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Ask Gemma…Your Holiday Baking Questions Answered!

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Hi Bold Bakers!

Christmas is when novice and experienced bakers alike dust off their aprons and get into the Holiday Baking Season. For some it has been a year since you last used your baking powder or maybe you use it so much you have run out and need a substitute fast! That’s where I come in! With more than 10 years of experience working as a professional chef, I’m here with answers to your top holiday baking questions. If you don’t see your question in this post, ask me in the Comments section below and I’ll get back to you.

Q: How can I tell if my baking powder or baking soda is still fresh?

A: If you are an avid baker, you probably replace these two staples frequently. If you reserve your baking for the holiday season exclusively, you’ll want to test those cans before you get started.

Here’s how:

  • For baking powder: place 1/4 teaspoon baking powder into 1/2 cup hot water
  • For baking soda: place 1/4 teaspoon white or apple cider vinegar into 1/2 cup hot water. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
  • The mixture should bubble immediately — if so, your baking soda/powder is still good. If not, replace it.

Q: How important is it that ingredients are “room temperature”?

A: You’ll notice that most baking recipes call for certain ingredients such as eggs, butter, milk to be at room temperature. This is actually quite important for the final outcome. Cold ingredients will not incorporate smoothly or evenly, so your batter won’t get enough “rise” when it hits the oven. This results in dense cakes and hard, flat cookies. Be sure to allow enough time for your ingredients to sit out and warm up (depending on your kitchen and the time of year, this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour).

If you’re pressed for time (or simply forgot), you can place eggs in a bowl of warm (not hot) water for 15 minutes. Butter can be diced (or grated on the large holes of a box grater) to speed up the process. Also you can place it in a bowl of hot water like this. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut for milk.

The opposite of this rule applies to pie crusts, pastries, and biscuits. Here, you want your ingredients to be super cold, so when the dough goes into the oven the bits of butter melt, expand, and create those flaky layers.

Bold Baking Tip: If your recipe calls for separated eggs (whether whites, yolks, or both), always do so while they’re cold. Cold yolks stay more intact and are less likely to run into the whites.

Q: How do I prevent chocolate from seizing up in the microwave?

A: Chocolate hardens and burns when it gets too hot.  The best way to eliminate this problem is to melt chocolate in a double boiler. To melt it in the microwave cook it at half power for one minute, stir and repeat in 20 second increments until the chocolate is fully melted. Make sure to check out my video and recipe on How to Temper Chocolate.

There is no saving burnt melted chocolate but the best method for melting is low and slow.

Q: A recipe calls for buttermilk but I don’t have any on hand. Can I substitute something else?

A: Absolutely! To make buttermilk, place 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup. Add enough milk to bring the liquid up to 1 cup. Let stand for 30 minutes and it’s ready to use.

Make sure to check out my video and recipe on How to Make Buttermilk.

Q: The recipe calls for unsalted butter but I only have salted available. Can I still use it?

A: Yes you can! Some baker choose to omit salt from a recipe if they use salted butter. I don’t, I leave in the salt. Never in all of my years have I baked something that was salty. Remember salt is not just a seasoning for savory food, it’s also a seasoning for sweets too to bring out all the flavors.

Q: Can I use brown sugar instead of white sugar?

A: Yes, you can HOWEVER brown sugar gives a caramel flavor to your baked good that white sugar doesn’t. The difference between brown and white sugar is the addition of molasses.

Did you know you can actually make Brown Sugar? It is so simple and makes a great addition to your baked good. I’ll show you How to Make Brown Sugar in my post and video.

Q: Can I substitute regular sugar for confectioners’ sugar?

A: Confectioners’ Sugar or Powdered Sugar has a much finer texture as well as a bit of cornstarch.  Therefore, it is NOT recommended to switch one for the other.  The only time these two sugars could be substituted would be in the case of decorating.

Did you know you can make it homemade? I’ll show you How to Make Powdered Sugar in my post and video.

Q: Why do my Christmas cookies spread out so much while baking?

A: Your butter is probably too warm. Try chilling the dough for a minimum of 30 minutes before baking to reduce spreading.

Bold Baking Tip: Try “aging” your cookie dough. Store your dough in the fridge for up to 5 days before baking it. The flavor will be more developed and your cookie will have lovely crackles on top.

Q: How long do spices actually last and what is the best way to store them?

A:  This is a great question! I am pretty sure that I can go into most home kitchens and find improperly stored, or ridiculously outdated spices. I suggest tossing ground spices if you are unable to use them within one year from the purchase date.

