Archives: Technique

What is Kaiserschmarren? Lessons in the Spago Kitchen

Bring Austria Into Your Kitchen with Kaiserschmarren


Crèpes might be familiar, but maybe you have never had a sweet omelet. These can be a foreign idea (literally) for an American, but consider for a moment, the ingredients. They begin, of course, with the freshest of eggs, which are featured in many a rustic dessert as they are easy to find and inexpensive. They also add a flavor and structural quality to desserts that no other ingredient can match. Once a cook has eggs, making an omelet is very straightforward. A little butter and some seasonings are really all you need. For a dessert omelet, sugar is the “seasoning”. Dessert omelets can be as simple as an omelet made in the traditional manner, folded, then brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with sugar, perhaps then briefly run under a broiler to caramelize the sugar. But there are more elaborate versions that are quite interesting as a dessert, even to the American the palate.

Take the kaiserschmarren, for instance. This is an Austrian sweet omelet that has found fame at none other than Spago Beverly Hills. I had the good fortune to work in the Spago kitchen for an evening with Sherry Yard, their former pastry chef, or Pastry Wench, as her chef’s coat proclaims. It happened, believe it or not, by accident. I had landed at LAX mid-afternoon, and coming from the east coast, I was already a bit “off” due to the length of the flight and time change. The plan was for me to drive directly to Spago to interview Sherry for an article. When I got there, she invited me to get into the kitchen to work alongside her and her staff. This seemed like a splendid idea as all of the basic background questions that I would need to ask could be done by phone at a later date. This hands-on approach would afford me the opportunity to truly observe from the inside of one of our nation’s most famous kitchens and make mental notes for the article that couldn’t be gleaned any other way.

After donning a chef coat I was given the most basic of tasks, which I was more than happy to carry out – filling tart molds with dough, portioning ingredients and the like. At some point Sherry asked me to attend to a mountain of strawberries. They were solid red through and through with a fragrance that broadcast their full-flavor. Their perky green tops had not had the chance to loose any color or moisture and my guess is that they had never been refrigerated. In fact, they had been on the vine early in that day or at most, the day before. She asked me to remove the stems and slice the berries for a signature dessert of Spago, one that Wolfgang Puck had brought from his Austrian homeland – kaiserschmarren. I had never heard of it before but Sherry assured me that it was one of their most requested desserts and would never leave the menu as it was a perfect example of flavor-rich, honest food, which is what Wolfgang insisted upon.

I attended to the berries, discarding the stems and slicing the fruit. At one point Sherry admonished me as I was removing a bit too much fruit with the stem. Her point was not only that the flesh was being wasted but that the organic shape of the berry was also being lost and she wanted all of its natural beauty to remain intact. She, of course, was right.

The kaiserschmarren itself uses basic ingredients: butter, sugar, flour and eggs. Yolks are whisked with a bit of sugar and flour. Whites are whipped separately and folded in. Butter is melted in a pan and the sweet omelet mixture is poured in and baked. At this point, it is essentially a souffléed open-faced omelet. The omelet is turned out and topped with a sauce that combines cooked and raw strawberries, another rustic technique of enhancing flavors. It is served whole, one to a diner, each one with its own rough-hewn, unique shape. The sauce draping over the whole brings color and flavor. The effect is one of sweet, satisfying, comfort food. There is no need for extraneous garnish or precision plating techniques. This dessert is all about the eggs and the berries.

Initially I was surprised that such a rustic dessert would be on the Spago menu, but rustic food never goes out of style. No matter where you live, how famous you are, or how much money you have to spend, if a meal presents the best and freshest ingredients in ways that highlight and enhance those foods, you will be rewarded with a stellar culinary experience.

My assumptions about Spago Beverly Hills could not have been more wrong. Given the star power of the chef, locale and clientele, I had always assumed that the food would be secondary to the “see and be seen” factor. The night after my brief kitchen shift I was invited to dine in the restaurant the following evening. Course after course (five hours worth) brought pure, clean flavors. Nothing was overly done. Everything was prepared with an exactitude that preserved whatever inherent flavor or texture was at hand. The crab tasted as fresh as the sea. The lamb was tender and fully flavored while still delicately nuanced, which is so often lost with this meat. Everything from the bread to the desserts was presented with such integrity intact, I could only describe this food as rustic at its heart. And of course I sampled the kaiserschmarren. Tender and eggy, sweet, but not overly so, with a berry sauce as bright as the freshest fruit – this is a rustic dessert par excellence.

I highly recommend that you try the kaiserschmarren while berries are at their best. It is easy to make, with readily available ingredients and works fabulously after a light meal or for a brunch. Bring a little Austria via Beverly Hills into your kitchen!

 Image: Peter Muka

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Reheating Pizza

Reheating Pizza on the Stovetop Gives The Best Results!

reheated pizza 1

I try not to be a food snob. I reheat my fresh-brewed loose tea in the microwave (multiple times) every day and I understand the glory of a warm Krispy Kreme. That said I do draw the line at Cool Whip (not a fan) and have never been one to eat cold pizza or to appreciate re-heated pizza. It’s just never the same. Then one day a few months ago I was listening to, of all things, the local shock jock, talk-radio morning show and they were talking about re-heating pizza in a pan, stovetop. Face down no less! I was listening to the news guy wax euphoric about this technique that I had never heard of and, actually, it made sense. He said to take a slice of pizza and heat it, cheese-side-down in a nonstick pan. In lieu of that, to put a tiny bit of oil in a cast iron pan and again, face down, heat the slice until the cheese melts and develops a crust, then flip over, heat the bottom briefly to crisp and you’re done! I was truly intrigued, made a mental note to remember and then promptly forgot.

