Duff Goldman's 15 Best Tips For Home Bakers

Duff Goldman's creative style, dynamic personality, and genuinely delicious recipes have earned him widespread acclaim in the world of baking. This is no surprise, considering that he became interested in cooking and baking as a child. Since then, he has pulled out all the stops, including graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, staging as a pastry chef at the eminent French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, earning a spot on the Food Network, and opening his own cake shop, Charm City Cakes, which is known for its elaborate and intricately decorated cakes.

Goldman's experience has given him a deep understanding of the science and artistry of baking, but he has also extended himself beyond the confines of traditional baking. He continually pushes the boundaries of culinary artistry by experimenting with unconventional ingredients and techniques to create visually stunning and delicious masterpieces. Luckily for us, we can get a peak into his wildly successful baking career through some of his top tips for home bakers. So let's take a look at how to distill Duff Goldman's extensive experience and creativity into a few brief suggestions anyone can implement at home.

Add Kahlúa whenever you can

It may seem like Duff Goldman focuses so much on the appearance of his desserts that he does not have time to think too much about the flavor. Luckily, that is not the case. In fact, he is always coming up with new ways to make his treats more flavorful and interesting to the palate. One of his secret ingredients for flavor is Kahlúa. As he once told Tasting Table in an exclusive interview, "Kahlúa makes everything taste delicious. Kahlúa is the pastry chef's little secret."

As he went on to explain, the key to successfully using this liqueur in desserts is moderation. A little goes a long way, especially because one of its key ingredients of rum. The unique blend of coffee and rum pairs especially well with creamy desserts like puddings and mousses and offers a slight twist on classic flavors without overwhelming them.

Add water by hand when making pie crust

We don't judge anyone who would rather buy pre-made pie crust at the store than make it themselves. Even Ina Garten uses store-bought pie crust when in need — which is surely an extension of her "store-bought is fine" philosophy. We get it; life is short, and who has the time to make everything from scratch? But if you're bored on a Sunday afternoon, why not go for it? Making pie crust at home may be laborious, but it pays off in flavor and texture.

But to make it worthwhile, it's important to have a good pie crust recipe on hand, and that's where Duff Goldman has you covered. According to Goldman, it's perfectly okay to make life easier for yourself by preparing the pie crust in your food processor, but on one condition: You must then add the water by hand or you risk torpedoing the whole project. That's because a food processor can all too easily overmix the dough once the water is added, leading to a mixture that is too sticky to handle and one that will not transform into a flaky crust when it's cooked. Instead, add ice-cold water to your dough in single-tablespoon increments. Mix it in with a fork or your hands until it has achieved the right consistency.

Use golden syrup in pecan pie

Golden syrup is not a common product in American cupboards. It's much more popular in the U.K., where it graces practically every household shelf and is used for a variety of purposes, including as a pancake topping or a sweetener in cakes. But Duff Goldman likes to use it in pies, too. He swaps corn syrup for golden syrup in his pecan pie recipe. As he told Tasting Table in an exclusive interview, golden syrup is better in part because "It's not gloopy. It's not cloyingly sweet. Corn syrup has almost a petroleum consistency to it. Corn syrup is great for some stuff, but I find that if you're going to make a pecan pie, golden syrup is the way to go."

See for yourself by trying this classic pecan pie recipe, which also happens to call for golden syrup, along with a splash of maple syrup for good measure. Pecan pie can taste too sweet for some palates, but you may find that Goldman's substitution tones it down a bit so that you can also taste the rest of the ingredients — like those delicious pecans.

Employ a cake leveler for layer cakes

If you want to serve up a tasty cake that is also easy on the eyes, look no further than Duff Goldman for advice. For instance, one common problem amateur bakers often face is uneven or slanted cuts when making layer cakes. It may seem simple and easy to just cut through the middle of a cake, but if you've ever failed at this task, you'll know that a lot of things can go wrong between the moment you stick your knife into the cake and when it comes out the other side.

But there is a trick that can make your life easier. For evenly-cut layered cakes, grab a cake saw or cake leveler. To use it properly, be sure to place the feet of the tool on the table before you start sawing away. You'll end up with a perfectly straight cut, which will, in turn, give you a perfectly flat surface for your filling. Just be sure to wait until the cake has cooled completely before you cut, or you risk creating a crumb massacre on the inside of the cake.