As for storing spices in your kitchen, always keep them in a cool, dark place away from heat and as far away from the stove as possible. Yes, that actually means that you should find a better place other than that odd cabinet above your stovetop! For the freshest flavor from your spices, consider purchasing whole spices instead of pre-ground, and grind them yourself using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder that is only used for spices.

Q: Why is my fruit sinking in my cakes?

A: For cakes, muffins and other quick breads, and tarts that have fruit, toss the fruit with just enough flour to coat it well before you add it to the batter. Also, the lighter the pieces are, the less likely they are to sink through the batter. Fruit tends to sink in thin batters.

Q: Why is my chocolate a gray color?

A: Don’t be worried about that gray–white cloudy covering on your chocolate called “bloom.” It’s simply the result of being stored for a while at a somewhat warm temperature. Absolutely still use this chocolate in your baking. It will work just fine.

Q: Can I freeze cookie dough?

A: Nearly all kinds of cookie doughs freeze well for up to three months. Form the dough into a log, wrap it tightly in plastic. For more information about freezing and baking cookies, check out my How to Bake a Perfect Cookie post and video.
Go to my Holiday Baking Headquarters page for all your Holiday Baking needs!


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Meet Gemma

Hi Bold Bakers! I’m Gemma Stafford, a professional chef originally from Ireland, and I’m passionate about sharing my years of experience to show you how to make game-changing baking recipes with over-the-top results! Join more than 1 Million other Bold Bakers in the community for new video recipes every week!

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59 Comments

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  1. Rory M on September 23, 2018 at 4:21 pm

    Hi,
    I have an easy rum cake recipe that I have been using for a number years. The ingredients involve a boxed cake mix and is easily found on line. I have made it many many times over the years – it has always been reliable recipe and everyone loves the cakes. I recently moved and have not been able to get the cake to come out correctly. When I drop it out of the bunt pan, it doesn’t hold together – it either cracks or breaks apart in some way. It tastes fine, but does not look right. Someone mentioned to me about 6 or 7 years ago to stay way from the box cake mixes that say they are extra moist. I used to use boxed mixes that only had water and eggs in their recommended preparation. Now, I have trouble finding boxed mixes that do not include oil in their preparation. The only other thing that I wonder about is if the elevation where I live makes any difference. My previous home was 574 ft and at my current home is at any elevation of 1325 ft. I also have a repairman to come out and check to see if my oven is heating correctly — he said it was working perfectly. I would like to use this recipe again. Any help you can give me would be appreciate. Thank you very much.

    • Gemma Stafford on September 24, 2018 at 2:22 am

      Hi Rory,
      The moment I began to read this I said ‘high altitude’ to myself. This is not a terribly high altitude but the air pressure will still be different. There are adjustments you can make to help. These are my tips for 5,000 ft, a different thing I know, but you may find some of these help. Box mixes are not so easy to adjust, and I am not a fan. You may decide to make from scratch, when you can control the ingredients.
      Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon.
      Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 2 tablespoons.
      Increase liquid: for each cup, add 2 to 4 tablespoons.
      Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F, 10 C.
      For you I think you may need to increase the liquid addition, a little, and the oil would help I think! It will be a learning curve for you. Talk to the locals too, your coffee shop people may tell you what, if any, adjustments they need to make to their recipes.
      Thank you for this question, it is interesting, and poorly understood. I will do more on this shortly,
      Gemma 🙂

  2. Famousamos on August 28, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    I have a baking question. Can I bake plum cobbler if the plums are still frozen ? Or should I defrost them first?

    • Gemma Stafford on August 29, 2018 at 9:38 pm

      Best ot defrost them first 🙂

      Best,
      Gemma.

      • Amy on August 30, 2018 at 5:47 am

        Thank you 🙂

  3. Karishma on July 9, 2018 at 6:10 am

    Thanks for clarifying so well,Gemma.Love your recipes always.

  4. Karishma on July 6, 2018 at 7:44 am

    Hi Gemma. I just adore your blog!! Thanks alot for simplifying baking,so we can enjoy it.so happy to have found you.could you help me with this:– How to proof and ferment bread dough at home? Also is there a healthy substitute for the fat to make puff pastry?