Fast-forward a few months to a conversation with Peter Reinhart about pizza and he starts to tell me how he likes to re-heat pizza by describing the same technique! Now, this was no local news guy, this was Peter Reinhart, an award winning author and pizza authority! I was not going to forget this time.

cold pizza

So into the Test Kitchen we went with slices of day old, refrigerated pizza (seen above). We opted for both a plain cheese slice and one with pepperoni, just so we could see how the topping would hold up. Here’s what we did and what we found out:

  • We recommend a large nonstick pan. If you do not have one, use a teaspoon of olive oil to create a film on the bottom of a cast-iron or similar heavy pan.
  • A pan larger than the size of your slice allows full contact with the pan’s cooking surface.
  • Start pizza, face down, in a cold pan, and heat over medium heat until cheese begins to melt and a crust forms. Do not try to flip pizza over too early.
  • Flip over and continue heating until the bottom has crisped up. Serve immediately.

reheated pizza 2

What we found was that this technique worked very, very well. It does change the pizza. The top of the pizza now has a crust (as you can see) that it didn’t sport in its original guise, but as a re-heated slice of pizza, we think this technique is an improvement over toaster-ovens and certainly over reheating in a microwave. The crusty parts are delicious! Just like the cheese that exudes out of a grilled cheese sandwich and gets melted and crusty right on the pan. It worked for both the cheese and the pepperoni slices. Yes, you have to wash a pan, but several of us like this technique and the results so much that we now look forward to having pizza leftover just so that we can indulge in the melty, crusty version the next day. I call the image below “pizza photo shoot aftermath”.

pizza aftermath

Images: Peter Muka 

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How to Use a Julienne Peeler

Julienne Like a Pro

Julienne citrus

A julienne peeler is a nifty kitchen tool that works well on a variety of fruits and vegetables, quickly cutting them into thin, elegant strips. It’s easy to use and many versions have a removable clear safety cover that flips out of the way while you peel, but locks back into place as a protective cover during storage. (I am partial to my OXO Good Grips Julienne Peeler).

This type of peeler is especially good on oranges, lemons and grapefruit. Starting at the top of the citrus, gently press the sharp stainless blade just under the skin, then continue running it down to the opposite end, forming julienne strips. Repeat until all the peel has been removed, avoiding the bitter white pith by not pressing too deeply.

To candy the julienne peel, place it in a saucepan of water and boil for 5 minutes. Drain, add water and boil again for 5 minutes (these steps remove the bitter flavor). Drain, then return peel to saucepan. Add equal parts of water and sugar (enough to cover peel by 1/2-inch) and bring to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer until peel is tender and translucent, 10 to 15 minutes.

Sprinkle a small baking sheet with a layer of sugar. Using tongs, remove the peel from the sugar syrup, shaking off excess. Place julienne peel on the sugar-lined sheet, sprinkle generously with more sugar, then toss to coat completely. Separate strips and let stand overnight on sugared sheet to dry. Store airtight at room temperature up to 1 month. For a full recipe check out our Candied Orange Peel.

Use the candied peel as a garnish for cakes, cupcakes, tarts, brownies, mousse, puddings and soufflés. Or, chop them into small pieces and sprinkle over vanilla ice cream. The candied peel can also be dipped halfway in melted bittersweet, milk or white chocolate and placed on a foil-lined sheet to chill, then enjoyed as an after-dinner treat.

Note that the julienne peeler also works well on vegetables such as cucumber, carrots, and zucchini. The thin strips can be used in a variety of salads, sandwiches, and pastas, or as a filling for summer rolls.

julienne close-up

Images: Sarah Tenaglia

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How to Make an Ice Cream Float

Making Soda Fountain Worthy Floats at Home

 Old Fashioned soda jerk_2

The Soda Fountainis a book that I was thrilled to get lost within. I love food with a history and brother/sister duo Peter and Gia have not only lovingly refurbished and renovated the Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain, but they have written a fun and heartfelt account of the history of the soda fountain. Read our interview and here is their approach to making the perfect ice cream float. Reprinted with permission from The Soda Fountain: Floats, Sundaes, Egg Creams & More–Stories and Flavors of an American Originalby Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain, Inc. copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC. 

GENERAL METHOD: Making a float that tastes good isn’t rocket science. Ice cream and soda, shucks, they kinda just go together. However, creating a float with a perfectly round scoop of ice cream perched just so on the side of the glass, well, we have to admit, takes a bit of practice. The technique for each of the Farmacy Floats is the same. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be chomping at the bit to host an ice cream float party to impress your guests. We can attest that some of the most picturesque celebrations at Brooklyn Farmacy have included a round of brilliantly colored ice cream floats.

The following technique can be used for the Betty BoopTo make an ice cream float, pour ¼ cup (2 ounces) of soda syrup into a fountain glass and add seltzer until the glass is two-thirds full. Stir gently with a fountain spoon to combine. Then, scoop a very firm 4-ounce ball of ice cream (about the size of a tennis ball) and “hang” the scoop on the inside rim of the glass. To hang the scoop of ice cream, stabilize the glass with one hand and utilize the scoop with your other hand to push the ball of ice cream down and out onto the rim of the glass so that the rim extends about two thirds of the way into the scoop. You don’t want your scoop to feel like it could topple, but you also don’t want to push down so hard that it splits. If you started with a firm scoop, you shouldn’t need to make any adjustments to your ball of ice cream once it’s hanging on the rim. Add the remaining seltzer to fill the glass. Drizzle a little bit of soda syrup onto the scoop of ice cream for decoration. Place the glass on a small plate and serve with a soda spoon and a soda straw.


4-ounce ice cream scoop

12-ounce fountain glass

Soda spoon

Soda straw

Dessert plate

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Tinting Sprinkles by Hand

Tinting Sprinkles by Hand

custom tinted sprinkles

Hand Tinted Sprinkles

At one time it was that sprinkles came in chocolate and rainbow. Then cake decorating supply companies got savvy and started making red and green mix for the winter holidays, pastels for Easter and the like. But did you know that you can try tinting sprinkles at home? Starting with white sprinkles, you can custom tint using powdered food colors and they will have a lovely DIY quality that purchased sprinkles do not. Try these with the Old-Fashioned Cupcakes.

