Food Network Obsessed

Dan Langan Answers Your Holiday Baking Questions

Episode Summary

Dan Langan shares his favorite holiday traditions and how his love for baking began. He shares the nostalgic smell that brings back childhood memories and his advice for getting kids involved in baking early and safely. Dan shares his favorite food spots in Philadelphia and describes exactly what Philly butter cake is. He talks about the inspiration behind his blog, Baked by Dan, what content is most popular and how he manages the wild world of social media. Dan shares plans for his upcoming cookbook and how he applied for Spring Baking Championship four times before getting on the show. He talks about the best cake he’s ever made and then dives into his advice for successful holiday baking.

Episode Notes

Dan Langan shares his favorite holiday traditions and how his love for baking began. He shares the nostalgic smell that brings back childhood memories and his advice for getting kids involved in baking early and safely. Dan shares his favorite food spots in Philadelphia and describes exactly what Philly butter cake is. He talks about the inspiration behind his blog, Baked by Dan, what content is most popular and how he manages the wild world of social media. Dan shares plans for his upcoming cookbook and how he applied for Spring Baking Championship four times before getting on the show. He talks about the best cake he’s ever made and then dives into his advice for successful holiday baking.


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Episode Transcription

[MUSIC PLAYING] JAYMEE SIRE: Hello and welcome to Food Network Obsessed. This is the podcast where we dish on all things Food Network with your favorite Food Network stars. I'm your host Jaymee Sire, and today we have a baking superstar on to help you with all of your holiday baking how-tos. He talks about getting in the kitchen at a young age and his secret to holiday baking success, he is a baker, cake designer, recipe developer, and food photographer who competed on and has judged several Food Network baking shows, and he's the host of the digital series Dan Can Bake It. It's Dan Langan.




Dan, welcome to the podcast. So excited to have you, because we are in the thick of holiday season at the moment, and we're actually going to hit you with some fan holiday questions in a little bit, but I am curious, what are some traditions that you are looking forward to this holiday season?


DAN LANGAN: Yes. Hello, hello. We are in the thick of it. I'm so excited to take a break from all the holiday baking prep I've been doing and get to chat with you here. Probably my favorite tradition other than everything holidays is Friendsgiving. I'm actually getting ready to have my Friendsgiving this weekend.


It's going to be great. It's kind of like a really important Friendsgiving for me because I haven't had a lot of people together celebrating in quite a while, so I'm really looking forward to that this year.


JAYMEE SIRE: Yeah. Thanksgiving, all the food, all of the gathering that we haven't been able to celebrate as much in the last year and a half. I think we can all safely say we're looking forward to doing a little bit more of that this year. But I want to go way back, because you are a self-taught baker, and as I understand it, you began baking at the age of five. So I'm curious, who was the person in your life kind of exposing you to baking back then?


DAN LANGAN: It's crazy always to think whenever I say that that I started baking at five, because it seems like so long ago, but probably even before then I was baking. I was baking with my mom because she always tells a story. I'm the oldest child, so I was her first child, and she always tells a story about me being in the kitchen with her in my baby swing.


She's at the counter. She's baking chocolate chip cookies out of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, which was our family cookbook back then. And I was with her, just hanging out, just bopping around and smiling and laughing, and that was probably the first time I was baking cookies with my mom. I guess I was just offering moral support.


But my mom baked for us all the time. We always had after school cookies and brownies and always had a sweet snack. And then my mum-mum, my grandmother, we called her mum-mum, she baked all the time tons of cookies, even when it wasn't the holidays.


And then also, my uncle. My Uncle Mike, he was actually a Philadelphia fire captain. It was really cool to be able to look up to him, not only as someone who was so strong and respected and well-known not only in my family but also in the city, and he was this incredible baker, so he would bake for the family for holidays and gatherings but also bake for the firehouse.


It was great for me as a boy to not just be able to look up to all the strong women in my life but also my uncle, who was this 6'5" guy, this fire captain, and also a really awesome baker. So I was always surrounded by a lot of people who loved to bake and loved sweets.


JAYMEE SIRE: I love that. I love the visual of your uncle. Is there a smell of baking, something in particular really transports you back to that time in your childhood?


DAN LANGAN: So many smells. But I guess the first thing that comes to mind would probably be brownies. We were always baking brownies as kids. And I have to admit, back then brownies were the one thing that we kind of reached for the box mix for.


I mean, you can make all the brownies from scratch that you want, they're one of my favorite things, but brownies from brownie mix and kind of beating up that brownie mix always makes me think of being a kid. We never waited for them to cool down. We would always eat them when they were like screaming hot out of the oven.


JAYMEE SIRE: That's the best way to eat them. I think a lot of people might be nervous to kind of bring their kids in the kitchen and let them experiment at a young age. Do you have any advice for maybe getting kids involved in baking early but also safely?


DAN LANGAN: Yeah, I mean, I think baking is so tactile. It's so about getting your hands in there, and it's kind of the one thing that I think is-- the one thing in the kitchen that really lets you get dirty and kind of have fun with what you're doing. My favorite thing, making cookies with my mum-mum as a kid, was always mixing the batter. So it was me and my siblings, and we each had to take a turn whipping up that cookie batter, so by the time it got back to my grandma, that was some well mixed cookie dough.


