Archives: Ingredients

Fall = Pie Season: Our Best Pie Making Tips

Our Best Pie Making Tips

Craftsy using rolling pin to lift pie crust

For some reason fall always brings out the pie baker inside us. Sure, we make pie in the spring and summer with fresh berries but there is something about apple and pumpkin season to get our creative juices going. Pies are a funny thing. You hear of Grandmas throwing them together without recipes and having fabulous success every time and yet making and handling the crust can instill fear in many bakers. Here are some of our best pie making tips and ones gathered from some of our favorite and most trusted sources.

First let’s talk about temperature. Think Cold. Water should be cold (drop a few ice cubes in there), your fingers shouldn’t be overly warm (for when handling) and you can even chill your bowl and/or stick your flour in the freezer for 15 minutes. The fat, of course, should be very cold, too. Heat melts the fat and prevents all those nice air pockets you want to create.

Whether you make by hand with a Hand Blender, by food processor or stand mixer fitted with flat paddle is up to you. Making it by hand allows you to really feel (literally) what you are doing and will help with your understanding of the process. Here is a great video from Epicurious on how to make piecrust by hand.


pie plate comparison



Choosing your pie plate is important as well. Think you are looking at a 9-inch pie plate in your cupboard? You might be, or it might be a 9-insh deep dish or a 9 ½-inch plate, both of which have very different volume amounts than a classic 9-inch and can wreak havoc if they are not the sized intended by the recipe developer. Read more about Choosing Your Pie Plate before embarking on your pie making adventure. Now, let’s say you are taking the pie to a party and don’t want to lug one of your pie plates and you are eyeing those aluminum disposable pie plates from the supermarket. We used to say NEVER to those until a friend told us about a genius tip of hers. She forms and bakes her pie in the disposable but during baking it is nestled inside one of her Pyrex plates. The pie bakes more evenly than if in the disposable alone and for travel, she simply leaves the Pyrex at home. Problem solved!




How about do-ahead tips? We’ve got ‘em! Piecrust freezes very well, but waiting for a large hunk of pie dough to defrost tales forever and it often defrosts unevenly. We like to do the following: roll out your pie crust on parchment, then roll up inside the parchment, slip into a mailer tube and freeze. It’s like having refrigerator dough on hand but it’s homemade! Defrost overnight or simply take out of freezer and let stand until pliable. So handy (as long as you have room in the freezer).




If you missed Rose Levy Beranbaum’s new Pie Kit, you should definitely check it out (seen above). If you don’t have a good surface to roll your crust on, this can solve your problem.


Pie crust crimp with pearls

Bet you have seen plenty of images with crusts with picture perfect decorative edges…well nothing beats this article on Guerrilla Pie Crust Tips. Trust us…now go bake some pie!


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The Cheese Course as Dessert

The Cheese Course as Dessert

cheese display

Sometimes shaking it up a little bit is the exact thing that is needed. You don’t always have to end the meal with something baked and sweet. In many areas of Europe the mail meal is followed by a cheese course and I figured it was high time that we examined the Cheese Course as Dessert here at Bakepedia. When I am in France, in particular, and come across this tradition I never feel wanting for sweets. Rather I am entranced by the array of cheeses and dive in with gusto and a sense of adventure.

In our opinion the best cheese course provides choices. It’s almost like a sweet tray of mignardises. Now, there are similarities to presenting a dessert cheese display and creating one as an appetizer, but there are differences as well. If intended to precede the meal, I will often include other savory items such as charcuterie and olives, cornichons and perhaps some grainy mustard. When I am gathering cheeses for a dessert course I think a bit sweeter. In addition to the cheeses I will add fruit, both fresh and dried, and perhaps some nuts. When it comes to the cheeses, that’s where the similarities reign.

Sometimes I will present an array of goat cheeses from fresh, to semisoft, to aged and firm. Or do the same with sheep or cow as the milk source. More often than not I select an array of varied textures and also vary the milk source. So a fresh goat cheese might be next to an aged sheep cheese and so on. I like to have a raw milk selection and always something very pungent like a blue – they pair so well with fruit from fresh pears to dried grapes. The dried grapes on the vine in the image(see below) are from Earthy Delights and they are always a conversation starter. Ultra-creamy double and triple crème cheeses are most welcomed during a dessert course and one of our favorites is Fromager d’Affinois. Here we offered a garlic and herb version as a more savory option.

blueberry sauce on cheese

Here we are showing Laura Chenel’s Original Log Goat Cheese. Back in the early 1980s Laura began a mission to bring fresh goat cheeses to the masses and hers were the first we enjoyed that were US produced. This log is always popular. It is mild and creamy and always consistent. We topped it with a Maple Blueberry Compote.

The round in the front is a bit of a departure. It is a vegan almond milk “cheese” from Kite Hill. They have soft, ricotta-like cheeses as well as this semi-soft product.

The lovely wedge in the front with the ribbon of vegetable ash is an aged goat – Humboldt Fog. Guests always ask about the demarcation beneath the rind; it is a natural occurrence with this cheese as it ages.


Spanish cheese closeup

On the right, served with Quince Paste and Marcona Almonds, is a hunk of the smoked, Spanish Etxegarai sheep cheese from the Basque region. It is smoked over beech wood and has a full, sheepy finish.

