Archives: Technique

Give Your Microwave More Love

Give Your Microwave More Love: Maxing Out Your Microwave


sharp microwave


As I work on the article I have re-heated my tea a couple of times in my microwave, which I do everyday. As with many microwave models mine has a “baked potato” function that I use when I need a baked potato fast. Re-heat last night’s leftovers? Check. But I also use it as a serious kitchen appliance.

It’s time for you to examine how you are using your microwave as you might be missing out on all that your microwave has to offer. (See our review of our new Sharp Microwave Model R551ZS, with its really snazzy Softening feature for butter, chocolate, ice cream and cream cheese). In our Test Kitchen we consider it a vital appliance, right up there with our stand mixer, food processor and range oven. Sure, we re-heat beverages, but we use it for so much more. In fact, we use our microwave more than any of these other appliances, putting it into action several times a day. So how come so many people relegate its use to reheating and the occasional batch of popcorn?


What Do You Use Your Microwave For?

We think it is because you have just never thought beyond those tried and true uses, which it does so well. It also melts butter and chocolate, softens winter squash for easier cutting, warms honey for easier pouring and measuring, heats our tortillas, and helps reheat and cook dishes especially on busy food holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving. (Our main oven can only hold so much and the stovetop gets crowded so we always plan some dishes around the microwave as well).


Microwave Technology vs. Radiant Heat

Let’s first talk a little about microwave technology versus radiant heat (your standard oven). Microwaves ovens use radio waves that agitate water molecules in food; moisture in the food comes to a boiling point and heats the food from the inside. This inside-out heating is not optimum for every kind of cooking, so it behooves us to understand what it does well so that we can make our microwave ovens work for us, not against us. Radiant heat, which is what you have in your standard oven, is heat that is created via an electrical element or gas, and the heat literally radiates throughout the oven cavity, heating food from the outside.

What this means is that there are certain techniques to employ that will give you your best results from your microwave and you do have to think about it differently from your main oven.


Mug Cakes

If you have access to the Internet and an interest in food (and of course if you are reading this, that’s you!) then you know of the proliferation of mug cakes in the last few years. These are individual servings sized cakes, made in mugs, right in the microwave.

We were in a particularly snacky mood and decided to go for broke with one of our favorite decadent flavor combinations. Behold our Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Mug Cake. Or as we like to call it, Chocolate Crazy Monkey Mug Cake for One.


Toasting Nuts?

We came across a mention of “toasting” nuts in the microwave at and they referenced Harold McGee, whom we love for the explaining science and technical aspects around all things food. We were doubtful, but curious. Could we “toast” nuts in the microwave? The thing about his book, On Food and Cooking, is that every time we read it we pick up new things, such as this concept.

Our tests show that you can, but the results are not quite as good as when done in the oven, however, when we need let’s say just 1/2 cup of nuts to be incorporated into a dish, turning on the oven seems like such a waste of time and energy. Here’s how to do it in the microwave.

Whether you store your nuts at room temperature, in the fridge or in the freezer, spread them out in a single layer, well spaced apart, on a microwave safe tray or flat plate. Microwave on High power for 1-minute intervals and keep checking until nuts smell fragrant and have taken on some color. The timing will depend on the strength of your microwave, the amount of nuts and the temperature they were to begin with (sometimes ours are right out of the freezer). Now, with oven baking we always find that the construction of the pans that we use can greatly affect the heat conductivity and therefore the timing and the toasting results. With the microwave we experienced very even, reliable results every time.

Ripening Bananas

We have written about ripening bananas using a radiant heat oven, but what about the microwave? It can be done and it is fast. One caveat, while the bananas will soften to a good consistency for making banana bread, they do not sweeten very much as the sugars to not have time to convert during this process.

Pierce the unripe bananas, still in the peel, several times all over with a fork. Place bananas on a paper towel in the microwave and heat on High power for 30 seconds. Check bananas for texture. Depending on how green or ripe your bananas were to begin with, this process might have to be repeated 3 or 4 times, always in 30 second intervals, to get to the desired softness. Allow the bananas to cool, then use in a smoothie or baking recipe.

Reheating, Cooking and…Cleaning?

And no article on using your microwave is complete without mentioning the old sponge trick. Okay, it isn’t food, but we use sponges all the time for cleanup and the microwave can sterilize them, extending their lifespan.

