10 Grandma-Approved Baking Tips
When it comes to baking, Grandma knows best, especially if she's Southern. Whether she's famous for her fudge recipe (even if it came off the jar of marshmallow creme), her towering coconut cakes, or her old-school banana pudding, we're guessing she has plenty of baking wisdom to share. To start, we're sharing 10 old-fashioned baking tips that will help your cakes and breads rise to the occasion (pun, intended). Want to bake like Meemaw? Follow these tried-and-always-true baking tips.
Sift your flour
The best way to make sure you never have lumps in flour, cocoa powder, or powdered sugar is to sift it the old-fashioned way: through a hand crank flour sifter. It might take an extra minute or two, but if you're making a fancy layer cake, it's worth it. Sifted flour makes cakes beautifully light and fluffy. Don't own a sifter? You can sift dry ingredients through a fine-mesh wire strainer placed over a mixing bowl.
You're not smarter than a measuring cup
"My grandmother told me that so I wouldn't try to eyeball ingredients," says Senior Digital Food Editor Kimberly Holland. Though it might seem like Grandma is able to whip up a batch of skillet cornbread and a block of perfectly beautiful fudge without so much as peeking at a recipe, she's had years of practice. Measure properly, friends.
Don't waste ingredients
Grandma would never throw out bits of dough, extra egg whites, less-than-perfect strawberries, or any leftover food scraps, and neither should you. Before you mindlessly toss things into the garbage disposal, ask yourself: is there anything I can use this in? When in doubt, many extra ingredients can be frozen.
If you're lucky enough to have a collection of recipes from your grandmother or great-grandmother, you might notice one ingredient again and again: shortening. Over the years, butter has become the go-to fat in baking recipes, replacing the old standbys, lard and shortening. But shortening still serves a purpose. It is made out of hydrogenated vegetable oil, which has a higher melting point than butter. Cookies made with shortening have a soft, crumbly texture and won't spread too much on the baking sheet. Shortening also makes cakes more tender and pie crusts flakier. And when you're making buttercream frosting, shortening will give it a firmer texture that won't melt on a hot day. For flavor, we'll always choose butter, but texture is important too, and sometimes a mix of butter and shortening will produce the best overall results.
Don't try a new recipe on the day you plan to serve it
If the Southern Living Test Kitchen teaches you anything, let it be to test out your recipes (again, and again, and…). "This advice came in especially handy when I made my brother's groom's cake and needed to master multiple recipes of caramel frosting," Holland says. "I tested that cake and frosting so many times, my neighbors were thankful when my brother was finally married."
Don't try to bake on a humid day
If you've ever attempted to make a batch of Southern pralines that didn't set, a layer cake that was a little wonky, or a pavlova that went soft and sticky, it's probably not your or the recipe's fault. Southern grandmothers know to always check the humidity levels before a major baking project. If it's hot and wet outside, don't even try baking a batch of divinity, y'all.
Use lard in pie crusts
There's a reason why your pie never tastes as good as Grandma's. She probably used lard in her crust to make it incredibly rich and flaky. Lard can be hard to come by in many grocery stores these days (check your farmers' market), but many experienced Southern bakers swear by it. (Here are some other ways you might be screwing up your pies.)
Don't bake when you're sad
"This isn't a tip, more of a life lesson," Holland admits. "My grandmother always told me that if you bake when your spirits are down, your cake/cookies/biscuits will never rise. I find it's OK to bake when you're sad, however, because baking helps cheer me up." And she's not wrong: There's ample scientific evidence that cooking and baking have pretty incredible emotional benefits.
Stock up on White Lily
Don't even think about making biscuits with anything other than White Lily self-rising flour. Grandmothers across the South (and our own Test Kitchen pros) swear by it. White Lily is made with soft winter wheat, which is lower in protein—meaning extra tender, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits.
It's no secret that Southerners love to bring food to their neighbors, whether it's a full-on meal train or a few cookies given as a "happy" in passing. "As my grandmother got older, she always tried to make extra cakes or banana bread loaves while she had the kitchen dirty," Holland says. "She could freeze the extra for herself for later. But more likely, she would take it to church or give it to a friend who could use some cheering up."