    • Gemma Stafford on July 9, 2018 at 4:18 am

      Hi Karishma,
      !. Puff pastry can be made with a solid vegetable fat too, but the question is, is it more healthy? I really cannot say, it is a matter of not eating too much of this type of pastry I think!
      2. The recipes here (https://www.biggerbolderbaking.com/?s=No+knead) are all fermented dough, though they have a little start using a little yeast. A sourdough starter, which I am working on at the moment, will change this for you, and some of your own dough can also be used as a starter.
      Check out the Pizza Dough here, it is a simple way to understand how a fermented bread works.
      Sourdough starters are great, and if you use them regularly then they are easy to manage. If not they are a bit like keeping a pet, they need to be fed and watered.
      I hope you enjoy trying these recipes,
      Gemma 🙂

  5. halloween sweets on May 23, 2018 at 6:46 am

    Wonderful post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic?
    I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further.
    Kudos!

    • Gemma Stafford on May 23, 2018 at 8:09 am

      Thank you, that is a great suggestion, I will add it to my list,
      Gemma 🙂

  6. pam on April 30, 2018 at 7:21 am

    what are the tiny bowls called when preping recipie exp 1 tsp, 1 tb

    • Gemma Stafford on May 1, 2018 at 4:25 am

      Hi Pam,
      do you mean the spoons? or the tiny ramekins?
      I measure into little bowls for ease when doing a recipe, get all of the measurements done first, then putting a recipe together is really easy.
      Is this what you mean?
      Gemma 🙂

  7. Debrasunshine on January 6, 2018 at 9:46 am

    Hi Gemma,

    Thank for all these answers! My question on room temperature butter my cookies spread & are larger. I now know I have been leaving my butter out like overnite to soften, too long! So, what is the right about of time? I leave them on the counter and forget. By the way, your Flour Tortilla recipe is flawless I use it all the time so easy!

    • Gemma Stafford on January 7, 2018 at 4:35 am

      Hi there,
      Butter does need to be refrigerated in a warm place, in order to keep it in good condition. The dilemma then is that it hardens, and takes about 30 mins to soften at room temperature, but I have a trick for you. (https://www.biggerbolderbaking.com/bring-butter-room-temperature/) take a look at this one,
      Gemma 🙂

  8. HH Tube on January 4, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    ½ cup unsalted butter how much would it be in grams

    • Gemma Stafford on January 5, 2018 at 12:32 pm

      Hi there,says
      This will be 4ozs/125g if it is in solid state. This changes if it is melted butter, then it is 115ml.
      It depends on your recipe. When a recipe says 1/2 cup of butter/melted, it is solid butter which you melt. If it 1/2 cup of melted butter then you start by melting it. But the difference is little enough.
      Gemma 🙂

  9. Batya on December 27, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Hi Gemma! I’m new to your amazing site. Made my first home made ice cream and it was excellent!! Impressed myself Question. I never see you cover your ice cream when you go to freeze it. Should I cover it when I place it in freezer? Thank you for all your amazing recipes & your ability to make baking fun & less intimidating!

    • Gemma Stafford on December 28, 2017 at 2:39 am

      Hi Batya,
      Good to have you with us. I always cover food for the freezer, it is vital. I just show you the ‘fancy’ finish, for show really, then it gets trimmed down and covered.
      I hope you enjoy using the recipes, there are hundreds here on the website, thank you for being in touch,
      Gemma 🙂

  10. Himali on December 24, 2017 at 7:54 am

    Hey! A quick urgent question! I plan to make a caramel cake. It’s going to be a vanilla cake and caramel sauce will be infused in the whipping cream. I also want to try some honeycomb. I always simple syrup the cakes(there’s a lot going on 😅) and I’m just afraid that with all these ingredients, the cake is going to be too sweet! Could you suggest something to balance out the sweetness? Maybe some lemon zest or lemon juice in the simple syrup?

    • Gemma Stafford on December 24, 2017 at 3:23 pm

      Hi Himali,

      So, I’m not a fan of brushing cake in syrup and I’ll tell you why, it is something that is done in bakeries when they make lots of cakes in advance and they go dry. I don’t think it is good practice. Also I always try and share cakes that are moist so there is no need for simple syrup.

      If you still want to do it then yes I suggest so lemon to maybe cut the sugar. Also the cream filling will cut the sweetness.

      I hope this helps,
      Gemma.

      • Himali on December 24, 2017 at 8:56 pm

        Hey, Gemma!

        I never knew that was the reason for using simple syrup into cakes. I just thought that it was necessary for every cake! But thanks for the tip!

