The scene in the Williams-Sonoma Pastry Tent at Music City Food + Wine this past weekend was like the best bake sale you’ve ever seen: Renowned chefs from some of Nashville’s best restaurants and bakeries each brought hundreds of samples of their favorite desserts to share with the crowd. While they were piping, slicing and serving we asked them for some of their best tips for home bakers. These are the ones that are bound to change your baking forever.
Bake Instagram-Worthy Bundt Cakes
Chef Kayla May of Nashville made one of the most popular treats in the pastry tent—show-stopping pistachio Bundt cakes that were featured on Food & Wine magazine’s Instagram. Each one (and, trust us, there were a lot…) had sharp, flawless details and a perfect glaze. So how’d she do it?
“I tested my cakes by coating the Nordic Ware Heritage Mini Bundt Pans three different ways—one with no pan spray, one with an oil-based spray, and one with an oil-based spray followed by flour,” says Kayla. “I found the last option worked best—the cakes literally fell right out of the pans.” (You could also use a flour-based baking spray like Bak-Klene for similar results.) Then, once she prepared her pans for baking, she used a piping bag to pipe the batter into the pans. “I’ve found that is the fastest and most accurate way to portion small bundt cakes.”
Whip Up the Best Homemade Whipped Cream
Chef Charles Hunter III of The Salted Table finished his smoked sweet potato pies with a swirl of whipped cream, which he made right in the tent using the new copper Kitchen Aid. Instead of using granulated sugar—or even fine baking sugar—Charles used confectioners’ sugar (also known as powdered sugar) to sweeten his whipped cream. “The confectioners’ sugar makes the cream a little bit stiffer and helps it hold its shape,” he explained. The tiny bit of cornstarch in the sugar makes the final result a bit stiffer, perfect for piping as Charles did atop his pie. Be sure to add the powdered sugar in after you’ve whipped the cold cream a bit, to ensure the cornstarch is activated.
Use Wedding Cake Techniques for Everyday Decorating
Putting fresh flowers and greenery on a cake is a major wedding trend, but when Juanita Lane from Dulce Desserts demonstrated how to do, we wondered why we weren’t using this trick to garnish our everyday desserts—it’s so simple! First she starts with a bouquet of fresh flowers from her local florist. She trims off the entire stem, so the bottom leaves of the flower are revealed. Then she pushes a toothpick into the sturdy base of the flower and inserts that toothpick into the cake to secure it. “Toothpicks are firmer than flower stems, so they will keep flowers from drooping,” says Juanita. Plus, since you aren’t actually putting the step in your cake, you don’t have to worry about searching out special food-grade flowers; you can use your favorite blooms instead.
Foolproof Your Pavlovas, Even in Humidity
When we ordered dessert at City House, a buzzy Nashville restaurant where chef Rebekah Turshen helms the pastry program, we were in awe of the pavlova, which came out light and crisp despite the humid Southern weather. Moisture is the enemy of meringue because it can cause the dessert to “weep,” or dispel water that creates a pooling or condensation on the dessert. So, when we spotted Rebekah dishing out desserts at our tent the next day, we had to ask her for her tips.
“Making a foolproof meringue starts with step one,” she pointed out. Whisk your egg whites on high until they are “white, opaque, and briefly hold a line as the whisk goes through” before you even start adding sugar, she advises. Having perfectly-whipped whites form the very beginning helps to stabilize the whole meringue, no matter the weather.
Master the Macaron
Pastry chef Mayme Gretsch of Utterly Nashville brought another show-stopping sweet: salted dark chocolate macarons topped with flecks of edible gold. Macarons are finicky and labor-intensive, so bringing hundreds of them was the ultimate pastry chef power move. Is it something the home cook could attempt?
“Macarons are definitely a challenge to master,” Mayme admits. “I think it’s okay to fail a few times so you can really learn from your mistakes.” To speed up that learning process, try baking with a marked macaron baking mat to use as a guide for even, consistent piping. And avoid the ultimate beginner’s mistake of being impatient. Be sure to let your macarons dry for 30 minutes to an hour before baking, which helms them develop the kind of crisp outer shell that differentiates a beginner’s attempt from a pastry chef-approved macaron.
What are your best pointers for baking bundt cakes, macarons, pavlovas and other desserts? If you have any tips, do share them with the rest of us below.