Make sure sponges have no metal fibers. Place in microwave and power on High power for 2 minutes. Voila! Also, to clean the microwave itself if it should have some baked on crud, we do the following. Stir together a 50/50 mixture of distilled white vinegar and water in a microwave safe bowl and heat on High power for a few minutes or until some steam is created. The steam will soften the grime. Allow bowl to cool briefly in microwave and then wipe down the interior with your newly cleaned sponge.

Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

Do-Ahead Desserts

Do-Ahead Desserts

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 3.15.25 PM

No, I am not including a recipe here. Just some savvy tips on how you can turn almost any dessert into a Do-Ahead Dessert. How? Well, some desserts cannot be tamed, no matter what. For example a hot soufflé must be served forthwith. But usually, if you read through a recipe carefully, you will note that there are steps that allow you to pause. So even if the recipe isn’t called a Do-Ahead Dessert, you might be able to turn it into one. With no further ado, consider the following:

  • Any recipe that calls for refrigerator or freezer time in the midst of preparation means you can stop at that point and come back to it later. Take advantage of these rests – for you and the desert!
  • Frozen desserts are your friend. Look for recipes for ice creams and sorbets, of course, but also seek out frozen soufflés, semi-freddo, frozen parfaits and the like.
  • Any recipe with the term “icebox” must be made ahead and chilled. Use it to your advantage.
  • Many desserts can be frozen. Many butter-rich cookies freeze well such as shortbread and chocolate chip cookies.
  • Making pecan pies? Pumpkin pies? Did you know that the fillings can be made days in advance and refrigerated. Just bring to room temp before filling your pie shells.
  • Trifles are a perfect dessert for this time of year. They getter better when they sit at least overnight! Try our Spiced Pear White Chocolate version.

Now you are armed and ready to bake and create at your leisure!



Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

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!


Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

Peeling Peaches

Peeling Peaches

peeled peaches


It is August and our farmer’s markets are overflowing with stone fruit. What does this mean? All the fruit that have the center pits, or stones, come under this name such as peaches, nectarines, plum, apricots (all the hybrids like Pluots) and even cherries. We were so inspired that we came up with our Peaches and Cream Dump Cake.

The stones themselves have been used in cuisine for centuries, most famously cherry pits are left in classic French clafouti to add flavor, and apricot kernels (the pits) are what give the traditional Italian amaretti their almond like flavor.

When it comes to recipes that use peaches or nectarines, they are often interchangeable, the primary difference being the skin and the pit. Peaches have fuzz on the outside of the skin – some feature barely-there fuzz, others feel like they are wearing a sweater! When we eat a peach out of hand, we like to eat them as is, but many recipes using peaches call for peeling them first. Sounds like a pain, but it is very easy if you follow our technique:


  • Start with firm but ripe peaches. If they aren’t ripe, this won’t work
  • Bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil
  • Use a large slotted spoon to lower a couple or a few peaches down into the boiling water (they should have room to move)
  • After about 20 seconds, look for a split in the skin, which is a sure-fire visual, but that doesn’t always occur
  • You can also use the slotted spoon to lift one peach out of the water. Use fingers to gently pinch the skin. If it feels loose, the peaches are ready to peel.
  • Remove peaches and plunge into a bowl of ice water
  • Use fingers to slip the peels off of the peaches
  • If the skins are resistant, you can carefully use a paring knife to help


Now nectarines have a smooth skin and we usually bake with them, skin and all. So if you have a peach recipe that calls for peeling the peaches, you could try using a nectarine, skin and all, such as in our Peaches and Cream Dump Cake. The results might be a bit more rustic, but that might even be a bonus. Plus, so many nectarine skins sport such gorgeous sunset hues, from yellow to orange to red, that they can visually enhance your dish.


Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

Dump Cakes

Dump Cakes



Who doesn’t like a good homemade dessert? No one I know. But the reasons I hear the most often for why folks don’t bake are that it is too hard or time consuming. Dump cakes promise to streamline the process. They are, like they sound, a dessert that involves dumping ingredients into a bowl or even right into the baking pan to mix. That’s it. They are supposed to be about convenience. But if you have been hanging around Bakepedia for a while you know that high quality ingredients and taste are usually how we decide to make a recipe and so many of the dump cake recipes we come across use boxed cake mix and canned pie fillings and the like. We went into the kitchen and took a stab at making a dump cake from scratch with great results – check out our Peaches and Cream Dump Cake.

