Piping bags are a pain. There, I said it.
Not for everyone, of course. I’m envious of talented decorators, like our Test Kitchen’s own Lydia Fournier, who can flawlessly frost a cake without even looking at it. (This is not an exaggeration.)
For mere mortals like me, though, every pastry bag excursion seems to end up a complicated, sticky mess. I wind up with frosting or batter all over my hands and counter, and air pockets that cause breaks in my piping.
But as with all other elements of baking, knowledge (and experience!) can solve most problems. And this time, better piping bag prowess is coming straight from none other than baker and cookbook author Claire Saffitz, who has two essential tips for an easier, cleaner piping experience.
In her recent video demonstrating how to make sour cream doughnuts, Claire fills a large pastry bag with doughnut batter (because she ingeniously pipes, rather than cuts, her doughnuts). To fill without fuss, she uses a large drinking glass or plastic quart container to hold the empty bag, with the sides folded over the rim to keep the mouth of the bag open. With the vessel holding the bag firmly in place and the opening nice and wide, she can fill the piping bag with ease (and using two hands, instead of one).
Watch her demonstrate below:
This tip gets the batter into the bag cleanly, without anything sticking to the outside or close to the edges, but that’s only half the battle.
As Claire explains in the video, it’s also important to avoid air pockets in the filled piping bag. Make sure to press the batter or frosting all the way in so that you fill the bag compactly, without any gaps or pockets of air. Then, finish the job by using your hands or, more helpfully, a straight edge like a bench knife or bowl scraper to force all the batter or frosting down into the bottom of the bag. This step not only ensures that the bag is filled completely, without air bubbles, but also prevents any sticky contents from lingering near the opening, where it can accidentally squish out and make a mess.
Here she is demonstrating this step later in the same video:
With these tips and a new set of pastry bags, I might just feel confident enough to take on a celebratory basket-weave cake. But if you’re more inspired to bake Claire’s Sour Cream Cake Doughnuts, watch the full video of her walking you through the process.
Cover photo by Rick Holbrook.