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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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DIY Presentation Platters

Pretty Homemade Platters for Your Baked Goods

marbleized platter

Years ago when I was making wedding cakes almost every weekend I discovered a trick that I have been wanting to share for a while. It has to do with flat presentation platters. Wedding cakes have large diameters and they must be placed on perfectly flat and strong bases. Cake decorators have used cake drums for years and while they do have a certain decorative aspect to them with their foil covering, they also leave something to be desired in the aesthetic department. Sturdy, yes. Elegant, no. Wedding cakes aside, there were also certainly times that I needed a large or unusually shaped flat platter (like for Buche de Noel – log shaped) and there had to be a better way.

One day I had a local glasscutter make me a clear glass base. It was inexpensive and I could choose shape and size. I started with a large round and enjoyed it so much that I went back for more rounds of varying diameters, squares and a rectangle for my Buche de Noel and jelly roll type cakes. The more I used these bases the more their versatility became apparent. When not in use for cakes they can be used as platters for brownies and cookies and even for cheese platters and hors d’oeuvres. And at first I loved that they were clear. They blended in with whatever table surface or tablecloth they graced.

Then one day I had another brainstorm. What would happen if I painted one side of the glass then flipped it over to place my food on the glass side? Genius, if I do say so myself. Not only can you custom color your platter, but you can add texture by sponging or spraying or using decorative brush strokes. You can paint patterns or use multiple colors. You don’t have to worry about the paint being food-safe as it never comes in contact, being on the underside. This is hands down the easiest and most inexpensive way to make a custom platter – and it is fun!

Ask your local glasscutter, but in general squares and rectangles are less expensive than rounds – and there is nothing wrong with putting a 14-inch celebration cake on an 18-inch square base! Be creative. Look for ¼-inch plate glass, which is meant for tables and is very strong, and ask to have the edges sanded. To give you an idea of price I could get a 12-inch square for $7 and a 16-inch round for $28 this fall (2014).

Then choose paint. The one pictured up top is one of my favorite looks. It is black “webbing” spray paint and gold spray paint. The “webbing” spray paint (that’s what it will say on the label. I used Krylon) comes out like “silly string”, if you remember that kid’s product. It makes the black “veins”. Once dry, cover with the gold. When you flip the glass over you see the black veins and the gold background as shown in the image. Very elegant.

stencil platter

The photo above shows a glass round with a red rose stencil made with red spray paint and then that was covered with silver spray paint.

I even found glow-in-the-dark spray paint and created a small dish for “Santa’s cookies”. Year round it can be used for your own snacks while watching TV and movies in the dark. You can see your food on the glowing plate!

Our square below was sponge painted with periwinkle blue craft paint and then covered with gold spray paint.

sponged platter

Simply paint the underside to your liking – spray, sponged, you name it. To clean any of your platters simply wipe the top clear glass with a clean with a damp soapy towel followed by a towel soaked in clean water. If it looks streaky, use a vinegar and water solution – like you would to clean windows! To store you do want to make sure that the painted side does not get nicked.

Watch me make these on our video segment at

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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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How to Make Citrus Sugar

Preparing Citrus Sugar For Flavor and Decoration

lemon sugar 1

On the top of my list of favorite kitchen utensils is the Microplane, a fine metal grater covered with thin, sharp metal teeth. It’s the perfect tool for removing the zest from citrus, such as oranges, lemons, and limes as it effortlessly removes it in fine, thin shreds. read on to learn how to make citrus sugar and follow along with the images.

lemon sugar 2

The technique I prefer: Hold citrus in 1 hand and use opposite hand to drag the Microplane across the surface. Repeat, turning the citrus so as not to go over any previously peeled surfaces, avoiding the white pith underneath, which is bitter. The peel collects on the underside of the grater, which can then be mixed, into sugar, imparting a fragrant and distinctive citrus flavor. Make it as strong or as mild as you prefer, but in general, the zest from one orange, lemon, or lime mixed with 1/4 cup sugar is a good proportion. It may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

lemon sugar 3

Use the scented sugar in a variety of ways:

  • Use it to flavor whipped cream
  • Sprinkle it over fresh berries
  • Sprinkle it over egg washed scones before baking to form a sugar crust
  • Mix it into pie filling to add zip
  • Use it to make a sugared glass rim for a cosmopolitan, mojito or margarita


 Images: Sarah Tenaglia


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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 Edible Flowers

Be Safe and Learn What Flowers are Edible

edible rose petals

I have used edible flowers as decoration with my baked goods for years from multi-tiered wedding cakes, simple cupcakes to actual table and plate décor. Sometimes it is just hard to improve upon nature when it comes to color and elegance and shape. There are several things to take into consideration, but the most important is safety! Consider this a primer on using edible flowers safely and decoratively. Get creative!