Making custom tinted sprinkles

Making Tinted and Custom Sprinkles

For the images I used white sprinkles from Wilton that have a pearlized sheen. They provide an elegant quality to the finished product.

Back In The Day COVER


Below Excerpted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbookby Cheryl Day & Griffith Day (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012. 

Sprinkles add a touch of fun and color to the tops of cupcakes and cakes. We hand-tint our sprinkles in the same shades of pink, blue, green, and yellow that we frost the cupcakes, using the simple technique my mother taught me. To tint sprinkles, pour white sprinkles into a Mason jar and add a pinch (it doesn’t take much) of powdered food coloring. Screw on the lid and shake, shake, shake until the sprinkles take on the desired shade, adding more powder if necessary. Store the jar of sprinkles in a cool place and use as desired. To decorate a kitchen shelf, fill multiple jars with sprinkles of different colors.

Images: Dédé Wilson

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Top Cake Decorating Supplies

Top Cake Decorating Supplies

Top Cake decorating Tools

Cake Decorating Supplies

Our Bakepedia community is made up of avid home bakers, both beginners and advanced, and sometimes these bakers need different sorts of recipes and information. When it comes to decorating cakes, my top cake decorating supplies work for everyone. You can frost and decorate a cake with a cereal spoon or a butter knife . Sometimes that casual look is all you want or need. However, if you want to take your cake decorating up a few notches there are some cake decorating supplies that will help you get the job done.

The first one is the only pricey investment decorating tool and mine is going strong after 30 years! I highly recommend that you have all of these in your kitchen if you find yourself decorating even a few birthday cakes a year. If you are a Bakepedia fan you know that I love tools and equipment that help make the task easier and help produce better results.

Ateco cake decorating turntable

Cake Decorating Turntable (Ateco)

Cake Turntable–Many resources will tell you that you can use any old lazy Susan, and you can, but sometimes they prove themselves and obstacle. The Ateco, (as seen in picture), has stood the test of time. A heavy iron bottom means that it stays put as you apply frosting so that you can concentrate on your cake decorating. The 12-inch diameter top is large enough to support even large wedding cake tiers ! It is also made from heavy metal that won’t warp. It’s two-part design means easy cleaning. They aren’t cheap but they are well worth it.


Cake Decorating Cardboard Rounds

Cardboard Rounds–These are my only single-use cake decorating supplies recommendation but you will be amazed at how helpful a piece of cardboard is! The key is that you want one in the exact diameter as the cake pan you are using: an 8-inch cardboard round for cakes baked in 8-inch cake pans. It is also preferable, you purchase them and not try to cut your own. The commercially produced ones will be exact. You need the smooth sides of the cardboard because they will be helping you guide your icing spatula to create smooth sides to your cakes, decorated with buttercream and frosting.


Icing Spatulas

Icing Spatulas–These come in straight and offset, typically ranging from 4-inches to 12-inches or more. My fairly flexible, straight 8-inch is my go-to (white handle, center of image). Then a small offset and a larger offset come into play most often. You will learn through experience what works for you. Clean and store your icing spatulas very carefully. Any kind of ding or ripple on the blade will show up in your frosting. For instance, never use them to pry open a can.

Pastry Bags–I use Wilton Featherweight bags in 14 and 16-inch sizes often for cake decorating. I like the soft flexibility that these bags offer and these lengths allow me to fill them with a good quantity of frosting, without being too large and unwieldy. Insert your tips carefully as sharp points can tear the bags.

Coupler–This is a small plastic device that “joins”your pastry bag and smaller tips and allows for quick changing of tips. For smaller shells and rosettes I am partial to the Wilton #18 tip. A Wilton #3 plain round tip is a good one to have on hand for writing when decorating your cake.

Wilton 1M Tip–The 1M is the mother of all star tips. This tip makes the best rosettes and swirls of any of the larger star tips. It is my desert island tip and can create those extra large whirls and swirls on cupcakes that look like giant servings of soft-serve ice cream! you can decorate and create rosettes like on our ombré cake!

Top Two Images: Peter Muka

Other Images: Dédé Wilson

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Working with Baking Soda & Lye for Homemade Pretzels

Working with Homemade Pretzels

The following information about using either lye or baking soda as a dip for homemade pretzels is from Pretzel Making at Homeby Andrea Slonecker. Baking soda can work, but many chefs prefer the deep, rich, classic pretzel color that lye produces, but working with it does take attention to detail and it is not something to take lightly. As a third alternative, check out this article by Harold McGee on how to work with baking soda to make it more powerful than it already is for this application, which is also presented below. If you like the science behind baking, you must acquaint yourself with Harold!

Excerpted from Pretzel Making at Homeby Andrea Slonecker, Chronicle Books. Text copyright 2013. 

Dipping Pretzels in an Alkaline Solution

Dipping pretzels in a solution of a small amount of food-grade lye dissolved in water gives them that unique pretzel flavor. Unfortunately, food-grade lye is unavailable in most retail stores, making it difficult to source and use for home cooks. That’s why most recipes for homemade pretzels substitute baking soda (which is much less alkaline), but the pretzel flavor and the quality of the crust are substandard with this method. In 2010 the esteemed food scientist Harold McGee wrote a story for the New York Times in which he explained that the chemical properties of baking soda can be altered, causing it to behave in a similar way to lye, if it is baked in an oven at a low temperature for an hour or so. I have found this to be true. Still, there is no replicating that genuine pretzel-y quality that a lye dip imparts, so in this book both options are offered. I prefer the lye method and always have lye on hand, but I also thoroughly enjoy pretzels made with a baked baking soda substitute. See following for instructions.