But let’s look at where these came from. The history is murky and there is also some overlap with what are sometimes called Wacky Cake and also Crazy Cake. From what we can tell, the “dump” cakes of late are of the boxed cake mix/canned fruit variety, but way back in the early 1900s there were cakes that were made by mixing everything together, sometimes in a prescribed order. The techniques varied from mixing right in the baking pan, to mixing in a bowl and transferring to baking pan(s), to recipes where the directions are unclear. But they were all meant to be easy and basically a dump-and-mix approach. In the lean times of both world wars the recipes were often eggless and butter-less, due to ingredient shortages, and their “wacky” and “crazy” titles were comments on how amazing it was that they worked!

Whatever you call them, there is certainly something to be said about a dessert that can be made and baked in the same dish and prepared in the time it takes the oven to preheat. Go to the farmer’s market, get some fresh peaches and try our Peaches and Cream Dump Cake today. It would work with blueberries, raspberries or blackberries as well as other stone fruit.



Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

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!

Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

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.



Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

DIY Presentation Platters

Pretty Homemade Platters for Your Baked Goods

marbleized platter

Years ago when I was making wedding cakes almost every weekend I discovered a trick that I have been wanting to share for a while. It has to do with flat presentation platters. Wedding cakes have large diameters and they must be placed on perfectly flat and strong bases. Cake decorators have used cake drums for years and while they do have a certain decorative aspect to them with their foil covering, they also leave something to be desired in the aesthetic department. Sturdy, yes. Elegant, no. Wedding cakes aside, there were also certainly times that I needed a large or unusually shaped flat platter (like for Buche de Noel – log shaped) and there had to be a better way.

One day I had a local glasscutter make me a clear glass base. It was inexpensive and I could choose shape and size. I started with a large round and enjoyed it so much that I went back for more rounds of varying diameters, squares and a rectangle for my Buche de Noel and jelly roll type cakes. The more I used these bases the more their versatility became apparent. When not in use for cakes they can be used as platters for brownies and cookies and even for cheese platters and hors d’oeuvres. And at first I loved that they were clear. They blended in with whatever table surface or tablecloth they graced.

Then one day I had another brainstorm. What would happen if I painted one side of the glass then flipped it over to place my food on the glass side? Genius, if I do say so myself. Not only can you custom color your platter, but you can add texture by sponging or spraying or using decorative brush strokes. You can paint patterns or use multiple colors. You don’t have to worry about the paint being food-safe as it never comes in contact, being on the underside. This is hands down the easiest and most inexpensive way to make a custom platter – and it is fun!

Ask your local glasscutter, but in general squares and rectangles are less expensive than rounds – and there is nothing wrong with putting a 14-inch celebration cake on an 18-inch square base! Be creative. Look for ¼-inch plate glass, which is meant for tables and is very strong, and ask to have the edges sanded. To give you an idea of price I could get a 12-inch square for $7 and a 16-inch round for $28 this fall (2014).

Then choose paint. The one pictured up top is one of my favorite looks. It is black “webbing” spray paint and gold spray paint. The “webbing” spray paint (that’s what it will say on the label. I used Krylon) comes out like “silly string”, if you remember that kid’s product. It makes the black “veins”. Once dry, cover with the gold. When you flip the glass over you see the black veins and the gold background as shown in the image. Very elegant.

stencil platter

The photo above shows a glass round with a red rose stencil made with red spray paint and then that was covered with silver spray paint.

I even found glow-in-the-dark spray paint and created a small dish for “Santa’s cookies”. Year round it can be used for your own snacks while watching TV and movies in the dark. You can see your food on the glowing plate!

Our square below was sponge painted with periwinkle blue craft paint and then covered with gold spray paint.

sponged platter

Simply paint the underside to your liking – spray, sponged, you name it. To clean any of your platters simply wipe the top clear glass with a clean with a damp soapy towel followed by a towel soaked in clean water. If it looks streaky, use a vinegar and water solution – like you would to clean windows! To store you do want to make sure that the painted side does not get nicked.

