Thanks to an unyielding appetite for speedy, single-pot suppers that practically cook themselves, we often find ourselves with a pocket of time just the right size for baking on weeknights. Whether you bake as a complement to the main dish, the centerpiece for a celebration, or to send something homemade to school for snack time, weeknight baking does not have to mean a sink full of dirty dishes or a flour-flecked apron.
Instead, make weeknight baking appealing with smart ingredient shortcuts and clever equipment choices. Here are 10 things I always have on hand for weeknight baking.
The fewer bottles and bags I need to pull from the pantry on a weeknight the better. Self-rising flour is simply all-purpose flour with the leavening and salt already mixed right in. While you can certainly purchase premixed self-rising flour, it is surprisingly easy to make yourself. The most important thing to remember is to shake or whisk the flour mixture before measuring to make sure the leavening is evenly dispersed. These cinnamon rolls lean on self-rising flour and come together in mere minutes while the bacon and eggs cook for my favorite weeknight meal: breakfast for dinner.
Instant yeast is finer than active dry, so it can be mixed directly into the dry ingredients without dissolving in warm liquid. Doughs made with instant yeast can be shaped right after mixing, without waiting an hour or more for an initial rise. You might also see instant yeast sold as rapid or quick rise. With a little practice and experimentation, many recipes written for doughs with active dry yeast can be used for instant yeast as well.
Peek inside my freezer on any day of the week and you'll find a mound of pizza dough. Homemade or store-bought, this dough is a blank canvas ready to be made into pizza pies, crackers, calzones, flatbreads, or even rolls. The key is remembering to move the dough to the fridge to defrost overnight.
4. Puff pastry
With dozens of delicate buttery layers, store-bought puff pastry is suitable for savory or sweet baking. Twist into cheesy straws to serve with tomato soup, roll into pinwheels for a flaky take on garlic bread, or pair with chocolate for a weeknight riff on pastry shop classics.
Weeknight baking usually means I reach for a bottle of cooking oil rather than a stick of butter. Oils can be mixed right into a batter, while butter needs time to soften. Cakes and muffins mixed with oil are more moist because oil is 100% fat, rather than the mixture of fat, water, and milk solids found in butter.
6. Cheese grater
Still, sometimes butter is best for baking and oil just won't do. I have proven myself unable to hit the sweet spot of softening butter in my microwave. For me, a more reliable resource is the box grater. Grating cold butter means smaller pieces that warm to room temperature almost instantly, so that freshly baked cookies, cakes, and biscuits are mere minutes away.
7. Muffin pans
Have a craving for quick bread but don't want to wait an hour? Bake the batter in a fraction of the time simply by dividing the batter into muffins. Just remember to line the wells with paper cups to make cleanup a breeze. Muffin pans also pinch hit in the dinner department by miniaturizing your meals into bite-sized portions.
8. Bundt pan
Bundt pans are the weeknight answer to celebration cakes. Large enough to serve a crowd and with an attractive design baked right in, all a Bundt cake needs is a dusting of powdered sugar or a simple glaze for drizzling.
9. Parchment paper or silicone baking mat
Step away from the spray can, and instead line baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Cookie bottoms brown evenly without the extra grease and I'm not left standing at the sink. Both parchment paper and the silicone mats can be reused, although the mats have a significantly longer life. My baking sheets live in a drawer so I store the mats right inside the sheets (sliding them into a paper towel tube works as well).
10. Heating pad
My kitchen is drafty and cool year-round, thanks to the natural chill of winter and the breeze of summertime air conditioning. This is great for quickly cooling cakes, but proofing yeast doughs always takes too long. I keep an electric heating pad nearby to create a cozy spot for dough to rise. Set the bowl on the heating pad, then wrap everything in a large kitchen towel — just be sure to check your dough regularly to monitor its rise.
What tips do you have to keep baking all week long?