Fall is a time of transition. Children begin new chapters as students, green leaves begin new chapters as colorful ones, and the air begins a new chapter as something that’s not humid and stifling. For me, that cooler air means it’s time to start baking. There’s wiggle room for the oven to heat up the kitchen a little, filling the house with the delicious wafting smells of fresh baked breads, pies, and cookies. Or at least, that’s the idea.
Fall is an aspirational season, whether we’re talking aesthetics, baked goods, or anything else—and the thing about aspirations is that we often fall short. “I’ll bake a pie and make the crust from scratch, finally!” I say, side-eyeing a box of Pillsbury roll-up dough like I don’t need it anymore. Fast forward half an hour and my “homemade dough” is more crumbly than it should be but it’s also somehow too warm, and I have no idea what to do.
When things like this happen, it’s nice to know that there are people out there who can help. Enter: the baking hotline.
We all know about the Butterball hotline, which walks confused home chefs through their Thanksgiving dinner prep each year. What about non-turkey-related issues, though? There are actually several options for bakers when issues arise, and not just around Thanksgiving time. So, the next time you find yourself in a pinch, try one of these resources.
The King Arthur Baker’s Hotline is available by phone, email, or text and is staffed with “professional bakers ready to guide you through any baking challenge.”
I’ve personally used this hotline, in both email and text form (since I’m a millennial and, true to my generation’s reputation, will avoid phone calls at all costs). For a question that doesn’t need immediate attention, I find the email option to be great. If it’s urgent, though, text or phone is available, and you’re connected with a live person. I once used this feature when I had bread dough rising on the counter and suddenly realized I wouldn’t have time to bake. A friendly hotline professional told me to chill (and that I could chill the dough overnight and let it rise again the next day). King Arthur is awesome.
The Gourmandise School operates a phone hotline daily for “all of your baking questions or conundrums.” It’s available every day from 10 a.m. PST to 7:30 p.m. PST. In addition, the school maintains a library of common questions and answers on its website, explaining what to do about collapsing cakes, why cookies spread too thin, and the difference between baking soda and baking powder.
Unlike the King Arthur and Gourmandise School hotlines, which operate over the phone, the Food52 Hotline is more like a message board. Posts on the “hotline” are searchable by topic. Time-sensitive issues can be marked “urgent,” though its worth noting that some may still go unanswered, such as this recent last-minute conundrum about whether the layers for a surprise carrot cake could be refrigerated.
• Chicago chef Sarah Stegner operated a daily hotline during the height of the pandemic. She seems to be back to her normal gig at Prairie Grass Café now, but that’s a super cool thing for a chef to have done while we were all suddenly in our kitchens trying to make good food for ourselves.
• “Ask Betty” from Betty Crocker has a searchable database of questions and answers, and you can pose new questions, but it isn’t quite as live or interactive as the other options. According to the webpage for “Ask Betty,” Betty Crocker “has been answering America’s kitchen questions since 1921, and she’s still at it!” As The Takeout recently explored, the woman herself is fictional, but hey, we’re still grateful “Betty” is answering America’s kitchen questions on the regular.