For the blue on the left I went local – to me, anyway. This is Great Hill Blue made with raw unhomogenized milk in Marion, MA. If you are lucky enough to live near cheese producers, this is a nice touch.

For the dessert cheese course I always include a plain and simple baguette. I leave the rosemary scented and olive loaves for appetizers. The one exception is a nutty bread or a bread featuring dried fruit, like the cranberry walnut pictured. These can work quite well with the dessert course. We added some gluten-free crackers to our basket, too.

You could consider serving a small simple salad. Perhaps with a mixture of greens, including some bitter greens such as arugula and frisee. A simple olive oil vinaigrette won’t overpower the cheeses. I have always been a fan of salad later in the meal.

As for amount of cheese, it can vary depending on how rich the preceding meal was, and can range from anywhere from ½-ounce to 2 ounces per person per cheese. It also depends on the number of cheeses. The thing with cheese, however, is that leftovers are always nice to have, so I like to be generous with my purchasing. I wouldn’t necessarily by a pricey cheese for an omelet, but if I have it I use it and breakfast the next day is heavenly.

Temperature is very important! Cheeses must be room temperature. Soft cheeses should be spilling forth from their rinds…the flavors will be at their best. I cannot over state this. Give your cheeses several hours at room temperature.

In addition to the grapes and strawberries and candied pecans we chose you could offer fresh figs and have a small jar of honey available for drizzling. Steer clear of citrus, though, which does nothing to enhance the cheeses.

You can recommend to your guests to begin with the milder cheeses, like the Laura Chenel goat, and proceed to the more robust, ending with the blue. Personally, I just dive in and hop around and eat to my heart and palate’s content.

As for display, we like to use large pieces of slate or natural stone. A wooden cheese board can work well, too.

Dessert wines such as a tokai, late harvest gewurztraminer, sauternes or a Moscato d’Asti would be a nice addition, or consider a sherry such as Pedro Ximenez. Sweet beers could work as well.

I hope this has given you some food for thought and next time you are planning dessert, why not think cheese.


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How to Cook Bacon (Especially in Large Batches)

Bacon Large Batch Bacon – Effortlessly

raw baconImage by Jonathunder

What is this doing on Bakepedia? Apparently you haven’t seen our Bacon Raisin Oatmeal Cookies or our Bacon Bourbon Salted Caramel Popcorn. Yes, you read that right…Anyway that latter recipe calls for 1 whole pound of bacon and cooking that much on top of the stove means cooking in batches and waiting around or having multiple pans going and it most certainly means grease here, there and everywhere – even when we use a splatter shield. So what is a bacon loving dessert maven to do? This is our most favorite method for cooking bacon, especially when there is a lot needed.

In the oven!

That’s right. Why? Because the bacon stays relatively straight and flat, there is no top-of-stove splatter and you can cook a whole pound at once. The technique begins with a cold oven, which might seem odd, but here’s why. By heating the bacon up slowly the fat renders out slowly and thoroughly and also results in a very clean, creamy fat. This is particularly important for recipes like the Bacon Raisin Oatmeal Cookies, which use some of the fat.

Take a clean, rimmed baking sheet and lay out bacon so that pieces are not touching. Place in cold oven on middle rack. Turn oven on to 400°F. Check at about 12 minutes. Somewhere around 15 minutes the bacon will be crisp and done. If your oven is slow to preheat it might just get to 400°F by the time the bacon is done. That’s okay. Just pull the bacon out when it is cooked to the desired crispness level. You will see all the nice rendered fat. Carefully pour the fat into a heatproof container and reserve. Remove bacon (I use tongs) and drain on paper towels. There you go! You will use this technique again and again – promise!

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Baking with a Buttermilk Pro

Baking with Buttermilk

pecan flour buttermilk pancakes

Debbie Moose knows buttermilk and since it is an ingredient that we love – and that many of you have questions about – we thought we would have Debbie write an article for us on purchasing and using this time honored ingredient.

Debbie 4x6 #1

I love when the universe comes together in a synchronistic way. The same day that Debbie sent me this piece I received my Southern Living magazine in the mail and not only did a buttermilk cake grace the cover, but the article showed her Dad’s favorite treat (see below). Read up and then decide what you are going to make! Cakes, cornbread, pancakes and waffles are just a few things that work beautifully with buttermilk. Also be sure to check out Debbie’s book, Buttermilk: A Savor the South Cookbook where you will find more of her buttermilk musings. She also makes a good case for not making your own, which she describes below. Try our Chocolate Buttermilk Snack Cake and our Pecan Flour Buttermilk Pancakes (as seen in top image).



As a southerner, I have a special love for buttermilk, and not just because I wrote a whole cookbook on it. I can’t think of an ingredient that sums up the South as well or that works such magic in baking.

I still remember my father crumbling up leftover cornbread (made with buttermilk) into a tall glass of buttermilk as an evening snack, the glass so full that he ate it with an iced-tea spoon. Most southerners my age remember something like this, and maybe have done it themselves.

For a long time, the South was a poor place. And southerners didn’t throw things out, especially food. So when the butter was churned from fresh milk, the liquid that remained – the buttermilk – was put on a shelf for later use. That’s when the second part of creating buttermilk would happen: natural cultures from the air would enter it. The cultures helped it keep longer, and provide the distinctive tangy flavor. The flavor was a byproduct of using what was available, but over time southerners came to prefer it, long after everyone had refrigerators.

