As the holiday season draws near, it’s that time when home chefs, cooks and bakers journey into the kitchen to prepare a cornucopia of dishes fit for kings and queens. Pastry chef April Anderson offer tips for the baking novice to help improve this year’s Thanksgiving baking game.

Butter, oil or margarine: Is there a difference between the use of butter or margarine in baking? 

 Yes, there’s a huge difference in butter and margarine. Butter has a higher melting point that translates into smoother, fluffier baked goods. Margarine has more water in it so it can definitely change the texture and consistency of your baked goods. But most importantly, the taste is better with butter.

There are so many types of cooking pans on the market. Is there a difference between cooking with aluminum, glass or other nonstick types of pan? What is your recommendation?

Baking with dark metals will cook your baked goods faster and sometimes unevenly. Baking with glass should only be done when the recipe calls for it, because of the way the heat is distributed in glass. We bake only with light metal pans because baking with light metal pans ensures that the baked goods will bake evenly and in the correct timing.

But if you only have dark metal pans, you should always start checking your baked goods five to seven minutes before what the recipe calls for. We use a cooking spray or parchment paper in our pans, so we never need to purchase non-stick baking pans.

When baking is it best to use cold eggs or eggs at room temperature? Why? 

It’s best to use room temperature eggs. This means that the eggs will disperse more evenly into the batter, making for even cooking and a lighter texture (because the eggs trap air). To bring eggs to room temperature quickly, soak them in a bowl of warm water for 10-15 minutes. Another tip: When a recipe calls for the egg to be separated it’s best to do that with a cold egg. When using a cold egg the white is firm, allowing the yolk to separate easier.

If I want to cut the fat and sugar from a recipe, what is your recommendation for doing that and still maintaining great balance and taste? 

You can always substitute granulated sugar with Splenda, honey, stevia or agave. At Good Cakes and Bakes, we use coconut sugar a lot to substitute granulated sugar in recipes. Using coconut sugar breaks down in the system just like eating fresh coconut would. Substituting is about preference, so we suggest trying several alternatives and seeing which one you like better.

You can always substitute the fat in a recipe with a vegan butter substitute (for butter) and you can substitute vegetable oil in a recipe for coconut oil or applesauce. We prefer canola or coconut oil as our liquid fat. But know you can’t substitute a solid fat for a liquid fat in baked goods.  By doing that you will change the consistency, texture and body of the baked good.

Sinking berries. How do you prevent the fruit in cakes, muffins and other quick breads from sinking to the bottom?

That’s simple, just use a little flour the recipe calls for and place the flour and berries in a separate bowl. Totally coat the berries with the flour, and then fold the berry/flour mixture in last with a spatula. By coating the berries in the flour, you are giving the berries something to hold on to and that will allow them to stay suspended in the batter as opposed to sinking to the bottom of the baked good.

Bake and Be Berry Merry!

      April Anderson is a pastry chef and co-owner of Good Cakes and Bakes located at 19363 Livernois in Detroit

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