If you're pulling out your oft-neglected rolling pin for a bout of holiday baking, you might benefit from a few tips from Bob Hartwig, pastry chef of the French Pastry School in Chicago:
For cakes: When making a cake batter with more than two mixtures going together, don't incorporate the batters 100 percent until the final addition. Mix them just 75 percent. This helps avoid overmixing.
¢ "Comb" cake batter up the inside of the cake pan with a spatula and the cake will rise better.
¢ Don't poke a cake with a toothpick or other cake tester; if it isn't done and must return to the oven, then you've just given moisture a way to escape. Instead, touch the center lightly; it is done when it springs back.
For pastry: When making a tart or pie dough, don't mix all the way until the dough comes together. Instead, when the dough is nearly together, place it on a large piece of plastic wrap and gently mold together by hand into a ball in the wrap. This will help prevent overmixing.
¢ Two strips of thin wood placed on either side of your rolling pin can help you roll more evenly. Try paint stirrers found at hardware stores.
¢ When prebaking a tart crust, take it directly from the freezer to the hot oven. A crust will form before the dough thaws, preventing shrinkage of the crust.