I’m notorious for my meticulously planned weekly store lists… but I’m also infamous for forgetting crucial ingredients until I need them now. Thankfully, over the years I’ve picked up some genius tips & tricks to share with you to lend a hand in the kitchen and to prove baking isn’t the precise science everyone claims it to be. Little switches in the kitchen work in a pinch!
*Baking powder (1 teaspoon): 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar plus 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
*Sugar (1/4 cup): 1/4 cup granulated Splenda; or 1/4 cup Equal; or 2 Tablespoons Splenda blend; or 2 teaspoons Sweet & Low.
*Cream of Tartar (1/2 teaspoon): 1/2 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice
*Buttermilk (1 cup): 1 Tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice plus enough milk to equal one cup; stir lightly with fork. Allow the mixture to stand for five minutes; or 1 cup plain yogurt.
*Brown sugar (for light–1 cup): 1 cup white sugar plus 1-2 Tablespoons molasses; mix vigorously with whisk or beat with wire whisk until combined and molasses clumps have disappeared. For dark, gradually add more molasses, one Tbsp at a time, to taste.
*Oil (for boxed mixes): equal amounts unsweetened applesauce; or equal amounts melted butter; or replace half the oil with 3/4 the amount of yogurt.
3 teaspoons = 1 Tablespoon
4 Tablespoons = 1/4 cup
5 & 1/3 Tablespoons = 1/3 cup
8 Tablespoons = 1/2 cup
10 & 2/3 Tablespoons = 2/3 cup
12 Tablespoons = 3/4 cup
16 Tablespoons = 1 cup
1 Tablespoon = 1/2 fl. ounce
1 cup = 1/2 pint = 8 fl. ounces
2 cups = 1 pint = 16 fl. ounces
2 pints (4 cups) = 1 quart = 32 fl. ounces
4 quarts (16 cups) = 1 gallon = 128 fl. ounces
*Using low-fat or fat-free items, such as cream cheese, yogurt, sweetened condensed milk, instant pudding mixes, and milk are usually excellent substitutions in baking. Just decrease the amount of baking time slightly, about 2 minutes, to test for doneness.
*For lower fat, lower calorie, and incredibly moist cupcakes or cakes, replace the oil or butter with equal amounts unsweetened applesauce. The applesauce lends a surprisingly moistness to the cake while cutting calories. It will not taste apple-y.
*However, when making chocolate cake from a mix, use half oil, half applesauce. Chocolate cakes tend to be drier than other flavors; using applesauce-only may dry it out.
*When making two-ingredient ice cream, use fat-free sweetened condensed milk and fat-free, thawed Cool Whip for easy, low-cal ice cream.
*For rich, dense & moist cupcakes, stir in a small box of sugar free/fat free instant pudding mix in the flavor of your cake (vanilla pudding for vanilla cake, for example). It will make the cakes more dense, add additional flavor, and keep them from being too crumbly.
*Instead of greasing pans with shortening or butter, use non-stick cooking spray or line your pans with parchment that has been lightly floured or misted with cooking spray.
*To get more chocolate for your buck (without sacrificing calories), substitute miniature chocolate chips or M&M’s for regularly-sized ones, decreasing the original measurement by 1/4 cup (for instance, 1 cup chocolate chips becomes 3/4 cup miniature chocolate chips).
*Always preheat your oven until it’s nice and hot to ensure even, successful baking.
*ALWAYS grease your pans with non-stick cooking spray, even if they claim to be non-stick (cakes will ALWAYS stick!!)
*Generally, measure dry ingredients by leveling them off with the flat side of a butter knife. Typically, packing ingredients like brown sugar is also recommended.
*To prevent dreaded over-baking, I recommend setting your timer a few minutes before the longest recommended bake time. For instance, when a recipe calls for baking cupcakes for 15-18 minutes, I like setting my timer around the 14-15 minute mark to check for doneness. It’s easy to put the treats back in for another minute or so, but once they’re over-baked, they’re seldom recoverable.
*I use my freezer as a make-shift pantry for items that melt, spoil or could be er, attacked–easily. Candies like PB cups and M&M’s & baking chips don’t melt; nuts don’t spoil; and things like flour and sugar are never contaminated from pesky pantry bugs.
Butter (I like Imperial butter)
Vegetable or canola oil
Neufchatel cream cheese (1/3 the fat)
Light brown sugar
Ground cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, cream of tartar
Non-stick cooking spray
Peanut butter (both smooth & chunky)
A small variety (usually vanilla & chocolate) of instant sugar free/fat free pudding mixes
Cake mix (white, yellow, Funfetti, chocolate for basics)
Cookie mixes (sugar, oatmeal, chocolate chip)
32 ounce bags powdered sugar
Essential extracts: vanilla, almond (basics); specialty: peppermint, root beer, lemon
Vanilla bean paste
Mini marshmallows or a jar of marshmallow fluff
Sweetened shredded coconut
Slivered or whole almonds, walnut pieces, pecan halves (all stored in the freezer!)
Baking chips: chocolate, miniature chocolate, butterscotch, white chocolate (basics); specialty: peanut butter, toffee, mint chocolate chips
Candies: M&M’s or miniature M&M’s candies, Reese’s PB Cups or Pieces (stored in freezer), caramel bits or squares, Snickers, Rolos, or Almond Joy Pieces (freezer-stored)
Wax paper and aluminum foil
Pastry bags (in a pinch: gallon-size Ziplocs, airtight)
Wilton gel-paste food colors (more concentrated colors)
A variety of sprinkles (festive holiday, rainbow jimmies, nonpareils, sugars, pearls)
…to be continued!
*some of this information was provided to me in a small pamphlet sent by Taste of Home magazine