Fresh pretzels home made

Fresh homemade pretzels


Lye Pretzel Method

Before you begin working with lye, there are a few precautions to take, since it is a hazardous chemical when it’s not handled properly. Always wear rubber household gloves that cover your forearms, as it will irritate your skin. Be extremely careful not to let lye water splash on you, and avoid touching the dipped pretzels with bare hands until after they are baked. Also, consider wearing protective eyewear. Make the solution in a well-ventilated room, have the stove’s hood vent on high power, and avoid hovering directly over the pot if there is any residual steam. Protective eyewear will also shield your eyes from steam that may irritate them when you open the oven door while the pretzels are baking. Or you can simply open the door and let the steam escape before leaning in, which is what I do. While all this sounds a little dangerous for a home kitchen, I’ve found that with these simple precautions, dipping pretzels in a lye solution is a safe and worthwhile endeavor that makes a huge difference in the authenticity of your pretzels. To get a crust with a deeply browned, lacquered appearance, the lye must be hot when the pretzels are dipped. You can prepare a cool lye bath by dissolving the lye in lukewarm water straight from the tap, without heating it, but the pretzels will emerge from the oven with a lighter caramel hue. To make the lye solution for soft pretzels: Select a large stainless-steel pot at least a fingers length greater in diameter than the width of the pretzels and tall enough so that the water comes up no more than 2 in/5 cm from the rim.  Fill the pot with 6 cups/1.4 L of water. Wearing rubber gloves, add the lye, 1 tbsp at a time. With the hood vent on, warm the lye solution over high heat just until you see wisps of steam, and then remove the pot from the heat and cool the water until the steam subsides, about 5 minutes.


Baked Baking Soda Pretzel Method

An alternative to working with lye is to dip pretzels in a simmering baked baking soda solution, which will give you a result that is close to the dark, burnished crust that lye imparts. If you prefer to avoid working with lye, or just don’t have time to source it, use this method. To make the baked baking soda solution: First, you must bake the baking soda. This step should be done while the pretzels are undergoing their first rise, if not earlier. Preheat the oven to 250°F/120°C/ gas .. For one batch of pretzels, spread out . cup/ 70 g of baking soda on an aluminum pie pan or a small rimmed baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Bake the baking soda for 1 hour. The baking soda will lose weight as it bakes but maintains about the same volume, so you should end up with about ¼ cup/60 g of baked baking soda. Allow it to cool completely, and then keep it in an airtight container at room temperature until you are ready to make pretzels. (If you see more than one batch of pretzels in your future, consider baking a whole box of baking soda in one shot, since it keeps indefinitely. Sift baked baking soda before using, as it cakes after prolonged storage.) Select a large stainless-steel pot and fill it with 8 cups/2 L of water. Be sure to choose a pot that is at least a finger’s length wider than the diameter of the pretzels and tall enough so that the water comes up no more than 2 in/5 cm from the rim. (Avoid other metal surfaces, such as aluminum and copper, and nonstick surfaces, which may react with the baked baking soda.) Pour in the . cup/60 g of baked baking soda, and bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once the baking soda dissolves, reduce the heat to medium to maintain a gentle simmer. Before baking, brush the tops of the pretzels lightly with an egg wash of 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tbsp of water . This will give them a glossy finish.

Other yummy pretzel recipes on Bakepedia: Chocolate Stout Pudding Pie with Jameson Whipped Cream and Pretzel Crust  & Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcakes

Image: istockphoto

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Choosing the Right Scoop

types of scoops

Years ago at my first pastry chef restaurant job I was introduced to the glorious use of scoops. I was self taught and had been using the typical tools and gadgets one would have at home. Being in a professional kitchen for the first time was a revelation and there were rules and regulations for everything. At times I found it stifling, but I also learned a lot. The right tool for the job saves time, hones technique, and can even help with portion control, all of which save money and often make your creations look the best they can be.

Scoops became part of my daily routine. They helped me get dozens of perfectly formed and sized muffins made in no time flat. Cookies were now all the exact same size. Same for truffles – all exactly 1-inch across thanks to the right sized tool.

Here are the scoops we regularly use with suggestions for their best application. What works with one doesn’t necessarily for another.


Ice Cream Scoop/Food Disher

(top in image)– this is the classic scoop and the one you probably have in your drawer. Some are spring loaded while some have a gear mechanism but they both work the same way. You press a lever that rotates a thin blade that hugs the concave bowl of the scoop, thereby pushing out and releasing whatever is in the scoop. If you over-fill the bowl, then level it off to the brim with cookie dough, sorbet or truffle ganache – whatever you are scooping – then each and every scoop will be the exact same size every time. Great for portion and yield control! And this is how bakeries made sure their cookies are all the same size. They look more professional and they bake more evenly.

Zeroll Ice Cream Scoop

(center in image and below in action)– you look at this scoop and you think, how good can it be? The bowl isn’t completely round and there is no release mechanism, but then you use it and experience the most effortless ice cream scooping. The image does not do this tool justice – you have to try one. The aluminum scoop is designed to create large looking scoops by preventing compression of the frozen dessert. The handle is filled with an FDA approved oil-based heat conductive fluid. Zeroll will not disclose exactly what it is. Your hand heats the liquid; that heat transfers to the handle, which in turn travels down to the scoop. These features make the scoop unique and facilitate easy release of the ice cream.

Zeroll Ice cream scoop

Indeed, with a regular scooping motion, the shape of this scoop forms a wave of ice cream that crests over itself and begins to form a “ball” shape. Except that this ball is like a spiral of ice cream. The company says that it gives the ice cream vendor 20% more ice cream scoops per gallon. What it means to you at home is easy scooping and nice looking scoops of ice cream, gelato or sorbet.


Paddle or Spade

(bottom of image) – these are a scoop of sort and are included here because ice cream is a common denominator. If you have ever gone into an ice cream shop that specializes in custom mix-ins, they are probably using something like this tool. They dig into half gallons of extra hard ice cream easily and then use this same gadget to mash in a custom combo of Heath Bar pieces and crushed Oreos or whatever you desire. Do what the pros do: chill a slab of marble or even a baking sheet pan. Scoop out an amount of ice cream onto the pre-chilled surface, sprinkle on your mix-ins, then use the spade to slap them together to create your own custom flavors of ice cream with candy/cookies mixed in.