Buttermilk has a higher acid level than what my mother called “sweet milk,” which makes it a blessing for baking. When chemical leavening – baking powder and baking soda – were invented around 1800, the acid in buttermilk would really help them create those bubbles that make breads and cakes rise.

Flavor, tenderness, moistness, even rising – there’s so much that buttermilk brings to a dish.

Because of the cultures, buttermilk is more akin to yogurt than it is to regular milk. Today, buttermilk is made using commercial cultures, and you can find everything from no fat to full-fat versions. I suggest using the richest buttermilk you can get, and with the growth in small dairies, artisan milks are easier to find. Go with full fat for cakes, I say.

Before you ask about the old substitute – mixing vinegar into regular milk – don’t. All you’ll get by doing that is an acidic flavor. Powdered buttermilk isn’t much better, unless you want to add some buttermilk flavor without adding liquid.

Go get the good stuff. You’ll find plenty to do with it besides pancakes and biscuits. You can swap buttermilk for regular milk in recipes. If the recipe has baking soda or baking powder already, you’re probably OK to go. If you’re using a large amount of buttermilk, you could increase the baking soda by a small amount if you’re not sure, just 1/4 teaspoon or less.


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How To Ripen Bananas Instantly

Ripening Bananas in The Oven

baked ripened bananas

Look at the picture above. You think that doesn’t look appetizing? Well let me tell you there is nothing better for baking with bananas than a dead ripe banana. Black all-over ripe. Problem is that bananas get shipped green because they ripen after harvesting and also because they will offer purveyors a longer sell time. It is not unusual to come home with bananas that won’t be ready for baking for 5 whole days! If I want banana bread now, that just won’t do.

Thankfully someone (I have no idea who) came up with this technique of baking bananas to “ripen” them. Indeed, after a brief stint in the oven the skin blackens and the flesh sweetens and softens. While this will not work for ripening bananas to slice over your morning cereal, it does work for when you want to bake with them.

When you eat a firm banana that still has green coloration you might have had that experience of an almost puckering sensation. Bananas at this stage are not only firmer but they are mostly starch. They taste less sweet than a riper banana because they are less sweet! During ripening the starches convert to sugar. Amylase is the enzyme responsible for this conversion (and ripening) where the starch is broken down into sugars. Another enzyme called pectinase breaks down the cell walls and makes the banana feel softer. This all translates into a sweeter, creamier experience for us when we eat – and bake – ripe bananas.

To create the “ripe” bananas you see above, place your bananas peel and all on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 300°F oven for about 30 minutes. Go by look and texture; it might take 5 to 10 minutes longer. They should be very dark brown, almost black all over and be soft to the touch. They should feel a bit full, like they are about to split the skins. Cool and use in any recipe that requires a ripe, mashed banana. I like to cut off them end and squeeze the soft flesh out like squeezing a toothpaste tube. Just squeeze right into your bowl or measuring cup. It is best to bake just the bananas you need and use them right away.

We consulted Harold McGee. If you don’t have his book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, you should order it right away. The pros turn to Harold and his book when we have questions about food chemistry.  He said: “…from the descriptions I see on the web, I’d call this simple cooking and not ripening. The high heat damages the cells and so weakens and softens the structure; and the indiscriminate mixing of cell components probably does mean that enzymes convert some of the starch to sugars, as happens in baking sweet potatoes. The lower the baking temp and the slower the heating, the more starch conversion there will be, since the enzymes are knocked out as the temperature approaches the boiling point.”

He went on to suggest that we try 175°F for a longer period of time. We went back into the Test Kitchen and baked our bananas at 175°F for 3 hours. After a few trials we decided that this approach gave us slightly sweeter bananas, but there was not a huge difference in the finished results (in banana bread, for instance) from baking the bananas at 300°F for a shorter time. Our recommendation is to use the low and slow method if you have time but don’t overlook the 300°F technique. Nothing, however, beats Mother Nature. We still like naturally ripened bananas the best.

Use these for our Banana Bread and Banana Bread Mug Cake or anytime you need ripe bananas. Watch Dédé at make the mug cake and talk about this technique.



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Corn Syrup versus High Fructose Corn Syrup

Is Corn Syrup Bad for You?corn syrup slider

OK folks I will state right here up front that this article is not meant to be the end-all of scientific and nutritional accounting of the controversy about corn syrup versus high fructose corn syrup. In reading the comments on other sites below similar articles it is clear that many people have strong opinions and a definitive stance is difficult to present without dissenters. Even the title, Corn Syrup versus High-Fructose Corn Syrup, seems like we are setting these ingredients up for a battle!

My focus here is to help home bakers understand what these two ingredients are and how best to use them – or not!

corn syrup

You will find recipes on Bakepedia calling for corn syrup – some candies for instance, or pecan pie desserts. As an invert sugar it prevents crystallization and is very useful in some recipes. We use Karo brand, which contains no high-fructose corn syrup. If you read their website articles carefully they say that the brand didn’t contain any high fructose syrup when they introduced the product in 1902 and they don’t now. There was, however, an in-between period during which their Karo syrup did contain high fructose corn syrup. I am not sure of those dates. This might be why there is confusion for some who think that their product does contain high-fructose corn syrup.

