“How-To” Baking/Cooking – Measuring Dry and Wet Ingredients

It is extremely important in both baking and cooking to measure your ingredients accurately and the only way to do that is to use the correct vessel. Using the wrong vessel for measuring can drastically alter the accuracy of the measurement. While cooking can be a little more forgiving, it is essential in baking to be as accurate as possible.

For dry ingredientsALWAYS measure dry ingredients using DRY measuring cups or spoons. The most accurate method is to lightly spoon the ingredients into the measuring cup and then sweep off the excess with a flat utensil. This will ensure that not too much of the ingredient gets packed down into the cup. The ONLY exception to this method is brown sugar which, unless otherwise noted, is measured by packing it down into the measuring cup.

measuring cups

For wet ingredientsALWAYS measure liquids using either a glass or plastic WET measuring cup. The most accurate method is to place the vessel on a flat surface then pour in the liquid in until it reaches the desired marking. Check for accuracy by bending down so you’re at eye level.

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Please note, the most accurate way to measure ANY ingredient is by using a digital food scale. They are very inexpensive but absolutely invaluable in the kitchen, especially for baking.

Etekcity Digital Kitchen Scale Multifunction Food Scale, 11 lb 5 kg, Silver, Stainless Steel (Batteries Included)

“How-To” Baking – Working With Food Dyes

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Food dye is a great way to bring a little color into your baking. Used in the right amounts it can add visual interest and a bright “pop” into otherwise bland colored foods. Food dyes come in a few different forms: natural coloring, powdered coloring, gel or paste coloring, liquid coloring or liquid gel coloring.

  • Natural Coloring – These colorants are usually plant based therefore, they are a healthier option as they contain no artificial ingredients. The color comes from foods such as blueberries, beets, pomegranate juice, etc. Take note, natural colorants do not produce rich, vibrant colors. They generally have a more dull, light appearance which falls short in baked goods.
  • Powdered Coloring – Typically this colorant is found online or in specialty cooking stores. The number of colors available can be somewhat limiting so a good amount of color mixing is required. Take note, using too much powdered coloring to tint baked goods can result it them having a drier consistency. Use powdered colorants sparingly.
  • Gel or Paste Coloring – These colorants have a thicker consistency thanks to the use of corn syrup or glycerine in the ingredients. They are readily available in stores and because they are so concentrated, they produce very vibrant colors. They are a great option for cookie dough, icings and cake batters.
  • Liquid Coloring – These colorants are readily available in all supermarkets and generally come in tiny bottles. Because they are so watery they can thin out batters and icings so they are generally NOT recommended for use in baking. These are best used for coloring eggs.
  • Liquid Gel Coloring – These colorants are a cross between liquid food dyes and gel/paste food dyes. The consistency isn’t quite as thick as in a gel paste but it’s better than the liquid dyes. These are usually found in a squeeze tube or flip-cap bottles and are a great option to use in baking.

When working with food dyes, it’s important to start small when adding the color. Building the color up over time allows for more control, it’s much easier to darken a color than to take color away and lighten it. When tinting batters, icings, fondant etc. it’s important to note that the color will develop and deepen over time. Refrain from adding more and more dye to achieve the desired color. Instead, allow the batter, icing, fondant etc. to sit for 15-20 minutes so that the color has time to deepen on its own. If necessary, adjust the coloring after that waiting period.

When mixing colors, try to do it in natural light which will provide a more accurate view of the colors. Artificial lighting can give an “off” appearance to the colors so if possible, set up your workspace near a window. Lastly, to achieve the best results when tinting it is essential to use the right ingredients/materials. For example, French Buttercream isn’t ideal for coloring as it is yellowish in color. That yellowish hue will mar the vibrancy of the colors that are mixed with it. However, a great choice for tinting is batters and icings that are pure white such as Swiss or Italian Buttercream .

QUICK COLOR MIXES

Purple – Mix equal amounts of red and blue together

Pink – Add a small amount of red

Orange – Mix red and yellow together

Green – Mix equal amounts of blue and yellow together

Brown – Mix equal amounts red, blue and yellow together

 

“How-To” Baking – Buttercream Frosting 101

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Buttercream frosting is made from a combination of butter and sugar whipped together to create a light, airy and delicious finishing touch for cupcakes and cakes. All but the American version add eggs to the base and instead of powdered sugar, use granulated sugar instead. There are six different types of buttercream frostings: Italian, Swiss, German, French, American and Pudding-Style. American buttercream tends to be the most sweet as it relies heavily on the use of powdered sugar. The other variations of buttercream tend to be a little lighter and less sweet. (Click below on each variety of buttercream for the recipe)

When making buttercream, there are a few general guidelines to be aware of to ensure a delicious finished product every time!