Images: Peter Muka

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Tips for Positioning Oven Racks

Positioning Oven racks

If you are using a conventional oven, with a heating element on the bottom and racks above, your items will bake very differently depending on where you place them in the oven. Positioning oven racks correctly can make a huge difference in the quality of your baked goods. For best results, understand the way your oven works and the ideal position for particular items. (A convection oven, with heating elements on top, bottom, and back, and a fan to circulate hot air, works differently. If that’s what you use, the following advice won’t necessarily apply.)

  • In general, the middle of the oven is best for even baking. Many recipes, including those on Bakepedia, will direct you to position the rack in the middle. If no direction is given, assume that your items should be baked here.
  • Items that require an especially browned bottom should be baked in the lower third of the oven. Overall baking time will be the same as when baked in the middle, but the pan or baking sheet’s proximity to the heating element will promote browning on the bottom. A fruit pie requiring an especially crisp bottom crust that won’t get soggy from prolonged contact with a juicy filling should be baked in the bottom third of the oven.
  • Placing items in the upper third of the oven will promote browning on top. This is the place to bake your meringue-topped pie so it gets good color quickly and without heating up the lemon curd underneath.
  • If you have more than one pan that you’d like to bake off at once, place both pans in the middle of the oven unless otherwise directed. For example, two 9-inch cake pans can be placed side by side and then rotated at some point during baking after the cakes have begun to set (you don’t want to move them while they’re still in a liquid state and risk damaging their developing structure).
  • If both pans won’t fit, as with two baking sheets of cookies, bake one on the top rack and one on the bottom rack, keeping an eye on them and rotating the pans halfway through baking to prevent overbrowning on either the top or the bottom. I recommend this only for items like cookies that require a relatively short baking time. With longer-baking items the risk of burning is greater and not worth the savings in time. Some ovens will have 4 rack positions, others will have a 5 or a different configuration. Best case scenario is that you can set one in lower third and one in upper third; just do your best to space them out evenly.

 Image: Lauren Chattman

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Melting Chocolate with Other Ingredients

melting chocolate with butter

Sometimes a recipe calls for melting chocolate all by itself, but just as often you will see chocolate melted with butter or sometimes even liquid, such as cream or a liqueur. Here is what you need to know to make sure that your chocolate melts to a silky-smooth consistency.

  • Always make sure your chocolate is finely chopped, be it dark, milk or white.
  • If butter or cream is being melted with the chocolate, make sure it is room temperature. Butter should be cut into small pieces. You want to help the chocolate and butter melt at the same rate.
  • In the Test Kitchen, we use the microwave all the time for melting chocolate and butter or cream at 50% power. Microwaves vary in power, so start at 50% or Medium power in 15-second increments until you have a feel for your machine. Remove from microwave when chocolate is partially melted and whisk until smooth. Always remember there will be residual heat.
  • Unlike melting chocolate by itself, where we do not like to use the microwave for milk or white chocolate, when we are melting these chocolates with butter or cream, we will often use the microwave. If you have issues with these chocolates burning, use a lower power or switch to a stove-top method.
  • You can melt chocolate and butter or cream over or in a water bath as well. Again, remove when chocolate is about three-quarters of the way melted and whisk off heat until smooth and combined with other ingredient.
  • Chocolate can be melted with water or liqueur, but there must be enough of the liquid to melt the chocolate and not seize it. Eight ounces of chocolate with ¼ cup liquid can work. Less liquid than that and you will run the risk of the chocolate seizing into a mass.
  • In general, don’t rush any technique you use. Melt the chocolate and its associated ingredient slowly and gently and you will have success.

Image: Peter Muka

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Guerilla Pie Decorating

Pie Decorating

Look at that image above. If you are anything like me, you are thinking “why the heck didn’t I think of that”?  Seriously, when was the last time you saw a really new way to create decorative pie crusts? In fact, I don’t think I have ever really think about “pie decorating”, but now I do. Read on. Your mind is about to be expanded. Libbie Summers new book Sweet & Vicious, Baking with Attitude is aptly named. I can’t wait to try the salty, smoky bourbon-laced oatmeal cookies and the Fig & Pig Pies (prosciutto and fresh figs). The techniques below can work with most any pie crust as long as it is well-chilled. Summers’ version, called The Cold Truth Pie Dough, features shortening and butter along with vanilla sugar and a bit of cayenne. Attitude indeed. If you come up with some wild pie crust decorating ideas of your own, let us know. I am officially obsessed. 


Excerpted with permission. Sweet and Vicious: Baking with Attitude by Libbie Summers. Rizzoli 2014 copyright. Photos by Chia Chong.

1. Cork Screw Crimping

pie crust crimp with wine bottle opener

For a 9-inch pie, roll out your top pie dough to an 11-inch round, 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape the dough over the pie plate and turn the overhang under to create a thicker rim around the pie. Use an open corkscrew to decoratively crimp the edges (then open a bottle of wine to enjoy while your pie is baking).


2. Measuring Spoon CrimpingPie Crust Crimp with Spoons

For a 9-inch pie, roll out your top pie dough to an 11-inch round, 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape the dough over the pie plate and turn the overhang under to create a thicker rim around the pie. Turn a ½-teaspoon measure upside down to decoratively crimp the rim. Let the circles intersect for an arty look.


3. Strand of Pearls Crimping (see top image)

For a 9-inch pie, roll out your top pie dough to an 11-inch round, 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape the dough over the pie plate and turn the overhang under to create a thicker rim around the pie. Using a strand of oversized pearls, push them into the rim of the pie and pull away to reveal the magic.