So what’s the deal? I am sure you have read many articles railing against high-fructose corn syrup. The main thing to know is that high-fructose corn syrup is not the same as regular old corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup begins as corn syrup but it is then further processed and modified. It is broken down enzymatically to create two different forms of sweeteners: fructose and glucose. It was originally developed as a lower cost substitute for sugar, which is why you see it in the ingredient lists of so many junk foods. It is the fructose that has been linked to obesity as well as other health related issues such as Type 2 diabetes, all of which can increase risk of heart disease. Controversy exists. “Regular” corn syrup, like the Karo mentioned, does not have this stigma attached.

Here’s our simple answer in two parts:

  1. Overconsumption of sugar of any sort is not recommended. Neither is overconsumption of red meat, many fats or candy. Practice moderation.
  1. We think the issue is with hidden sugars – in sodas, snack foods, even commercially prepared bread! High-fructose corn syrup is often used in this way. Become a label reader.

Moderation is key and we have no problem using corn syrup in our occasional baking. We would rather have a slice of real cheesecake or a homemade slab of toffee than to find out that we ate the equivalence in sugars from ketchup, chips and other processed foods.

For additional information, our friend David Lebovitz has a great post about why and when to use corn syrup.

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Fall’s Magic Ingredient: Lyle’s Golden Syrup

Liquid Gold

Lyles on bellingham

This fall I am trying to work Lyle’s Golden Syrupinto as many desserts as I can. Why? Because this gorgeous golden liquid sweetener adds so much in terms of flavor and texture to everything from pecan bars to marshmallows to puddings, candies, cakes and more. Any time you might use corn syrup, honey or maple syrup I am urging you to try replacing some or all of those sweeteners with Lyle’s Golden Syrup. The color only hints at its amazing flavor. It tastes like buttery toffee butterscotch caramel. Hang in there with me; it is hard to describe if you haven’t tasted it but it is fabulous. As interesting as honey varietals. More buttery (even though it contains no fat) than any of the liquid sweeteners. Maybe try to imagine that rich, full, toasted flavor of toffee, but in liquid that is smooth as silk and that tastes more clear. I am actually hoping that I only make half sense here because then maybe you will go taste it for yourself – and then you too will be hooked.

It isn’t cheap and not every supermarket will carry it. When you find it, stock up on a few cans. You will not regret it. Once you do, try our Browned Butter Pecan Bars, Chocolate Bourbon Balls, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Chocolate Salami, Gingerbread Stack Cake and our Pumpkin MallowMores.

Image: Peter Muka

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Your Biggest Baking Mistake Might Be Happening Before You Get Home from The Supermarket: Egg Size – It Matters!

Look at the Difference Between Sizes of Eggs

egg comparison image 1

We always stress that following a recipe exactly – especially the first time – is of upmost importance if you want to achieve success. The specific ingredients called for should be purchased and prepped as described. This Tip is about egg size. We use eggs so frequently, whether we are making a large important celebration cake or simply whipping up weekend muffins or chocolate chip cookies for the bake sale. When at the market, make sure you are buying what is called for. The top image shows two pretty brown eggs: large on the left and extra-large on the right. You can see that they are different sizes. Most recipes call for multiple eggs. If you use the wrong size egg and then multiply it by the number of eggs in the ingredient list, you can see how by the time you get to the end of the recipe that you have completely thrown off the intended ratio. I deliberately chose differently colored brown eggs to point out that that makes no difference. White, brown, or even green or blue, as seen below, doesn’t matter. We are concerned about what is inside.

egg color comparison

Now look at this image below of the same two eggs from the top image broken open into a bowl. Again you can see the volume of the extra-large egg on the right is greater. We use large eggs in our Test Kitchen and will always specify. Please use them. If a recipe you are using – or a guest recipe on Bakepedia calls for extra-large, or jumbo – then use that size. Also, as an aside, you can see the chalaza very clearly on the egg on the right.

egg comparison broken open

Rose Levy Beranbaum and I chatted about egg size and you can read more about that in our interview. She talks about how egg volumes have changed for some very interesting reasons.

The USDA has guidelines for egg sizes and weights in the U.S. The weights are calculated per dozen as there will be small variations per individual egg. They are natural products, after all. (Note that small eggs are not typically available to the average baker. They are usually sold for commercial use, which is why you won’t see them in the supermarket).

Small – 18 ounces per dozen (about 1.5 ounces per egg)

Medium – 21 ounces per dozen (about 1.75 ounces per egg)

Large – 24 ounces per dozen (about 2 ounces per egg)

Extra-Large – 27 ounces per dozen (about 2.25 ounces per egg)

Jumbo – 30 ounces per dozen (about 2.5 ounces per egg)

If you must make substitutions, the American Egg Board does have a chart with recommendations.

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What is Pumpkin Pie Spice?

And What is in Your Pumpkin Spice Latte?

Pumpkin Pie Spice 1

Let’s address the subtitle. Apparently there is no pumpkin in your Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte. What you taste as “pumpkin” is all the spices – the same ones that are typically found in pumpkin pie, hence the association on your nose and palate. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, allspice or some combination appear in most pumpkin pies, pumpkin breads and other assorted pumpkin desserts. They make it taste like pumpkin.

