multiple eggs. If you use the wrong size egg and then multiply it by the number of eggs in the ingredient list, you can see how by the time you get to the end of the recipe that you have completely thrown off the intended ratio. I deliberately chose differently colored brown eggs to point out that that makes no difference. White, brown, or even green or blue, as seen below, doesn’t matter. We are concerned about what is inside.

egg color comparison

Now look at this image below of the same two eggs from the top image broken open into a bowl. Again you can see the volume of the extra-large egg on the right is greater. We use large eggs in our Test Kitchen and will always specify. Please use them. If a recipe you are using – or a guest recipe on Bakepedia calls for extra-large, or jumbo – then use that size. Also, as an aside, you can see the chalaza very clearly on the egg on the right.

egg comparison broken open

Rose Levy Beranbaum and I chatted about egg size and you can read more about that in our interview. She talks about how egg volumes have changed for some very interesting reasons.

The USDA has guidelines for egg sizes and weights in the U.S. The weights are calculated per dozen as there will be small variations per individual egg. They are natural products, after all. (Note that small eggs are not typically available to the average baker. They are usually sold for commercial use, which is why you won’t see them in the supermarket).

Small – 18 ounces per dozen (about 1.5 ounces per egg)

Medium – 21 ounces per dozen (about 1.75 ounces per egg)

Large – 24 ounces per dozen (about 2 ounces per egg)

Extra-Large – 27 ounces per dozen (about 2.25 ounces per egg)

Jumbo – 30 ounces per dozen (about 2.5 ounces per egg)

If you must make substitutions, the American Egg Board does have a chart with recommendations.

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10 Must-Haves for Your Holiday Pantry

Pantry Basics for Holiday Baking

Pantry Items

These coming months are filled with baking opportunities and sometimes they are last minute – the school bake sale your child forgot to tell you about, the eleventh hour potluck invite – so it makes sense to have your pantry ready to go at a moments notice. Here are your 10 Must-Haves for Your Holiday Pantry to get your through the season.


Butter! – Start looking for sales on unsalted butter and keep a few pounds in the freezer.

Cinnamon – You should probably take a look at your ginger, nutmeg and cloves, too, but cinnamon is by far the most used spice and you want it nice and fresh and in quantity so that you don’t run out.

Light Brown Sugar – Chances are you have granulated white sugar on hand but light brown sugar is in demand for everything from pumpkin pie to fruitcake, banana bread and gingerbread cookies.

Confectioners’ Sugar – While we are talking sugar, stock up on confectioners’ sugar, too. It will come in handy for royal icing and glazes for decorated cookies, buttercream and cream cheese frosting.

Lemons/Lemon juice – It’s nice to think that we will always have a fresh lemon around but we have no problem with frozen pure lemon juice. Fruit pie fillings are enhanced by lemon juice as is cream cheese frosting and lemon curd is a great item to keep in the fridge.

Leaveners – Baking powder and baking soda have a shelf-life and you want to make sure they have enough oomph for helping your holiday baked goods rise to the occasion. Buy new ones! We like to transfer our baking a soda into an airtight container like the one shown in the image.

Fluted Paper Liners – Cupcakes are in demand for bake sales and birthday parties (school and office) and muffins make a great hostess gift or breakfast for visiting guests. Fluted paper liners make a pretty presentation and make for easier clean up. Stock up on some basic colors as well as some with holiday themes.

Colored Sugars – Reaching for colored sugars might be obvious for decorated cookies but if you have them on hand you will use them for decorating casual cakes, on top of muffins, cupcakes and more. Add some sparkle to the holidays!

Airtight tins – We are dollar store devotees and we especially love to stock up on cookie tins this time of year. They are perfect for gift giving or even for your own baked goods – you do store your chocolate chip separately from your gingerbread, don’t you? Flavor transfers easily from one baked good to another, which is why we are proponents of every cookie getting its own tin. You will most likely find a plethora of holiday inspired tins, but keep an eye out for solid red, green, gold and silver and stockpile those for year-round. Read about shipping baked goods, too.