SAFETY – Not all parts of each plant are edible. For instance, a tulip blossom is edible, but steer clear of the bulb! When in doubt – do not eat. Here is a list of edible flowers to consider. If you are fond of a particular bloom, I recommend doing a thorough investigation of it. And, once you determine which blooms are safe, make sure they are free of pesticides. This mostly likely means you or a friend has grown them and can vouch for their purity or have a chat with a seller at a farmer’s market.

Apple blossoms

Tuberous begonias




Chive blossoms


Cymbidium orchid

Citrus blossoms



Day lily



English daisies




Herb flowers: rosemary, basil, mint, sage, etc.





Iceland poppy



Lemon verbena













Zucchini blossoms


HOW TO USE – Flowers are versatile. Consider the following:

  • Strewn on a display platter such as with these scones below

scones on edible flowers

  • Scattered on a table top
  • Whole blooms can be used on top of a cake such as below


pansies under glass

Last Image: Courtesy Dennis Gottlieb

Other Images: Dédé Wilson

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How to Make a Simple Homemade Wedding Cake

You Can Learn How to Make a Simple Homemade Wedding Cake

wedding cakes you can make slider
I have written two books on wedding cakes geared towards the avid home baker and while this short video isn’t a complete tutorial on how to make a simple homemade wedding cake, it is a great start. My very first book was The Wedding Cake Book and while I updated some recipes and approaches in my second wedding cake book, Wedding Cakes You Can Make, I still use both for visual inspiration. If you are seriously considering making your own or a friends wedding cake, or even any large celebration cake, these books could be just the resources you need. For now, enjoy this video, and please email me with any questions you might have

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Easy Chocolate Curls

Make Chocolate Curls with a Vegetable Peeler

small chocolate curls 1

I like chocolate in my desserts, under and on my desserts. The easiest way to make chocolate curls is with a block of chocolate and a vegetable peeler. It is all about having a sharp peeler and a block of chocolate that is the right temperature. Too cold and the chocolate will shatter; too warm and you won’t get curls.

small chocolate curls

To make the nice little, tight curls as seen in the image above the chocolate should be at warm ambient room temperature, then you simply use the peeler to scrape off curls from narrow side of the chocolate. A wider surface will make wider curls; your choice.

  • Use a large block of chocolate, at least 3 or 4 ounces in size. You cannot get a good grip of a smaller piece and even though you might not use all of it, you need size to hold it steady so that you can then draw the peeler across the surface.
  • Practice with white or milk chocolate, which are softer and easier to work with. Darker chocolates are harder in texture and the curls will shatter more easily.
  • The great majority of the time the chocolate is too cold. Place the block on a plate and zap in microwave for a few seconds, check it by making a test swipe with the peeler, then zap again if needed.
  • Tiny curls like the ones pictured melt easily. Have a small bowl ready to catch the curls as they fall away from the block of chocolate. Do not touch the curls with your fingers! Use a spoon to scoop them up to sprinkle on top of your desserts.
  • Make more than you need and freeze in an airtight container until needed. Will last for months.

PS: Our 13 year-old intern Sofia made the curls shown and she had never done it before! It’s easy if you follow the tips! You can do it.

Image: Dédé Wilson

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How to Use a Julienne Peeler

Julienne Like a Pro

Julienne citrus

A julienne peeler is a nifty kitchen tool that works well on a variety of fruits and vegetables, quickly cutting them into thin, elegant strips. It’s easy to use and many versions have a removable clear safety cover that flips out of the way while you peel, but locks back into place as a protective cover during storage. (I am partial to my OXO Good Grips Julienne Peeler).

This type of peeler is especially good on oranges, lemons and grapefruit. Starting at the top of the citrus, gently press the sharp stainless blade just under the skin, then continue running it down to the opposite end, forming julienne strips. Repeat until all the peel has been removed, avoiding the bitter white pith by not pressing too deeply.