Now of course there is nothing wrong with measuring out the individual spices and frankly there is a benefit to this: you can control the quality and freshness of each spice and you can also add more or less of the spices you like. But this all brings me back to that ridiculously popular drink name. There is actually a blend of spices called “pumpkin pie spice” and it is a convenient one-stop approach to the intermingled flavor that is synonymous with autumn. We decided to look into this.

PSL back label

Turns out that one company’s pumpkin spice blend is not like every other. Check out these two popular brands. The McCormick Pumpkin Pie Spiceis a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice while the Frontier Pumpkin Pie Spice is a blend of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, in those orders denoting larger to lesser amounts. (Allspice, by the way is a spice unto itself and not a blend. In the top image it is the small black balls that look like large peppercorns). So without standardization among blends it is hard to standardize recipes. That said, we still went ahead and developed a slew of “pumpkin spice” and “pumpkin spice latte” desserts for you this season. No reason to go through withdrawal if your Starbucks is more than a block away. Check out our Pumpkin Spice Latte Chocolate Chip Cookies, Pumpkin Spice Latte Bundt Cake, Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes, Pumpkin Spice Meringues with Pumpkin Seeds, Pumpkin Spice Latte Candied Pecans, and a Frozen Pumpkin Spice Latte Mousse Tart.

As far as purchasing pumpkin pie spice, try a few blends to see which you prefer. Any of them will work in our recipes, with slightly different results, of course. All delicious.

Images: Peter Muka

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What is Graham Flour?

Whole Wheat Flour with a Boost

graham crackers rolled out

A community member recently emailed me to ask what graham flour is and I thought it was a great question that deserved attention. Most of us are familiar with graham crackers but have your ever thought about how they got their name? Well, I live near Northampton, MA, where Sylvester Graham (1794 – 1851) lived and he is the flour’s namesake.

Sylvester lived and died in Northampton (there is a great breakfast/lunch spot named after him) where he practiced and preached about vegetarianism, which he believed helped one abstain and also cured sexual urges (and blindness). He believed diet affected ones health and mental outlook and created graham flour, which is a whole wheat flour, as an alternative to the bleached and chemically treated white flours that were becoming popular during the industrial revolution.

Now here is where it gets confusing. I often use King Arthur Flour as a resource, however, they call their whole-wheat pastry flour graham flour and this is in direct contradiction to every other resource. Graham flour is usually described as an extra-coarse whole-wheat flour (not finer, like pastry flour). Some references say it is a coarse ground whole wheat, others state that the endosperm is ground but the bran and the germ are kept coarse and added back in. What we can say is that it is a whole grain, but apparently different graham flours are processed differently. I decided to consult our friend in bread, Peter Reinhart and also Alice Medrich, who has just written a book on flour.

According to Peter, “different companies have kind of coined it for their own use, perhaps even sifting out some of the endosperm in order to make it even more coarse and branny — more Graham-y, so to speak.  And, yes, I’m sure some versions separate and then recombine the endosperm, milled finely, with the coarser middlings to emphasize the high fiber aspect.  But I think Graham himself just wanted people to eat 100% whole grain bread regardless of how coarse it was”.

He continues, “the real argument has more to do with what you also described: separating the bran and germ and then recombining them back in. But in this version, the endosperm is sifted out (whether stone ground or roller milled) and then the bran and germ are more finely milled on roller mills so as to not clog up the stones, and then added back into the endosperm. Craig Ponsford of Ponsford’s Place (a Bakery & Innovation Center) calls this ‘reconstituted flour’ as opposed to true ‘whole milled’ whole-wheat flour where there is little or no separation of the three parts of the kernel.  He feels that whole milling is the only way to assure full benefits from the flour, and I’d wager that Sylvester Graham would agree”. Alice concurred that graham flour is a “coarser whole wheat flour”.

So, what to do? If you are using a King Arthur recipe and it calls for graham flour, I would use their pastry flour. If you are using any other recipe that calls for graham flour, I would use a coarse ground whole wheat, such as Bob’s Red Mill Graham Flour. The flavor is nutty and sweet at the same time – just like graham crackers! Sylvester, by the way, was in full force during the 1930’s with his evangelism but his crackers really took hold after his death.

Try graham flour for:

  • Graham crackers
  • Boston brown bread
  • Molasses bread
  • Any rustic, whole grain bread
  • We also like to use a small amount in pumpkin and apple quick breads (try substituting 25%).


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Fruit Spreads

When is a Jam not a Jam, Jelly or Preserve?

fruit spreads

Think of all the recipes that call for either a jam, jelly, preserve or marmalade: jelly-roll, rugelach, sandwich cookies, used as a filling between cake layers such as in the classic Sacher torte, thumbprint cookies. This list goes on and on.

There is something they all have in common, in my opinion: they all are better for the inclusion of the fruity flavor the jam brings, but they don’t necessarily need any extra sugar. That’s where “fruit spreads” come in.

Most jams/jellies have a high sugar content and indeed sugar’s inclusion is part of the FDA labeling requirements. Fruit spreads are sweetened with fruit and fruit juice – not sugar – and while they cannot sport the “jam” title, I think they offer us more of what we often want – the fruit flavor!