4. Tong Crimping

pie crust crimp with tongs

For a 9-inch pie plate, roll out your pie dough to a 12-inch circle that is 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape the dough over the pie plate and turn the overhang under to create a thicker rim around the pie. Use the tip of a pair of tongs to pinch a decorative pattern around the edge


5. Covering in Cutouts

Pie Crust with Cutouts

Using the pie dough recipe for a double-crust pie, roll out the first disc to a 12-inch round, 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape it into a 9-inch pie plate and allow the overhang to extend over the edge. Pile in the pie filling and dot the top with butter. Fold the overhanging dough up onto the filling. Roll out the second disc to 1⁄8-inch thick and cut out whatever shape you choose—I’ve used a maple leaf cutter here (no Canadian chauvinism from me). From the edge of the pie, work around and inward, overlapping the cutouts to form the top crust and using a simple egg wash as a glue (1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk or water). Keep adding cutouts until the entire pie is covered in dough. Be sure to leave a few small open areas, or a hole in the top, to let the steam escape.


6. Kilroy Was Here Crimping

pie crust crimp hack

For a 9-inch pie, roll out your pie dough to an 11-inch round, 1⁄8-inch thick. Drape the dough into the pie plate and trim away any overhang. Crimp the edge of the pie in a traditional way, pinching with the thumb and forefinger of one hand on the outside of the dough and pushing the forefinger of your other hand into the pinched area. Roll the dough scraps into balls and pinch the front to shape a nose. Use a simple egg wash (1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water) to glue the heads into the “divots” of the crimping. Kids love this one. It bakes up creepy cool, and you can teach them about graffiti art from the 1940s, when Kilroy originated. I like to think of it as an educational crimp.

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How to Make the Perfect Buttercream Swirl on a Cupcake

perfect buttercream swirl on a cupcake

If you don’t know about the Wilton 1M tip, then read up because this is my favorite star tip of all time! It helps to make the gorgeous buttercream swirl that you see in the above image, which looks like a soft-serve ice cream cone, but made of frosting! A thing of beauty – and incredibly easy when you use this tip. The tip does all the work. Watch the video to see the technique in action, but here are the details:

  • Fill your fluted, paper-lined cupcake pans about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way with batter, depending on chosen effect.
  • Have your cupcakes baked and cooled.
  • Fill pastry bag about halfway with frosting.
  • Hold the cupcake in one hand or have on work surface in front of you. Practice will tell you which works better for you.
  • Using steady, medium pressure, start in the center of the cupcake and pipe a tight spiral, forming the center of the swirl.
  • Keep piping in an outward spiral until you come almost to the edge of the cupcake, then start piping in an inward spiral going over the frosting you already piped, creating a second layer.
  • As you come back towards the center, make sure you are also drawing the frosting up towards the center, creating a peak (watch in the video).
  • The initial outward spiral creates a base, then the second pass of frosting creates the height.

Image: Dédé Wilson

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Which is the Perfect Cupcake?

which is the perfect cupcake?

When I show people cupcakes of different sizes, as above, most are drawn to the one on the right, and that one is perfect if you are going to glaze with ganache or poured fondant, but that doesn’t mean the shallow one on the left is any less desirable!

As you can see in the video below, I explain how it is all a matter of your desired end result. For Two-Tone Buttercream Rose Cupcakes, I actually prefer the shallower of the two. The flatter, recessed cupcake top is the perfect canvas for those stunning creations.

As always, know your recipe start to finish so that you can make the right choices along the way. Want a glazed cupcake? Fill the fluted papers about three-quarters of the way so that you get a full, gently domed cupcake. Want to top your cupcake with a buttercream rose or a large swirl of frosting with no cupcake showing? Fill the fluted papers only two-thirds of the way with batter to create a shorter, flatter cupcake. Neither is right or wrong – it is a matter of application. It’s your choice! Just plan ahead.

which is the perfect cupcake 2

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How to Glaze a Cupcake with Ganache

glazing cupcakes with ganache

Cupcakes are versatile. They can be filled or unfilled. Frosting can be slathered on with a butter knife or piped with a tip. They can also be glazed, as with our Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes.

When you cover a cake with ganache, you often begin by pouring the glaze on top of the cake and gravity lets it drip down. Sometimes we pick up the cake and rotate it to facilitate the flow of the glaze. We do this because every time you use an icing spatula with ganache, you run the risk of leaving marks – and usually the idea is to have a shiny, glossy mark-free glaze.

With cupcakes, this couldn’t be easier. In the video, I show you how to glaze a cupcake with ganache, the technique that involves dipping the cupcake upside down into the liquid. Here are some specifics:

  • Fill your fluted paper-lined cupcake pans about three-quarters of the way with batter.
  • Have your cupcakes of choice baked and cooled.
  • Your ganache should be in a bowl that allows you easy access to dip a cupcake in and out.
  • Have your ganache in a slightly warm liquid state, not too hot. If the ganache is too hot, it will slide off the cupcake.
  • Take a cupcake in your hand, turn it upside down and dip straight down into the ganache.
  • Gently press the cupcake down into the ganache until the ganache just comes up high enough to touch the fluted paper surrounding the cupcake.
  • Slowly pull the cupcake back out of the ganache, then gently rotate your hand in circular motion. You are trying to create a slight centrifugal force, which will help expel any excess ganache back into the bowl.
  • After any excess ganache has dripped off of the cupcake, flip the cupcake right back up and place on a rack or plate for the ganache to set.
  • Cupcakes may be refrigerated briefly to hasten setting of ganache.

