by Paige Vaden
I’ve loved baking since I was a kid. Growing up, my favorite toy was the Easy-Bake oven, and my favorite thing do was to help my mom make cookies. So, when I moved to an off campus house this past year, I was looking forward to having my own kitchen and oven more than anything else. I imagined that I’d be able to bake anything I wanted, whenever I wanted, but being a college student presents some challenges. Whether it’s finding time to bake with a busy schedule or baking with minimal counter space, here’s some advice about what I’ve learned over the past year!
1. Utilize the space and materials you have. As college students, most of us aren’t going to have spacious kitchens and top-notch appliances at our disposal, so it’s important to work with what we’ve got. This year, I’ve been living in a house with about 2 square feet of counter space which makes it extremely difficult to bake or cook anything from scratch. But, I’ve learned to bring out a TV tray to double my counter space. Here’s a picture of my kitchen when I tried out a new recipe this week (I wasn’t exaggerating about the counter space).
Some kitchen equipment like mixing bowls are essential, but you can be creative if you’re missing a utensil. Don’t have a whisk, use a fork. Don’t have cookie cutter, use a cup or even cut out your own shapes! It’s all about using what you have.
2. Invest in Quality ingredients/products. When you’re living on a college student budget, sometimes it can be hard to justify not always buying the cheapest ingredients. But, when an ingredient is essential to the flavor of a dish, it’s important make sure it’s a good quality. Some things like flour, sugar, and baking powder are standard, but splurging on dark chocolate chips or walnuts can take your creation above and beyond. This is especially true if you don’t have time or energy to make something from scratch. If you end up using a box mix for things like brownies or cakes (which if we’re being honest, most of us do) this is especially important. Ghirardelli makes a great brownie mix. For just a little bit higher price, you’ll have people complementing your “homemade” brownies. This tip can also be applied to some baking products. Parchment paper might seem like a thing only the Food Network pros use, but I just learned that using this paper as a lining on your pans can really save you a lot of time and frustration when removing things from trays or pans.
3. It’s all about the presentation. A decorative dessert is more exciting than a plain one. It’s usually easier than you think to dress up whatever you’ve baked. For example, cupcakes are super simple to decorate with just a Ziploc bag and colored icing. Fill a sandwich bag with whatever icing you want on your cake, then cut a corner out and you’ve got a makeshift piping bag! Rectangular box cakes are the classic birthday dessert, but honestly, they’re a little boring and bland. So, if I want to bake a cake for a friend’s birthday, I’ll turn a chocolate box cake to a Double Chocolate Bundt cake by adding chocolate chips and a chocolate pudding mix, and baking it in a Bundt pan.
4. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Baking is a cross between science and art, so while it’s important to get the right proportion of ingredients don’t be afraid to try new flavors or ideas. I really like trying to incorporate healthy substitutions into my baking. Trying things like black bean brownies or cookie dough hummus can be a fun experiment, and you’ll even feel a little healthier eating them. (Both recipes taste better than they sound, I promise). It’s important to realize that not all your creative endeavors will turn out in exactly the way you want, but at least you know to try something else next time!
5. Sharing is caring. Lastly, baking is meant to be shared so gather up some friends and share what you’ve made. Now, get baking!