Zipper-top bags – With all the baking happening you are bound to end up with extra nuts, coconut, cookie crumbs (from crusts) and other assorted ingredients leftover from a recipe. It takes room to store containers, but you will always have space for a box of heavy-duty zipper-top bags. They are our go-to storage solution – just make sure you label the bag! And freezing most of these items is the best way to go.

Image: Peter Muka

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Pie Plates, Tart Pans and Tart Rings

Use the Right Pie Plate for the Best Results

pie plate comparison

Pies are all baked and presented in pie plates, which are typically round with sloping sides, but the actual dimensions are a very important detail to which you must pay attention. It is typical to come across pie plates that measure 9 to 9 ½-inches across and they can vary in depth, often 1 ¼-inches to 1 ½-inches. These seemingly small variations make a huge difference in the final dish. If the recipe is developed for a 9 x 1 ¼-inch pie plate and is made in a 9 1/2 x 1 ½-inch dish, the pie will be too thin and scant and look quite meager. Conversely, if you try to make a recipe made initially developed for the larger dimension in the smaller plate, you will most likely get overflow – and a mess. I use Pyrex pie plates as I find they give the most reliable results in terms of browning the crust evenly. I use two sizes: the larger deep-dish 9 ½ x 1 ½-inches (in the rear of top image) and the smaller 9 x1 ¼-inch size (in the front of top image). Our Bakepedia recipes will clearly tell you in the beginning of the recipe which size pie plate to use and I strongly suggest that you make sure you have the right size. It can make the difference between the pie working flawlessly – and not at all. I am not partial to 10-inch pie plates as I find the edges of these pies overbake by the time the centers are done.


Tarts are made in tart pans, either fluted-edge, loose-bottomed (seen below) or simple rings (seen above), and again, precise dimensions are important. When I call for a 10-inch tart pan I have measured it across the bottom. This is important to note because most fluted edge, loose-bottom pans flare out towards to the top and if measured there, would indicate a different diameter.

fluted tart ring 2

Many imported tart pans do not come is exact inches, as they are metric, so do measure your pans to make sure you have the correct size. Tart rings are exactly what they sound like; they are straight-sided rings, without a bottom of any sort. They must be placed on a pan, such as a jellyroll pan, in order to be used. Coat rings and tart pans well with nonstick spray unless otherwise noted. Take care when forming tart dough in a ring; the ring will be lifted up and off of the tart, so no dough can overhang the top of the ring. The fluted edge, loose-bottomed tart pans that I use are 1-inch high; the rings are 7/8-inch high.

fluted tart ring 1

Images: Dédé Wilson

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How to Prep Shaped Baking Pans

Fancy Pan Shapes Add Beauty to Your Baking


When I started baking as a young child we had round cake pans, square and rectangle pans for brownies and bars and one Bundt pan. There wasn’t much choice for shaped baking pans. I always liked baking with the Bundt pan because the fluted shape instantly made the finished cake “fancy” and decorative. And when you poured a glaze on top of the finished cake I loved watching how it would run down the individual ridges. Okay maybe I was easily amused but as you can see from our images, decorative ring pans now come in a myriad of shapes and sizes.

They tend to be 10-cup to 12-cup in size (although there are exceptions. Consult manufacturer’s info) and if a recipe for a coffee cake or a pound cake calls for a 12-cup decorative ring pan, you can make it in any decorative ring pan of that dimension.

There are pans that look like roses(above) and castles(below); some have simple, symmetrical broad ridges (top image) while others have intricate details. The key is to take advantage of those lovely details – we want to see them in relief in our cakes once they are unmolded!