There are so many chances to mix the ingredients up, and even after the fact. Like after you bake the cupcakes, that's when the best part comes, when you're frosting them and covering them in sprinkles and sugar. So I think if you can just let your kids get involved with putting whatever it is together that you're baking, they don't really care about what's going on in the oven. And then when it comes out of the oven, you get to do the decorating. That's always been one of my favorite parts.


JAYMEE SIRE: Yeah, no, it's fun, and then you get to eat it, which is also the really fun part that everybody enjoys. As you kind of got older and continued to pursue baking as a potential career, did you find everyone in your life was super supportive of it?


DAN LANGAN: Yeah, definitely. I mean, the one thing that always sticks out for me as far as baking in my family was eating sweets baking for people was always the easiest way for me to connect with people, especially with my dad. So I mentioned that I was the oldest child. I wasn't into sports. I wasn't playing football with my dad.


I didn't care about basketball or baseball practice or any of that stuff, so sometimes baking felt like the only thing or sweets felt like the only thing that really connected me with my dad, because I wasn't into sports and football and things like he was, but I could bake him a pie or bake him some cookies, and he was cool with that. It was a good way for me to learn to connect with people, even when I was a kid.


JAYMEE SIRE: Then you walked into an Italian cake shop in high school and declared yourself a cake decorator. What did you learn in that first job that you hadn't yet learned in your own kitchen?


DAN LANGAN: I did. I can definitely say I walked in there, declared myself a cake decorator. I don't know how I mustered up the confidence to do that at the time, because I was totally self-taught baking and decorating cakes just out of my kitchen. But what did I learn at that job? Well, I had never worked in a bakery or in a restaurant up to that point, so I definitely learned organization, prep, all of those skills that the owner of a bakery kind of learns when you're scaling things up from baking in your home to baking for customers that are coming into the shop every day.


So for me, it was really about the knowledge and the skills of preparing things ahead of time. Baking all your cakes and popping them in the freezer, getting all of your buttercream and the mousses and the fillings and all those things that we had going into the cakes for the display case, prepping those ahead of time so that when we came in the next day at 6:00 AM or whatever to load up the pastry case, we already had all of the components ready to go. That mindset of prep is something that I still find so helpful baking today and also sharing recipes and techniques with people.


Because I think a lot of people get really intimidated by baking because we feel like it's this marathon that needs to happen all in one day. When people talk to me about making cakes, they sound overwhelmed by baking a cake and making a filling and letting it cool and putting it together and waiting for the crumb coat. And the truth is that you can do most of that stuff over the course of a day or two. You do not have to create this masterpiece in one day. Often that's not how it happens.


So working in that bakery definitely gave me like the mindset to schedule out and kind of like plan baking projects so that they weren't so stressful and then they were even more successful in the end, because you don't want to rush through making a wedding cake or making dessert for a bunch of people. It should be fun and you shouldn't be stressed. And if you give yourself time, time management definitely is something I learned there, you're just going to be more successful.


It's funny, because I remember the interview process. I literally walked into this bakery the next day or a few days later, walked up to the bench, this giant wooden table, and they put a turntable in front of me, they put a couple of cake layers wrapped up in some plastic, and a bowl of buttercream, and there is an empty pastry bag, and they said, OK, put this cake together. Decorate this cake. Put some roses or whatever on it. So it really was I had to definitely put my money where my mouth was in that moment and put that cake together. So I'm glad I had practice.


JAYMEE SIRE: Well, as you mentioned, you were born and raised in Philadelphia. What is magical about Philly this time of year?


DAN LANGAN: Philly is-- I think it's really similar to New York or any big city, where even having lived here all my life, I feel like every time I visit Philadelphia I always discover something new. There's always something new going on. There's always new places popping up, especially during the holidays. So there's this entire bar called Tinsel Bar which is like a Christmas explosion.




DAN LANGAN: Like, if you could imagine every Christmas decoration you've seen since like the 1960s that your parents used to hang and their grandparents used to hang in their windows, and every Christmas cocktail you can imagine, and Mariah Carey on repeat. That's what Tinsel is. So that's always a good time in Philadelphia this time of year.


And we also have our own kind of like mini New York City style skating rink right in the center of the center of the city. So there's a little Christmas village around this ice skating rink, and that's something that I do every year with my siblings and I. We all take a car down to the city and just spend some time ice skating and having some hot chocolate and shopping for the holidays. So it definitely is magical this time of year for sure.


JAYMEE SIRE: Yeah, no, that's a lot of fun. We have a bar in New York called Ralph's that's a little bit-- sounds very similar. Although I think they leave the decorations up all year round, but I think it definitely-- they bring in their most business around the holidays for sure. What if it's not holiday season? What are some of your go to food spots in Philly?


DAN LANGAN: I cannot go to Philadelphia without going to the Reading Terminal. Oh my god, there are so many incredible things at the Reading Terminal. I could spend lunchtime to dinnertime there just eating and walking around and not get tired of it. I love going to DiNic's for a hot roast pork sandwich.


JAYMEE SIRE: I was just going to say, that's what I--




JAYMEE SIRE: That's why I go to the Reading Terminal for sure.


