If nothing else, 2020 should be dubbed “the year everyone baked a lot.” Between seeking ways to keep your hands busy during a stay-at-home order and craving comfort food (read: Sugar) during this pandemic, measuring ingredients, baking, and eating is truly the perfect activity.
If your quarantine hobby of choice was more akin to plant parenting or learning French, luckily it’s never too late to try your hands at baking your go-to desserts from scratch. For the record, no one here is going to tell you you can’t enjoy your favorite off-the-shelf box cake or sliced-from-a-can cookies. But if you want to expand your baking horizons, these mostly beginner-proof recipes and pro tips are great for those times you want to earnestly tell your guests, “thanks, it’s homemade!”
Chocolate Chip Cookies
We’re certainly not hating on the Tollhouse cookie dough log, but if there’s ever a homemade dessert recipe to have in your baking arsenal, it’s the classic chocolate chip cookie. Luckily, nailing this recipe is very beginner-friendly and the result is a universal crowd pleaser. To achieve all those perfect cookie juxtapositions — crispy yet chewy, sweet yet savory, doughy yet baked to perfection — note these tips from Joy Food Sunshine:
- Take the butter out of the fridge a few hours before you bake to allow it to soften.
- Precisely measure your flour with a dry cup measurer (this isn’t like cooking; with baking, improper measurements can ruin the final product).
- Ensure your baking soda/powder isn’t expired; inactive leavening agents can leave you with very flat cookies.
- Don’t skip on the chocolate chips (or chunks) — because, obviously.
- Take your cookies out of the oven after 8-10 minutes, at the point when they are barely brown.
Funfetti has “fun” and ’90s nostalgia baked right into it, which is why so many people (read: Myself) still enjoy this vanilla sprinkle cake decades beyond our fifth birthday parties. If you want to try your hand at making Funfetti cake from scratch, just know it’s not as simple as tossing sprinkles in vanilla cake batter; it requires some baking alchemy, so you should at least be an intermediate-level baker for this one. Here are a few tips for from Food52 to get this party started:
- Don’t go natural here — artificially colored sprinkles will give you that bright confetti look, and artificial vanilla extract will deliver a flavor closest to the original recipe.
- Baking is a science, and your homemade batter must be thick enough to hold up the sprinkles throughout so they don’t all fall to the bottom when you make the cake. The creamed butter and sugar are important players in creating a voluminous cake that suspends your sprinkles (a 100% oil-based cake won’t work).
- Only use egg whites in the batter to keep the cake light in color (again, we want those sprinkles to pop!).
Because sometimes, a healthy and balanced breakfast is overrated. If you’re a purveyor of the iconic Pillsbury cinnamon rolls (who isn’t?), these homemade cinnamon rolls will speak to both your heart and sweet tooth while impressing your brunch guests. Plus, if you’re new to baking or haven’t yet attempted baking with yeast, these DIY buns are a great place to start because they only require one rise in the oven (many recipes call for an additional rise after the rolls are shaped). Here’s the trick, courtesy of Sally’s Baking Addiction:
- Heat the oven until it hits 150°F, then turn it off.
- Next, cover your rolls with aluminum foil and put them in the oven.
- Leave the oven door cracked open for about 30 minutes, then shut it closed for an additional hour or so to let them rise to perfection.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Pineapple Upside Down Cake came into peak popularity in the 1950s — from the moist cake, to the caramelized fruit, to the fun maneuver of literally flipping the cake upside down, what’s not to love? Today, we still crave the dessert’s flavorful goodness, plus its retro appeal. True, Duncan Hines famously sells a boxed version of the cake mix — but this whole recipe is so easy to make from scratch, there’s really no reason not to go all out. These tips from The Kitchn make the process virtually foolproof:
- Keep it classic and use canned pineapple and maraschino cherries; fresh fruit has more juices and may not caramelize properly.
- For more precision, scoop your batter on top of the fruit instead of pouring it so you don’t move the fruit around the bottom of the pan.
- For the perfect flip: Let the cake cool a bit, then stick a spatula or thin butter knife between the cake and the pan to loosen things up. Then, place a flat serving plate over the pan and let your cake slowly drop out (don’t force it, lest the cake with break).
Red Velvet Cake
Something about red velvet cake just feels decadent. It features that fancy flavor crossover of vanilla-meets-chocolate, all in a moist cake with lush cream cheese frosting. Now here’s a fun that will blow your mind: That signature deep red hue that’s nothing short of sexy? It’s literally just regular red food coloring. So next time you’re craving this sultry dessert, forget the box, follow these tips from Live Well Bake Often, and make it yourself:
- Sift the dry ingredients first and make sure there are zero clumps of cocoa powder — that’s how you achieve a light-as-air cake.
- Cream the unsalted butter and sugar together first for 4 to 5 minutes to keep things nice and fluffy.
- Ensure you don’t over mix the cake batter by switching off mixing in the buttermilk and dry ingredients in three additions.