8 Smart Baking Hacks

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Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 — with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Go rogue the right way with Alice’s tips for changing up baking recipes.

Altering recipes is a fantastic way to invent whole new dishes, but tinkering with cakes and cookies is not as straightforward as playing with soups and stews! Here are my tips to help you experiment and create more successfully.

Start smart! Don’t try to turn a cake recipe into a cookie or vice versa: start with a recipe that you already know and like, then have your way with it.

Focus on flavors and inclusions rather than messing with structural ingredients: Extracts, liqueurs, herbs, spices, grated citrus zests, and such can be exchanged for one another, as can inclusions like chopped nuts or dried fruit or chocolate pieces — all without changing the ingredients that provide the structure and texture of the recipe. Inclusions can be added to most cookies, scones, biscuits, etc., but they may sink to the bottom of cakes. For a sure thing, start with a cake recipe that already has inclusions and substitute some new ones. Otherwise, you may be inventing a new upside-down cake. (Psst, pretend it was intentional.)

Rhubarb Scones on Food52
Rhubarb Scones on Food52

To make significant changes in a recipe that may affect structure and texture (such as those that follow) — make just one change at a time and take it slow: If the recipe does not turn out well, you want to know which change caused the problem. And, if the change is gradual, you will learn how much change you can get away with before the recipe is destroyed.

To reduce sugar or fat: Start by cutting by just 10 or 15 percent of the sugar or fat. If you like the results, you can try cutting a little more the next time.

Rhubarb Scones on Food52
Rhubarb Scones on Food52

To add whole grain flours: Start by replacing just 10 or 15 percent of the flour in the recipe with an equal amount of a whole grain flour. If you like the results, you can replace a little more the next time.

To replace butter with a non-dairy fat: Substitute another fat that is plastic (not liquid) at room temperature, such as coconut oil, or a non-dairy spread such as margarine — the latter should be labeled “suitable for baking”, otherwise it may contain too much water.

To replace dairy milk: Substitute unsweetened non-dairy milk such as soy, almond, rice, hemp, oat, or coconut. Lite or lowfat coconut milk is a better substitute for an equal amount of whole milk than is regular coconut milk; it also has more coconutty flavor. Often you can replace dairy milk with water!

Chocolate Potato Cake on Food52
Chocolate Potato Cake on Food52

The following substitutions are more complicated, likely to change or ruin the structure or texture of baked goods, affect browning, or react with leavings. Don’t try them without further research.
- Substituting liquid fats for butter
- Substituting liquid sweeteners for sugar
- Substituting (or adding) acidic ingredients such as buttermilk or lemon juice for milk or water (or vice versa)
- Substituting (other than in small amounts as above) gluten-free flours for wheat flour

More: Get more tips on converting recipes to gluten-free from Shauna Ahern.

Chocolate-Mashed Potato Cake with Ganache 

Serves 12 to 16

The Cake

large baking potato
cups sugar
1 3/4 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled a little
ounces unsalted butter, softened
teaspoon vanilla extract
large eggs
3/4 cups buttermilk

Chocolate Ganache Glaze

ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/3 cup half and half

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a large bundt or tube pan and set it aside. Peel the potato and cut it into large cubes. Place the cubes in a saucepot and cover with water. Place over medium high heat, bring to a boil, and cook until the potatoes are tender. Drain the water off and using a masher or a mixer, mash the potatoes until no lumps (or very small ones) remain. Measure out 3/4 cup for the recipe. Take the remaining potatoes, season them as you desire, and eat them before they get cold.
  2. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, place the sugar, cake flour and baking soda and with the mixer on low, allow the mixture to combine, about 1 minute. Add the potatoes, butter, melted chocolate, and vanilla and mix on low speed to combine. Raise the speed to medium and allow it to beat until fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Whisk together the eggs and the buttermilk. Slowly add the mixture to the batter. Scrape the bowl well and combine it completely. Scrape the batter into a pan and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about an hour. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 20 minutes and then remove it from the pan to finish cooling on a rack.
  4. Place the glaze ingredients in a small sauté pan over low heat. As this heats, stir it to melt the chocolate. Do not let it boil or simmer. Keep stirring until half the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat and continue stirring to melt the remaining lumps. When the cake has completely cooled, use a piping bag or a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake.

Save and print the recipe on Food52

Alice’s new book Seriously Bitter Sweet is a complete revision of her IACP award-winning Bittersweet, updated for the 54%, 61%, and 72% (and beyond) bars available today. It’s packed with tricks, techniques, and answers to every chocolate question, plus 150 seriously delicious recipes — both savory and sweet. 

Photos by James Ransom

This article originally appeared on Food52.com: 8 Rules for Altering Baking Recipes