To candy the julienne peel, place it in a saucepan of water and boil for 5 minutes. Drain, add water and boil again for 5 minutes (these steps remove the bitter flavor). Drain, then return peel to saucepan. Add equal parts of water and sugar (enough to cover peel by 1/2-inch) and bring to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer until peel is tender and translucent, 10 to 15 minutes.

Sprinkle a small baking sheet with a layer of sugar. Using tongs, remove the peel from the sugar syrup, shaking off excess. Place julienne peel on the sugar-lined sheet, sprinkle generously with more sugar, then toss to coat completely. Separate strips and let stand overnight on sugared sheet to dry. Store airtight at room temperature up to 1 month. For a full recipe check out our Candied Orange Peel.

Use the candied peel as a garnish for cakes, cupcakes, tarts, brownies, mousse, puddings and soufflés. Or, chop them into small pieces and sprinkle over vanilla ice cream. The candied peel can also be dipped halfway in melted bittersweet, milk or white chocolate and placed on a foil-lined sheet to chill, then enjoyed as an after-dinner treat.

Note that the julienne peeler also works well on vegetables such as cucumber, carrots, and zucchini. The thin strips can be used in a variety of salads, sandwiches, and pastas, or as a filling for summer rolls.

julienne close-up

Images: Sarah Tenaglia

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Tinting Sprinkles by Hand

Tinting Sprinkles by Hand

custom tinted sprinkles

Hand Tinted Sprinkles

At one time it was that sprinkles came in chocolate and rainbow. Then cake decorating supply companies got savvy and started making red and green mix for the winter holidays, pastels for Easter and the like. But did you know that you can try tinting sprinkles at home? Starting with white sprinkles, you can custom tint using powdered food colors and they will have a lovely DIY quality that purchased sprinkles do not. Try these with the Old-Fashioned Cupcakes.

Making custom tinted sprinkles

Making Tinted and Custom Sprinkles

For the images I used white sprinkles from Wilton that have a pearlized sheen. They provide an elegant quality to the finished product.

Back In The Day COVER


Below Excerpted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbookby Cheryl Day & Griffith Day (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012. 

Sprinkles add a touch of fun and color to the tops of cupcakes and cakes. We hand-tint our sprinkles in the same shades of pink, blue, green, and yellow that we frost the cupcakes, using the simple technique my mother taught me. To tint sprinkles, pour white sprinkles into a Mason jar and add a pinch (it doesn’t take much) of powdered food coloring. Screw on the lid and shake, shake, shake until the sprinkles take on the desired shade, adding more powder if necessary. Store the jar of sprinkles in a cool place and use as desired. To decorate a kitchen shelf, fill multiple jars with sprinkles of different colors.

Images: Dédé Wilson

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Working with Baking Soda & Lye for Homemade Pretzels

Working with Homemade Pretzels

The following information about using either lye or baking soda as a dip for homemade pretzels is from Pretzel Making at Homeby Andrea Slonecker. Baking soda can work, but many chefs prefer the deep, rich, classic pretzel color that lye produces, but working with it does take attention to detail and it is not something to take lightly. As a third alternative, check out this article by Harold McGee on how to work with baking soda to make it more powerful than it already is for this application, which is also presented below. If you like the science behind baking, you must acquaint yourself with Harold!

Excerpted from Pretzel Making at Homeby Andrea Slonecker, Chronicle Books. Text copyright 2013. 

Dipping Pretzels in an Alkaline Solution

Dipping pretzels in a solution of a small amount of food-grade lye dissolved in water gives them that unique pretzel flavor. Unfortunately, food-grade lye is unavailable in most retail stores, making it difficult to source and use for home cooks. That’s why most recipes for homemade pretzels substitute baking soda (which is much less alkaline), but the pretzel flavor and the quality of the crust are substandard with this method. In 2010 the esteemed food scientist Harold McGee wrote a story for the New York Times in which he explained that the chemical properties of baking soda can be altered, causing it to behave in a similar way to lye, if it is baked in an oven at a low temperature for an hour or so. I have found this to be true. Still, there is no replicating that genuine pretzel-y quality that a lye dip imparts, so in this book both options are offered. I prefer the lye method and always have lye on hand, but I also thoroughly enjoy pretzels made with a baked baking soda substitute. See following for instructions.