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How to Make Two-Tone Buttercream Rose Cupcakes

two tone buttercream rose cupcakes The last thing I want to hear someone say is, “that’s too pretty to eat!” I want to know you can’t wait to eat my creations! That said, these could be an exception. The Wilton 2D tip is simply amazing and practically makes the rose for you. It is a must-have tip and certainly necessary for this effect. I have included several images so that you can see how each rose is unique yet beautiful. And since I use Italian meringue buttercream, these will be as tasty as they are pretty. two tone buttercream rose cupcakes-3 Prepare the cupcakes of your choice. In the video tutorial I have used Yellow Cupcakes. Make sure that you fill the fluted papers no more than two-thirds of the way. You want the baked cupcakes to be somewhat shallow to provide the right platform for the frosting. (See our Tip on Which is the Perfect Cupcake?) Of course, you could make these a solid color if you like, in which case you would just fill your piping bag fitted with the Wilton 2D tip with the color buttercream of your choice. For the two-tone effect and rose formation, follow these tips:

  • Take your colored buttercream and fill the pastry bag about one-third of the way.
  • Twist the open end shut and smoosh the buttercream around in the bag so that it is adhering to all of the insides of the bag.
  • Place bag in a tall glass or vase and open the top. Use a spoon to create an open center channel – like an open tunnel. Make sure that the colored buttercream is still all the way around the center tunnel, touching the inside of the bag. The center hole should go all the way to the bottom of the bag, right to the tip.
  • Okay, this is the tricky part: place white buttercream in the center tunnel, pressing it all the way down, right to the tip.
  • Seal the bag up tight. If you are using a clear pastry bag, you will only see the colored frosting.
  • Press a bit of the frosting out onto a plate until both the colored and the white portions are coming out together.
  • Now you are ready to make your rose. Hold the cupcake in one hand.
  • Using steady, medium pressure, start in the center of the cupcake and pipe a tight spiral, forming the center of the rose.
  • Keep piping in an outwards spiral. Lessen pressure as you come to the end, trailing off. Use your finger to press in the “end” if necessary.
  • Each rose will be unique and beautiful! Trust me. This works – if you are using the Wilton 2D tip!

Images: Dédé Wilson

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6 Steps to Making Cakes for Weddings and Large Celebrations

6 steps for making wedding cakes

Here are 6 tips to help you make a fabulous large cake to serve a crowd either at a wedding or your next large celebration.

1. Find out how many mouths you have to feed.
How many people will you need to serve? Knowing the guest count will help you determine exactly what size tiers you are making. (See How to Cut and Serve Large, Round Cakes for details on how to cut the cake and how many each tier will serve. While cakes can be made in just about any shape, I am limiting our discussion to rounds to give you the gist.)

2. Choose your flavors wisely.
Taste must come first for any cake. Begin with the likes and dislikes of the person of honor. It is their day; find out their taste preferences. And remember, you will never please everyone in a crowd of 100 or more, so don’t worry about whether Aunt Ida prefers vanilla over raspberry frosting. Cater to the person(s) being celebrated.

3. Choose cake, frosting and filling recipes that highlight your chosen flavors.
Once you know that they love chocolate and coffee and hazelnuts, you are on your way. Now you have to work with those flavor profiles and choose recipes carefully that work within a tiered creation. Remember that the cake tiers are going to be layered on top of one another and will most likely need to be transported somewhere. This is not the time to make a whipped cream frosting or a soft, slippery, thick (as in tall), unstable mousse filling.

For cake, I recommend our Easy White Cake, Yellow Cake or Easy Chocolate Cake as a starting place. They do scale up. Doubling any of those recipes will give you one 12-inch tier. Halving any of those recipes will give you two 6-inch tiers.

For the exterior, I have used Italian Meringue Buttercream Frosting (IMBC) almost exclusively for all the wedding and large celebration cakes I made over 25 years – even when the cake was going to be under a tent in the middle of summer. I find it to be the most versatile buttercream – I like it in its vanilla incarnation as much as I do espresso, chocolate or Grand Marnier – and it has a workable texture as well. You can create smooth-sided cakes (just as flawlessly as fondant), you can easily pipe it or you can slather it on with a spoon and make pretty peaks and swirls.

Consider using IMBC for the filling as well, perhaps in a different flavor.

With the aforementioned coffee/chocolate/hazelnut flavors as an example, you could make a chocolate cake, brush the layers with Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, fold some crushed hazelnut praline into part of the IMBC for the filling and use a vanilla or Frangelico IMBC for the exterior.

4. Prepare to assemble.
Cardboard rounds must be on your shopping list. These are cardboards that are pre-cut in the same sizes as cake pans. (Don’t try to cut your own; you will never get them exact enough.) Their smooth sides act as guides when applying buttercream. If you have a three-tiered cake made up of 6-inch, 10-inch and 14-inch tiers to serve 100, you will also need 6-inch, 10-inch and 14-inch cardboard rounds. The cardboards are necessary, as they will be working in conjunction with internal supports, such as wooden dowels, to support each cake tier. If the cake tiers were put on top of one another directly without such supports they would collapse.

5. Get out the calendar.
Now is also the time to consider your schedule. If the party day is Saturday, I bake, prepare buttercream batches and make my crumb coat all on Thursday. The separate crumb-coated cakes can be refrigerated overnight. On Friday, when my eyes and energy are fresh, I apply the final IMBC coat and then chill those individual tiers.

6. Assemble!
Now, we stack the tiers. For a center-stack configuration, which is the most common, the 6-inch tier will sit centered atop the 10-inch cake and the 10-inch tier sit will sit centered atop the 14-inch cake. To begin planning this out, take the 10-inch cake pan and visually center it over the 14-inch tier. Let it lightly touch the surface of the cake and make marks in the IMBC. Insert 4 dowels within that circle, cutting them to the exact height of the 14-inch cake tier. Smear a bit of IMBC within that circle, then take your 10-inch tier on its cardboard round and place it on top of the 14-inch tier using the marks as guides. The IMBC will act as glue. Repeat the process for placing the 6-inch tier upon the 10-inch, this time using 3 dowels. Apply any final IMBC borders or embellishments and chill the cake overnight. You did remember to make room in the refrigerator, right?

I always bring an icing spatula and any pastry bags and tips along with some soft IMBC to the venue for minor touch-ups at the last minute.

