Essential Holiday Baking Tips

Baking, Cooking How-To
on December 9, 2013
Chocolate Pecan Coffee Cake
Kate Lewis

It’s that time of year again. Time for cakes, bakes, pies, pastries and rolls, all as far as the eye can see, and as often as our waistbands can handle. As such, we like to think of holiday baking (and indulging) as a marathon, not a sprint.

So in preparation, we spoke with Fran Costigan—“Queen of Vegan Desserts” and author of the sinfully sweet new text Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Dessertswho helped us brush up on the fundamentals of holiday baking.

Fran Costigan’s Essential Baking Tips:

  • Read the recipe all the way through and plan your time accordingly.
  • Prepare your mise en place, from gathering the equipment and preparing the pans to grinding sugar, chopping or melting the chocolate, and roasting or cooling nuts, seeds, and flakes.
  • Position the oven racks as directed. Cakes and cookies bake on the middle rack, cupcakes on the rung just above and pies in the lower third of the oven.
  • Preheat the oven, and allow enough time for the oven to reach the correct temperature. An oven thermometer is essential.
  • Use the correct size pan, and prepare it according to the recipe. (My recipes call for oiling the bottom and sides of the pans and lining them with parchment paper cut to fit.)
  • Measure ingredients carefully, using the correct measuring utensil and method. 
My recipes use the “whisk, dip, and sweep” method of measuring dry ingredients, unless otherwise noted. For this method: Whisk the dry ingredients in their container or bag before measuring. (To measure small amounts of starches, fluff with a fork before measuring.) Dip a dry measure into the flour, over-fill the cup, and level the top with the flat side of an offset spatula or dinner knife. Do not shake, estimate, or pack the ingredient in the cup.
  • When sifting, put the measured dry ingredients in a medium-fine strainer set over a mixing bowl. Sift the dry ingredients by whisking them through the strainer.
  • Measure liquid ingredients using liquid measuring cups. Measure the oil first and any liquid sweeteners (maple syrup, agave syrup, etc.) measured afterwards will slip right out!
  • When filling pans, fill no more than a scant half full—unless the recipe states otherwise—and get the cakes right into the oven.
  • Check cakes for doneness, but wait until 5 minutes before the minimum baking time, or you risk having the center of the cake collapse. The top should look dry with no shine at the center, and the edges will have started to pull away from the sides of the pan. Use a wooden pick or skewer to test the center. It should remove clean or with a few moist crumbs.
  • Cool cakes in the pan on an elevated wire rack, and then turn cakes out of the pan onto the wire rack quickly (within about 10 minutes). It is okay to cool the cakes bottom side up, and don’t worry if the cake sticks to the rack. The frosting will cover up any marks.

Here are a few of Fran’s recipes we adore. The recipes are vegan-friendly, but we suspect folks from all walks (and diets) of life will love them…