Fresh pretzels home made

Fresh homemade pretzels


Lye Pretzel Method

Before you begin working with lye, there are a few precautions to take, since it is a hazardous chemical when it’s not handled properly. Always wear rubber household gloves that cover your forearms, as it will irritate your skin. Be extremely careful not to let lye water splash on you, and avoid touching the dipped pretzels with bare hands until after they are baked. Also, consider wearing protective eyewear. Make the solution in a well-ventilated room, have the stove’s hood vent on high power, and avoid hovering directly over the pot if there is any residual steam. Protective eyewear will also shield your eyes from steam that may irritate them when you open the oven door while the pretzels are baking. Or you can simply open the door and let the steam escape before leaning in, which is what I do. While all this sounds a little dangerous for a home kitchen, I’ve found that with these simple precautions, dipping pretzels in a lye solution is a safe and worthwhile endeavor that makes a huge difference in the authenticity of your pretzels. To get a crust with a deeply browned, lacquered appearance, the lye must be hot when the pretzels are dipped. You can prepare a cool lye bath by dissolving the lye in lukewarm water straight from the tap, without heating it, but the pretzels will emerge from the oven with a lighter caramel hue. To make the lye solution for soft pretzels: Select a large stainless-steel pot at least a fingers length greater in diameter than the width of the pretzels and tall enough so that the water comes up no more than 2 in/5 cm from the rim.  Fill the pot with 6 cups/1.4 L of water. Wearing rubber gloves, add the lye, 1 tbsp at a time. With the hood vent on, warm the lye solution over high heat just until you see wisps of steam, and then remove the pot from the heat and cool the water until the steam subsides, about 5 minutes.


Baked Baking Soda Pretzel Method

An alternative to working with lye is to dip pretzels in a simmering baked baking soda solution, which will give you a result that is close to the dark, burnished crust that lye imparts. If you prefer to avoid working with lye, or just don’t have time to source it, use this method. To make the baked baking soda solution: First, you must bake the baking soda. This step should be done while the pretzels are undergoing their first rise, if not earlier. Preheat the oven to 250°F/120°C/ gas .. For one batch of pretzels, spread out . cup/ 70 g of baking soda on an aluminum pie pan or a small rimmed baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Bake the baking soda for 1 hour. The baking soda will lose weight as it bakes but maintains about the same volume, so you should end up with about ¼ cup/60 g of baked baking soda. Allow it to cool completely, and then keep it in an airtight container at room temperature until you are ready to make pretzels. (If you see more than one batch of pretzels in your future, consider baking a whole box of baking soda in one shot, since it keeps indefinitely. Sift baked baking soda before using, as it cakes after prolonged storage.) Select a large stainless-steel pot and fill it with 8 cups/2 L of water. Be sure to choose a pot that is at least a finger’s length wider than the diameter of the pretzels and tall enough so that the water comes up no more than 2 in/5 cm from the rim. (Avoid other metal surfaces, such as aluminum and copper, and nonstick surfaces, which may react with the baked baking soda.) Pour in the . cup/60 g of baked baking soda, and bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once the baking soda dissolves, reduce the heat to medium to maintain a gentle simmer. Before baking, brush the tops of the pretzels lightly with an egg wash of 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tbsp of water . This will give them a glossy finish.

Other yummy pretzel recipes on Bakepedia: Chocolate Stout Pudding Pie with Jameson Whipped Cream and Pretzel Crust  & Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcakes

Image: istockphoto

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Guerilla Pie Decorating

Pie Decorating

Look at that image above. If you are anything like me, you are thinking “why the heck didn’t I think of that”?  Seriously, when was the last time you saw a really new way to create decorative pie crusts? In fact, I don’t think I have ever really think about “pie decorating”, but now I do. Read on. Your mind is about to be expanded. Libbie Summers new book Sweet & Vicious, Baking with Attitude is aptly named. I can’t wait to try the salty, smoky bourbon-laced oatmeal cookies and the Fig & Pig Pies (prosciutto and fresh figs). The techniques below can work with most any pie crust as long as it is well-chilled. Summers’ version, called The Cold Truth Pie Dough, features shortening and butter along with vanilla sugar and a bit of cayenne. Attitude indeed. If you come up with some wild pie crust decorating ideas of your own, let us know. I am officially obsessed. 