To do this the cake must unmold flawlessly and this means it must be prepped very well and thoroughly. Here is our preferred method, which Rose Levy Beranbaum swears by:


  • Buy Baker’s Joy. This is a nonstick spray coating that combines grease and flour in one. There are other brands that take the same approach, but there is a reason so many bakers love this particular product. It works!
  • Thoroughly wash and dry your pan.
  • Lightly coat the inside of the pan with Baker’s Joy. It might look a little foamy. That’s okay.
  • Take a clean, soft pastry brush (we like silicone) and use the brush to go over all the surfaces inside the pan. This will ensure that any details are coated and will also remove any excess – brushing creates an even layer, which is what you want.
  • Pour batter into pan and bake and cool as directed.
  • In general, you will be cooling the cake in the pan for several minutes until just warm, then unmold the cake directly onto a cooling rack. The cake should unmold cleanly.
  • If it doesn’t unmold cleanly you will be able to see where the cake stuck. Make a mental note for next time that those areas need special attention. Some pans with very fine detail can be more persnickety but this is your best approach to success.
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All About Honey

Learn How to Bake with Honey

honey array

When you think of honey you might first think of its unique sweet flavor but there is so much more to this naturally produced sweetener. First of all, one honey can taste wildly different from another, depending on the bee’s feeding source, and then there are the properties it possesses that will affect your baked goods. Here is what you need to know before you bake with honey.

  • Honey Basics: Honey is all natural and composed of fructose and sucrose, which are simple sugars and also contains trace minerals, vitamins and enzymes. Honey should not be fed to babies under 1 year of age as it can contain Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause infant botulism. Heating is not considered a thorough enough treatment to kill the spores. The spores, however, are harmless to adults and older children.


  • Honey Types: Honey comes in liquid honey, creamed honey (which is very finely crystallized) and comb honey (honeycomb is present as seen immediately above).
  • Honey Labeling: Read labels to know what you are buying. The label might say what the source is for the honey, such as Orange Blossom or Wildflower. The label also might state “raw honey”, which is honey that has not been heated in any way and is unpasteurized and unprocessed. When you read about honey’s health benefits, raw honey is being referenced. Most commercially produced honey is pasteurized giving it a cleaner, clearer look for a longer time, which makes it more appealing to many consumers. There are no strict legal requirements for the term “raw”, so some “raw” honey might be lightly heated to facilitate bottling. If you buy direct from the beekeeper you can ask about the product.
  • Honey Storage: Store in a cool, dry place, such as a closet or cupboard. Refrigeration will hasten crystallization, which does not harm honey, but does change its texture. If your honey does crystallize it may be used as is or heated gently and re-liquefied (but then it will no longer be raw). It can be microwaved or heated in a water bath on the stove. Do not over-heat.
  • Honey Origin: The food source for the bees will determine the color and flavor of the honey. According to the National Honey Board there are over 300 unique varieties in the U.S.

Note that when a label says Blueberry Honey or Sage Honey is not referring to a honey infused with those flavors. It is honey that is derived from bees feeding on that source.

organics mountain honey

In general the lighter the color of honey the lighter the flavor; the darker the color the stronger the taste. Occasionally this is not the case as with Basswood, which is light in color but strong in flavor or Tulip Poplar, which is darker in color but milder in taste. Sometimes naming the source doesn’t give you enough information, for example many are labeled “Wildflower Honey” but depending on the wild flowers the taste will vary. This Wildflower honey from Georgia’s Organic Mountains has a distinct black licorice taste that took many of us by sweet surprise (we love it). Their Gallberry honey was a new variety for us and many testers thought it was “less sweet”, which lends itself to some great savory applications or try it in our Salted Bourbon Honey Caramel Sauce. We also really appreciate their truly drip proof bottles. You can literally squeeze out one drop with no mess or residue on the bottle. You have to taste to see what you like. Tasting such two different honeys side-by-side is a terrific learning experience and we highly recommend you conduct one yourself. Some lighter honeys to look for are Acacia and Alfalfa. Some darker and bolder ones to seek out are Buckwheat and Eucalyptus; this last one can be quite medicinal.

(In the top image left to right: a chestnut honey from Italy; a mostly chestnut based honey from France; local western MA comb honey and its accompanying liquid wildflower honey; Grecian thyme honey; Organic Mountains Gallberry and Wildflower from Georgia; a different thyme honey from Greece; a sunflower honey (tournesol) and a fir tree(sapin) honey from Maison du Miel, the must-visit Parisian store).