Watch me make these on our video segment at

Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 2 }

Bourbon Balls Step-by-Step

Easy To Make Bourbon Balls


This post was a last-minute addition. My son, Freeman, went to culinary school but he is not a baker. He needed a recipe for a cookie contest at his place of employment. He wanted something approachable, delicious and festive – I said, make these Bourbon Balls! I had no idea that he would take pictures of the process but as soon as I saw them, I wanted to share. There are many tips to be gleaned here for first-timers.


OK, first things first. He went to Whole Foods to find the Lyle’s Golden Syrup and some good chocolate (he chose Guittard) but he bought some organic vanilla wafers instead of what the recipe called for. That’s when I got a phone call. He said, “Mom, I only got 2 cups of crumbs out of the box of cookies”. (Recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups). I said that was odd because I had recently made them and had extra left over from my box of wafers. I asked him some questions and he said something about the “organic vanilla wafers” and I said WHAT? The recipe calls for Nabisco Nilla Wafers. He said Whole Foods hadn’t had them so he bought what he thought was an equivalent product. I said it didn’t surprise me that Whole Foods didn’t have them but that the recipe called for Nabisco Nilla Wafers; he had now tampered with the recipe and I couldn’t guarantee his results. He wasn’t near any big markets. I said go to the corner bodega.

A short 10 minutes later he called. Success! He had indeed found the correct cookies at the corner store and was ready to go. (He had combined the first cookies with the ground pecans so he had to buy more nuts, too. I told him to save his initial crumb mixture to make a crust for a cheesecake. He liked that idea a lot).

I explained to him that when you make any recipe, but particularly recipes with so few ingredients, you must pay attention to each and every one. They all make a big difference in the outcome.

Our recipe differs in a few important ways. Most recipes call for light corn syrup. It acts as a binder and adds to the texture, which is necessary, but light corn syrup offers no flavor. The Lyle’s tastes like liquid toffee and adds a sophisticated nuance. If you look at many bourbon or rum ball recipes they will suggest cocoa for the chocolate component. We upped that quotient and use a good quality melted chocolate. All of these seemingly small changes add up to a big difference. And of course use a good bourbon like Four Roses.

bourbonballs mise enplace

Like a good culinary school grad he laid out his “mise en place” as seen above. This is simply the process of laying out all of your ingredients before you start. You can see that you have everything and that they are all measured out properly.


Above is the chocolate melted properly so that it is nice and smooth, with the Lyle’s and the bourbon ready to go.


The recipe calls for the cookies and the nuts to be very finely ground, which you can see in the bowl above, shown here along with the confectioners’ sugar.

These Bourbon Balls are so easy. It is really just a dump and mix kind of recipe – you add the wet to the dry. Once the mixtures are combined a 30 minute wait time is suggested to make rolling easier.


Freeman decided there was a way to make the wait more interesting.


You don’t have to put them in fluted paper liners but it makes them a little more fancy. Sealed in a tin these will last quite a while. I think they even improve upon sitting; the bourbon will mellow and the flavors and texture will improve over all. Here they are in their finished glory. He did a great job rolling the balls small and evenly. If you have a small scoop it can help keep them similar in size, but he just went by eye and rolled them up like tiny meatballs. The roll in sugar gives them a sparkly finish.

You can watch me make these on our Bakepedia segment on The Better Show.


Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

How to Prep Shaped Baking Pans

Fancy Pan Shapes Add Beauty to Your Baking


When I started baking as a young child we had round cake pans, square and rectangle pans for brownies and bars and one Bundt pan. There wasn’t much choice for shaped baking pans. I always liked baking with the Bundt pan because the fluted shape instantly made the finished cake “fancy” and decorative. And when you poured a glaze on top of the finished cake I loved watching how it would run down the individual ridges. Okay maybe I was easily amused but as you can see from our images, decorative ring pans now come in a myriad of shapes and sizes.

They tend to be 10-cup to 12-cup in size (although there are exceptions. Consult manufacturer’s info) and if a recipe for a coffee cake or a pound cake calls for a 12-cup decorative ring pan, you can make it in any decorative ring pan of that dimension.

There are pans that look like roses(above) and castles(below); some have simple, symmetrical broad ridges (top image) while others have intricate details. The key is to take advantage of those lovely details – we want to see them in relief in our cakes once they are unmolded!