Measure ingredients with a scale

Many cake recipes call for 2 cups of this or 1 cup of that. This is a fine way to measure out the ingredients in a cake — but it's not a great way. In other words, when it comes to baking, accuracy is paramount, and the most accurate measuring tool is not a cup but a kitchen scale. This is why Duff Goldman prefers to measure his ingredients by weighing them. Not only does he use a scale, but he considers it the most important baking tool a person can own. 

In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, he recommended that bakers write their recipes in grams so that they can be easily replicated in the future. He noted that "a cup of flour can weigh 6.5 ounces or it can weigh 7.5 ounces. That 1-ounce difference is a big difference in the finished texture of a cookie." So next time you want to make your favorite cake or cookie recipe, convert cups to weights and go from there.

Combine ice and sugar to make decorations

Duff Goldman is known for baking delicious desserts, but perhaps what has made him most famous is his creativity when it comes to his show-stopping decorations. So you'd be hard-pressed to find a better person for advice on how to decorate your cake. Indeed, Goldman has the perfect tip for a simple decoration: Pour hot sugar or chocolate straight into a bowl of ice.

What you end up with may surprise you. As Goldman has explained, this process creates some very interesting shapes and is easy for anyone to do at home. All you have to do is heat up your sugar or chocolate before dripping it onto a bowl of ice. As soon as the hot and cold substances meet, the liquid component will instantly harden and turn into a fun shape that you can use to decorate your cake. Just take care not to get any of that scalding liquid on your fingers in the process.

Keep a clean workspace

Keeping a clean workspace is essential in any restaurant. But the practice is just as important at home; a messy environment can have an indirect but significant impact on the outcome of your recipe. Duff Goldman's pre-baking ritual, which is easy to adopt in your home kitchen, is to start off with a clean space. 

But this isn't just about keeping things sanitary. It's about eliminating any distractions that could interrupt the delicate baking process. For instance, if you're making caramel and are watching the pan attentively, only to be distracted by a sink full of dirty dishes, you could end up burning your caramel and have to start all over again. Instead, ensure the sink is empty and all the dishes have been put away. This will also leave you with plenty of counter space to lay out all your baking tools to make your recipe.

Add cardamom to fall desserts

Cardamom is all too often underestimated. Its warm, peppery, earthy, and somehow slightly minty flavor profile is perfect for both savory and sweet recipes. Cardamom is one of Duff Goldman's favorite fall baking ingredients. Although pumpkin spice may reign supreme during this season, it's high time it steps aside to give cardamom a chance.

As Goldman told Tasting Table in an exclusive interview, "Almost everything I make has cardamom in it. I put cardamom in my apple pie; I put it in my spice bread; I put it in my gingerbread. I use cardamom a lot. It's such a wonderful, unique flavor." That's because not only does this robust spice stand up well on its own, but it also pairs well with other typical fall spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. Goldman went on to explain that he also uses this spice for savory fall bakes, along with equally-beloved cumin. 

Don't forget to sift dry ingredients

You may have heard that sifting is an antiquated practice of the past and a step that people used to have to do to compensate for the impurities in old-timey flour. Indeed, back in the day, sifting was a requirement to keep unsavory elements from falling into your cake. But the truth is that sifting had another purpose, which is still relevant today: It aerates the flour and leads to a fluffier, lighter cake mix that yields spongier and more evenly-baked goods.

Sifting is the cake prep step that Duff Goldman recommends bakers use. It may feel optional, and your cake may still come out fine without the sifting, but if you don't want to take any chances, sifting is the way to go. Not only will it remove clumps, but it will also allow all the ingredients to mix together more evenly.

Decorate with fondant or marzipan

Cake decorations are the undisputed domain of Duff Goldman, which is why whenever he talks about this subject, we listen. In this case, we took note of how Goldman prefers to use marzipan instead of fondant to decorate his cakes. Although fondant can be molded into practically anything, it can also become too sticky or too dry when exposed to air — and frankly, it doesn't taste very good. Marzipan is easier to work with and can easily be found at most grocery stores. It also tastes better on account of the almonds. While fondant is mainly just sugar, marzipan has a nutty flavor that adds depth to the sugary mixture.