  • Use room temperature ingredients. Cold butter and eggs will make it difficult to incorporate the ingredients into a smooth, silky buttercream. Butter should be just soft enough to break off pieces easily but it shouldn’t look melted and greasy.
  • Separation during mixing is common. Buttercream can sometimes look a little curdled and messy at certain points, to solve this problem simply continue to vigorously whip the ingredients together.
  • Buttercream can be flavored and tinted. Choose pure extracts for the most flavorful result. Tinting works best with a buttercream that is whiter in color.
  • Buttercream can be made ahead of time. Stored in an air tight container, buttercream will keep for up to a week in the fridge. To bring buttercream back to its smooth, spreadable consistency first bring it to room temperature. Then, in a slightly warmed bowl, mix the buttercream using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer and whip until it becomes nice and smooth.

TYPES OF BUTTERCREAM

AMERICAN BUTTERCREAM – This is thick, dense frosting that is very sweet and rich. It’s very easy to make, simply cream together butter and powdered sugar until smooth and silky. Vanilla extract is added for flavoring.

This is a good choice when not a lot of frosting is called for. Due to its sweetness, it might be unappealing in large quantities.

SWISS BUTTERCREAM – This uses a Swiss meringue as its base. Egg whites and sugar are heated over a pot of barely simmering water until the mixture reaches a temperature of 160ºF, this is the point at which the eggs will be considered safe for consumption and no longer raw. The egg white mixture is slightly cooled and then whipped until it develops “stiff peaks“. Room temperature butter is then added and the buttercream is whipped until it becomes smooth and silky.

This is the perfect choice for layer cakes and especially for frosting that needs to be tinted. Its bright white color means it will take nicely to the addition of coloring.

ITALIAN BUTTERCREAM – This is similar to Swiss buttercream only it uses an Italian meringue as its base. Sugar and water are cooked together until it reaches a temperature of 240ºF. It is then carefully added to egg whites that have been whipped to form “soft peaks“. The hot syrup will cook the eggs enough so they are no longer considered to be raw. The combined mixture is whipped until “stiff peaks” form. Room temperature butter is then added and the mixture is whipped until smooth and silky.

This is a great choice when making layer cakes, it’s perfect for both the filling and the outside. It also has a beautiful, glossy appearance thanks to the meringue base.

FRENCH BUTTERCREAM – This is made in a similar fashion as the Italian buttercream only it uses both egg whites and egg yolks for its base, this is know in the pastry world as a pâte à bombe. Because this buttercream contains egg yolks, it has a much richer flavor, color and texture. A mixture of sugar and water is cooked to a temperature of 240ºF. It is then poured into the egg mixture while the mixer is running. Once the mixture is fully cooled, room temperature butter is added and the buttercream is whipped until it becomes smooth and silky.

This is a great choice for making layer cakes. Because of it’s slightly yellowish hue, it is not the best choice for tinting.

GERMAN BUTTERCREAM – This is made using a pastry cream as its base. Cooled pastry cream is whipped, room temperature butter is added and the mixture is whipped together until smooth and silky. To improve the texture, occasionally a small amount of powdered sugar is added.

This is a great buttercream to use for in-between the layers of cakes or to fill cupcakes.

PUDDING-STYLE – This starts with a thickened dairy base that is similar to pudding. The cooled pudding base is whipped with room temperature butter until it is light and smooth.

This is a good buttercream to use for making different flavored fillings for cakes and cupcakes. Good choices for flavorings are chocolate, caramel and butterscotch.

“How-To” Baking – Types of Flour

Flour is made from finely milled wheat or other grains and it is what gives structure and texture to baked goods. Different flours have varying levels of protein and fiber which will affect the final baked product therefore, it’s extremely important to choose the right flour when baking. For example, a high protein flour will yield a great chewy, elastic pizza dough but for a flaky, tender pastry a low protein flour is essential. Below are the most commonly used flours in baking.

All-Purpose Flour – Milled from a mixture of soft and hard wheat, all-purpose flour has a medium protein content of around 10-12% which is perfect for a variety of baked goods such as pie crusts, breads, and biscuits. All-purpose flour comes in bleached and unbleached varieties and while they can be used interchangeably, there are some subtle differences between the two.

