5 Easy Ways to Upgrade Everyday Desserts

Pastry chefs across the country share how they elevate homemade desserts. Spoiler alert: You don't have to be a pastry pro to put these insider tips to work for you.

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Tips From Pastry Chefs illustration showing a pastry bag, a decorated cake, a croissant, mint leaves, chocolate bar, lattice-topped pie, and butter.
Photo: Emily Lundin/Dotdash-Meredith

There is nothing quite like fresh home-baked desserts, but sometimes you want them to feel a little extra. We are talking bakery- or restaurant-quality desserts, sure to impress your guests. The truth is, with a few alterations to an already perfect home recipe, it's not that hard to do, even for everyday home cooks. We turned to pastry chefs across the country to find doable ways to fancify our sweet treats at home. Keep reading to get their five easy tips to take your homemade desserts to the next level.

1. Use better butter.

From cookies to cakes, so many of the baked goods we make require butter. But in order to really make the butter work for you, you'll want to pay attention to the butter you buy and the temperature it needs to be. Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne & Katherine Kallinis Berman, co-founders of Georgetown Cupcake, recommend Plugra unsalted butter.

"Butter itself has a taste, and when you use a high-quality butter in your baking at home, it really shines through and you can taste the difference," says LaMontagne. "It has a slightly higher fat content and is perfect for baking delicious cupcakes, cakes, and cookies at home."

Plugra European Style Unsalted Butter

Plugra European Style Unsalted Butter

Buy it: $3.99; amazon.com

The type of butter can make a difference but so can the temperature. If butter is supposed to be softened at room temperature, make sure it is. If it calls for cold or melted butter, follow the recipe directions.

Christopher Curtin, certified master chef and chocolatier of Éclat Chocolate in West Chester, Pa. says, "Making sure your cultured butter is at the right temperature for proper applications makes an unbelievable difference in the end result."

Jackson Smith, co-owner and pastry chef of Atlanta's Honeysuckle Gelato has a tip if your recipe calls for brown butter, like in these brown butter cookies. He uses it when he makes blondies and brown butter pecan gelato.

"If something calls for browned butter, here's a tip to amp up the flavor," says Smith. "When you're browning the butter, just as the color of the little bits at the bottom approaches amber, add in a tablespoon or two of dry milk powder. Keep stirring it as the solids continue to caramelize, and then proceed with the rest of your recipe."

2. Infuse with flavor.

Want to take your desserts to new heights of flavor? Try infusing. Buttercream frosting or whipped cream are are excellent candidates for infusing with all kinds of flavors.

Pastry Chef Lindsey Davis of Aziza infuses her desserts — everything from mousses to pie fillings — with tea. "For example, I like making chai tea apple pie and berry tea ganache. Teas are a great way to intensify a present flavor," she says.

Delilah Pergola, head baker at High Street in Philadelphia loves infusions, too. "Think Lavender Italian Buttercream or Thai Tea American Buttercream," she says. "Simply melt the butter and steep your infusion of choice for 30 minutes to an hour. Strain out any solids, then bring your infused butter to whatever temperature you need to complete your recipe."

The same goes for heavy creams. "Bring the cream to a scald and allow your flavoring of choice to steep in the cream for 30-60 minutes." Add in fresh herbs like mint or basil or ground freeze dried strawberries. "Add flavor AND color to whipped cream as a topping to your next pound cake," she says. The possibilities are endless.

3. Choose the good chocolate.

You've likely heard this tip a few times but using good quality chocolate can make all the difference in your chocolatey desserts. Many pastry chefs recommend using Valrhona but if you can't get your hands on it, Michelle Poteaux, executive pastry chef and owner of Bastille Restaurant in Alexandria, Va. keeps various bags of 60%+ on hand. "I use Specialty Belgian Dark Chocolate from Aldi or I will have Ghirardelli 60% Dark Chocolate available from most grocers, and I have even used Dove Dark Chocolate Promises in a pinch (just chop them up) also available pretty much anywhere," she says.

While you are at it, go ahead and level up that cocoa powder too. Cocoa powder also matters for taking your baking to the next level. I like Cacao Barry Extra brute for a good strong chocolate flavor," says Davis.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark 60% Cacao Dark Chocolate

Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark Bar, Evening Dream 60% Cacao

Buy it: $4.78; amazon.com

Dove Promises Dark Chocolate Candies

Dove Dark Chocolate Promises

Buy it: $4.79; target.com

Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder 100% Cocoa Extra Brute

bag of Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder 100% Cocoa Extra Brute

Buy it: $23.19; amazon.com

Another good tip to enhance that chocolate flavor? Coffee. "I recommend adding a few tablespoons of brewed coffee or espresso to chocolate chip cookie or brownie recipes as the coffee really enhances the chocolate flavor," says Tab Volpe, the Executive Pastry Chef for the Barbara Lynch Collective in Boston, Mass.

4. Keep it cool.

Working with dough? Volpe suggests keeping everything cool. "When making any kind of dough, try chilling all the ingredients before mixing, including the bowl and paddle or hook. The reason I do this is to help keep everything at the same temperature and keep the butter from softening too quickly."

5. Add a fancy flourish.

Want to flex those design muscles? Yesenia Jarquin, Executive Pastry Chef at Centrolina and Piccolina, recommends investing in pastry bags and tips, even if using them may take some practice. Poteaux has fun with things like sprinkles and edible gold. She loves Fancy Sprinkles and recommends Sweet Sugarbelle Edible Gold Dust to add a little shimmer to chocolate cakes or cookies.

Sweet Sugarbelle Edible Dust

Sweet Sugarbelle™ Edible Dust

Buy it: $7.99; michaels.com


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