Cake flour substitution: Use 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour as a substitution for 1 cup cake flour. If the recipe calls for 2 cups cake flour, use 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour. Use that as a basis for other amounts.
Presifted flour: Most flours are presifted. However, during packaging, shipping and storage the grains get packed down. If a recipe calls for flour that does not need to be sifted, it is a good idea to lightly fluff the flour, gently spoon it into a measuring cup, and then level with a straight edge without pressing down.
Slicing cake horizontally: Some recipes call for cake layers to be sliced horizontally before assembly. It is not an easy task to cut them evenly. The best way is to use a large serrated knife. Cut into the layer partially, then rotate the cake while gently sawing with the knife until you have made a cut through the entire perimeter. Then it is much easier to hold the cake in place and cut through the center to the other side. Some people suggest using dental floss. I guess that would depend on the texture of the cake.
Yeast: Yeast will last longer than specified on those little packages if kept in the refrigerator, and even longer in the freezer. That's a good thing for those who don't use it often. If you do a lot of baking, it is wise to purchase larger amounts and freeze in a plastic container marked with the date of purchase.
The effects of sugar and salt on yeast: Salt is a yeast inhibitor, meaning it slows down the growth of the yeast. That is necessary during the initial risings so that there is enough energy left to rise just before and during baking. So, if you want to reduce the salt in a recipe, use a little less yeast and be certain to add something that enhances yeast growth, such as wheat gluten and lessen the time on the first rise. Sugar, including products like honey, enhances yeast growth. If you add too much, the yeast might, again, grow too fast. Eliminate it, and there might not be enough growth.
Some tips for baking cakes: First, unless otherwise specified, all ingredients should be room temperature and, when alternating wet and dry ingredients, end with dry. If the size of the egg is not specified, use large. Unsalted butter is far superior in taste and in quality. And, keep in mind that oven temperatures vary. Check for doneness before the total baking time indicated in the recipe to ensure that the cake does not dry out.
Tips for mixing cookie dough: My mother always made cookie dough by hand, so that's what I did. I have since learned that using my standup mixer makes the work easier. However, an otherwise delicious batch can be ruined if over-mixed (been there...done that). Also, softened butter must never be too soft. That's the same as over-mixing (been there...done that, too).
Toasting nuts: Toast raw nuts on a cookie sheet in a 350° F oven for about 10 minutes before eating or using in baking. It brings out the natural flavor. Just be careful because they will burn quickly.
Making muffins: Use an ice cream scoop to fill muffin cups with batter. We have an antique scoop that belonged to my grandmother and have purchased several new ones of various sizes for smaller muffins, drop cookies, meatballs, etc. Make sure the scoop has a device that scrapes the bottom of the scoop to remove the batter.
Sticky measurements: When measuring sticky products such as molasses or honey, lightly spray the measuring cup with cooking spray. The substance will pour out easily.
Preparing cake pans: This tip comes from Jeannie Munger. Jeannie writes -"Grease and flour your cake pans and put them in the freezer for 20 minutes before you are ready to pour the batter in and bake. (I usually prepare the pans, put them in the freezer and take them out when I have assembled the cake batter.) Your cakes will pop right out every time!"
Oil and butter substitute: This tip comes from Sue. Sue writes - "I would like to tell you about a product that I use quite often to cut down the fat count in The Best Apple Cake recipe from 25 grams a slice to 5 grams of fat per slice and does not change the taste of the cake. The product is called Lighter Bake. It is a butter and oil replacement made by Sunsweet. I use a cup of this with only 1/2 cup of oil. I also found a liquid no fat substitute. It is great for making pie crust. You only need 1/3 of the shortening and then you use this liquid. You will find it in the grocery stores right beside the Lighter Bake."
Roasting peppers: Roasted peppers are easy to make. Wash the peppers but leave them whole. They may be rubbed with olive oil, but it is not necessary. Place them on a very hot grill, in a grill pan or under the broiler and grill until charred on all sides. Place the hot peppers in a closed plastic bag or under a towel. Let them "sweat" until tender and cool enough to handle. Remove the skin; it will come off very easily with your fingers. Cut open the peppers, remove the stem, core and seeds. Slice as needed. For a quicker version, halve the peppers vertically, remove the stem, core and seeds, and roast skin side up. Sweat and slice as before.