Bleached flour uses chemical agents to speed up the aging process. Foods made with bleached flour will have a brighter color, softer texture and more volume. It’s perfect to use when making pie crusts, pancakes, muffins or cookies.

Unbleached flour ages naturally after being milled. It has an “off-white” color that only dulls further as it ages. Unbleached flour has a denser texture making it perfect for baked goods that need a little more structure such as yeast breads, pastries, and eclairs. Because it takes longer to produce unbleached flour, it’s generally a little more expensive than its bleached counterpart.

Self-Rising Flour – During the milling process, both baking powder and salt are added. It’s commonly used in the South and is best for tender biscuits, pancakes and muffins. To make self-rising flour at home, combine 1 cup pastry flour with 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt.

Whole Wheat Flour – Milled from the complete wheat kernel, both the bran and germ, this type of flour is higher in fiber and retains more nutrients than other flours. In baked goods it will impart a nuttier flavor and denser texture which is why it’s often mixed with all-purpose flour in baking. Because wheat germ is high in oils, whole wheat flour is prone to rancidity making it more perishable than other flours. Store for 3 months at a cool temperature and then transfer to the freezer.

Cake Flour – This type of flour has the lowest protein content, only 5-8%, which makes it ideal for use in delicate baked goods such as sponge cakes and other pastries. It also has a very low gluten content which gives this flour the ability to absorb more liquid and sugar ensuring moist cakes.

Pastry Flour – Made by grinding soft wheat into a fine flour, pastry flour has just a bit more protein content that cake flour, about 8-9%. It is perfect for creating light and flaky baked goods such as pies and tarts. To make pastry flour at home, combine 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour with 2/3 cup cake flour.

Bread Flour – This is the strongest of all flours with a high protein content of 12-14%. Because of the high protein content it is able to give excellent structural support in baked goods such as yeast breads and pizza dough. The extra protein also provides a chewier texture, better volume and nicer browning. Bread flour can be found in white or whole wheat varieties, both bleached or unbleached.

Gluten Free Flour – Made from a variety of nuts, grains and starches but most commonly found ones are made from rice flour blended with potato starch or tapioca.bake-1706051_1920

“How-To” Baking – Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder

Baking soda and baking powder are both considered to be leaveners however, they are chemically different.

Baking soda is also known as bicarbonate of soda OR sodium bicarbonate and it is considered to be a “base“. When a “base” is added to an “acid” is creates a reaction which in baking is what causes baked goods to rise. Common acids used in baking are buttermilk, lemon juice, cream of tartar or vinegar. It is important to use just the right amount of base and acid when baking, using too much baking soda will impart a soapy, metallic taste into your baked goods. Also note, baking soda is 3-4 times stronger than baking powder.

Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar and sometimes cornstarch. Most of the baking powder that is found in stores will be labeled as “double-acting” which means that it will cause the leavening action twice. The first leavening occurs when the wet ingredients are mixed with the dry ingredients. The second leavening occurs when heat is introduced during the baking process. Since baking powder already has an acid (cream of tartar) built-in, it is not usually necessary to add any additional acid to the recipe.

Recipes that call for both baking soda and baking powder do so in order to create a balance of flavor, even browning, and in some recipes using the two together will give the baked goods a little extra “lift” when baking.

**TIP** – Periodically, take a minute to test the effectiveness of your baking soda and baking powder. To check baking powder, add 2 tsp powder to 1 cup of hot water and stir. If there is an immediate fizz, the baking powder is fine. To check baking soda, add 1 tsp of soda to 1/4 cup vinegar and stir. If there is an immediate reaction and fizz, the baking soda is fine.

GENERAL RULE OF THUMB

  • Use 1/4 tsp of baking soda per 1 cup of flour
  • Use 1 tsp of baking powder per 1 cup of flour

“How-To” Baking – Sugar Varieties

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Sugar is an essential ingredient in cooking, especially baking. It adds sweetness, helps various foods to caramelize, encourages yeast to grow in bread dough, preserves foods, and gives stability to egg whites. It’s important to note that not all sugar is created equal and different sugars lend themselves to different purposes. The most common sugars and their uses are listed below.

Granulated (white) Sugar – This is the most common type of sugar used in cooking/baking. It is extracted from either sugarcane or the roots of sugar beets and then refined by a process of boiling, centrifuging, chemical treatment, and straining. It’s perfect in all types of baking recipes from cookies to cakes. It’s also used to sweeten beverages such as coffee and tea.

