That’s kind of a bold title. Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to be an expert about baking in a dorm. But I do know a few things. And since people ask me how I do it, I figured I would share it on the internet. Also, I’m not trying to be sexist by saying “college girl.” This is also for the “college guy.” Or “college gender non-identifying student.” “College student” just didn’t have the same ring as “college girl.”
“Yeah yeah yeah,” you’re saying. “Just show me the baked goods!”
One more disclaimer: the lighting in our dorm kitchen is less than beautiful, and many of these photos come from before I discovered Instagram and the magic of filters.
This guide is not for you lucky college kids who live in apartment or suite-style situations where you have your own kitchens, with your own fridge, drawers and cabinets to fill up with your own ingredients and equipment. Go read a real food blog and do what they’re doing. I’m talking to everybody like me, who lives in an older dorm with an ill-equipped, often less than spotless, communal kitchen, and must make do with the ingredients offered by the convenience store.
I started baking regularly in my dorm kitchen when I was a sophomore. I had been inspired that summer by my discovery of Joy the Baker, and subsequently, of Foodgawker. Both became a daily habit, and while I couldn’t make anything nearly as spectacular as the stuff I would find on those sites, I decided that I would try and do what I could with what I had.
I worked in an academic office that year, and my coworker and I started bringing in baked goods most Mondays. She had an apartment and brought in things baked from scratch, with multiple ingredients. I, on the other hand, learned how to use brownie and cake mix to make all kinds of cookies. And it worked.
So how did I do it, you asked? Here’s how:
1) Bring your own stuff and store it in your own room. Things disappear in communal kitchens, intentionally or unintentionally. I learned really quickly that there were only about three things I could ever count on being in my kitchen: muffin pans, vegetable oil, and an assortment of greasy measuring cups. So I went to the dollar store and to Walmart (real talk) and bought myself my own (really really cheap) supplies. These include: mixing bowls and spoons; spatulas (both the scraping kind and the flipping kind); cookie sheets; a rectangular cake pan; and measuring cups and spoons. I also recommend obtaining a whisk; Tupperware; potholders or oven mitts; and dish soap. Check out what kinds of ingredients your convenience store sells. If you have a grocery store nearby, or at least a way to get there, awesome. For me, I know that if I want to get anything beyond what is required for chocolate chip cookies, or boxed cake and brownie mixes, I will need to go to a store or bring it from home with me.
2) For the love of God, clean up after yourself. Chances are, the housekeepers or custodians in your residence hall are not responsible for washing the dishes people leave behind in communal kitchens- and they shouldn’t be responsible for it. You are almost an adult. Be a good person and leave the kitchen at least the way it was when you arrived. Create some good kitchen karma.
3) Get good recipes based on boxed mixes. There, I said it. In my own house, I rarely use boxed mixes. I’ve used real flour in the dorm only a handful of times. The cost, the time, and the clean-up are much reduced when you go with ready-mixed ingredients. Click the links for the master recipe I use for cake mix cookies, and the recipe for my beloved brownie chip cookie. Is there a difference in taste? Yeah. Do your friends notice or really care? Absolutely not.
4) Make adaptations and learn about ingredient substitutions. For instance, maybe a recipe calls for melted butter. But all you have is vegetable oil. No problem! Melted butter and vegetable oil substitute for each other in exactly the same quantities. (Softened butter and vegetable oil do NOT.) Applesauce can replace butter in some cases. Maybe you need vanilla and almond extract, but you don’t have almond extract? Just add more vanilla. Trust me, you won’t miss it. Are you trying to bake banana bread but can’t find a loaf pan? If you have a rectangular cake pan (usually 9 by 13) or a muffin pan, perfect. Bake banana muffins! Or banana CAKE. (You can call it cake and it’s really just the banana bread recipe. Don’t worry. I won’t tell.) You can bake both brownies AND cookies in a muffin pan, assuming you don’t have to have that perfect brownie square or round, flattened cookie shape. (Can you tell how much time I’ve spent baking everything in a muffin pan?)
And we now skip over an entire semester of baking when I went to Chile (and you thought that we’d get through a blog post without mentioning Chile. HA.), and enter the era of the iPhone/Instagrammed pictures.
5) Keep it simple. Keep it easy. It doesn’t take a very complicated recipe, or crazy flavor combinations, to impress people and brighten their day. College kids in particular appreciate the little extra effort you’re making by baking something fresh. Even if it isn’t 100% from scratch or organic or a Dorie Greenspan recipe.
Fresh baked goods have a way of making people feel at home. Although I’ve complained plenty about my dorm’s kitchen being…not the best, it’s a favorite space of mine because it is such a great gathering space. Mixing something up in that kitchen has been one of the very best ways for me to see residents, talk to them, and get to know them a little bit. That’s why I bake.
Also, it tastes pretty good.
P.S. If you would like any of the recipes shown or have any of your own suggestions, please leave a comment!