Baking is a science. You follow the recipe exactly, you get the baked good you’re after, right? Well, sort of.
Pastry chef Gesine Bullock-Prado, who taught herself to bake while working for her sister Sandra Bullock in Los Angeles by pouring over guide books and practicing her skills every weekend, says there are a few telltale signs that someone is a novice baker. Not knowing how to properly measure flour (keep reading to find out what you’re doing wrong) is a big one, but the star of Food Network’s Baked in Vermont tells PEOPLE there are a few basic tricks and small investments you can make to take your desserts to the next level.
Get yourself a bench scraper.
The metal blade with a plastic or wooden handle is the one tool—which will only set you back between $5 and $10—Bullock-Prado insists every baker needs. “It’s great for cutting things, cutting doughs, portioning them, and cleaning off your work surface,” she says. “Bench scrapers are also the best icing smoothers for cakes. It’s a great multipurpose tool.”
In the same vein, the chef is a fan of plastic bowl scrapers for getting “every last bit of batter out so that you’re not wasting any,” she says. “Except for when you want to lick the bowl—and then just lick the bowl.”
Measure your flour.
“Most people don’t know how to measure flour properly,” says Bullock-Prado. If you dip a measuring cup into the bag of flour, you often pack the flour and use too much. Instead, “gently sprinkle it into the cup, not moving the cup at all, not tapping the cup, not anything, and then carefully sweep it off,” she says. Each cup should be 120 grams, so Bullock-Prado recommends purchasing a kitchen scale to make sure you’re right on point.
Chill your cookie dough.
Bullock-Prado stresses how important it is to refrigerate your dough before making cookies, like in her oatmeal raisin cookie ice cream sandwich recipe below, to allow it to “develop flavor and texture,” she says. “Once you do that they’re perfectly chewy and slightly crispy on the edges.”
The secret to icing a cake is heat.
When smoothing the icing on the sides of a layer cake with a bench scraper there are two things you need to remember: it should be clean and hot. Even the tiniest crumb on the kitchen tool can cause lines to appear in your icing, says Bullock-Prado, so remember to constantly wipe it clean. More importantly though, the pastry chef recommends heating the scraper. The heat melts the icing slightly and gives it that smooth finish. She uses a kitchen torch but don’t fret if you don’t own one. “You can just run it under scalding hot water, dry it off and boom,” she says.
Baked in Vermont premieres Saturday, May 5 at 10:30 am ET/PT on Food Network.
Gesine Bullock-Prado’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. baking soda
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups uncooked old-fashioned regular rolled oats
1 cup raisins
Your favorite flavor ice cream, softened
1. Whisk together flour, 1 teaspoon sea salt, baking powder, cinnamon and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.
2. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
3. Slowly add flour mixture, beating on low speed until just combined. Add oats, and beat on low speed for about 5 seconds. Stir in raisins. Cover and chill dough for at least 30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 350°. Scoop 22 spoonfuls (about 3 tablespoons each) of dough, and place 3 inches apart on 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Flatten dough slightly with the bottom of a glass. Sprinkle with sea salt.
5. Bake in oven until edges are set and golden brown, 14 to 15 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
6. Sandwich 1 scoop of ice cream between the flat sides of 2 cookies; repeat with remaining cookies. Wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze until the ice cream is firm, about 30 minutes.
Makes: 11 sandwiches
Active time: 25 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Food Hack: Get creative! Bullock-Prado suggests rolling the edges of the sandwich in tiny butterscotch chips, toffee bits, shredded coconut or chopped toasted nuts.