You have to read labels. As you can see in the top image, the jar on the left lets you know on the front label that the contents are 100% fruit. There will be no sugar in that one and it will have a very concentrated fruit flavor. It might have other fruits other than raspberry making up the mixture, but chances are this tastes very raspberry-like. Taste test different brands to see what you like.

When you see the term “organic” on the label, that won’t necessarily tell you anything about sugar content. The marmalade-like orange fruit spread in the top image has no sugar. But look at this image below and read the left label. It’s organic all right, and even the sugar is organic but it is also the first ingredient, which means this is very sugary jam. Look at the label below on the right. No sugar. This product is the kind of fruit spread that I am recommending.

jam labels

You will often see recipes on Bakepedia calling for “100% fruit spread” and these non-sugar spreads are what I am referring to. Do not confuse these with “sugar-free”. As you can see in the label below that often denotes an artificial sweetener such as Splenda and I do not recommend them.

sugar free jam

Top Image: Peter Muka

Other Images: Dédé Wilson

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How to Make Citrus Sugar

Preparing Citrus Sugar For Flavor and Decoration

lemon sugar 1

On the top of my list of favorite kitchen utensils is the Microplane, a fine metal grater covered with thin, sharp metal teeth. It’s the perfect tool for removing the zest from citrus, such as oranges, lemons, and limes as it effortlessly removes it in fine, thin shreds. read on to learn how to make citrus sugar and follow along with the images.

lemon sugar 2

The technique I prefer: Hold citrus in 1 hand and use opposite hand to drag the Microplane across the surface. Repeat, turning the citrus so as not to go over any previously peeled surfaces, avoiding the white pith underneath, which is bitter. The peel collects on the underside of the grater, which can then be mixed, into sugar, imparting a fragrant and distinctive citrus flavor. Make it as strong or as mild as you prefer, but in general, the zest from one orange, lemon, or lime mixed with 1/4 cup sugar is a good proportion. It may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

lemon sugar 3

Use the scented sugar in a variety of ways:

  • Use it to flavor whipped cream
  • Sprinkle it over fresh berries
  • Sprinkle it over egg washed scones before baking to form a sugar crust
  • Mix it into pie filling to add zip
  • Use it to make a sugared glass rim for a cosmopolitan, mojito or margarita


 Images: Sarah Tenaglia


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All About Honey

Learn How to Bake with Honey

honey array

When you think of honey you might first think of its unique sweet flavor but there is so much more to this naturally produced sweetener. First of all, one honey can taste wildly different from another, depending on the bee’s feeding source, and then there are the properties it possesses that will affect your baked goods. Here is what you need to know before you bake with honey.

  • Honey Basics: Honey is all natural and composed of fructose and sucrose, which are simple sugars and also contains trace minerals, vitamins and enzymes. Honey should not be fed to babies under 1 year of age as it can contain Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause infant botulism. Heating is not considered a thorough enough treatment to kill the spores. The spores, however, are harmless to adults and older children.


  • Honey Types: Honey comes in liquid honey, creamed honey (which is very finely crystallized) and comb honey (honeycomb is present as seen immediately above).
  • Honey Labeling: Read labels to know what you are buying. The label might say what the source is for the honey, such as Orange Blossom or Wildflower. The label also might state “raw honey”, which is honey that has not been heated in any way and is unpasteurized and unprocessed. When you read about honey’s health benefits, raw honey is being referenced. Most commercially produced honey is pasteurized giving it a cleaner, clearer look for a longer time, which makes it more appealing to many consumers. There are no strict legal requirements for the term “raw”, so some “raw” honey might be lightly heated to facilitate bottling. If you buy direct from the beekeeper you can ask about the product.
  • Honey Storage: Store in a cool, dry place, such as a closet or cupboard. Refrigeration will hasten crystallization, which does not harm honey, but does change its texture. If your honey does crystallize it may be used as is or heated gently and re-liquefied (but then it will no longer be raw). It can be microwaved or heated in a water bath on the stove. Do not over-heat.
  • Honey Origin: The food source for the bees will determine the color and flavor of the honey. According to the National Honey Board there are over 300 unique varieties in the U.S.

Note that when a label says Blueberry Honey or Sage Honey is not referring to a honey infused with those flavors. It is honey that is derived from bees feeding on that source.

organics mountain honey

In general the lighter the color of honey the lighter the flavor; the darker the color the stronger the taste. Occasionally this is not the case as with Basswood, which is light in color but strong in flavor or Tulip Poplar, which is darker in color but milder in taste. Sometimes naming the source doesn’t give you enough information, for example many are labeled “Wildflower Honey” but depending on the wild flowers the taste will vary. This Wildflower honey from Georgia’s Organic Mountains has a distinct black licorice taste that took many of us by sweet surprise (we love it). Their Gallberry honey was a new variety for us and many testers thought it was “less sweet”, which lends itself to some great savory applications or try it in our Salted Bourbon Honey Caramel Sauce. We also really appreciate their truly drip proof bottles. You can literally squeeze out one drop with no mess or residue on the bottle. You have to taste to see what you like. Tasting such two different honeys side-by-side is a terrific learning experience and we highly recommend you conduct one yourself. Some lighter honeys to look for are Acacia and Alfalfa. Some darker and bolder ones to seek out are Buckwheat and Eucalyptus; this last one can be quite medicinal.