DAN LANGAN: I can never get enough of that hot roast pork with broccoli rabe and really spicy long hots that I always crave but then sort of regret about halfway through eating the sandwich because they're just so freaking hot. There's a couple of little bakeries there, but there's this bakery I love, this American style bakery called Flying Monkey Bakery, that makes gigantic whoopie pies, and they make this stuff called Philly butter cake, which is kind of a Philly thing.


It's a little different than a St. Louis butter cake that's made on top of bundo. So Philly butter cake is just a really buttery sugar cookie with a ton more butter and sugar on top. So it's super ooey and gooey and delicious, and it's a little bit salty, so I always have to get some of that Philly butter cake.


And then there's so many other incredible places. There's actually a coffee roaster in the center of Reading Terminal that roasts their own coffee, so that's really cool because we're at coffee shops all the time, but we don't often get to see like this gigantic roaster that's transforming these beans into that beautiful stuff that becomes coffee. That's always a really cool experience too.


So, yeah, definitely Reading Terminal, and then I have another favorite spot, but it's in south Philly right outside or kind of right off of the Italian market right near 9th Street. There's this place called Stogie Joe's, which is this little kind of like bar/Italian eatery that my dad introduced us to, and they make the most amazing stromboli, Stogie Joe's.


And the thing that I love about it is that it's almost like a strudel. So the dough is so thin and thin and crunchy and crackery that really it's the Italian meats and cheeses on the inside that really stand out. So it's not like this doughy thing. It's all about the filling. So you can eat so much of it.


JAYMEE SIRE: OK, I'm putting that on the list. I guess while we're talking about Philadelphia food, are you more on the roast pork end or the cheesesteak end or are you both?


DAN LANGAN: Definitely roast pork for me. I never had an actual Philly cheesesteak from one of the many dueling cheesesteak places probably until I was like a teenager. So my mom was one of those moms that cooked dinner for us like six nights a week, except for Friday night pizza night, and so she would always make cheesesteaks.


So we would go to this butcher a couple of streets over, get chip steak. She would chop it up, fry the onions, add this Cooper sharp American cheese. So I was really lucky and I feel like kind of obnoxious saying this, but I grew up eating my mom's cheesesteaks. I didn't have cheesesteaks from one of those places.


JAYMEE SIRE: Yeah. I bet you were like disappointed when you first tried one of those other ones. You're like, this is not a cheesesteak.


DAN LANGAN: I mean, that's the funny thing about food. I think we always-- our, first love is always whatever it was that we had growing up right? If you ate it how your mom made it, that's how you like it until someone tells you otherwise.


JAYMEE SIRE: Well, let's talk about your blog. You started it back in 2012. What was your vision when you first launched Baked By Dan?


DAN LANGAN: Totally honestly, to attract customers. So I was right out of college. I was a personal trainer at the time. I also had just gotten a real estate license, so I kind of had my hands in a couple of different things. I didn't totally know what I was going to do.


I met with a restaurant owner who had this really thriving catering business. They were an Italian restaurant. They did a ton of catering for all of the schools that were kind of in the burbs of Philadelphia right where we are. I walked in and I was like, hey, I'm a baker, I make all these things, I work out of this commissary kitchen. I'd love to start baking for your restaurant. And they said, sure, great, let's do it.


And so slowly I started making cakes. Cakes for baby showers and for weddings and for different things. And I needed a place to put all of the photos with things that I was baking, so I started Baked By Dan. And I would send people to Baked By Dan when they asked what was on my menu and what type of cake they could get, so really, it started as a place to be able to sell the things that I was baking.


I actually didn't dream when Baked By Dan started that it would turn into this blog where I got to connect with people and share recipes and share little insights into the things that I was doing and the recipes I was developing. So it definitely has evolved over, gosh, I don't know, almost the 10 years that it's been a thing.


JAYMEE SIRE: Yeah. What's some of your most popular content on there now that it has kind of evolved into more of a recipe sharing or connecting with people type place?


DAN LANGAN: For sure it's all about the chocolate. It's all about the rich, chocolatey things that have ganache on top of them, are frosted with fudge, or have some type of drippy caramel that catches the light and reflects beautifully in a photo. I always know I can't go wrong whenever it's anything chocolate. People just go crazy for it. Or really anything cake related.


There's just something beautiful about watching ganache drip down a cake or watching frosting swirl onto a cupcake. It's almost really hypnotic. Content-wise you can't go wrong with that stuff.


JAYMEE SIRE: Yeah, and it's also kind of evolved know and spilled over into your Instagram as well, which is also Baked By Dan, full of more mouthwatering goodies, and the recipe in the caption, which I know a lot of people appreciate as well if they aren't into going to the website. How is kind of creating that content from the blog to Instagram-- like you said, it's been almost 10 years, and how do you manage to keep up with it all?


DAN LANGAN: Well, listen, if you figure out the secret to keeping up with social media, please let me know. I mean, as far as creating content, I try and I always am going back and forth between wanting to create the things that people love that is going to get the engagement and also going to get the hits and the conversation that you want, but it's also about for me keeping yourself inspired.