Roasting garlic: Many recipes call for roasted garlic because it has a more subtle and sweeter flavor than raw garlic. To roast, start with 1 whole head. Cut off the top so that the cloves are exposed. Place on a piece of foil and drizzle with some olive oil. Close tightly and roast in a 350° F oven for about 50 minutes, or until the cloves are soft and golden. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the head. The soft garlic will come right out of the peels.
Homemade breadcrumbs: More than likely, you already know how to make fresh breadcrumbs when they are needed in a recipe. You simply take some bread and grind it in the processor until the desired texture. If you take it one step further, you can make your own dry breadcrumbs which, believe me, are so much better than store-bought. Take finely processed fresh breadcrumbs and spread them on a baking sheet. Place in a 350° oven, turning occasionally, until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. To make life easy, I take leftover bread, make some fresh and dried crumbs, then freeze them in bags for future use.
Whipping egg whites or cream: Egg whites should always be at room temperature before whipping. Be certain there is no yolk in the whites and that the bowl and beaters are perfectly clean. Cream, on the other hand, should be well-chilled. For the largest volume, chill the bowl and beaters before whipping.
Thickening: Sprinkle instant mashed potato flakes into soups and gravies to thicken. It doesn't take much. Stir thoroughly and add more as needed.
Cutting slits in vegetables: When a recipe calls for cutting slits in vegetables such as potatoes, place the vegetable on a spoon large enough to hold the whole item. When you slice, the sloped edges of the spoon will prevent the knife from cutting all the way to the bottom and the vegetable will remain intact.
To butterfly meat: When working with a large cut of meat that you want to butterfly, lay the piece fat or skin side down. Cut through the long side towards the center, but not all the way through, so it opens like a book. Thicker portions of the meat can be thinned out by making additional slits. If necessary, pound with a meat pounder to make it more even or the thickness called for in a recipe.
Dried mushrooms as flavor enhancers: This great tip comes from Steve's Place. "To add depth to soups, sauces, and gravies, get some dried mushrooms, and run them through a coffee mill (I use mine to grind spices) and add a tablespoon or so to that beef stroganoff you've been meaning to cook.." On a personal note, I always keep 'just in case I need them' fresh mushrooms and store them in a paper bag in the refrigerator. That way, if I don't get around to using them, they dry in the bag instead of spoiling and can be used for other recipes as Steve suggests.
Squeezing a lemon: Microwave the whole lemon for 15 to 20 seconds. That helps release the juices.
Cutting raw meats: When recipes call for meats or poultry to be sliced or cubed, it is easier to cut when the meat is slightly frozen. Fresh meats can be placed in the freezer for about 30 minutes before cutting.
Coarse salt: Coarse salt flavors without the "saltiness" of the other salt. I use it for all my cooking (except baking) and for those occasional sprinkles at the table. Beware, you must use less than the other. It takes a while to get used to the adjustment.
Freshly ground pepper: Purchase a peppermill and whole peppercorns for cooking and at the dinner table. Because it is fresher, it has more flavor than finely ground pepper in a can.
Lettuce: Did you know that iceberg lettuce has very little nutritional value? Try using Romaine or some of the dark green leaf lettuces, such as spinach and arugula. They also have more flavor.
Unsalted packaged products: Products that are unsalted tend to be fresher tasting and of higher quality than their salted counterparts. They also allow you to control the amount of salt you prefer in a finished product.
Fresh versus processed cheeses: I am talking specifically about cheeses like Parmesan or Romano, typical grating cheeses. Please use the fresh rather than packaged. The difference is undeniable. It costs more to purchase a wedge of good-quality Parmesan, specifically Parmigiano-Reggiano, but you will use much less because the flavor is more intense.
Parsley: When it is available, use Italian flat leaf parsley in your cooking. It has a better flavor than curly leaf, which is most appropriate as a garnish. However, if all I have is curly, I use it.