(In the top image left to right: a chestnut honey from Italy; a mostly chestnut based honey from France; local western MA comb honey and its accompanying liquid wildflower honey; Grecian thyme honey; Organic Mountains Gallberry and Wildflower from Georgia; a different thyme honey from Greece; a sunflower honey (tournesol) and a fir tree(sapin) honey from Maison du Miel, the must-visit Parisian store).

  • Honey’s Health Benefits: Honey is an alkaline-forming food and is said to help indigestion by counter acting anything acidic. Raw food devotees look to honey for its amylase content, an enzyme concentrated in flower pollen which helps predigest starchy foods like bread.
  • Substituting Honey in Recipes: If you want to try replacing granulated sugar with honey, try using 2/3 cup to ¾ cup honey to replace every 1 cup of granulated sugar in your recipe and reduce oven temperature by 25°F. It is not foolproof, but you can experiment. Honey, by the way, is great at keeping baked goods moist.
  • Measuring Honey: Spritz your liquid measuring cup with nonstick spray, then measure your honey. It will slip right out. Or, if the recipe calls for oil measure your oil first, then use same measuring cup for the honey.
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All About Gluten-Free Flour Blends

Bakepedia’s Overview of Pre-Blended GF Flour Mixes

Bob's 1 to 1

There are now many gluten-free flour blends on the market, making it easier than ever for the home baker to bake gluten-free (GF) without having to buy several different kinds of flours and ingredients requiring you to play mad-scientist at home. You do lose the ability to customize – perhaps you don’t want any white rice flour or bean flour – but these blends are useful for many bakers and in many applications, so I wanted to discuss some of the more popular ones here. They share some similarities but there are distinct differences among them. Of course, what you prefer might be different from what we like or what your GF neighbor likes, but vive la difference! Here are some details:


  • Cup 4 Cup Gluten Free Flour: This blend was put together by Thomas Keller’s former pastry chef Lena Kwak while she was working as the Research and Development Chef in the kitchen of the famed French Laundry in Yountville, CA. Having such an illustrious background got the product notice and acclaim. It does work well, however it has a fairly high price point and also includes milk powder, which makes it highly unusual within the world of GF blends. (They have recently come out with a Wholesome Cup 4 Cup blend, which is meant to be used in lieu of whole-wheat flour. It is dairy-free, but does contain xanthan gum and flaxseed as well as bran).


  • Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour: This flour has been around for a while and is easy to find both online and in many supermarkets, both traditional as well as Whole Foods stores. As with all Bob’s Red Mill products it has a decent price point and simple packaging, which we like. The ingredients are: Garbanzo Bean Flour, Potato Starch, Tapioca Flour, Whole Grain Sweet White Sorghum Flour, fava bean flour. This blend relies heavily on beans and indeed many think it has a “beany” taste.


  • Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour is new on the market and appears to be this company’s answer to a more versatile GF blend, and perhaps a response to the detractors from their original GF flour mixture with its bean flour content. They state that this blend will offer the simplest of conversions for home bakers and we agree. It is now our go-to GF blend as we have found that it most closely mimics traditional all-purpose flour of the blends we have tested. Ingredients: Sweet White Rice Flour, Whole Grain Brown Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Whole Grain Sweet White Sorghum Flour, Tapioca Flour and Xanthan Gum. Available in some supermarkets, Whole Foods and online. Try our chocolate chip cookies and our blueberry muffins using this blend.


  • King Arthur Flour’s Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour contains: Rice flour, Tapioca Starch, Potato Starch, Whole Grain Rice Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Niacinamide (B3), Reduced iron, Thiamin Hydrochloride (B1), Riboflavin (B2). The vitamins and minerals seem to mimic those of “enriched” all-purpose flour and make this distinct among most GF blends. It is, indeed, very all-purpose and works well as a basic blend. It does not contain any xanthan or gums, as many bakers like to add their own. This blend allows that customization. Their GF line is being carried in more supermarkets everyday and are increasingly easier to find. Also available online.


  • Pamela’s Products Artisan Flour Blend. This ingredient list is as follows: Brown Rice Flour, Tapioca Starch, White Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Sorghum Flour, Arrowroot Starch, Sweet Rice Flour, Guar Gum. This can be used as an all-purpose flour equivalent but the addition of the gum is a plus for some bakers and a minus for others. Easy to find on-line but not necessarily in a brick-and-mortar store.
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All About Edible Flowers

Be Safe and Learn What Flowers are Edible

edible rose petals

I have used edible flowers as decoration with my baked goods for years from multi-tiered wedding cakes, simple cupcakes to actual table and plate décor. Sometimes it is just hard to improve upon nature when it comes to color and elegance and shape. There are several things to take into consideration, but the most important is safety! Consider this a primer on using edible flowers safely and decoratively. Get creative!

SAFETY – Not all parts of each plant are edible. For instance, a tulip blossom is edible, but steer clear of the bulb! When in doubt – do not eat. Here is a list of edible flowers to consider. If you are fond of a particular bloom, I recommend doing a thorough investigation of it. And, once you determine which blooms are safe, make sure they are free of pesticides. This mostly likely means you or a friend has grown them and can vouch for their purity or have a chat with a seller at a farmer’s market.

