Tag Archives: Pastry Tips

Have a Safe and Happy New Year’s Celebration, People!

1 Jan
Happy New Year, everbody!

Happy New Year, everbody!

I am deep in the throes of baking pound cake–Miss Patsy’s top secret pound cake, sent to me by loyal friend and reader, Cindy.  Late tomorrow, after the crowd devours it, I will be posting a step-by-step how-to for making pound cake as well as giving some handy Tips for Success.  No need to thank me; I’m just doing my job.

So, until tomorrow, folks!  Have a wonderful celebration, and I hope to see you all back here, safe, sound and ready to bake in the New Year.

You know, I just can’t skate out without posting something useful and kitchen-y.  First, a bit of Shameless Self-Promotion.  I’ve just published a new lens on Small Kitchen Appliances–features you should look for, advice on purchasing, etc–over at Squidoo.  If you’re considering buying a mixer, food processor, immersion blender or another small kitchen appliance, go check it out at Small Kitchen Electrics.

Now for some Selfless Tips:

  1. Buy a kitchen scale.  If your recipes are written for cups, measure your cup as you normally would, then weigh the measured ingredient.  Write all the weights down in your cookbook.  Next time you go to make that recipe–no measuring cups!
  2. Don’t try to whip egg whites in a plastic bowl.  Plastic bowls attract and hold onto fat until forever, even after washing, and even a little fat can ruin your meringue.  So, glass or metal bowls only, please.
  3. If you’re using your mixer, whip whites on medium speed.  It might take a little longer, but you’ll end up with a more stable foam.
  4. If you like to make bread, and the recipe calls for a bit of sugar to feed the yeast, don’t be afraid to substitute honey, corn syrup or even maple syrup.  The yeast won’t care, and you might notice subtle differences in the resulting loaf.
  5. Try making your own raspberry jam.  It is the best.  Equal parts (by weight) raspberries and sugar, a pinch of salt and a squeeze or two of lemon juice.  Bring to a boil.  Let boil until thick and syrupy–you’ll know it’s ready when the drips of syrup fall together in a sheet off the spoon.  Leave it in the fridge for a week or two, or can it for longer storage.

Okay, that’s it.  The pound cake is cooling, by the way, and it smells really good.  You’ll hear all about it tomorrow.  Again, Happy New Year, everyone!

Your Friendly Baking Troubleshooting Guide

23 Dec
Watch your oven temperature if you want nicely peaked muffins.

Watch your oven temperature if you want nicely peaked muffins.

Hi there, all!  I thought that, before I packed it in until the 29th, I would offer a handy guide.  Answers to some questions I get asked a lot, answers to questions you might not have thought of, and answers to questions that can help you become a better baker.  No, really–you can thank me later.

1.  Why don’t my muffins have happy little peaks on their tops?

This is generally a function of too low an oven temperature.  You want cupcakes to set up gradually and just have the barest dome–the better to accept frosting.  With muffins, you want the edges to set up quickly, forcing the rest of the batter UP.  As the muffins set rapidly from the outside in, you end up with a majestic peak.  So, cupcakes bake at 325-350 degrees, F, and muffins bake at 375-400 degrees, F.

2. Why do my muffins have stupid tunnels in them?

This is caused by too much gluten development in your batter.  When mixing using the muffin method (all wet onto all dry and stir), mix just so the batter is barely together.  Lumps will sort themselves out of their own accord, but once you get that liquid in the flour, gentle is the name of the game.  Use a low-protein flour, as well.  That should help.

3.  Is Reynold’s Release foil worth it?

Yes.  It is magic.  Get some.

4.  What is the secret to really light and fluffy biscuits?

If you’re not looking for flakes, you want a really wet dough–so wet that you have to flour your hands in order to form the biscuits.  Stay away from any recipe that talks about “kneading the biscuit dough.”  That’s a recipe for “tough”.  It’s okay for flaky biscuits, but if you want those really tall, fluffy Cracker Barrel biscuits, go with a very wet dough.  Everyone’s favorite food geek, AB, has a recipe he will be happy to share.