  • Honey’s Health Benefits: Honey is an alkaline-forming food and is said to help indigestion by counter acting anything acidic. Raw food devotees look to honey for its amylase content, an enzyme concentrated in flower pollen which helps predigest starchy foods like bread.
  • Substituting Honey in Recipes: If you want to try replacing granulated sugar with honey, try using 2/3 cup to ¾ cup honey to replace every 1 cup of granulated sugar in your recipe and reduce oven temperature by 25°F. It is not foolproof, but you can experiment. Honey, by the way, is great at keeping baked goods moist.
  • Measuring Honey: Spritz your liquid measuring cup with nonstick spray, then measure your honey. It will slip right out. Or, if the recipe calls for oil measure your oil first, then use same measuring cup for the honey.
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Birthday Candles Make It a Celebration

The Tao of Birthday Candles

candles lit

Birthday candles are not to be overlooked – they are really a must as they signify the birthday celebration and they can be as exciting, personal and varied as the cakes themselves. Beyond the classic, short, spiral ones found in supermarkets, there are tall, slender elegant candles, ones that glow in the dark, trick candles that relight when blown out, candles shaped like numbers, letters, and themed candles such as soccer players, dinosaurs, flowers or rubber duckies, to name a few. Wilton has an enormous selection and I also always check dollar stores and gift shops. You can find hundreds of options online, from candles that look like trout, sea horses, ballerinas, and vegetables to monarch butterflies and pansies.

Rainbow candles

Candles can be put directly on the cake or in decorative candleholders. Simple plastic ones can be found in supermarkets. Reusable silver, pewter, or ceramic sets of birthday cake candleholders can be purchased new, or vintage sets are available from online auctions. They usually come in sets of six in themes ranging from Peter Rabbit, Teddy bears, and more. These candleholders make a unique baby shower gift, and can be passed down to the next generation.

Cake Candelabra Candle

We love this elegant candelabra from Fancy Flours, seen above.


gold moose candle holder

Etsy has much to choose from including the gold moose above (they have a unicorn, too) from the GnomeSweetGnome shop and the personalized silver ones you can order from neatlydoesitsilver seen below

silver candle holder

Alicesvintagewonder has a set unlike any we have ever seen – it is comprised of three wooden rings. Use one ring, two or all 3 as seen below!

wooden candle holder


MotherandSonVintage has adorable wooden holders, farmer, farmer’s wife and animals in a set.

wooden farmer candles

Other creative ideas include using LifeSavers candies to hold candles, choosing a candy flavor to complement the cake, of course, or caramels, gumdrops, and peppermint patties work, too. Check out our instructions for making Gumdrop Candleholders. Take a walk down the candy aisle and look for new ideas.

 Top 2 Images: Peter Muka

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Decorating Birthday Cakes: Beyond Frosting and Candles

Personalizing Birthday Cakes

edited birthday decorations

Baking birthday cakes for friends and family is one of my greatest joys in life. I always begin with flavor. What do they want? Chocolate? Lemon? Soaked in rum? I always try to give the birthday guy or gal what they like. After the cake is baked and frosted and suitable birthday candles chosen, are we done? Perhaps, but why not add something extra when decorating birthday cakes?

Let’s say your birthday girl is a golfer or an avid botanist? A small golfer figurine or a gorgeous edible cymbidium orchid would be perfect. Or your birthday guy is into scuba or dogs? A toy snorkel emerging out of wave colored frosting or a tiny dog toy in his breed of choice perched on top fits the bill. You get the idea. There are ways to bring a much more personalized approach to the decoration of your cake and really, the sky is the limit. You can find new purchased items, you can make things out of soft polymer clay (like FIMO), create origami shapes, make paper flowers, find vintage knick knacks, etc. A great example of this kind of approach occurred years ago when I was making a wedding cake for a young couple. We were discussing what would be on top of the cake and the bride-to-be had two tiny porcelain mice, a girl and boy mouse couple, that she had owned since childhood. They were adorable, size appropriate and held tons of meaning. Perfect.

Peruse the image, which is here for inspiration. I am on a constant hunt at dollar stores, flea markets and tag sales. You never know when you are going to find that perfect little embellishment.