Excerpted with permission. Sweet and Vicious: Baking with Attitude by Libbie Summers. Rizzoli 2014 copyright. Photos by Chia Chong.

1. Cork Screw Crimping

pie crust crimp with wine bottle opener

For a 9-inch pie, roll out your top pie dough to an 11-inch round, 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape the dough over the pie plate and turn the overhang under to create a thicker rim around the pie. Use an open corkscrew to decoratively crimp the edges (then open a bottle of wine to enjoy while your pie is baking).


2. Measuring Spoon CrimpingPie Crust Crimp with Spoons

For a 9-inch pie, roll out your top pie dough to an 11-inch round, 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape the dough over the pie plate and turn the overhang under to create a thicker rim around the pie. Turn a ½-teaspoon measure upside down to decoratively crimp the rim. Let the circles intersect for an arty look.


3. Strand of Pearls Crimping (see top image)

For a 9-inch pie, roll out your top pie dough to an 11-inch round, 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape the dough over the pie plate and turn the overhang under to create a thicker rim around the pie. Using a strand of oversized pearls, push them into the rim of the pie and pull away to reveal the magic.


4. Tong Crimping

pie crust crimp with tongs

For a 9-inch pie plate, roll out your pie dough to a 12-inch circle that is 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape the dough over the pie plate and turn the overhang under to create a thicker rim around the pie. Use the tip of a pair of tongs to pinch a decorative pattern around the edge


5. Covering in Cutouts

Pie Crust with Cutouts

Using the pie dough recipe for a double-crust pie, roll out the first disc to a 12-inch round, 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape it into a 9-inch pie plate and allow the overhang to extend over the edge. Pile in the pie filling and dot the top with butter. Fold the overhanging dough up onto the filling. Roll out the second disc to 1⁄8-inch thick and cut out whatever shape you choose—I’ve used a maple leaf cutter here (no Canadian chauvinism from me). From the edge of the pie, work around and inward, overlapping the cutouts to form the top crust and using a simple egg wash as a glue (1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk or water). Keep adding cutouts until the entire pie is covered in dough. Be sure to leave a few small open areas, or a hole in the top, to let the steam escape.


6. Kilroy Was Here Crimping

pie crust crimp hack

For a 9-inch pie, roll out your pie dough to an 11-inch round, 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape the dough into the pie plate and trim away any overhang. Crimp the edge of the pie in a traditional way, pinching with the thumb and forefinger of one hand on the outside of the dough and pushing the forefinger of your other hand into the pinched area. Roll the dough scraps into balls and pinch the front to shape a nose. Use a simple egg wash (1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water) to glue the heads into the “divots” of the crimping. Kids love this one. It bakes up creepy cool, and you can teach them about graffiti art from the 1940s, when Kilroy originated. I like to think of it as an educational crimp.

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How to Make the Perfect Buttercream Swirl on a Cupcake

perfect buttercream swirl on a cupcake

If you don’t know about the Wilton 1M tip, then read up because this is my favorite star tip of all time! It helps to make the gorgeous buttercream swirl that you see in the above image, which looks like a soft-serve ice cream cone, but made of frosting! A thing of beauty – and incredibly easy when you use this tip. The tip does all the work. Watch the video to see the technique in action, but here are the details:

  • Fill your fluted, paper-lined cupcake pans about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way with batter, depending on chosen effect.
  • Have your cupcakes baked and cooled.
  • Fill pastry bag about halfway with frosting.
  • Hold the cupcake in one hand or have on work surface in front of you. Practice will tell you which works better for you.
  • Using steady, medium pressure, start in the center of the cupcake and pipe a tight spiral, forming the center of the swirl.
  • Keep piping in an outward spiral until you come almost to the edge of the cupcake, then start piping in an inward spiral going over the frosting you already piped, creating a second layer.
  • As you come back towards the center, make sure you are also drawing the frosting up towards the center, creating a peak (watch in the video).
  • The initial outward spiral creates a base, then the second pass of frosting creates the height.