5.  Help!  My cookies are spreading too much!

That’s not technically a question, but since I’m here to help…Butter melts very quickly, and all at once.  At one temperature, it’s a solid, and then you blink, and it’s all melted.  If the butter melts before the structural elements (starches and egg proteins) set up, you’ll end up with a very flat, oddly shaped wafer of a cookie.  All-butter cookies tend to spread more than cookies made with all (or part) shortening.  If you don’t want to go the shortening route (I try and stay away from it, although it is good for some stuff), try shaping your cookies and then putting the whole tray in the fridge for thirty minutes or so–the race between butter melting and starches and proteins setting up will be more even this way, and you’ll get less spread.  Oh, also, don’t flatten the dough much–just lightly press down.  You want the dough to be thick enough that it takes the heat awhile to penetrate.  Meanwhile, your starches and proteins will have a chance to start setting.  And don’t put your dough on hot cookie sheets.  That is all.

6.  What’s the best way to prepare cake pans so my cakes don’t stick?  And how do I get the suckers out of the pan?

Oh, good one!  If you’ve prepared your pans properly (points for alliteration), you won’t have any trouble turning out your cakes.  For flat-bottomed, straight-sided pans, spray the bottoms and up the sides thoroughly with pan spray–pick your favorite–cut a piece of magical Release foil or some parchment paper to fit in the bottom.  Then, I lightly spray that, too.   Once your cake is out of the oven, let it cool for 10-20 minutes in the pan.  This gives the still-woogly starches and proteins time to set up more firmly and not break into chunks when you try and turn it out.  Once the cakes have cooled a bit, place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan.  Holding the two firmly (with oven mitts or towels, please) flip them over.  Whack the bottom of the pan lightly (Is it possible to whack lightly?  Whatever.) and remove the pan.  Pull it straight up so you don’t mess up your cake.  If the top of your cake isn’t flat, you’ll want to cool it right side up.  Put another cooling rack on top (which is really the bottom) of your cake.  You now have a cake sandwich with cooling rack bread.  Grasp this whole contraption firmly, and turn it all over.  Remove the first cake rack, and let your lovely cake cool, right side up.

7.  How do I ice a cake so it looks like I know what I’m doing?

First, brush all the crumbs that you can off of the cake.  Use a pastry brush for this.  No, you may not use your Dust Buster.  Make sure your icing is thin enough to spread.  Test it–if it wants to curl up around your spatula as you’re trying to ice, it’s too thick and needs to be thinned out with a little water, milk or other liquid.  Once your icing is the correct consistency, apply a very thin coat of icing all over the cake.  This is the “crumb coat.”  No, it is not a coat of crumbs.  It is a coat of icing designed to trap any crumbs that might be lurking, ready to make your icing job all speckled and sad.  Put your cake in its swanky new crumb coat into the fridge to let the icing firm up.  After half an hour or so, you can add your final icing coat.  I do the sides first with a small, offset spatula.  I don’t try to be very neat at this point, I’m just trying to get frosting on the cake.  Once the sides are all covered, I hold my spatula 1/4″ away from and parallel with the sides of the cake.  I angle the spatula to scrape away extra icing.  Then, I slowly spin my turntable, scraping the extra icing into the bowl.  Next, I dump a ton of icing on top of the cake, spreading it out to hang over the edges of the cake by a little bit.  I’ll also scrape extra icing back into the bowl.  When the icing is as thick as I want it (maybe 1/3″),  I perform the little sides-of-the-cake number again–just the scraping portion.  What I now have is a cake with smooth sides and a little icing “perimeter wall” standing up maybe 1/2″ all the way around the cake.  I knock that down with my spatula, one section at a time, sweeping in towards the center of the cake, and scraping all the extra icing back into the bowl.

That’s all I’ve got, right now.   If I didn’t cover one of your burning questions, please leave your question in the comments section.

I celebrate Christmas, so “Merry Christmas!”  Whichever holiday you celebrate, and however you choose to celebrate it, I hope you have a wonderful one.  For those of you celebrating Festivus, may you dominate in the Feats of Strength.

Thank you to all my loyal readers.  I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to know that we’re building a quirky little baking community here!  I l00k forward to seeing you all on the 29th.

Handy Dandy Pastry Tips

2 Dec
Pastry Tips.  Get it?!

Pastry Tips. Get it?!