To do this the cake must unmold flawlessly and this means it must be prepped very well and thoroughly. Here is our preferred method, which Rose Levy Beranbaum swears by:


  • Buy Baker’s Joy. This is a nonstick spray coating that combines grease and flour in one. There are other brands that take the same approach, but there is a reason so many bakers love this particular product. It works!
  • Thoroughly wash and dry your pan.
  • Lightly coat the inside of the pan with Baker’s Joy. It might look a little foamy. That’s okay.
  • Take a clean, soft pastry brush (we like silicone) and use the brush to go over all the surfaces inside the pan. This will ensure that any details are coated and will also remove any excess – brushing creates an even layer, which is what you want.
  • Pour batter into pan and bake and cool as directed.
  • In general, you will be cooling the cake in the pan for several minutes until just warm, then unmold the cake directly onto a cooling rack. The cake should unmold cleanly.
  • If it doesn’t unmold cleanly you will be able to see where the cake stuck. Make a mental note for next time that those areas need special attention. Some pans with very fine detail can be more persnickety but this is your best approach to success.
Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 2 }

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


Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

Grilling Your Desserts in 5 Easy Steps

The Grill is Going Anyway: Make Dessert!

grill dome 1

Have you ever heard of a kamado style grill? Perhaps not, but I bet you have seen one. They are the rounded or oval, often egg-shaped ceramic grills that some folks just go crazy for. In fact, this style of grill is the largest growing sector of the market. The have grate surfaces like all grills, but what distinguishes them is their thick ceramic bodies and rounded shape. Both of these factors create an oven-like environment and indeed they boast that they can grill, smoke and bake. Having never baked much outside, I thought it was high time that I did. Summer is still here, the kitchen is hot and I am grilling and making dinner outside. Why not keep the indoor oven off and take advantage of the coals and outdoor baking and dessert making potential? Grilling your desserts is easy

grill dome 2

I was set up with a large sized Infinity Grill Dome. This thing is sexy! Unpacking it and assembling it was exciting; this is a serious piece of equipment. The parts are heavy and it takes two people, but the quality of the workmanship was making me eager to bake! These grills allow you to cook anywhere from 200°F to over 750°F. The thick ceramic walls are built to hold heat, which allows more reliable temperature control while also using far less fuel, which by the way is hardwood charcoal. The charcoal and the smoke will give your desserts a unique campfire flavor that gas grilling cannot. There is a temperature gauge in the dome that will help you regulate and monitor the temperature, which is vital with baking; this is a very helpful design aspect. Also, the way the Grill Dome is built gives you three potential levels of heat: direct (down near the coals), standard (halfway within the done) and indirect (way up inside the dome). Not only does this increase your cooking and baking area, but it also offers a lot of versatility in terms of temperature regulation. Imagine potatoes baking down below, chicken in the middle and a cobbler baking up above, all at the same time! Below you can see a sweet pizza baking away.

grill dome 3

I have learned a lot since I began baking and dessert making with my Grill Dome, so here is a primer to get you started. The first thing I learned is that this style grill fires up really quickly. In less than 10 minutes they are ready to go, similar to the time it would take to pre-heat your indoor oven. I found myself baking more and more outside because of the ease.

Our recipes will work with any covered grill, although the baking times and temperature regulation will vary, possibly hugely. If you have a Grill Dome or other kamado style grill, the recipes should work very well as written. Once you have read this primer, check out the recipes: Grilled Skillet Peach and Blueberry Cobbler; S’more Banana Boat Sundaes; Grilled Pound Cake with Maple Caramelized Pineapple; Sugar Glazed Challah with Nectarines and Crème Fraiche; Nutella Fondue with Grilled Fruit and Cake Kebobs; Grilled Baked Apples; Grilled Berry Tart; Grilled Chocolate Chip Cookies; Salted Caramel S’more Pizza; Grilled Nectarine Pizza with Dulce de Leche and Pecans; Grilled Cornbread and a Grilled S’mores Dip.