        Also this is the first time I’m making caramel cake and it’s a birthday present for my mom, so I don’t want to mess this up. If you have any other tips or advice for the cake flavour or anything then it would be appreciated!

        Thanks!

        • Gemma Stafford on December 25, 2017 at 6:06 pm

          Yeah, I have seen chefs online using simple syrup and I think it is bad practice. And I normally would never criticize others online.

          So make your cake Let it sit and then decorate and serve the next day. Cake is best eaten at room temp so leave it out for a bit.

          I hope your mum likes it.

  11. Samantha on December 23, 2017 at 6:38 am

    Hi,
    I want to make a chocolate cake this Christmas but I don’t know how please help me !!!!

  12. Mish @ The Paperback Blog on December 21, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    Hi, Gemma!

    I’ve tried following countless recipes where cookie dough is used. However, I think it might be edible cookie dough as once it is baked it remains the fudgy texture of dough.

    However, I can’t seem to buy it anywhere. Is there a recipe for it so I could use it in bakes? Particularly brownies! 🙂

    Merry Christmas and happy holidays!
    Mish

    • Gemma Stafford on December 22, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      Hi Mish,
      Thank you for your good wishes, and many happy returns.
      I am not too clear about what you are looking for. (https://www.biggerbolderbaking.com/edible-cookie-dough/), this is an edible cookie dough, but it can be added to other recipes and baked. Is this what you mean?
      Gemma 🙂

  13. Michael on December 19, 2017 at 5:19 am

    Gemma,

    Good morning. Love the site and thanks for taking questions. My question, if you dont mind. Every year my wife makes cinammon rolls for Christmas morning. They are the ones from a tube where you just pull them apart and bake them. This year I want to make them from scratch. Reading several recipes, they all call for proofing the dough and letting it double in size. All of the recipes state this will take between 2-3 hours. My question: Since I want the rolls to be ready to pop in the oven in the morning, can I make them the night before and refrigerate them? I have no desire to stay up all night waiting for the dough to proof and then completing the rest of the tasks needed to get the rolls ready for the oven.
    Thanks!!
    – Mike R

    • Gemma Stafford on December 19, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      Hi Michael,

      So I always make mine the day before, roll them out and pop them into the tray. Put them in the fridge over night then the next day let them proof for 2 hours roughly until they rise again.

      I hope this answers your question,
      Gemma.

  14. Tincy on December 14, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Hi,
    I wish you could try out some Indian recepies..
    Thank you.

    • Gemma Stafford on December 15, 2017 at 5:23 am

      I am working on this, I hope to do some in 2018, thank you for being in touch,
      Gemma 🙂

      • Ong Sky on December 20, 2017 at 6:28 am

        Hi Gemma! I was wondering if u know can butter be substituted? Do reply soon! Xoxo

        • Gemma Stafford on December 21, 2017 at 11:31 am

          Hi there,
          Butter is a great ingredient, and it works really well in baking. If you need to substitute it it is best to use a good baking margarine. This is usually sold in a block, not in a tub. Tub margarine is designed for spreading and are a bit too soft for many purposes.
          I hope this is of help,
          Gemma 🙂

          • Sky on December 21, 2017 at 8:41 pm

            Thank you!

  15. Rena Pezzuto on December 13, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    Help! Cranberry pie is TOO Liquid! Do I bake it longer?

    • Gemma Stafford on December 13, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      Hi Rena,

      Is it pure cranberry? no other fruit?

      Cranberries are very liquidy and might be better paired with a fruit that would soak up the extra a liquid.

      Hope this helps,
      Gemma.

  16. murbina123 on December 10, 2017 at 12:42 am

    Hi Gemma,
    I just wanted to let you know that this page is so helpful for me. Especially now that I am going to be baking a lot.
    Thank you!

    • Gemma Stafford on December 10, 2017 at 2:31 am

      Great! I am rally happy to hear this.
      Do start with the basics, that is where you learn a lot. Try mug recipes if you have a microwave, this is also learning, and you will not waste ingredients.
      Thank you for being in touch,
      Gemma 🙂

  17. David Deal on December 8, 2017 at 5:58 am

    Do you have a recipe for water biscuit, want to make some without milk for employees at work but several employees can not handle milk

    • Gemma Stafford on December 9, 2017 at 9:23 am

      Hi David,

      Unfortunately I don’t. I haver never tried to make them. But I’ll keep a look out. Lots of bread recipe don’t have dairy. You could try one and make crackers out of it 🙂

  18. Makulit on November 29, 2017 at 5:17 am

    Hi. I tried your crazy cupcake recipe and it is very good but it was to sweet for me. Can i reduce the sugar on the batter so that i can experiment with other sweet flavors to balance it out? Thank you

    • Gemma Stafford on November 30, 2017 at 5:56 am

      Hi,

      Yes if you found it too sweet reduce the sugar by 1/4. That should help.