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All About Gluten-Free Flour Blends

Bakepedia’s Overview of Pre-Blended GF Flour Mixes

Bob's 1 to 1

There are now many gluten-free flour blends on the market, making it easier than ever for the home baker to bake gluten-free (GF) without having to buy several different kinds of flours and ingredients requiring you to play mad-scientist at home. You do lose the ability to customize – perhaps you don’t want any white rice flour or bean flour – but these blends are useful for many bakers and in many applications, so I wanted to discuss some of the more popular ones here. They share some similarities but there are distinct differences among them. Of course, what you prefer might be different from what we like or what your GF neighbor likes, but vive la difference! Here are some details:


  • Cup 4 Cup Gluten Free Flour: This blend was put together by Thomas Keller’s former pastry chef Lena Kwak while she was working as the Research and Development Chef in the kitchen of the famed French Laundry in Yountville, CA. Having such an illustrious background got the product notice and acclaim. It does work well, however it has a fairly high price point and also includes milk powder, which makes it highly unusual within the world of GF blends. (They have recently come out with a Wholesome Cup 4 Cup blend, which is meant to be used in lieu of whole-wheat flour. It is dairy-free, but does contain xanthan gum and flaxseed as well as bran).


  • Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour: This flour has been around for a while and is easy to find both online and in many supermarkets, both traditional as well as Whole Foods stores. As with all Bob’s Red Mill products it has a decent price point and simple packaging, which we like. The ingredients are: Garbanzo Bean Flour, Potato Starch, Tapioca Flour, Whole Grain Sweet White Sorghum Flour, fava bean flour. This blend relies heavily on beans and indeed many think it has a “beany” taste.


  • Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour is new on the market and appears to be this company’s answer to a more versatile GF blend, and perhaps a response to the detractors from their original GF flour mixture with its bean flour content. They state that this blend will offer the simplest of conversions for home bakers and we agree. It is now our go-to GF blend as we have found that it most closely mimics traditional all-purpose flour of the blends we have tested. Ingredients: Sweet White Rice Flour, Whole Grain Brown Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Whole Grain Sweet White Sorghum Flour, Tapioca Flour and Xanthan Gum. Available in some supermarkets, Whole Foods and online. Try our chocolate chip cookies and our blueberry muffins using this blend.


  • King Arthur Flour’s Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour contains: Rice flour, Tapioca Starch, Potato Starch, Whole Grain Rice Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Niacinamide (B3), Reduced iron, Thiamin Hydrochloride (B1), Riboflavin (B2). The vitamins and minerals seem to mimic those of “enriched” all-purpose flour and make this distinct among most GF blends. It is, indeed, very all-purpose and works well as a basic blend. It does not contain any xanthan or gums, as many bakers like to add their own. This blend allows that customization. Their GF line is being carried in more supermarkets everyday and are increasingly easier to find. Also available online.


  • Pamela’s Products Artisan Flour Blend. This ingredient list is as follows: Brown Rice Flour, Tapioca Starch, White Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Sorghum Flour, Arrowroot Starch, Sweet Rice Flour, Guar Gum. This can be used as an all-purpose flour equivalent but the addition of the gum is a plus for some bakers and a minus for others. Easy to find on-line but not necessarily in a brick-and-mortar store.
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Top Cake Decorating Supplies

Top Cake Decorating Supplies

Top Cake decorating Tools

Cake Decorating Supplies

Our Bakepedia community is made up of avid home bakers, both beginners and advanced, and sometimes these bakers need different sorts of recipes and information. When it comes to decorating cakes, my top cake decorating supplies work for everyone. You can frost and decorate a cake with a cereal spoon or a butter knife . Sometimes that casual look is all you want or need. However, if you want to take your cake decorating up a few notches there are some cake decorating supplies that will help you get the job done.

The first one is the only pricey investment decorating tool and mine is going strong after 30 years! I highly recommend that you have all of these in your kitchen if you find yourself decorating even a few birthday cakes a year. If you are a Bakepedia fan you know that I love tools and equipment that help make the task easier and help produce better results.