Image: Dédé Wilson

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How to Make Two-Tone Buttercream Rose Cupcakes

two tone buttercream rose cupcakes The last thing I want to hear someone say is, “that’s too pretty to eat!” I want to know you can’t wait to eat my creations! That said, these could be an exception. The Wilton 2D tip is simply amazing and practically makes the rose for you. It is a must-have tip and certainly necessary for this effect. I have included several images so that you can see how each rose is unique yet beautiful. And since I use Italian meringue buttercream, these will be as tasty as they are pretty. two tone buttercream rose cupcakes-3 Prepare the cupcakes of your choice. In the video tutorial I have used Yellow Cupcakes. Make sure that you fill the fluted papers no more than two-thirds of the way. You want the baked cupcakes to be somewhat shallow to provide the right platform for the frosting. (See our Tip on Which is the Perfect Cupcake?) Of course, you could make these a solid color if you like, in which case you would just fill your piping bag fitted with the Wilton 2D tip with the color buttercream of your choice. For the two-tone effect and rose formation, follow these tips:

  • Take your colored buttercream and fill the pastry bag about one-third of the way.
  • Twist the open end shut and smoosh the buttercream around in the bag so that it is adhering to all of the insides of the bag.
  • Place bag in a tall glass or vase and open the top. Use a spoon to create an open center channel – like an open tunnel. Make sure that the colored buttercream is still all the way around the center tunnel, touching the inside of the bag. The center hole should go all the way to the bottom of the bag, right to the tip.
  • Okay, this is the tricky part: place white buttercream in the center tunnel, pressing it all the way down, right to the tip.
  • Seal the bag up tight. If you are using a clear pastry bag, you will only see the colored frosting.
  • Press a bit of the frosting out onto a plate until both the colored and the white portions are coming out together.
  • Now you are ready to make your rose. Hold the cupcake in one hand.
  • Using steady, medium pressure, start in the center of the cupcake and pipe a tight spiral, forming the center of the rose.
  • Keep piping in an outwards spiral. Lessen pressure as you come to the end, trailing off. Use your finger to press in the “end” if necessary.
  • Each rose will be unique and beautiful! Trust me. This works – if you are using the Wilton 2D tip!

Images: Dédé Wilson

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How to Make Buttercream Roses

buttercream roses

You can try to pipe roses directly on cake, which is possible, but it’s a bit tricky. If you have never piped roses before, begin by using a piping nail, which looks like a very large thumbtack and allows you to pipe the rose on the flat, top surface. Either way, you follow the same directions; if you are piping on the cake, instead of twirling a piping nail around, you will find it much easier if your cake is on a decorating turntable and you will have to work your pastry bag at more angles to form the rose properly. I like to pipe roses with Italian Meringue Buttercream Frosting. Put your rose piping skills into action with our Buttercream Roses Sheet Cake.

Adapted from The Birthday Cake Book: 75 Recipes for Candle-Worthy Creations (Harvard Common Press, 2008) by Dédé Wilson. Photos by Melissa Punch.

how to make buttercream roses, step 1

1. Use a dab of frosting to affix a small square of parchment to a #7 icing nail. Pipe a small ½-inch tall cone onto the paper using a #12 tip.

how to make buttercream roses, step 2

2. Using a #104 tip, hold the pastry bag so that the narrow end of the tip is facing up and just touching the cone. Begin to apply pressure on the pastry bag with one hand and twirl the nail slowly with the other at the same time; you are piping the first inner petal and it should completely encapsulate the top of the cone.

how to make buttercream roses, step 3

3. Make the next petal by turning the nail and piping an arched petal that goes about halfway around the inner petal. The following petal is the same and there will now be two petals encapsulating the first inner petal. You now have a small rosebud, which, if you like, can be left as is.

how to make buttercream roses, step 4how to make buttercream roses, step 5

4. Subsequent petals will be larger. The next layer consists of 3 petals spaced evenly around the rosebud. You can add more petals, if desired, for a larger rose. When the rose is finished, remove parchment square and refrigerate until rose is firm, at least 1 hour, at which point it is easy to transfer them to the cake using a small offset spatula.