So sometimes if you feel like you're not keeping up or you feel overwhelmed with social media, for me I always like to come back to, what's exciting for me? What do I feel like putting together today? What recipe do I feel like developing?


Because when you're in the food world, I think, and when your passion in your career kind of become the same thing, you need to give yourself a little bit of breathing room sometimes. So for me, it's about coming back to what inspires me and what excites me and what lights me up, and if that makes good content for social media, then awesome. Or if it just makes me happy to try a new cookie recipe, then that's really great too.


JAYMEE SIRE: I think that's just as important a lot of times, for sure. Where do you get that inspiration from for new flavors or new recipes?


DAN LANGAN: I feel like from the moment I wake up until I go to bed, I just am thinking about food content or consuming food content. I mean, I'm on YouTube watching people bake when I'm drinking my morning coffee. I'm looking through cookbooks, like the two shelves of cookbooks I have that are always overflowing with new books. And so I definitely glean inspiration from my peers and other people that are creating incredible things and sharing them with the world.


I've also never lost that sense of baking for the people that are around me and baking for the people that I love. So if I can make something that's really tasty for my friends or my neighbors or my parents or my brother and sister when I go and visit them, I think I still look to my family for the inspiration, because I've always baked for the people that I know are going to eat what I'm making. And so that comes into play.


And I think seasonability comes into play too. I mean, this time of year, looking towards Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's is definitely my favorite time of year, because I think people that are usually a little more shy about taking a plate of cookies aren't so shy this time of year. You don't have to convince people too hard during the holidays to eat some sweets, so it's a good time of year to take that captive audience and try out some new recipes.


JAYMEE SIRE: Yeah. I mean, calories don't count during the holidays, right?


DAN LANGAN: They don't. For two straight months it just doesn't matter.


JAYMEE SIRE: It just doesn't matter. Just a wash. I mean, does your family and friends, do they do they give you honest feedback? Like, if they don't like something or they're like, no, you didn't really do a good job on this one.


DAN LANGAN: Oh my gosh, they do. So my sister Caitlin, when we were kids, Caitlin was the harshest critic that I ever had, possibly harsher than any critique I ever got on Spring Baking Championship.




DAN LANGAN: But, yeah, my sister, she tells me like it is. I used to bake a pan of brownies or make a sheet cake and frost it, and instead of cutting a slice out of the edge like most normal people would, she thought it was a good idea to cut a square right out of the center and just mess up this beautiful thing I just created.


So she was always kind of on my case for the things that I was baking. But that's really important, though, because you need people-- when you're developing recipes, you need people to give you real feedback and not just say, Oh, this, tastes good, because that doesn't always help, you know?


JAYMEE SIRE: Yeah. And then I know you have your own cookbook coming out in 2023 as well. I know that that process can be difficult, fun, challenging, all of the emotions. Is that process at all what you


DAN LANGAN: Expected? It's definitely been a learning experience, I think more so probably than any project I've ever worked on. I realized that can have ideas about what you think writing a cookbook is going to be like, and then every day, you're still learning something new because it's such a new process. But it's something that I'm so incredibly grateful for, because I started working on the idea for this book probably three years ago, and to have finally sold the book and gotten that publishing deal is just such a-- it just feels so good. It almost still doesn't feel real almost.


It's definitely been exciting, and the idea has definitely evolved too. I think a year and a half ago I had one idea, and after the time we've all had being in home so much and spending so much more time in our kitchens, I think so many more people have become bakers. People that weren't necessarily into baking a couple of years ago now can make some pretty serious cookies and some really fantastic banana bread.


And people that their eyes used to glaze over maybe when I would talk to them about baking, now it's like we can have a conversation and most of them know what I'm talking about because they've been there and they're in it and they're doing it. So I'm really excited for this book to come out. It's really all about taking the classics and the things that we already know we love and just using one kind of secret or one little tweak or change of the wheel to make it the best version of whatever it is you've ever had. So I can't wait for the world to see it.




JAYMEE SIRE: Up next, Dan chats with us about filming some popular Food Network baking shows, and later he answers your holiday baking questions, so stick around.


Well, you mentioned that you've appeared in and judged several baking shows on Food Network, and first competed on Spring Baking Championship, where you are a finalist. You later competed on and won Cake Wars. You've judged on Christmas Cookie Challenge, Bake Away Camp with Martha Stewart. What's been your favorite TV show to be a part of on Food Network?


DAN LANGAN: I am such a Libra when it comes to having options presented before me and having to pick one, because I love everything and I would pick everything if I could. But I think out of all the shows that I've had the privilege to be a part of, I should say Bake Away Camp for me was really special. Not only getting to work with Carla Hall and Martha Stewart.




DAN LANGAN: And Jessie. I mean, totally a dream come true. But the amazing thing about Bake Away Camp was that it's one thing to sit across the table from someone who's baked something for you and give them feedback after the fact. But the really magical thing about Bake Away Camp is that we got to kind of check in and mentor and chat with the contestants while they were baking.


So it was great to be a sounding board for someone while they were working through something or to give someone a little tip or technique that was going to help them make a pie in 90 minutes. It was nice to kind of see the trajectory of someone's outcome change in that moment because we were actually there with them in the trenches while they were baking what they were baking. So that was really cool.