Cane Sugar – Cane sugar is made purely from sugarcane and is minimally processed. Its granules are slightly larger and darker than that of granulated sugar. It can be used in cooking/baking the same way as granulated sugar however, it is far more expensive.

Superfine/Castor Sugar – When granulated sugar is finely ground it becomes superfine sugar or what is known in England as castor sugar. This type of sugar dissolves more rapidly and is perfect to use in mixed drinks and delicate mixtures such as whipped egg whites.

Confectioner’s (powdered) Sugar – Granulated sugar that is crushed and combined with a little cornstarch becomes confectioner’s sugar. It is perfect for dusting foods, decorating plates, and making icings and candies. Little lumps that usually appear in the confectioner’s sugar should be sifted out before using in most recipes.

Pearl Sugar – This type of sugar has a hard, coarse texture and an opaque white coloring. It also holds its shape at high temperatures and does not melt. This type of sugar is most commonly seen in Scandinavian desserts as a topping for buns and pastries.

Brown Sugar – This is granulated sugar that has been combined with molasses to give it a rich flavor and soft, moist texture. Brown sugar comes in both light and dark varieties and can be used interchangeably. Light brown sugar will impart a more mild molasses flavor while the dark brown sugar will be a bit stronger flavored. Brown sugar is used in cookie dough, marinades, sauces, and on top of desserts that require caramelization.

Muscovado Sugar – Sometimes referred to as Barbados sugar, it is a type of unrefined cane sugar where the molasses have not been removed. While it can be used like brown sugar in recipes, note that it has a stronger, richer and more complex flavor. It’s perfect for BBQ sauces, marinades and some savory dishes.

Demerara Sugar – This is also a type of cane sugar that is minimally refined. It contains large granules, has an amber color, and a light molasses flavor. It’s perfect for topping baked goods such as muffins, cookies, and scones and is also used to sweeten coffee and tea.

Sugar in the Raw – Also known as turbinado sugar, this sugar is similar to brown sugar only it has much larger crystals and is not as moist. Raw sugar can be used in baking but it really shines as a topping for cookies and muffins as it adds a little crunch and bite to the finished product.

Sanding (coarse) Sugar – This type of sugar has slightly larger granules and comes in a variety of colors that are perfect for decorating cookies, cakes, candies, and sweet breads.

 

 

 

“How-To” Baking – Making Sugar Cookies

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Making sugar cookies can either be fun or make you want to pull your hair out! Follow these simple steps to create beautifully decorated sugar cookies every time.

  1. Make the dough ahead of time – Sugar cookie dough works best when it is fully chilled. Make the dough at least a day before you’re ready to roll and cut. The dough will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to a month. Here you will find a basic sugar cookie dough recipe from Williams-Sonoma®.
  2. Do not over-cream the butter – Over-creaming the butter will cause too much air to be incorporated into the cookie dough which in turn will cause them to expand and spread when baking and then collapse during cooling. Work the butter just enough so that it is incorporated with the other ingredients.
  3. Roll to the proper thickness – The perfect thickness for a sugar cookie is 1/4″. This will allow the cookies to be sturdy enough for decorating but not too thick where they taste icky. To help roll out the dough to the proper thickness you can purchase rolling pin guide rings that slip right on to your existing rolling pin. You can find them here .
  4. Chill the cookies – After the cookies are cut out, place them back into the fridge to chill. This will help to prevent spreading during the baking process.
  5. Do not overbake – Bake the cookies until they are a light sandy blonde color. Allowing the cookies to bake until “golden brown” will result in rock hard cookies that will continue to harden as they age.
  6. Use royal icing to decorate – Basic royal icing is simply a mixture of powdered sugar and egg whites with added flavorings. If the icing is too thin, add more powdered sugar. If the icing is too thick, add in more egg whites or water. To help the icing dry more quickly add in an acid such as lemon juice or cream of tartar. Here you will find a simple royal icing recipe to get your started.
  7. Ice the cookies properly – First, using a thicker batch of royal icing, outline the edge of the cookies and then allow them to dry. Then, using a thinner batch of royal icing, “flood” the cookies inside of the outline and use a small offset spatula to spread the icing around. Decorate and then allow the cookies to fully and completely dry before packaging them.