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Cake Decorating Tips 101: A Guide to Frosting Decorations

frosting decorations

We love a simple cake with whirls and swirls of frosting created with a butter knife or the back of the spoon, but sometimes we want to add shells, dots, flowers, leaves or a simple bead border. These are all accomplished with a pastry bag, coupler and specific decorating tips. Know that whatever tip you are using, the slightest change in angle of the tip and bag will produce a different result. Varying pressure will also alter the look of what comes out of the tip, so practice, practice, practice! Note that some companies use the same numbers for their tips, while others have unique number designations.

frosting decorations

Here are some basics:

Using a Pastry Bag

You will need a pastry bag, couplers and decorating tips. We like using a 16-inch bag and a coupler, which allows for easy switching of tips so you can make roses and contrasting borders easily on the same cake, for instance. When the bags are new, their narrow openings are too small to fit a coupler; they have to be cut to fit. Cut it just enough so that the coupler’s ridges are emerging through the newly cut opening. This will allow the cap that comes with the coupler to screw on tightly after the tip is put into place. When there is a range of numbers presented for tips, such as Ateco tips #16 to #22, they are all the same shape (in this case, star tips). The smaller numbers are just the smaller sizes.

Choose your tip and place it on your coupler; screw the coupler ring into place. Fill the bag about halfway with soft frosting. Twist the top of the bag closed, firmly against the frosting, which should be pressed down toward the tip end of the bag. Hold the bag gently with one hand down near the tip (this will be the guiding hand) and use the other hand to hold the twisted part closed tightly against the frosting; this hand will press down, applying pressure on the frosting, encouraging it to move toward and out of the tip.

Practice does help! Fill a bag with frosting and practice on an overturned cake pan. This way you can scrape up the frosting and keep practicing.

Writing on Cakes

If you want to use a pastry bag and tip to write Happy Birthday or other words on a cake, use Ateco or Wilton tips #3 to #6, which are small, plain, round tips. The example is top left of image. We find tips smaller than #3 difficult to use and larger tips make the writing too thick. Simply press the frosting out of the tip and write in script or print, either free-form or use a toothpick to apply pin dots on the cake first to form the letters as you desire. Review Our Best Tips for Writing on Cakes.

Shells and Reverse Shells

Use Ateco tips #16 to #22 or Wilton tips #13 to #22, which are all open star tips. Hold the bag at a 45˚ angle to the cake just slightly above the surface. Begin pressing frosting out of the bag and allow it to accumulate at your starting point just enough so that it fans out on either side of the tip and builds up. It will contact the tip itself, at which point you should gradually loosen your pressure, move the tip forward and away from the start point as you also bring it down toward the surface. Gradually release all pressure and pull tip away. Your first shell will be completed. This method makes a symmetrical shell; you can also angle the bag and pipe the shell so that it lies on its side and shows more of an inner swirl. Examples are second and third from left in top image.

To make a shell border, begin the next shell right over the tail end of the first. The tails can be elongated to make thin, elegant shell shapes, or you can make them plump and close together. A reverse shell is a chain of shells, lying on their side, alternating the direction of every other swirl.

Beads and Beaded Borders

Use Ateco or Wilton tips #6 to #12, which are plain, round tips. For individual beads, hold the bag vertically just above the cake surface. Squeeze out a small amount of buttercream, releasing pressure when the bead is the size you desire. By quickly pulling the bag away to the side, if you do the movement correctly, the end of the tip will clip off any point that might have developed on the bead.

Practice will help. Pipe out little balls of frosting right next to one another, creating a beaded look, to form a border. You can also pipe single beads here and there. See row third from right  in top image.

Rope Border

Use Ateco tips #8 to #12 or Wilton tips #6 to #12. These round tips can create a simple border that looks like a twisted rope. Begin by holding the bag at approximately a 45˚ angle to the cake surface. The action is that of an S shape. With even pressure, pipe a sideways S-shaped curve. Release pressure. Insert tip under bottom curve and pipe next S. Repeat to make a continuous rope. The rope is represented second from right in top image.

Leaves and Leaf Borders

There are two basic sets of tips that make leaves. Ateco tips #65 to #70 and Wilton tips #65 to #69 make a traditional-looking leaf and Ateco #349, #350 and #352 and Wilton tip #352 make a more streamlined, contemporary-looking leaf. Leaves can accent flowers or be used by themselves. You can make an orderly leaf border by having the leaves overlap symmetrically, or pipe them angled from one another, one going to the right, the next to the left.

In general, all leaves are piped the same way. Begin by holding the bag at approximately a 45˚ angle to the cake surface. Squeeze gently to build up the base of the leaf, while simultaneously lifting the tip slightly up, then downward and away from the base while loosening pressure. As you pull the tip away, the leaf should form a point. If it does not, it will leave a double “tail.” Simply pinch those two points together to make a neat, single point (moistened fingers work best). Our leaves are shown on the right hand column of the top image.