That said, if you're a newbie baker looking to up your cake decorating game, using fondant can still be a great way to practice your skills. To take your cake decorating to the next level, Goldman recommends rolling out some fondant on your counter, taking an edible marker, and just drawing on it. You can either stop there or use your drawings as a guide to practice your piping techniques.

Pay attention to flour

Bread is so ubiquitous that you'd think it was the easiest thing in the world to bake. But nothing could be further from the truth. As many pandemic-era home bakers discovered, baking the perfect loaf of bread is laborious, time-consuming, and requires careful attention to ingredients. If you choose the wrong flour or work it incorrectly, you could end up with a subpar result.

Luckily, Duff Goldman has shared his tips for mastering savory baking and bread. He suggests preparing pizza dough three days before you're going to use it to allow the yeast to break down the starch, which develops a crispy crunch in the final product. Similarly, a buttery quiche crust relies on a thorough understanding of how flour behaves when combined with the rest of the ingredients. Once you know how to work with your flour of choice, you can start experimenting with various ones to see which works best for your needs.

Bake with canned cranberries

Canned cranberries are a longstanding American Thanksgiving staple, but many people don't know that they're more than just a side dish. In fact, Duff Goldman has found creative ways to use canned cranberry sauce, including in the cranberry walnut cake he makes at Charm City Cakes and for cookies that can easily be made at home. As he told Tasting Table in an exclusive interview, "I've used it for thumbprint cookies. You take it and you got to mash it up and get it soft again, and then you can pipe it into the cookie."

Another idea he had was to use the fruity spread to make a cranberry version of Fig Newtons. You would just have to thicken the sauce a bit before putting it in the cookie, or it might become too runny in the oven. The fig filling in Fig Newtons contains crushed cookies, so a similar technique could be used with the cranberries. Either way, the next time you have a can of cranberries leftover from Thanksgiving, you'll know what to do.

Soak oatmeal and raisins before baking them

Many people see the dried fruit in an oatmeal raisin cookie and give it a hard pass. Yet this traditional sweet endures, so there must be some people out there who like it. Perhaps the problem is that far too many oatmeal raisin cookies are improperly made. Perhaps most bakers don't try Duff Goldman's trick for delicious oatmeal raisin cookies: soaking the oats and the raisins first. 

This tip can completely change your experience eating these cookies. Soaking will rehydrate both ingredients, which makes the raisins easier to bite into and gives the cookie a more moist texture overall. But if you really still can't get behind the whole raisin idea, that doesn't mean it's time to admit defeat. You can try substituting them for any other dried fruit of your choice, including cranberries or cherries. While you certainly can make oatmeal cookies without dried fruit, this element adds a hint of acidity to the mix and balances out the flavor, so leaving them out might not be your best bet.

Add a personal touch to boxed cake mix

Boxed cake mix might not be your go-to ingredient when you want to bake to impress, but it'll do in a pinch, especially if you use Duff Goldman's trick for elevating boxed cake mix to new heights. And don't worry, it's a simple hack that anyone can pull off — as long as they have a pantry full of ingredients to work with. Just reach in and grab your favorite spices, add them to a simple boxed cake mix (like vanilla), and begin your experimentation without worrying about changing the rise or chemical composition of your batter. The same applies to citrus zest, extracts, or small amounts of chopped nuts or chocolate chips.

But don't stop there. If you're willing to go completely off the map with your cake mix and are not afraid of messing with the structure of the batter, consider using that extra can of pumpkin puree you forgot about last Thanksgiving or pouring in some applesauce that would otherwise go bad. To avoid causing the batter to become too wet, dial back any other liquid ingredients that the recipe on the box calls for. 

Take a cake out of the fridge in advance

Say you've already made a perfect birthday cake, and all you have to worry about now is how to cut it and serve it to your guests. Well, Duff Goldman has advice for that, too. First of all, if you thought you could cut the cake into individual portions beforehand, think again. Goldman advises against this, as it could cause the crumb to dry out. Instead, he recommends cutting the cake right before serving it to ensure the freshest possible bite.

But before you even get to the cutting stage, you should make sure the cake is at room temperature. So if you prepare,d the cake the day before your party and stored it in the fridge, remember to take it out at least one hour before you plan on serving it to give it time to warm up and regain its flavor. Only then should you cut into it and serve it to your awaiting party guests.