JAYMEE SIRE: When you first applied to be on Spring Baking Championship, did you think that all these years later that you would still be part of the network, appearing on all these shows?


DAN LANGAN: I definitely don't think I did. And back when I first applied for Spring Baking Championship, for anyone out there that's applying to be on any type of competition show, I think I probably applied four times.




DAN LANGAN: Maybe three or four times before I got the call. I remember getting the call that I was on that show and crying, literally crying because I was just so excited. And back then, no, I had no idea that things would have evolved into what they were now. I just wanted to be on that show because I had been baking for my house, I had been working with this restaurant, I wanted to open a bakery, and so I figured logically, well, let me just get on the show, show people what I can do, win some cash, and then open a bakery. One, two, three, no big deal.


JAYMEE SIRE: Easy peasy.


DAN LANGAN: That's the really cool thing I've learned about having this dream or this vision in your life is that it's great to have a plan, but I think it's also really important to let go just a little bit and give yourself the space, because in my personal experience, things end up kind of turning out even more exciting than you could have hoped for them to in the beginning. You've got to just go with the flow.


JAYMEE SIRE: Yeah. Go with the flow and go for it. I'm curious if you know what was the turning point on the application that actually got you through? Was it just that you had been trying for so long or did you do something different in that last application that landed you the spot?


DAN LANGAN: I don't know the answer to that question, but I like to think that I had just become more comfortable with myself and with my style of baking, and I definitely learned more too. I think that I thought I knew a lot about baking back then, but just in the short time that I was applying to be on that show, I definitely learned more because I had to.


That's the really cool thing about baking too is that I feel like you could spend-- I spent a good portion of my life baking and learning about baking and being in the thick of it, being in the kitchen every day, and putting things together, and there's still so much more to learn. You might be a master of cakes or pies or whatever it is, but you could spend your entire life going through this whole world that is baking and still have more to learn, which for me is really cool because you'll never get bored. I feel excited and motivated every day to get in the kitchen and turn the oven on because there's always something new to discover.


JAYMEE SIRE: What do you think is the main thing that either you learned or that surprised you by being on that show?


DAN LANGAN: It probably taught me how competitive I really can be, because I was saying earlier I didn't grow up playing sports. I wasn't like a really competitive person. I guess when you're competing for something that you really care about that's so in your bones like baking is for me, that it just brought out this fierce competitor in me. And I think the other thing that really surprised me was how quickly I formed a connection, such a strong connection with all of the other contestants, all the other competitors.


When I was on Spring Baking Championship, it was my first time on television. It was my first time on the West Coast. That alone made it really special, but you spend so much time with this group of 10 people who share this passion with you, and you're with them for so many hours in the day. You just really get to know each other and you become great friends with those people, and I actually keep in touch.


JAYMEE SIRE: I love hearing that. Well, you've also shared your tips and tricks for approachable baking in your digital series Dan Can Bake It. Would you say it's easier to write about or film your baking tutorials?


DAN LANGAN: Writing a book right now versus all of the tutorials and things that I filmed in the past, I probably would pick the filming just because baking or really anything in the kitchen is so visual. It's so much easier to show someone how to roll up cinnamon roll dough than to try and describe which end to roll the dough from and where to stop spreading the sugar and butter and all that. So I think videos are just so much easier because you can explain while you're doing. So I would always pick video.


JAYMEE SIRE: Do you have a favorite recipe or episode from the series?


DAN LANGAN: Probably my fried chicken cake. I think that was from Season 2 of Dan Can Bake It. I loved that fried chicken cake, and it took so much testing to get that cake right. It was one of my realistic faux food cakes. I basically modeled this cake after my favorite cast iron skillet with chicken frying in it, and I had to figure out a way to make the cake look like it was actually bubbling, like it was actually oil at 350 degrees frying that chicken.


So the oil in this cake was actually gelatin. So it was actually just like a gelatin glaze that you would use to glaze like a fruit tart or something, but the really cool thing I discovered, Jaymee, is that if you hit that gelatin with coconut oil spray before it hardens, the bubbles from the spray, like the air from the spray, actually gets stuck in the gelatin and it's like permanent bubbles. So it looks like it's frying.


JAYMEE SIRE: How did you figure that out?


DAN LANGAN: Hours and hours of experimentation.


JAYMEE SIRE: Just on accident, you just sprayed it were like, wait, that works.


DAN LANGAN: Exactly, yeah.


JAYMEE SIRE: All right. Well, we would love for you to dive into some holiday baking how-tos with us given 'tis the season. We basically pulled some popular topics, maybe questions that Food Network fans are already asking this holiday season. So we're hoping you can provide a little guidance for us. All right, so first up it is obviously cookie decorating season. So can you give us some of your best creative cookie decorating ideas?


DAN LANGAN: We could talk for a long time about this, but the first thing I think that comes to my mind with cookie decorating is I always tell people to kind of put the royal icing aside for a second and consider decorating your cookies with buttercream. So I might be biased because I am a cake guy, but I think buttercream is tastier than royal icing.




DAN LANGAN: Because butter, right?


JAYMEE SIRE: Yeah. Butter makes everything better.


