Tips and Tricks Archive

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 }

The Danger of Weight Charts

How to Use Weight Charts

weighing vs measuring

Did the word “danger” grab your attention? Okay so we are not talking about shark attacks or anything that dramatic, but how about when you take the time to shop for ingredients and make a cake from scratch only to get lackluster or horrible results? This is what I call a dessert tragedy.


weighing vs measuring2


There are many reasons why we might not get great end results – oven not calibrated, you substituted ingredients, batter is over worked – the list goes on and on. But let’s take a look at how a recipe is presented and how it is that you actually go about making it. For instance if the recipe says:

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

That is not the same thing as:

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour.

The first is suggesting that you measure the flour, then sift it. The second one, vice versa. These will give you different amounts of flour.

Now let’s say you are following a recipe, like the one’s on Bakepedia, that call for 1 cup all-purpose flour and you decide you want to weigh instead of measure by volume. Maybe you Google a substitution chart or maybe you have one from a baking book. If you use a search engine I assure you that you will find weights telling you that 1 cup of flour is 4 ounces, 4.5 ounces, 5 ounces and even other amounts. How come? Because we measure cups of flour differently. You have to know how the person who developed the recipe measured their flour or you will not have accurate results.

Do not use a chart from one source and apply it to another source.

So, our suggestion is always to make the recipe as described. If the person used weight and tells you their cup of flour weighs 4.5 ounces, then you are good to go as long as you have a scale. If the baker used a dip and sweep method after aerating the dry ingredient, then follow suit. That’s what we do in the Test Kitchen by the way and you can read more here at How to Measure Dry Ingredients.

Not get into the kitchen and bake!



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 }

The Cheese Course as Dessert

The Cheese Course as Dessert

cheese display

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

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

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

blueberry sauce on cheese

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

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

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


Spanish cheese closeup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 }

Baking with Convection Ovens

Understanding Convection Heat

convection cookies on pan

When I bake, 99% of the time I am working on a recipe for Bakepedia or another media outlet and since most of us do not use convection to bake, I rarely take that route. But many of us have a convection feature in our oven or are just curious as to what convection baking is so it made sense to do this Tip.

Very simply put, most ovens have radiant heat. The heat source, be it flame in a gas oven or an electric element in an electric oven, radiates heat out into the oven. For these ovens the heat simply surrounds the food. Electric ovens are known to be more even heating than gas, but both kinds can yield hot spots and uneven baking.

A true convection oven has an additional heat source and a fan that circulates the heat around the oven, creating a very even heating environment. This allows you to bake on more than one rack at a time without having to rotate pans front to back or up and down and all of your cookies or cakes will bake evenly. Convection heat is also very efficient and reducing the temperature of your oven is usually warranted. It is also more drying – which can be a good thing. You just have to know how to use it. It is fabulous for meringues for instance, where you want to dry out the baked good. Professional bakers often use it and like the results for laminated doughs where they need a high “puff” and rise. My bread baker at my bakery always used it for our baguettes as well.

To get a bit scientific, heat transference is sped up when exposed to moving air. This is not only why our baked goods bake faster but also why we get extra high and flaky results from the laminated doughs I mentioned (think croissants and puff pastry). The butter within the doughs is exposed to heat more quickly, and in turn steam is released faster, creating those flaky layers and pockets.

(Note that we are talking about “true convection”, which is defined as an additional heating element with fan, not just a fan mounted on the rear of the oven. The former is found in most high-end built-in or slide-in ovens and ranges. The later is found in many countertop models, which I am not addressing here).

PB chocolate chunk cookies on plate

I decided to do a test with a classic recipe – chocolate chip style cookies (see our Toffee Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Pecans). I made up a batch and baked half at 375°F with the regular oven function (shown immediately above), then I baked the other half at 350°F with the convection option (seen below and in very top image). Other than that everything was the same. I used the same brand and size/weight pan, lined with parchment paper and dolled out the dough with the same sized scoop. You can see from the images that there were a few differences. The cookies baked in the convection oven did indeed bake more evenly (see the very even color), but beyond that the more significant difference is that they also held their shape a little better and puffed up a little higher, creating a slightly thicker cookie. We like the look of the convection cookie a lot. What do you think? They also baked about 1 minute faster, perhaps a little less. This time saving tends to be more significant with items like cakes and larger, denser things.

convection cookies on plate

All in all, it is not scary! I say that because some folks have said to me that they haven’t used the convection feature because they were worried about what it would do to their baked goods. Folks, you won’t know until you try! Just follow these tips below, set the dial to Convection and see if you like it. Start with a recipe that you know well. That way you can more easily observe the results. And then let us know your experiences. Are their certain items that you always bake with convection or any that you would never bake with convection?