Rule Number 1Your ceramic covered grill is an oven

Most baking recipes call for a 350°F oven. Your ceramic covered grill can be regulated for that temperature, which means pretty much anything that calls for baking in a 350°F oven (or higher or lower) can be baked inside. It will just taste better because of the hardwood charcoal and smoke! Like with all ceramic covered grillcooking, you just have to familiarize yourself with temperature regulation and understand indirect heat cooking – or in this case, indirect baking. Use that thermometer to help gauge temperature, which of course varies depending on where you place the item to be baked – closer to the heat source, or farther up in the dome. Many baked items can withstand a little variation and you will learn from experience. A cobbler is forgiving. Meringues are not. Chocolate chip cookies bake perfectly. Check out our Grilled Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.


Rule Number 2 – Make the Most of Indirect Heat

The Indirect Cooking Rack is your best friend as is a Pizza Stone. The indirect rack allows you to modulate the amount of heat reaching your baked good. The pizza stone can be used for tarts, galettes and sweet pizzas right on the stone, but it can also be used as a heat tamer. You can place cast iron pans on top of it for an extra layer of heat cushioning, such as with our Grilled S’mores Dip.


Rule Number 3 – Use What You Have

If you own a ceramic covered grill you are a serious cook and that means you probably already have some tools that you can use to help you make dessert in your grill. Cast-iron works wonderfully. I find my 9-inch cast-iron skillet to be the most useful for cobblers and tarts and cornbread, etc. It is the right size for the recipes and it fits, handle and all, on the surface of my large Grill Dome. Tongs and spatulas are a must for grabbing fruit and flipping any items that need to be moved. Wooden spoons are other wooden implements work well, also. If you don’t have the right cookware on hand, try disposable aluminum foil pans. For instance you could make our Grilled Skillet Peach and Blueberry Cobbler in a 9-inch round disposable pan, but know that these conduct heat very differently from high quality, heavy pans and the baking time might be different. Brushes some in handy for applying melted butter and glazes to desserts, just make sure they don’t taste and smell like BBQ sauce! Silicone pastry brushes clean up beautifully and don’t leave bristles behind stuck to your desserts!


Rule Number 4 – Plan Ahead

Let’s say you know you are going to have your ceramic covered grill going for a while with the main meal. With the extra racks you can increase your cooking surface and either bake at the same time – if the temperatures coincide – or, plan on using the ceramic covered grill to make dessert once you have taken the main dish off the grill. The idea is that you have the grill going, you are using fuel, why not take advantage and make dessert or a baked good, too? Note I said baked goods. Maybe you don’t want something sweet, but a cornbread could be baked alongside your meat as a side dish.


Rule Number 5 – Be Creative. Be Daring. Think Outside the Box

You own a ceramic covered grill so you fit this personality profile. Just as you like to play and experiment with your meats, marinades, sauces, poultry, game and fish, be as adventurous with desserts and baking. Check out our recipes for inspiration. The cornbread is basic; add some bacon. The tart features berries; why not try some other fruit? You get the idea. Use the recipes as guides to develop your own. You know how easy it is to fire up your ceramic covered grill, so Get Baking! Here is more information about ceramic covered grills, like Grill Domes.

Bakepedia was provided with a Grill Dome. All opinions are our own.

Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

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

Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

How to Make a Fool (Out of Fruit, Not Yourself)

Easy Fruit Fools

strawberries and cream

Fools are an English dessert that very simply combine fruit and cream. Older English texts describe a more involved dessert with the addition of eggs and flavorings, such as lemon peel, wine or spices. Gooseberry fool was quite popular, but that is a hard-to-come-by fruit for most and luckily, the technique of folding together sweetened fruit puree and lightly whipped cream lends itself to all kinds of other fruit, particularly berries.

This are an easy recipe, exemplified by this simple description found in an old text for a strawberry fool:

Hull 1 to 1 ½ pints ripe strawberries and sieve them (there is no need to cook them). Stir about ½ cup sugar (or to taste) into the purée, and add a drop or two of lemon juice to accent the flavor. Combine with whipped cream.

Note that the amount of whipped cream is not given. Basically you want a nice balance of cream and fruit, with the pretty color from the fruit swirled – ribboned, if you will – throughout the cream.

You could use a blend of fruit but I think these simple desserts are best showcasing one special fruit when it is at its most ripe. Also, why complicate a dessert that is so easy to put together, even at the last moment after a trip to the farmer’s market? Check out our Strawberry Fool for a more complete recipe.