Apple blossoms

Tuberous begonias




Chive blossoms


Cymbidium orchid

Citrus blossoms



Day lily



English daisies




Herb flowers: rosemary, basil, mint, sage, etc.





Iceland poppy



Lemon verbena













Zucchini blossoms


HOW TO USE – Flowers are versatile. Consider the following:

  • Strewn on a display platter such as with these scones below

scones on edible flowers

  • Scattered on a table top
  • Whole blooms can be used on top of a cake such as below


pansies under glass

Last Image: Courtesy Dennis Gottlieb

Other Images: Dédé Wilson

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All About Superfine Sugar

How to Make Superfine Sugar and When to Use It

Domino Superfine sugar

Superfine sugar also called bar sugar (since bartenders love its dissolvability in cold drinks) and caster sugar or castor sugar in the UK might not be a pantry staple for you – yet – but it does serve its purpose in the sweet kitchen. It is, just like is sounds – extra fine white granulated sugar. There are certain times we will use it in the Test Kitchen and this is a primer on what it is, how to use it, how to make it and when not to use it. In the image below you can see the superfine far left, standard granulated in the middle and large decorating sugar on the right. (Read more at All About Standard Baking Sugars).

sugar comparison

  • We use Domino Superfine Sugar – it has a new airtight package that makes it easy to pour and store, which we like. You just press and flip open the top. The downside is that is only 12 ounces in size, which is not a lot.
  • You can substitute superfine sugar for granulated sugar in most recipes. Because it is finer, there is ever so slightly more superfine sugar per cup than regular granulated, but I have always substituted 1 to 1 and had great success.
  • That said, if a recipe calls for superfine, use it. If it calls for regular granulated, we recommend you use that.
  • Superfine sugar dissolves readily in meringue mixtures and also in cream when whipping. You might see it called for in angel food cake recipes, too.
  • We like to use superfine sugar to make Crystallized Flowers as its extra-fine granule sparkles so nicely and coats the delicate petals so well and evenly.
  • If you need superfine sugar for incorporating into a recipe, such as adding to a meringue mixture, you can make your own by buzzing regular granulated sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
  • We do not recommend that you use “homemade” superfine sugar for coating flowers or fruit when crystallizing because your homemade version will not be as sparkly as the commercially prepared. In fact it might be a bit powdery. That’s fine for beating into egg whites for a soufflé, but not good enough to provide a pretty, sparkling visual effect.

Top Image: Peter Muka

Bottom Image: Dédé Wilson

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All About Coconut Flour

Coconut Flour Offers Gluten-Free Alternative

coconut flour 2

It might well be the year of the coconut: water, milk, cream, chips (savory and sweet), shredded, oil and now also coconut flour. It is a new darling in gluten-free circles in particular, and it does offer some welcomed properties, but it takes some getting used to when substituting it for other more traditional flours. Here is what you need to know about coconut flour so that you can experiment yourself.

  • Coconut flour is very finely ground coconut after the oil has been removed. We do not recommend that you try to make your own; best to buy commercial coconut flour, such as Bob’s Red Mill.
  • Look for coconut flour in natural food stores and online.
  • Store in an airtight container in refrigerator or freezer if not using within a week. Bring to room temperature before using.
  • It tends to clump upon storage. Whisk well before measuring.
  • Coconut flour is gluten-free but it does not substitute 1 to 1 for other flours. Use recipes developed for coconut flour.
  • If you really want to try it as a substitution, replace about 20% of the wheat flour called for in a recipe with coconut flour but also add an equivalent amount of liquid.
  • Or if you want to eliminate wheat flour, try using about 25% of the wheat flour called for with the coconut flour. It is that absorbent. If the mixture looks dry, add more liquid also.
  • Every cup of coconut flour needs at least 2 eggs, sometimes up to 4.
  • An equal amount of liquid to coconut flour is a good place to start.
  • Nutritionally it is very high in fiber, low in digestible carbohydrates and fairly protein rich.
  • It is paleo and grain-free diet friendly.
  • It does have a coconut flavor, but perhaps not as much as you would think.
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How to Chop Nuts – Easily and Cleanly

Learn How to Chop Nuts – and Keep Them From Rolling on the Floor!chopping nuts

Learning how to chop nuts is a basic need for any cook or baker. The standard technique for chopping nuts, praline and brittle is to place them on a cutting board and use a heavy large knife to chop them into pieces.

A simpler and easier method is to place the nuts in a resealable plastic bag, press out any excess air, seal tightly and then tap with a rolling pin until the nuts are broken into medium or small-sized pieces.

The advantages?

  • Nuts stay inside the bag rather than flying off the cutting board.
  • The clear bag allows you to see the nuts and monitor their size while tapping with the rolling pin.
  • There is absolutely no clean up, other than tossing the bag in the trash after using the nuts.


Use chopped nuts:

  • As a topping on ice cream sundaes
  • In a filling for nut pies, tarts and baklava
  • In crusts for cheesecakes, ice cream pies and fruit crostatas
  • Mixed into cookie dough
  • Mixed into brownie batter
  • Mixed into streusel toppings for coffee cakes and fruit crisps


 Use chopped praline and brittle:

  • As a topping for ice cream
  • Sprinkled over chocolate mousse or pudding
  • Pressed onto the sides of your favorite frosted cake to add crunch

Image: Sarah Tenaglia

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