Test Kitchen Secrets Revealed
Our test kitchen professionals share their insider tips for creamy grits, fluffy biscuits, and more.
Crisp Cornbread Crust
To get a crisp Southern-style cornbread crust, pour cornbread batter into a sizzling-hot cast-iron skillet—the drippings should hiss and sputter as soon as the batter hits the pan.
Bacon Drippings Storage
Bacon drippings offer a lot of flavor and can be used to sauté vegetables, fry eggs, or roast potatoes. Test Kitchen Professional Angela Sellers offers this tip for freezing leftover grease and keeping it on hand.
Step 1: Save bacon drippings by pouring it through a fine strainer directly into an ice cube tray. Freeze.
Step 2: Once they’re frozen, remove the cubes of bacon drippings and place them in a large zip-top plastic freezer bag. Store in the freezer, and use the cubes whenever you need a flavor boost.
Tops of cheesecakes often crack and sink, keeping them from looking as good as they taste. To make the cheesecake prettier (and add flavor), top it with a layer of sweetened sour cream. Decrease cheesecake baking time by 10 minutes. Stir together 1 cup sour cream, 2 Tbsp. sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Spread sour cream mixture over cheesecake, and bake 10 more minutes. Proceed with recipe as directed.
Perfectly Fit Pie Crust
Don’t let fitting a crust scare you away from making a fully homemade pie. Follow our instructions to perfectly fit the crust to your pan.
Freezing Cookie Dough
Wrapping cookie dough in parchment paper allows you to have a homemade cookie any time you want. Shape dough into logs, and then wrap in the paper. To prevent flattening on one side, place each log inside an empty cardboard tube saved from gift wrap or paper towel rolls. Place tubes in large zip-top plastic freezer bags. When you are ready to enjoy a cookie, simply slice and bake according to recipe directions. (Allow 2 to 3 minutes extra baking time for frozen dough.)
Recipe: Classic Chicken and Dumplings
Make dumplings for Chicken and Dumplings with our simple rolling method:
Step 1: Roll the dumpling dough to 1⁄8-inch thickness. Using a ruler as a guideline, cut the dough into 1-inch-wide strips. Cut the strips into 1-inch squares.
Step 2: Drop dumplings, a few at a time, into the boiling chicken-and-broth mixture, stirring gently. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring often, 25 to 30 minutes or until dumplings are tender.
Easy Cupcake Icing
Decorate like a pro—without a pastry bag. Spoon your favorite homemade frosting or purchased ready-to-use variety into a zip-top plastic freezer bag. (Do not seal bag.) Snip a hole in one corner of the bag. Pipe desired shapes or letters onto brownies, cakes, or cupcakes. For best results, we recommend practicing a few shapes on wax paper to find the perfect one and to get a feel for working with the bag and frosting.
The Best Biscuits
Make tender, flaky biscuits from scratch in minutes with our fool-proof folding method.
Deglazing—Adding liquids to a skillet in order to scrape off the bits left in the pan after pan-frying. Have the skillet really hot and expect bubbling up and sizzling—keys to loosening the particles.
Reducing sauce—Boiling to evaporate liquid ingredients to thicken sauce and concentrate flavor. Look for the sauce to coat a spoon. Measure only if a specific amount is given. For example: reduce mixture to 1⁄2 cup.
Mounting the sauce—Adding cold butter to add a creamy consistency and richness to the sauce. Make sure to pull the skillet off the burner. Left on, the butter melts too quickly, fat and whey separate, and the sauce is oily rather than creamy.
Photo: Piccata Sauce
Don’t buy the packaged kind; our instructions make great-tasting turkey gravy easier than you think.
Fail-Proof Caramelized Sugar
Caramelizing sugar is less tricky when a small amount of water is added to help dissolve the sugar. Water also acts as a thermostat to slow the rapid heating of the sugar, decreasing the chance of burning. Check out these tips.
Take steps to prevent crystallization or a grainy texture. Use a recipe that calls for a small amount of corn syrup only stir as the recipe directs (not too often).
Use the correct pan size. Caramelizing sugar will bubble up as it cooks. Use a pan that feels heavy for its size and is light in color.
Seriously, it’s hot! Use oven mitts, and go slowly when moving the pan or pouring the hot sugar mixture from the pan. Do not taste!
Keep an eye on color. In seconds the sugar can go from perfect dark amber to overdone. Start over if the sugar burns.
The Creamiest Mashed Potatoes
Ever wondered how you could get smooth, lump-free, and creamy mashed potatoes? The secret is the potato ricer—think garlic press, but bigger. This kitchen utensil presses potatoes into small, uniform, rice-size pieces. And as if this weren’t enough of a reason, we have one more. With most potato ricers, you can skip the step of peeling potatoes; the ricer does the job for you.
Leveled Cake Batter
We love kitchen tools that serve more than one purpose. That’s why we like using a bent icing knife (also known as an offset spatula). This versatile tool is great for spreading the cake batter inside a pan. You can then use it to ice the cake. Because of its smart design, the knife allows you to get right into the corners of the pan. You’ll have a perfectly leveled cake, which is important for uniform baking and even icing.
Bent icing knives come in many lengths and widths; find the one that is most comfortable for you to use. Shorter knives work better for smaller cakes, while longer knives will help you ice larger cakes.
OXO Good Grips Bent Icing Knife: from Bed Bath & Beyond ($9.99), bedbathandbeyond.com
Clump-Free Pimiento Cheese
To keep your pimiento cheese from clumping, use the largest holes on a box grater to shred cheese, and add it gradually to mayo mixture. Gently stir while adding to prevent clumps from forming.
Easy Dessert Garnish
Deliver a perfect dusting of powdered sugar to your favorite dessert with a tea infuser. They’re inexpensive and make decorating a snap.
No-Fail Caramelized Onions
Caramelize onions to add great flavor to soups, burgers, mashed potatoes, pizza, grits, sandwiches, grilled meats, and more. It’s not complicated; check out our instructions.
Perfectly Creamy Grits
For perfectly smooth and lump-free grits, pour grits in a steady, slow stream while whisking constantly.