We all know that feeling when you get an intense craving for something sweet. You are first faced with the excitement of deciding what to make: a cake, cupcakes, brownies; the options are endless! Then comes the dread of actually making the dessert. It takes time to make something from scratch and you may not be the best at it. What if something goes wrong? What if you forget until the night before? You don’t want to go to a store and buy a dessert, you want it freshly baked! This leads to the inevitable search for boxed mixes, ingredients, and pans.
Maybe these baked goods turn out phenomenal, but if you are like me then you probably think these instant treats are not bakery-level delicious. So, how do us non-professionals fix this?
1. Boxed Mix Cakes: From Boring to Blissful
Boxed mix cakes often come out a little dry, and much flatter than those baked from scratch. Spoiler alert! It isn’t because of the mix itself, but rather the suggested ingredients listed on the back of the box. For a moist and fluffy cake or cupcakes, here are three tips:
- Replace the amount of water with the same amount of milk,
- Use twice as much melted butter in place of the suggested amount of oil,
- Add an extra egg than the box calls for.
This hack is my personal favorite as a hobby baker. These small changes produce a cake that is rich and not so dry. Your cake will taste so good, no one will ever know it came from a box!
2. Eggs and Eggshells: Because Shells are for the Outside
Eggs are in almost every baked good, and most desserts aren’t quite right without them. Eggs are complicated, as they may need to be separated, whisked or spread. We have all experienced the unpleasantness of biting into a treat with an eggshell inside. Here’s how to overcome these challenges:
- Cold eggs work best for separating. It is always best to refrigerate your eggs for a bit before trying to separate the whites from the yolks, as this makes the yolk less likely to break.
- To get eggs to room temperature quickly, put them in lukewarm water for five minutes. This is especially useful when making any type of meringue. Cold egg whites will not become fluffy when whisked.
- When cracking eggs, it is always best to use a separate bowl. If eggshells get into the mix, it is a lot easier to fish them out in a separate bowl before pouring the eggs into a batter. Try using a larger piece of eggshell to fish out any small specks that have broken off. It’s easier and cleaner than using your fingers.
These seem like more basic hacks, but eggs are important for most baked goods. If the eggs aren’t right, nothing else will be.
3. Cookie Dough: Common Mistakes and Easy Fixes
Cookies are one of the most common homemade desserts, but many people make mistakes when baking them. Whether you decide to use dough from scratch or store-bought, here’s some advice:
- Soften your butter. Many people believe softening butter equals melting. Softened butter can easily be squished, but is not melted. A good way to accomplish this is to rinse a cup with hot water and place your butter under it for a few minutes, rather than use a microwave.
- Use an ice cream scooper to portion cookie dough. This allows the cookies to spread more evenly, so you don’t end up with a single flat, rectangular cookie.
- When baking cookies make sure to remove them from the oven when the edges are firm and the top is slightly under baked. The cookies will continue cooking on the pan after removing them from the oven, and you won’t end up with crunchy, burned bottoms!
I love cookies and this definitely takes them to the next level. I never realized how many things I could do wrong that would ruin my cookies, no matter what recipe I used.
4. Extra Delicious Brownies: Taking Flavor to the Next Level
Brownies are my personal favorite dessert, and delicious whether from scratch or from a mix. They are chocolatey, gooey, and warm. These tips take the flavor of brownies to the next level:
- Add 1 tablespoon of instant coffee to any chocolate brownie mix. You won’t really taste the coffee, but it really brings out the chocolate flavor of the treats. Make sure you use instant and not ground coffee or you’ll end up with gritty brownies!
- Try crumbling your favorite cookie dough over your brownies before baking. This combination treat gives you the best of both worlds and “makes them something amazing” according to my friend.
After trying all of these hacks I can honestly say that these suggestions are spot on. Even my mother (who can’t bake to save her life) was able to implement these suggestions and come up with a few delicious desserts. Whether a professional, a hobby baker, or just hungry for some sweets, these tips will improve any baker’s skills!
Hannah Ward is an English education student at UNC Greensboro. She has a passion for literature and teaching, and hopes to bring the art of creative writing back to public school curriculums. In her spare time, she loves to read and write fiction novels. Hannah is currently a Blog Editor and Community Lead for the Young Eager Writers organization. She is also a 2021-2022 Artist in Residence for the UNCG Honors College and a former writer for The Navigator at UNCG.