Every profession has its tips.  My husband tells me IT tips, and I just blink at him.  But whether they’re IT tips or pastry tips or plumbing tips, people like tips.  And since you are people, I hope you will like these tips.  These are all quality tips.  Some of them I learned in culinary school.  Some, I learned from reading or from other chefs.  Some I learned the hard way.  Which is which?  You decide:)

  • Roll pie and cookie dough between two sheets of parchment so you don’t have to add extra flour–this keeps the dough more tender.
  • Greasing and flouring a pan for a chocolate cake?  Don’t use flour.  Use cocoa powder (or a mixture of flour and cocoa powder), instead.
  • Horrible black carbonized mess in your best pan?  Bring water and baking soda to a boil in the pan, scrape gently with a wooden spoon, then wipe.  You probably won’t even have to scrub!
  • If a recipe doesn’t call for salt, use some anyway.  You’ll thank me.
  • If a recipe calls for x amount of salt, it will probably benefit from at least 1.5x or even 2x.
  • Use Saran Wrap to line your pie crusts for blind baking.  Honest.  This is the best tip ever, and should have been first, but it was feeling cheeky, so I put it in the middle.
  • Whip egg whites and cream on medium speed.  It’ll take longer, but you’ll get a more stable foam.
  • If a recipe says to fold in some stuff and then later fold in some more–fold it all in at one time.  You’ll ultimately do less folding and you’ll have less loss of volume.
  • The most important thing in a chemically-leavened cake is to evenly distribute the leaveners.  Whisk leaveners and flour together thoroughly before proceeding with a recipe.
  • You can make those candied nuts from the mall at home.
  • Pastry cream pretty much equals vanilla pudding.  If you wouldn’t make pastry cream from a wee box, don’t make pudding from one, either.
  • If you burn yourself and it’s a little blistery and hurts like crazy, keep an icepack covered with a wet towel on the burn until the burning sensation stops.  This could seriously take up to 8 hours.  Do it anyway–you’ll cut your recovery time drastically and probably be able to avoid huge blisters.

And there you have it.  Tuesday Tips for you.  Hopefully you will find at least some of these tips useful.  If you have a particularly great tip, I’d love to hear about it–I’ll even add it to the list!

Two more tips, paraphrased, from Katherine:

  • If you run out of baking soda, use a pinch of baking soda.  (I would add:  make sure the recipe is still in balance.  Lose any acidic ingredients.  For example, if you’re out of soda and are going to use baking powder, change buttermilk to regular milk or use Dutch process cocoa powder instead of regular cocoa.  Baking soda had 4 times the leavening power of baking powder, so plan accordingly.  For more information on the chemistry of leaveners, buy Shirley Corriher’s Bakewise).
  • Know when to measure and when not to:  measurements should be accurate for cake formulas, but you can pretty much just throw together a streusel or crisp topping.

Thanks, Katherine!  Keep those tips coming, guys!

The Wonder of Parchment Paper

3 Nov
Magical, magical parchment paper!

Magical, magical parchment paper!

There’s usually a few tricks that professional chefs know and use to make their food a little better and their lives a little easier.  They usually don’t tell home cooks, otherwise, they might not ever go out to eat.  One of the tricks on the “hot side” is using shallots.  A trick on the pastry side is using parchment.  Not to eat.

You probably know what parchment paper is–it’s basically thin paper treated with silicone so stuff doesn’t stick.  We went through boxes of the stuff at the restaurants I worked at.  But there are sneaky uses, too, aside from just lining a sheet pan.

You know how when a recipe tells you to roll out your pie crust or cookie dough on a lightly floured surface?  Yeah, don’t do that.  You’ll just make your crust or cookies tougher and drier than they need to be.  Roll your dough between two sheets of parchment, and you’re good to go.  But here’s the really tricky part:  once you roll the dough, refrigerate it (or even freeze it) before you try and use it.  This will give your dough a chance to firm up and make it way easier to handle.

Here’s a bonus sneaky trick:  if you’re making pie dough, make a bunch, roll out enough between two sheets of parchment to make a bottom (or top) crust.  Stack up all your dough circles and store them in the freezer.  Now, just bring out one or two whenever you’re feeling like pie.

So, any time a recipe tells you to roll dough out on a floured surface, just mentally scratch out that direction and use parchment.  You will be very happy that you did.  Come back by and thank me:-)

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