DAN LANGAN: Royal icing is great for really intricate cookie designs, but if you're decorating gingerbread men or snowflake cookies you can make an incredibly intricate snowflake cookie design just with some buttercream and a piping bag. And then what I love to do when I'm decorating cookies with buttercream is to pipe the buttercream on and then actually kind of dunk the cookie, like it's a chicken cutlet almost, inside some granulated sugar, and you get this beautiful frosted finish on the buttercream, which is perfect for the holidays.


JAYMEE SIRE: Yes, beautiful.


DAN LANGAN: So I'd say stick with the buttercream. And then the other really easy thing too is, you're decorating cookies with colored sugars and things like that, is that you don't have to worry about going out to the store and buying all of these colored sugars. You can actually just color the sugar yourself.


You just put sugar in a container, like something with a lid or even a sandwich baggie, and you add a food color. The liquid stuff works fine, the gel color that you use for your buttercream works fine too, and then you literally just shake it up. You just shake it up.




DAN LANGAN: And the sugar transforms. It takes like 20 seconds, and you can make an entire variety of sugars in whatever color you want to decorate all your cookies.


JAYMEE SIRE: Awesome. I love that tip. All right, so for those who like chewy cookies, what is the secret to making and keeping cookies soft?


DAN LANGAN: So I always love to go for all brown sugar in a cookie. Even if I'm making a chocolate chip cookie and it has brown sugar and white sugar, I just skip the white sugar. Use all brown sugar, because that molasses is going to keep your cookie nice and chewy. The other thing you can do is make sure you don't over bake your cookies. So leave them so they're a little soft in the center.


And then this is the big money tip right here. When I want to keep my cookies really soft, I take them out of the oven. And as soon as they come out of the oven, I take a fresh piece of parchment paper and I lay the parchment paper over the cookie, and it kind of traps the steam in the cookies while they're cooling, and it guarantees that they're super soft and chewy and bendy and just perfect.


JAYMEE SIRE: I like that tip. What about storing cookies? Is there anything that you recommend in terms of keeping them fresh?


DAN LANGAN: Yeah, definitely. I mean, obviously, cover them up. I always like to wrap cookies in plastic wrap and then put them in a container, so it's kind of like a double barrier. And separate your cookies. So if you have a really crunchy butter cookie or a biscotti, keep those drier cookies away from the softer cookies, because if you mix soft cookies with dry cookies, what happens is that they end up kind of canceling each other out, and then those crunchy cookies kind of soften up and the softer cookies kind of lose some moisture. So keep like cookies separate and they should stay fresh.


JAYMEE SIRE: How should we ship a friend or family holiday cookies?


DAN LANGAN: That's a good question. So whenever I ship cookies, I like to do as much of the prep the day before as I can. So I get all the cookie dough made and I have it in the refrigerator so I can bake those cookies in the morning, and then as soon as they're cool, I wrap them up really tight in plastic.


Then I like to put them in a big gallon-size sandwich bag. Then I put that in another bag and basically put it in the box and wrap it up really well and send it to whoever I want to send it to. But for me. It's really always about that double or triple wrap as soon as they cool down. And then, of course, ship them as quick as you can, because we want fresh cookies.


JAYMEE SIRE: Of course. Everybody likes fresh cookies. What about freezing cookie dough? Is that OK?


DAN LANGAN: I love freezing cookie dough. My sister got married recently, and on top of making her wedding cake, I also made cookie favor for like over 100 people. That took quite a while, and so I actually made all of cookie dough and popped it in the freezer for like a week before I even started baking the cake layers for her wedding. And it's so easy to bake frozen cookie dough. It just takes a minute or two longer to bake. So for sure, make your cookie dough, freeze it, bake it when you want it.


JAYMEE SIRE: All right. Here's another question. A lot of times people get confused between baking powder or baking soda. Could you kind explain the difference between the two?


DAN LANGAN: Yeah. I had someone say to me the other day, they're basically the same thing, right? And they're similar, but they're not the same thing. So baking powder is kind of your all-purpose leavener. It's got an acid and a base in it. You could put baking powder in flour and water and it's going to rise. It doesn't need anything else.


But baking soda is just an alkaline, so it needs an acid to make it rise. So baking soda is in recipes that have some type of acid like molasses and brown sugar or buttermilk or sour cream.


But the other really cool thing, Jaymee, about baking soda is that it helps things brown. That's why you'll see a lot of baking soda in your chocolate chip cookies, because it makes them golden brown. That's also why you dip your soft pretzels in baking soda. That's why you might add a little bit of baking soda to some onions maybe that you're browning for French onion soup. So baking soda is what helps baked goods get that kind of golden brown delicious crust.


JAYMEE SIRE: If somebody needs a substitute one for the other, what would the method be for each or do you not recommend trying to do that?


DAN LANGAN: I'm all about playing around in the kitchen. I think that you should try something out and if it works then, yes, but if it doesn't, try again. But, yes, you can definitely substitute one for the other. So baking powder is not as powerful as baking soda. Baking soda is super powerful stuff. Per cup of flour, you really only need a quarter teaspoon of baking soda. But if you're using baking powder, you need an entire teaspoon of baking powder.