 Image: Peter Muka

Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

How to Make a Simple Homemade Wedding Cake

You Can Learn How to Make a Simple Homemade Wedding Cake

wedding cakes you can make slider
I have written two books on wedding cakes geared towards the avid home baker and while this short video isn’t a complete tutorial on how to make a simple homemade wedding cake, it is a great start. My very first book was The Wedding Cake Book and while I updated some recipes and approaches in my second wedding cake book, Wedding Cakes You Can Make, I still use both for visual inspiration. If you are seriously considering making your own or a friends wedding cake, or even any large celebration cake, these books could be just the resources you need. For now, enjoy this video, and please email me with any questions you might have

Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 1 }

All About Gelatin

Learn All About Gelatin: Powdered, Sheet and Leaf


The first thing to know is that there is powdered unflavored gelatin and then there is sheet gelatin, sometimes referred to as leaf gelatin. You may have never seen sheet gelatin, and this is because it is mostly used in commercial kitchens. Pros like it because it yields a clearer end product with a very pure (nonexistent) flavor and also because you will never end up with any un-dissolved granules. I don’t use it because there are many different kinds and strengths so when you see a recipe that says “1 gelatin sheet” or “1 sheet of gelatin” it isn’t giving you enough information for success. One the other hand, if “1 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin” or “one, .25 ounce package of unflavored powdered gelatin” is called for, you know what to use. I will discuss both types, but we use Knox Unflavored Powdered Gelatine in the Test Kitchen. (Knox uses the “e” on the end, by the way).


General Gelatin Tips

  • What is gelatin made from? It is indeed made from animal bones, skin, hides and connective tissues, although hooves are said not to be used, usually pig or cow, and sometimes fish. These sources are used for their collagen. (A favored vegetarian alternative is agar agar).
  • If a recipe uses the term “bloom”, as in “first bloom the gelatin in ¼ cup of water”, it simply means soften. That is how you, the home cook, will most often see the term used. If it says, “use gelatin with 190 Bloom strength”, it is talking about how firm the setting power is, and this is usually mentioned in professional recipes.
  • Powdered gelatin and sheet gelatin are not easily substituted for one another, since there are many different kinds of sheet gelatin.
  • The longer a dish set with gelatin is refrigerated, the stiffer it becomes. This is why a jelled dessert might be smooth and slick and have a pleasant mouthfeel on days one and two but by days three and four it is rubbery.
  • Certain fruits contain enzymes that will prevent gelatin from setting firmly. Avoid pineapple, kiwi and papaya, however, heating these first (if they are in the form of juices) will destroy the enzymes making them safe for use with gelatin.
  • Never freeze or boil gelatin; it destroys the setting power. Occasionally a dessert is set in the freezer briefly and that’s okay, or if the gelatin is very small part of the ingredients, such as a little added to a sorbet mixture, it is fine.

Powdered Gelatin Info

  • Follow what a recipe calls for. If it says “1 envelope” or “1 package” or “1 packet” it is probably referring to the quarter-ounce envelopes of unflavored powdered gelatin, such as Knox brand.
  • If the recipe says “2 teaspoons”, then measure it out. Although the average amount of gelatin in a quarter-ounce envelope is 2 ¼ teaspoons, it is not standardized by volume and can vary widely.
  • However, if a recipe says “1 ½ envelopes” what do you do? I would assume 2 ¼ teaspoons per envelope and do the math from there. And use proper measuring spoons!
  • Always soften, or bloom, gelatin first. Place a small quantity (¼ cup liquid per envelope, for example) of cold liquid in a small saucepan and slowly and evenly sprinkle powdered gelatin over the top. Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes, and then melt slowly and thoroughly over low heat, whisking well. I like to dip my finger in the mixture to be able to “feel” that all the granules are melted.
  • As soon as gelatin is bloomed and melted in liquid, incorporate the mixture into the rest of your ingredients. If it is not incorporated while warm, ropes and strands of set gelatin might develop in the finished dish.
  • 1 envelope of powdered gelatin will set 2 cups of liquid – not a soft set or an ultra-firm set, but a medium set.
  • Sometimes I use less gelatin for a soft set dessert served in glasses or goblets because I want a very smooth, soft mouthfeel.
  • If I am going to unmold a dessert, it may very well call for a higher proportion of gelatin.