Please note that this is meant to be a primer. For a much greater, in-depth explanation of the planning, baking and decorating of large cakes, please refer to Wedding Cakes You Can Make: Designing, Baking, and Decorating the Perfect Wedding Cake (Wiley) or The Wedding Cake Book (Macmillan). The cake recipes in my books are broken down for many sizes and there are many diagrams and photos to help you along. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me:

Image: Dédé Wilson

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How to Make Parchment Cones

using parchment cones

Parchment cones are perfect for making designs on top of finished desserts or to decorate plates with melted chocolate, ganache or soft frostings. They are easy to make, easy to use and then you just throw them away and have no clean-up!

To make a parchment cone, cut a triangle out of parchment paper with one longer side. Shorter sides should be about 8 inches and the longer side, about 12 inches. (Directions are for right-handed folks; reverse for lefties.)

Making-a parchment-cone-1

Hold the center of the long side with your left thumb and index finger as seen above.

making a parchment cone -2

Using your right hand, take the top corner and roll it towards you, in towards itself. Align that top tip with the corner on the right. The cone will begin to form.

making a parchment cone 3

Let go with your left hand and now hold these two right-side corners together with your right hand. Repeat with the bottom corner, rolling it up and aligning it with the right-hand corner (using your left hand).

making a parchment cone 4

Now use both hands to jiggle the aligned corners back and forth so that the point of the cone tightens.

making a parchment cone 5

Above, you can see a tip that is nice and tight and ready to receive whatever you want to use with the cone.

making a parchment cone 6

If it looks like this, with an open tip, keep manipulating the corners until the tip closes and tightens.

making a parchment cone 7

Now you are ready to fold down the open side a few times to seal the cone shape into place and the cone is ready to fill. Do not fill it more than half way. Fold the open side closed, then use a scissors to snip a very small hole from the tip; you can always make the hole larger, if needed.

Are you a more visual learner? Watch our video for a better demonstration.

Images: Peter Muka

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Tips for Handling Crumb Crust

graham crackers for crumb crust

Crumb crust for pies, cheesecakes and other desserts can be made from a variety of ingredients – graham crackers, chocolate cookie crumbs, gingersnaps, vanilla wafer crumbs, shortbread or oatmeal cookie crumbs, to name a few. One crust is no better than another; it is a matter of the application. With refrigerated or frozen desserts, or creamy fillings in particular, a crumb crust juxtaposes beautifully with their smooth quality, creating an interesting and textural contrast. Crumb crusts are also super-easy to make. Here are our best tips for handling crumb crusts:

  • Not all Crumbs are Equal: Graham crackers are used to make the most common crumb crusts, but do not overlook chocolate cookies, crisp oatmeal cookies, shortbread cookies, vanilla wafers or gingersnaps as tasty alternatives. As each of these cookies has its own flavor, texture and fat profile, you will have to fine-tune the amount of butter and other ingredients to create the crust. The technique, however, is the same.


  • How the Cookie Crumbles: Grinding your cookies in a food processor fitted with a metal blade is the way to go. You want as fine a texture as possible so that the crumbs, once combined with the melted butter, create a nice, smooth and tight crust. In the image above, the cookies are not finely ground enough. Keep going. A pulsing action helps. In the image below, they are perfect. If you want to go unplugged, you could try placing your cookies in a heavy zip-top bag (not quite sealed to allow air to escape). Begin by crushing with your hands to break them down. Then use a rolling pin to smash and roll those crumbs into submission. It will take a little while to get the crumbs fine and even.


  • Prep Your Pans: Nonstick spray figures into your prep, but how you use it depends on the kind of pan you are baking with. For loose-bottomed tart pans and springform pans, coat the bottom and sides with nonstick spray. For pie plates, you have be a bit more precise. If you coat the entire plate, you might have issues with the crust sliding down the sides, but we find it beneficial to spritz the top edge. Upon serving, this allows you to insert your serving utensil more easily and gives you a better chance at getting a clean slice out of your pie plate.
  • Creating the Crust: Most crumb crusts are pressed into pie plates, tart pans or springform pans and certain techniques remain the same. Prep your plate or pan with nonstick spray. Once the crumbs and melted butter (and sugar and any other ingredients called for) are well combined, dump them into the prepared pan and begin to press all over the bottom in an even layer. With pie plates and tart pans, you will also be going up the sides. Depending on the recipe, with springform pans, you might only cover the bottom or you might go up the pan’s sides ½ inch, halfway or all the way. Follow the individual instructions. Fingers work fine (as seen below) but it is easy to build up too much crust at the juncture of where the bottom and sides of the pan meet.


Using a flat-bottomed measuring cup can help you create a nice sharp angle at that juncture; this makes a nice even layer of crust on both the bottom and the sides. As you can see in the image below, you simply use the flat bottom of the cup to press both down on top of the crust and also press it out towards the side of the pan.


  • To Bake or Not to Bake: Some crumbs are baked or par-baked (meaning partially baked) and some are not. In general, the oven will be preheated to 350°F and the crust will be baked for 8 to 15 minutes (or thereabouts). Baking a crumb crust creates a firmer, crisper crust, making it more resistant to very-moist fillings like custards. Baking also enhances the flavors of the crumbs, just as when you toast nuts; the flavor improves. Fillings that require a chill in the refrigerator are often scraped into a fully baked crust. Fillings that need to be set in the oven are poured into a par-baked crust (see Blind Bake). This gives the crust a head start before the filling is added, and it finishes baking along with the filling. Some recipes, often frozen desserts, will skip the baking. While you wont get any flavor enhancement from time in the oven, the melted butter will be enough to hold the crust together.
  • How to Tell if a Crumb Crust is Done: Lighter-colored cookie crumbs will darken upon baking, giving you visual cues to when they are done, but some crusts – chocolate cookie in particular – are so dark to begin with that they do not change color. In this case, use the time cues in the recipe and use your nose! You should just begin to smell the aroma and the crust should feel slightly dry. If the recipe recommends cooling the crust before adding the filling, make sure to do so. It is the little specific techniques that make a difference.

Images: Peter Muka

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