      Best,
      Gemma.

  19. mila on November 29, 2017 at 12:08 am

    Hi Gemma, if i put the chocolate fudge on a stick and stir it into hot milk will it be hot chocolate? Really need a hot chocolate on a stick recipe, and if you can tell me how to do a choc mint or orange one too!
    Thanks 🙂

  20. Lia Sokol on November 28, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    Hi Gemma!
    I’ve been a long time subscribers, and I bake a lot, but the one thing I always mess up is my buttercream frosting. Bits of butter get separates from the liquids and it’s all clumpy. What did I do wrong? Also, what website creator did you use? WordPress? Wix? Weebly?
    Thanks ilysm! 💞
    Lia

    • Gemma Stafford on November 30, 2017 at 5:17 am

      Hi Lia,

      Thanks so much for being apart of the community for so long. What type of butter are you using? it’s getting liquidy? that is very weird. I suggest changing your butter.

      P.S we use WordPress 🙂

  21. Shirley on November 28, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    Dear Gemma, just wanted to thank you for your wonder tips especially your bigger bolder basics
    Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Your to you and yours.
    Shirley

    • Gemma Stafford on November 29, 2017 at 8:41 pm

      Hi Shirley,

      I’m thrilled you like my recipes. The Basics were my favorite series to do.

      Happy Christmas and make sure you share photos of anything nice you make over the Holidays 🙂
      Gemma.

  22. Faria on November 27, 2017 at 4:51 am

    Hey Gemma,I am a fan of your recipes and love your videos!

    Can I use xylitol instead of sugar? If yes what is the ratio to sugar?

    • Gemma Stafford on November 28, 2017 at 2:41 am

      Hi Faria,
      For which recipe?
      This is important as xylitol does not caramelize, and so will not bind the ingredients in cookies for example. I really need to know more! For some of this product, crystals for instance, you replace it one for one. Read the instructions on the pack too, this will help.
      Gemma 🙂

  23. Sophia on November 22, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Hello! I’m in the process of making the salted fudge brownie trifle but I’m not sure on how to make the whipped cream part. I read the directions but it goes straight to the cream cheese part. I may be mis reading it but if you could help me that would be great!
    Thank you!

    • Gemma Stafford on November 22, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      Hi Sophia,
      Good for you, this is a big recipe, but a good one, well done.
      starting from step 8:
      Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Divide the cream in half, half for the mousse and other half for cream layers.
      So, you are whipping the cream, and putting 1/2 of it into the cream cheese mix. (Fold ½ whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. Place in fridge until needed).
      The remainder you hold back for the assembly of the trifle.
      I hope this helps.
      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,
      Gemma 🙂
      Place the other bowl of cream in the fridge until assembly of the trifle.

      • Sophia on November 22, 2017 at 1:56 pm

        I figured out the cream cheese part! Thank you! I made it about an hour ago but I won’t be serving it until tomorrow around 3. I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge…do you think it will stay fresh until then?
        I hope you have a great thanksgiving as well!

        • Gemma Stafford on November 23, 2017 at 9:16 pm

          you too, Sophia 🙂

  24. Sandy Pyland on November 22, 2017 at 8:07 am

    In your pecan pie recipe…can I use Karo syrup in place of golden syrup?????

    • Gemma Stafford on November 22, 2017 at 1:57 pm

      Hi there,
      Karo syrup is a type of corn syrup, it is a similar, but different thing! I have not use this in this recipe, so I am not sure about it! Golden syrup has a golden, caramel flavor, and this adds to the recipe. Not too sure about this!
      Gemma 🙂

  25. Debbie-sip2017 on November 22, 2017 at 3:09 am

    how can I get the recipes? for milkshakes

  26. Bear3591 on November 22, 2017 at 2:24 am

    When you say cream in your pecan pie do you mean whipping cream?

    • Gemma Stafford on November 22, 2017 at 6:06 am

      Hi,

      No it doesn’t have to be whipping cream for the pecan pie. You can use a cream that doesn’t whip.

      Great question,
      Gemma.

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