QUICK TIPS for better baking organization in the new year . . .

One of my first tasks just after the New Year is to organize and detail my kitchen. This ensures my year of baking and teaching is off to a great start! I'm happy to share with you three simple tips to help you get your NEW BAKING YEAR off to a great start as well --

1. Centralize all your baking essentials
in easy-to-reach and labeled containers . . .

To make baking more enjoyable, all your essential ingredients need to be centralized and at your fingertips. Storing flour, sugar, salt, etc., in various cabinets, shelves, drawers, and other corners of the kitchen apart from each other adds a lot of extra steps as you search for and gather them. You can purchase attractive yet inexpensive glass or acrylic containers (make sure you buy ones with a wide mouth to make scooping easier), as well as erasing labels for labeling them, at large discount stores. Place the containers next to each other (with an appropriately sized scoop stored inside the container) and your ingredient preparation time will be significantly reduced!

2. Check your expiration dates . . .

Nothing is more frustrating when you're in the mood for baking than to find one of your essential ingredients has gone bad! There are many ingredients that have expiration dates that we tend to store for long periods of time, such as flours, baking powder, butter (especially unsalted), and chocolate. How well (or not) an ingredient is stored is a major factor for determining its shelf life. Before you embark on a new year of baking, go through all your essential baking ingredients, toss any questionable ones, and make one trip to the store to replace them all at once. Storage tips to keep in mind:

  • Baking powder is notorious for sitting for long periods of time and losing its strength. Test it by dropping a pinch in warm water. It should fizz and bubble. If it doesn't, discard it.

  • Freezing or refrigerating flour extends its shelf life significantly. I like to taste any flour that has been sitting for long periods of time at room temperature. If it's expired, you'll know it--it will taste like rancid nuts!

  • Too much milk or buttermilk on hand? Freeze it (just remember to give it several hours to thaw).

  • Store chocolate in a cool, dark place--such as a wine chiller--away from odors to significantly extend its shelf life.

  • Freeze butter. It's easy to remove one stick at a time to thaw it for baking.

3. Recover hardened brown sugar with ease . . .

Brown sugar quickly hardens when left in its bag or container over time and exposed to air. Don't throw it away! You can return it back to its soft, supple texture in just a few hours. If it's in its original bag, transfer it to an airtight container (you may have to rip open the bag). Tear off a small piece of aluminum foil and shape it into a cup. Tear off a small piece of paper towel, wet it, and wring it of excess water. Place the moist piece of paper towel in the foil cup and set it on top of the sugar and seal the container tightly. In 24 hours, your brown sugar will be back to its old self again!

Now you're ready for a Happier New Year of baking!