So if you're converting soda to powder, you basically need four times the amount of powder, which I know sounds like a lot. It's a really easy conversion to look up. You can look it up online. So if you're doing a conversion like that, don't decide mid recipe that you're going to make a substitution. Read your recipe, and if you need to substitute something like baking powder or baking soda, figure it out at the beginning. Know what you're doing before you start doing it just so you don't accidentally mess anything up.


JAYMEE SIRE: Speaking of substitutes, when recipes call for shortening, what else could we use instead?


DAN LANGAN: Yeah, I feel like I'm seeing less and less recipes these days that have shortening in them. People are just kind of averse to shortening. The one spot you're probably going to see it, especially during the holidays, is in pie crust.


The interesting thing about shortening is that it's 100% fat. There's absolutely no water in it, whereas butter is about 10%, maybe 15% water. So people like to use shortening in pie crust because there's no water so it makes things really flaky.


If you don't have shortening, again, you could take a chance. You could use just all butter and just go for it and see what happens. You could also use coconut oil, because it's got a similar texture where it's solid at room temperature but it's got that high melting point than butter. But if you're going to use coconut oil, though, I always like to go for the refined coconut oil unless you want that kind of tropical coconutty aroma.


JAYMEE SIRE: All right. Another question, fans have been asking how to soften brown sugar.


DAN LANGAN: I know it's kind of trendy to buy your brown sugar and put it into one of those cute jars that you display on your counter. I don't really like to do that. I like to keep brown sugar in a really tight kind of airtight plastic bag. You kind of get all the air out of it so it stays really fresh.


But I think the easiest trick to preserving brown sugar, if you don't use pounds and pounds of it like I do, is to just keep a couple of marshmallows in your brown sugar, because the marshmallows help retain moisture, and a marshmallow isn't going to get funny like a piece of bread or like an apple wood. I mean, there's a lot of things you can put in your brown sugar to help them retain moisture, but a marshmallow is pretty shelf stable, so that's the thing that I like to use.


JAYMEE SIRE: OK, that's a great-- I hadn't heard of that one before, so I'm going to try that one out. We have another good one. I can't tell you how often I forget to leave the butter out when a recipe calls for room temperature butter or softened butter. What is your go to trick to softened butter quickly without completely melting it?


DAN LANGAN: I always microwave my butter. I don't even think to take it out of the refrigerator. But I think the trick to microwaving butter is short trips in the microwave, like two to three seconds, maybe four seconds. And you've got to keep repositioning the butter. So I always find that it's the very center, the butter that's in the very center of the microwave that's going to melt. So you just keep moving the butter around after kind of every trip in the microwave so that it doesn't melt but softens evenly.


And I think the other really simple way to soften butter quickly is just to cut it up into little cubes. While it's hard from the refrigerator, you just cut it up into little cubes. And just by increasing the surface area of the butter, I find that in 10 minutes maybe, it usually softens up.


JAYMEE SIRE: What about unsalted versus salted butter. If a recipe calls for one and you have the other, is it OK to switch those out depending on what you have on hand?


DAN LANGAN: Yeah, I always go for unsalted butter, as most people that bake will advise you. But if you only have salted butter, I always say, just cut the amount of salt in the recipe by half. So if your recipe calls for a teaspoon of salt but you're using salted butter, just use a half teaspoon of salt.


JAYMEE SIRE: What is your favorite kind of butter to use in baking recipes?


DAN LANGAN: There is definitely something really tasty about a high fat European cultured butter. I like to let butter shine in places like caramel sauce or shortbread or just any type of sugar cookie or butter cookie, where it's really all about the butter. Now, on the flip side of that, when it comes to something like buttercream, where also about--


JAYMEE SIRE: It's all butter.


DAN LANGAN: It's all butter but it's definitely more sweet and savory, I honestly just go for just whatever American style butter is on sale, because I don't really want that cultured butter flavor in my buttercream.


JAYMEE SIRE: That makes sense.


DAN LANGAN: Do you know what I'm saying?




DAN LANGAN: So I like to pick and choose depending on the project.


JAYMEE SIRE: That makes sense. I'm more of the savory gal when it comes to pretty much anything, so I guess that makes sense. All right, next question. Is white chocolate really chocolate?


DAN LANGAN: The thing with white chocolate, people say that it's not chocolate because there's no cocoa solids in it, like there's no solid from a cocoa bean or cacao bean that's in the chocolate, but the thing that gives it that flavor is the cocoa butter. So it's got the fat from chocolate, it's got the cocoa butter in it, but it doesn't have any cocoa solids.


Now, the one thing I can say for sure, though, is that if you're making a recipe and it calls for white chocolate, you should definitely use a white chocolate that has cocoa butter in the ingredients, because if you just use something like a white chocolate chip, that doesn't have any cocoa butter in it. It's more just like candy. It's kind of waxy. It doesn't really have flavor.


So I really like white chocolate anywhere I want to add sweetness, because it's definitely sweet. It's got that milky creaminess to it. The cocoa butter is also great too for any recipe where you want to add a little bit of stability. So if you want to flavor a buttercream and kind of make it a little firmer, you can add some white chocolate.


