Tip #1: 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.
Tip #2: Substitute shortening
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.
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Tip #3: 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.)
Tip #4 Stock up on White Lily
And 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.
Tip #5 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. (Check out StillTasty for guidelines.)