asked professional pastry chefs from restaurants and bakeries around the country to give us their best tips for home bakers. Here’s a sample of what we heard:

Leslie Mackie, Macrina Bakery and Café, Seattle, Washington
“Since butter can be pricey, try using a pie crust recipe with a higher amount of vegetable shortening than butter. You’ll keep your costs down and the shortening will make the crust flakier.”

Karen Barker, Magnolia Grill, Durham, North Carolina
“Home bakers should approach their tasks like a professional chef. That means thinking ahead! Do as much prep work for your desserts as possible. Make pastry dough, sauces, and other elements of complicated desserts in advance and freeze them. Assemble the components at the last minute. It’s less stressful and often leads to tastier results.”

Alexis Handleman, Alexis Baking Co., Napa Valley, California
“Rinsing out a pastry bag can be a real waste of time. I recommend using plastic baggies as pastry bags. Just cut off a corner and insert a pastry tip. Fill the bag and throw it away after using. I always use this tip when I’m gluing together gingerbread houses with royal icing. The ‘Ziploc’ keeps the icing fresh and prevents it from hardening. Another tip I learned as a chef in California’s wine country is that if you don’t have a rolling pin handy, you can always use a wine bottle. It actually works really well because the bottles have a substantial weight. Bottles of Bordeaux work the best, because they have a high shoulder and make for a more uniform roll-out.”

Chris Brissetti, Vanderbilt Station, New York, New York
“To bake a more economical cherry pie, there is a way to substitute frozen fruit for the filling without sacrificing the fresh fruit taste. After cooking the frozen cherries, drain off the excess liquid and add a handful or so of fresh cherries for flavor. This technique works great with any kind of fruit filling.”

Elizabeth Faulkner, Citizen Cake, San Francisco, California
“Baking is creative and it requires you to be creative—even when things aren’t working out right. If you find you don’t have specific ingredients at hand, look around to see what you do have and improvise. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a lot of fancy equipment in order to follow a recipe. That said, a good set of pots and pans are valuable to any cook. A microwave is the best invention ever when it comes to tempering chocolate. I also like those silicon molds. They never rust!”

Wendy Vietro, New Rivers, Providence, Rhode Island
“The biggest problem I run into when I bake at home is limited space. In a professional kitchen we have more prep room plus two or three of every tool we need. At home you only have one of everything so be sure that everything is clean and ready to go. Never start a project until the dishes are out of the sink, the counter is clean, and every ingredient is out. If your space is clean then your head is clean. It saves time in the long run and leads to a better finished product.”

Eric Hercey, Nicollet Island Inn Restaurant, Minneapolis, Minnesota
“Always use the best quality ingredients, which doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive. Go fresh! Shop according to seasonality, when produce is at its peak—when it’s tastiest and cheapest. Now’s the time to use lemons. People think of them as a summer flavor, but all citrus fruits are in season in the winter.”

Rachel Barton-Lauer, Lidia’s Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri
“Have a quick reference chart in an accessible place in the kitchen. Include such information as how many cups are in a quart, how many cups of flour are in a pound, etc. This will eliminate time spent on recipe research.”

Rick Chang, La Mer, Honolulu, Hawaii
“There is no such thing as a shortcut. Pastry is a science. If you use shortcuts, your recipe won’t come out right.”