I actually love adding white chocolate too to no bake cheesecakes, because the no bake cheesecake needs to set up without baking, and the white chocolate gives it the sweetness but it also gives it kind of that stability from the cocoa butter. I think it's great. I love, love chocolate in all forms, so just bring on the chocolate.


JAYMEE SIRE: You do not discriminate your chocolate.


DAN LANGAN: I do not.


JAYMEE SIRE: Finally, fans want to know what exactly is marzipan.


DAN LANGAN: Well, marzipan, it's an almond-based sweet confection dough. It's similar to almond paste, but marzipan, is it's almost like if fondant and almond paste had a baby. That's what marzipan is, because marzipan, it's got ground almonds in it, but it's a lot smoother and it's also a lot sweeter than almond paste. And a lot of people will use marzipan to mold little fruits or little decorations for cakes. You can actually also roll marzipan out and cover a cake with it just like you would cover a cake in fondant.


JAYMEE SIRE: Well, I know it already feels like you've been through a rapid fire round, but we always like to finish our interviews with some rapid fire questions, and then we have one final question that we ask everybody here on Food Network Obsessed. So now we will commence rapid fire. Favorite cake box flavor?


DAN LANGAN: Butter recipe vanilla.


JAYMEE SIRE: Kitchen tool you can't live without?


DAN LANGAN: My stand mixer.


JAYMEE SIRE: Secret to the perfect chocolate chip cookie?


DAN LANGAN: A heavy pour on the vanilla and extra salt.


JAYMEE SIRE: One holiday treat you love to give?


DAN LANGAN: Biscotti.


JAYMEE SIRE: Decorating your tree. Before or after Thanksgiving?


DAN LANGAN: I'm a known premature decorator when it comes to the holidays, but this year I'm getting a real tree, so I'm going to have to wait, so after Thanksgiving.


JAYMEE SIRE: Yeah, you've got to wait till after, otherwise by Christmas it's just a brittle--


DAN LANGAN: Worse for the wear, yeah.




DAN LANGAN: For sure.


JAYMEE SIRE: Do you clean up during or after a baking session?


DAN LANGAN: I'd like to be the perfect student and say during, but usually I'll clean up after. I try to get things into the sink or right into the dishwasher, which is my best friend, but I can make a mess for sure.


JAYMEE SIRE: Same. If you could create a holiday candle scent inspired by one of your recipes, what would it be?


DAN LANGAN: Pumpkin whoopie pies, because--




DAN LANGAN: Yeah. I feel like if you could combine the spiciness of the pumpkin portion of it but then also somehow get the sweetness of the cream cheese frosting in there, I think that'd be good.


JAYMEE SIRE: I would buy that candle scent.


DAN LANGAN: Pumpkin whoopie pie, yeah.


JAYMEE SIRE: If you can figure it out, let me know. This has been so much fun. Before we let you go, we do have one final question, and that is what would be on the menu for your perfect food day?


So we want to hear what you're eating for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Of course, we've got to hear what you're eating for dessert. And there are no rules, so obviously no calories count. You can travel, you can time travel. You can do anything you want, pretty much. We just want to hear if you had all everything at your disposal, what would be on that menu?


DAN LANGAN: I would go for a breakfast sandwich from this little bakery in Nashville called Sweet 16th Bakery. It's this jalapeno cheddar kind of like quiche egg bake on a jalapeno cheddar biscuit. Life changing.


So for lunch, I would go to this awesome barbecue place in Wildwood, New Jersey called Surfing Pig. I would get anything there. Definitely burnt ends or burnt tips, and then probably some type of rib thing because they just have my favorite barbecue in Wildwood, and I go there with my family pretty much every summer.


Dinner, I'm a big fan of eating out Italian. I love going to an Italian restaurant and totally just having like one of those meals that just makes you feel like somebody's got to roll you away, like roll you home. So the best Italian meal I ever had was at this restaurant called Macchialina I believe is how you pronounce it in South Beach in Miami, and I had the most amazing short rib lasagna there. So good.




DAN LANGAN: So, so good.


JAYMEE SIRE: That sounds incredible. Well, what are you having for dessert? We have to know that too.


DAN LANGAN: Anything chocolate. Definitely anything chocolate for sure. Maybe dessert is the one thing I would make myself. So I'm a big fan of tiramisu. I love coffee, I love chocolate, so tiramisu is always my go to like makes me feel all comforted and homey dessert.


JAYMEE SIRE: Well, that sounds like a perfect food day, and thank you so much for sharing your stories. And I'm sure, most importantly around this time of year, everybody is very thankful for you sharing your baking tips as well. Thank you so much. We'll look forward to seeing what you create this holiday season.


DAN LANGAN: Yeah, this was a blast. Thank you so much for chatting with me, Jamie. I had fun.




JAYMEE SIRE: I will definitely be grabbing some marshmallows for my brown sugar, because I am certainly guilty of putting mine in one of those cute little containers. Huge thanks to Dan for helping us navigate this sweet holiday season. You can catch him on his digital series Dan Can Bake It on


As always, thanks so much for listening, and make sure to follow us wherever you listen to podcasts so you don't miss a thing. And if you did enjoy today's episode, please rate and review. We love it when you do that. That's all for now. We'll catch you foodies next Friday.