“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.

“How-To” Baking – Docking

Pricking holes in a short dough (pie crust, shortbread, etc) prior to baking is called docking. Using a fork or special docking tool, prick small holes all over the dough. Doing this helps to vent the steam during the baking process and it keeps the pastry dough from puffing up.

“How-To” Baking – Water Bath

A water bath is simply a pan of boiling water that is placed in the oven during baking. The dessert can be submerged directly into the water bath or it can be placed on the baking rack above the water bath. There are two reasons why a water bath is used in baking, to add moisture to the oven and to provide a more even, slower heat source. Desserts such as cheesecake benefit from a water bath as the moist heat will help to avoid the cheesecake from cracking during baking and cooling. It also helps desserts such as custards from becoming rubbery.

To make a water bath, simply place a pan of boiling water in the oven. If submerging a dessert directly into the water bath, wrap the pan in tin foil to avoid water from seeping in. This is especially important when using a springform pan which is more likely to leak.

“How-To” Baking – Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is just granulated sugar and water that is combined together over heat until the sugar melts and becomes syrupy. It is used to flavor cocktails, lemonade, sorbets, frosting, candies and more. 

To make a simple syrup, combine equal parts granulated sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute without stirring. Let cool and either use immediately or store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Simple syrup will keep indefinitely. 

“How-To” Baking – Blind Baking

Blind baking means to partially or completely bake a pie or tart shell/crust before filling it. This technique is particularly useful when making pies that have very juicy fillings like a fruit pie, as they will cause the bottom of the pie to become soggy. Blind baking the crust prevents the crust from absorbing too much liquid. Other pie and tart fillings, such as a custard, require no baking so the crust will need to be fully baked prior to adding any filling.

To blind bake a crust, carefully roll out the pie dough then place it into a pie pan. Once the dough is fitted into the pan lay a sheet of tin foil or parchment paper on top and weigh it down with pie weights, dried beans, or raw rice. Bake according to the recipe instructions. If partially blind baking the crust, remove from the oven when the sides are just set but the crust is still pale. If completely blind baking the crust, remove from the oven when the crust is a deep golden brown. If the filling is not being baked in the crust, cool completely to prevent any sogginess.

“How-To” Baking – Tempering

Tempering is a technique that serves two different purposes. Tempering chocolate is a process where through heating and cooling of the chocolate, stabilized crystals are formed. These stabilized crystals allow the chocolate to be glossy and remain firm at room temperature. Eggs and other dairy products are tempered so that they can be incorporated into a hot liquid without cooking or curdling.

To temper chocolate, gently melt in a double boiler over low heat. Using a candy thermometer, cool the chocolate down to a very precise temperature. Dark chocolate should be between 88-89ºF (31ºC). Milk and white chocolate should be between 84-86ºF (29-30ºC). Another (easier) way to temper chocolate is to melt down part of it and then add in the remaining solid chocolate. Stir constantly until it is completely melted and smooth.

To temper eggs and dairy, add a small amount of the hot liquid to the cold dairy or eggs and whisk together until combined. This will slowly raise the temperature of the cold ingredients making it possible to combine them with the hot liquid without curdling. Add the warmed whisked mixture to the remaining hot liquid and combine.

“How-To” Baking – Cutting In

Cutting in is a baking technique that is used most often when making pastry dough and pie crust. When you take a cold, solid fat (usually butter) and combine it with a dry ingredient (usually flour) the fat particles become coated in the flour thus preventing gluten forming proteins from joining together which create a tough dough. Cutting in helps to create tiny pockets of butter which melt during the baking process and create a light, flaky crust.

To cut in butter, simply cut up very cold butter into small, even pieces and sprinkle them over the flour. Using a pastry blender (a tool with 5-6 curved parallel blades) OR two knives combine the butter and flour together. With a pastry blender, rock gently back and forth until the mixture becomes crumbly. Scrape the blades as needed while combining. If using knives, hold one in each hand, blades touching, and cut though the mixture creating an “X”. Continue this motion until the mixture becomes crumbly.

When completely combined the mixture should resemble a dry, coarse meal with tiny pea sized pieces of butter throughout. If during the mixing process the butter becomes warm and greasy, place the bowl in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes to get it cold again and then continue mixing until combined.

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