Ateco cake decorating turntable

Cake Decorating Turntable (Ateco)

Cake Turntable–Many resources will tell you that you can use any old lazy Susan, and you can, but sometimes they prove themselves and obstacle. The Ateco, (as seen in picture), has stood the test of time. A heavy iron bottom means that it stays put as you apply frosting so that you can concentrate on your cake decorating. The 12-inch diameter top is large enough to support even large wedding cake tiers ! It is also made from heavy metal that won’t warp. It’s two-part design means easy cleaning. They aren’t cheap but they are well worth it.


Cake Decorating Cardboard Rounds

Cardboard Rounds–These are my only single-use cake decorating supplies recommendation but you will be amazed at how helpful a piece of cardboard is! The key is that you want one in the exact diameter as the cake pan you are using: an 8-inch cardboard round for cakes baked in 8-inch cake pans. It is also preferable, you purchase them and not try to cut your own. The commercially produced ones will be exact. You need the smooth sides of the cardboard because they will be helping you guide your icing spatula to create smooth sides to your cakes, decorated with buttercream and frosting.


Icing Spatulas

Icing Spatulas–These come in straight and offset, typically ranging from 4-inches to 12-inches or more. My fairly flexible, straight 8-inch is my go-to (white handle, center of image). Then a small offset and a larger offset come into play most often. You will learn through experience what works for you. Clean and store your icing spatulas very carefully. Any kind of ding or ripple on the blade will show up in your frosting. For instance, never use them to pry open a can.

Pastry Bags–I use Wilton Featherweight bags in 14 and 16-inch sizes often for cake decorating. I like the soft flexibility that these bags offer and these lengths allow me to fill them with a good quantity of frosting, without being too large and unwieldy. Insert your tips carefully as sharp points can tear the bags.

Coupler–This is a small plastic device that “joins”your pastry bag and smaller tips and allows for quick changing of tips. For smaller shells and rosettes I am partial to the Wilton #18 tip. A Wilton #3 plain round tip is a good one to have on hand for writing when decorating your cake.

Wilton 1M Tip–The 1M is the mother of all star tips. This tip makes the best rosettes and swirls of any of the larger star tips. It is my desert island tip and can create those extra large whirls and swirls on cupcakes that look like giant servings of soft-serve ice cream! you can decorate and create rosettes like on our ombré cake!

Top Two Images: Peter Muka

Other Images: Dédé Wilson

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Tips for Positioning Oven Racks

Positioning Oven racks

If you are using a conventional oven, with a heating element on the bottom and racks above, your items will bake very differently depending on where you place them in the oven. Positioning oven racks correctly can make a huge difference in the quality of your baked goods. For best results, understand the way your oven works and the ideal position for particular items. (A convection oven, with heating elements on top, bottom, and back, and a fan to circulate hot air, works differently. If that’s what you use, the following advice won’t necessarily apply.)

  • In general, the middle of the oven is best for even baking. Many recipes, including those on Bakepedia, will direct you to position the rack in the middle. If no direction is given, assume that your items should be baked here.
  • Items that require an especially browned bottom should be baked in the lower third of the oven. Overall baking time will be the same as when baked in the middle, but the pan or baking sheet’s proximity to the heating element will promote browning on the bottom. A fruit pie requiring an especially crisp bottom crust that won’t get soggy from prolonged contact with a juicy filling should be baked in the bottom third of the oven.
  • Placing items in the upper third of the oven will promote browning on top. This is the place to bake your meringue-topped pie so it gets good color quickly and without heating up the lemon curd underneath.
  • If you have more than one pan that you’d like to bake off at once, place both pans in the middle of the oven unless otherwise directed. For example, two 9-inch cake pans can be placed side by side and then rotated at some point during baking after the cakes have begun to set (you don’t want to move them while they’re still in a liquid state and risk damaging their developing structure).
  • If both pans won’t fit, as with two baking sheets of cookies, bake one on the top rack and one on the bottom rack, keeping an eye on them and rotating the pans halfway through baking to prevent overbrowning on either the top or the bottom. I recommend this only for items like cookies that require a relatively short baking time. With longer-baking items the risk of burning is greater and not worth the savings in time. Some ovens will have 4 rack positions, others will have a 5 or a different configuration. Best case scenario is that you can set one in lower third and one in upper third; just do your best to space them out evenly.

 Image: Lauren Chattman

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