Use Ateco tips #16 to #22 or Wilton tips #13 to #22. There are simple rosettes and swirled rosettes. For simple ones, hold the bag vertically just above the cake surface. Squeeze out a small amount of buttercream, releasing pressure when the rosette is the size you desire and lift bag up and away. For swirled rosettes, begin as described above but rotate the bag in a tight 360˚ motion, then release pressure and pull up and away. You can make individual rosettes or pipe them next to one another to create a border. These rosette styles can be seen in the two left columns of the second image.

Rose/Flower Buds

These are piped directly on the cake (cupcake or what have you) and look like tiny buds. Use a pastry bag, coupler and tip #101. Hold bag at a 45° angle with the narrow part of tip facing down. Use medium pressure and starting at the base of the bud, bring the tip up and then down, just slightly off to one side. Make one or two additional petals to create a small bud. These can be seen second from right in second image. These make nice accents to cakes featuring fuller roses, as seen on our Buttercream Roses Sheet Cake.

Drop Flowers

Wilton tips #’s 190 (with standard coupler), 1B and 2D and 2F (used directly in bag) are my favorites for this kind of flower; they are used in conjunction with small round tips such as Wilton #’s 2 and 3 for the centers, which can be the same or in a contrasting color. Hold bag vertically above cake, with wrist turned inward towards you (for right handers your knuckles will be facing 9:00 position). Just touching the surface begin to slowly press frosting out of bag as you simultaneously turn your wrist, ending at the 12:00 position; gently pull bag up and away. Use round tip to add a dot-shaped center. You can see our two-toned drop flowers in the right column of the second image.

Adapted from The Birthday Cake Book: 75 Recipes for Candle-Worthy Creations by Dédé Wilson (Harvard Common Press, 2008). Images by Melissa Punch.

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Natural Icing and Homemade Sprinkles

au naturel sugar decorations

If you are interested in creating very eye-catching decorated sugar cookies, but wish to completely avoid using the traditional synthetic food coloring products and commercial decorator sprinkles tinted with them, I’m proud to offer you this special, yet very doable au naturel recipe. Simply by relying on the gorgeous natural colors of frozen (thawed) fruit juice concentrates from the supermarket (and on occasion incorporating cocoa powder as well), you can create a whole rainbow of tempting and tasty cookie icings and, yes, even pretty homemade cookie sprinkles!

To create au naturel icings, just combine the appropriate thawed pure fruit juice concentrate or a custom blend or several concentrates (for example, yellow orange juice and red cranberry to produce a light peach-orange shade) with powdered sugar and a small amount of corn syrup.

Don’t skip the corn syrup; it promotes smooth flow and yields a glossy finish. Though it is optional, you may want to stir a little purchased meringue powder or dried egg white powder into the powdered sugar before mixing in other ingredients. This sets the colors so that strongly contrasting shades don’t bleed together as the decorated cookies stand. (Many discount department stores stock the Wilton brand of meringue powder with cake decorating supplies. Supermarkets and nutrition stores sometimes carry the Deb El “Just Whites,” product or another brand of pure dried egg whites in their baking aisle.)

Creating the homemade sprinkles is remarkably easy, too. In this case, do not add any meringue powder to sprinkles that will be baked as it will cause them to darken. Just squeeze fine lines of the icing through a piping bag fitted with a fine tip (or a baggie) onto parchment paper. Let the lines stand and dry thoroughly, then just chop them into sprinkle-sized bits. If desired, just make sprinkles by piping the dribs and drabs of icing left over after decorating sessions. This is not only convenient and avoids waste, but means that a whole rainbow of sprinkles can be readily prepared in the small quantities needed. These can be stored in little bottles and used like purchased sprinkles, but since they contain no additives, after a few months their colors will begin to fade a bit. Their colors also fade from lengthy exposure to high heat, so it’s best to use them for sprinkling over icings or frostings, or on sugar cookies or other cookies that bake fairly briefly and at moderate temperature.

(Ed. Note: For Nancy’s basic recipe for naturally colored frostings see Nancy Baggett’s “Au Naturel” Rainbow Colored Frostings)

Text from Simply Sensational Cookies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Nancy Baggett. Photography by Diane Cu and Todd Porter. Copyright 2012.

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