Sheet Gelatin Info

  • Sheet or leaf gelatin comes in different strengths. Labels will have language such as “Silver Strength/160 Bloom” of “Gold Grade 190 Bloom”. One cannot be substituted 1 to 1 for one another.
  • If a recipe very specifically calls for “1 sheet silver gelatin”, then use that. And if they specify a brand, use it! This will give you the best results.
  • Sometimes sheet gelatin is called for my weights, such as “2 gms sheet gelatin”. In this case all bets are off because 2 gms of a silver strength sheet gelatin will gel differently from 2 gms of gold strength.

 Image: Dédé Wilson


Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 2 }

How to Pit Cherries

How to Pit Cherries with Household Tools

pitting cherries with chopstick

Eating cherries and spitting out the pits is one way to remove the pits but when we are making pie or fruit salad we need to get those pits out of the way in a cleaner, more organized way.

There are machines, some semi-automated like the one below, which attaches with a clamp

semi-automatic cherry pitter

and some are a small hand tool, like the one below in the following 2 images.

cherry pitter 1

cherry pitter 2

But what if you don’t have any kitchen gadgets? Never fear, you can still get those pits out! For all of these techniques, begin with fresh cherries, sour or sweet, with stems removed. For the techniques that involve inserting something (straw, chopstick, etc.) insert through the stem end.

  • Straw – the key here is you need a sturdy plastic straw in the standard width. If you have a hard plastic commuter beverage cup that came with one of those extra-sturdy plastic straws, those are even better. Insert through the stem end of the cherry, press, and the straw will push the pit out the other side.
  • Chopstick – this works the same as the straw above and the trick to this one is to use a chopstick with a broad base, not a pointy end. The typical wooden disposable ones work well. See the top image for this approach.
  • Chef’s Knife – gently smash the side of the berry under the broad side of the knife until the fruit splits open. Pick out the pit with knife tip or fingertip and repeat.
  • Pastry Tip – place a plain round pastry tip on your work surface, tip side up. We like to use a Wilton #12. Press the cherry stem end down on top of the tip and the cherry should slide down while the tip brings the pit up out of the top.
  • Paper Clip or Hairpin – open one end of a paper clip so that you have a “U” bend accessible. The hairpin already has this shape. Insert this “loop” into the cherry, pressing in past the pit, then maneuver it over the pit and pull back through the insertion hole. The “U” should grab the pit.

In general, for any of the tips above except the chef’s knife, try performing the technique either over a bowl to catch the fruit or on a paper towel lined work surface to sop up any juice so as not to stain your cutting board.

Images: Dédé Wilson

Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

Easy Chocolate Curls

Make Chocolate Curls with a Vegetable Peeler

small chocolate curls 1

I like chocolate in my desserts, under and on my desserts. The easiest way to make chocolate curls is with a block of chocolate and a vegetable peeler. It is all about having a sharp peeler and a block of chocolate that is the right temperature. Too cold and the chocolate will shatter; too warm and you won’t get curls.

small chocolate curls

To make the nice little, tight curls as seen in the image above the chocolate should be at warm ambient room temperature, then you simply use the peeler to scrape off curls from narrow side of the chocolate. A wider surface will make wider curls; your choice.

  • Use a large block of chocolate, at least 3 or 4 ounces in size. You cannot get a good grip of a smaller piece and even though you might not use all of it, you need size to hold it steady so that you can then draw the peeler across the surface.
  • Practice with white or milk chocolate, which are softer and easier to work with. Darker chocolates are harder in texture and the curls will shatter more easily.
  • The great majority of the time the chocolate is too cold. Place the block on a plate and zap in microwave for a few seconds, check it by making a test swipe with the peeler, then zap again if needed.
  • Tiny curls like the ones pictured melt easily. Have a small bowl ready to catch the curls as they fall away from the block of chocolate. Do not touch the curls with your fingers! Use a spoon to scoop them up to sprinkle on top of your desserts.
  • Make more than you need and freeze in an airtight container until needed. Will last for months.

PS: Our 13 year-old intern Sofia made the curls shown and she had never done it before! It’s easy if you follow the tips! You can do it.

Image: Dédé Wilson

Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }
Skip to toolbar