Sugar Cookie Tip – Do NOT use overly intricate cookie cutters when making sugar cookies. The cookies won’t bake evenly and the tiny pieces will burn before the rest of the cookie is fully baked. Instead, use simpler cookie cutters such as Christmas trees, snowmen, bells, etc. and then embellish and make them fancy during the decorating process. Try using sanding sugar, dragées, or even small candies to make them pretty. If you’re feeling ambitious, try some of these cool decorating techniques from the Food Network® kitchen: Sugar Cookie Decorating Techniques

“How-To” Baking – Fruit Desserts

Crumbles, crisps, and buckles………Oh my!! There are so many different ways to bake fresh fruit into a delectable dessert that it can be confusing and overwhelming. So let’s break it down one dessert at a time!

Crumble – A crumble is a baked dessert consisting of fresh fruit that is topped with an oat based streusel.

Crisp – A crisp is very similar to a crumble except the streusel topping is made from flour, not oats.

Brown Betty – A brown betty is very similar to a crisp. In fact, some recipes call for only fresh fruit with a streusel topping just like in a crisp. However, a layer of streusel can also be layered on the bottom as well. Other recipes call for the fruit to be layered between stale, buttered cubes of bread.

Cobbler – A cobbler is topped with individual dropped biscuits that create the look of a cobblestone street, hence the name “cobbler“.

Buckle – A buckle has a cake like batter underneath the fruit and is topped with crumbs. As it bakes the cake rises up while the fruit and crumbs weigh it down which causes a buckling effect. The most common type of buckle is blueberry but it can be made with other types of fruit.

Grunt/Slump – A grunt or a slump is similar to a cobbler however, instead of being baked in the oven it is cooked in a covered pan on a stovetop or over a campfire. The biscuits are steamed rather than baked like in a cobbler.

The term “grunt” was coined because of the noise that the hot, bubbly fruit makes as it cooks. The term “slump” was coined because when the dessert is placed on a serving dish it doesn’t hold its form and it “slumps” on the dish.

Clafouti – A clafouti is topped with either cake or pudding.

Pandowdy – A pandowdy is a deep dish fruit dessert that is topped with brittle biscuits. As the pandowdy bakes, the biscuit topping is broken up and pounded into the fruit so that the juices from the fruit can rise up to the top.

Crostata/Galette – A crostata or galette is made with a rolled out piece of dough that’s piled with fruit. The edges of the dough are folded in to create a crust and then it gets an egg wash and a dusting of coarse sugar on top. This dessert is freeform in shape and it’s baked on a flat sheet.

These two desserts are identical except in name. A crostata is an Italian term and a galette is French but they can be used interchangeably as they are both referring to the same thing.

 

“How-To” Baking – Proofing

In baking, the term proofing actually has two applications. With regards to yeast, which is a living organism that can weaken over time, it’s a process that is used to determine if the yeast is still active and capable of leavening bread dough. Proofing is also the term that is used to describe the second (or final) rise of a shaped yeast dough.

To proof yeast – Mix the yeast with warm water (between 105ºF and 110ºF) and allow it to sit for a few minutes. If the yeast becomes creamy and foamy, it is still active. If the yeast does not foam and become creamy it is no longer active and should be thrown out as it will not work properly in the dough.

To proof shaped dough – For the final rise of a shaped yeast dough simply place the dough in a warm, dark, draft free area and allow it to rest undisturbed. Many ovens today come equipped with a PROOF function and it works exceptionally well. If you have an oven that has this feature, take advantage of it when proofing dough.

“How-To” Baking – Crumb Coat

A crumb coat, also referred to as the “dirty icing“, is the base coat of icing on a cake. It is done to seal the cake and prevent any stray cake crumbs from getting into the final icing coat. Once the crumb coat is in place, the second layer of icing will go on cleanly and the finished cake will look smooth and uniform instead of rough or “dirty”.

To crumb coat a cake, first level the cake with a sharp knife. An even, level surface is important when stacking multiple layers. On a cake plate put a dollop of icing on the bottom and then place the first layer of cake on top of it, this will prevent the cake from shifting around. Fill each layer and stack the cakes one at a time. When adding the last layer, flip the cake upside down so that the bottom is the top. This will reduce the amount of crumbs that get into the crumb coat. Apply a thin layer of icing around the sides and top of the cake then smooth it out with a bench scraper or offset spatula. Chill the cake for about 20 minutes to set the layers and the crumb coat. Finish the cake by applying the second layer of icing and decorations.