  • Start with a recipe that you are familiar with.
  • Reduce recommended oven temperature by 25°F
  • Items often bake faster, so check doneness earlier.
  • As a guide, convection ovens often cook/bake 10 to 20% faster

If you want to see an animation of how a convection oven works, check out this video from Ready to bake with convection? Try our Toffee Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Pecans.


Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

Why Cake Pans Make a Difference

Your Choice of Pan Does Affect Your Baked Goodcake pan comparison

We want to help you bake the best possible cakes and along with great recipes, your choice of cake pans can make a huge difference. Huge!

In the Test Kitchen, Bakepedia performed an experiment where we divided a basic yellow cake batter in half and baked the two halves in the same oven at the same time, but in different pans. The only difference was the quality of the two pans. One was Wilton Decorator Preferred (seen on the right in the photo), which we love for its sturdiness and even heating, and the other was a thin, flimsy pan bought at the supermarket (shown on the left, above). The supermarket pan’s cake peaked horribly, overcooked around the edges and left the cake texture rough and uneven from center to edges. The Wilton pan resulted in a cake with a more level surface, a consistent color overall and, most importantly, a tender, even crumb throughout.

The difference was dramatic. Invest in great baking pans and you will have them forever. We use the Wilton pans in the test kitchen and our recommended baking times reflect their performance. There was a 20% difference in baking time with the supermarket pan, so if you do not use the same or similar cake pans, your baking times will be off as well. Always check early.

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 }

Baking with a Buttermilk Pro

Baking with Buttermilk

pecan flour buttermilk pancakes

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

Debbie 4x6 #1

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

How to Seed a Pomegranate

The Best Ways to Seed a Pomegranate


The person who taught me how to seed a pomegranate told me that the only way to do it was to be naked. He was only half kidding! The point is that pomegranate juice stains – badly! So yes, I suppose taking a shower after food prep might save you from staining clothing. I suggest a sturdy apron. Then you have choices on how to get the seeds, or arils, out of the fruit. There are some techniques that involve water and others that don’t. Here’s a primer:


  • Buy fruit that is heavy for its size


Dry Technique #1:

  • Roll fruit on work surface to loosen seeds, then score around the middle and separate into halves.
  • Hold half cut side down over a deep bowl and whack the outer rounded skin surface with a wooden spoon, which should dislodge the seeds into the bowl.


Dry Technique #2:

  • Score fruit about 1 ½ to 2-inches down from stem end. Pry top off.
  • You should be able to see seeds and the white pith.
  • The pith will be attached to the skin in several intervals.
  • On the outside of the fruit, where those pith attachments seem to be, score fruit again vertically. (This will be 5 or 6 scores).
  • Pry fruit apart along the scores. The fruit should open and the pith should be easy to remove in mostly one clump. Seeds are now accessible to eat.


Water Technique:

  • Score the skin into quarters, top to bottom.
  • Submerge the fruit in a bowl of water and pry the quarters apart.
  • Use fingers to loosen the arils, still under water (to prevent squirting).
  • Seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl. The white pith will float to the top.
  • Skim off pith and discard. Drain and seeds are ready to use.


Try your pomegranate seeds in our recipe for Pomegranate Meringues with Honey or our Chocolate Pomegranate Pavlova.

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 }

Corn Syrup versus High Fructose Corn Syrup

Is Corn Syrup Bad for You?corn syrup slider

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

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

corn syrup

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

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

Here’s our simple answer in two parts:

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

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

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

Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 4 }

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 }

Fall’s Magic Ingredient: Lyle’s Golden Syrup

Liquid Gold

Lyles on bellingham

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

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

Image: Peter Muka

Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 0 }

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 }

Making Coffee Latte Art at Home

Make a Cup of Latte Art at Home to Go with Your Homemade Baked Goods

snowman latte1

Millions of coffee drinkers worldwide enjoy a cup (or 2 or 3) everyday – sometimes with a morning muffin or after dessert, other times as a treat unto itself. We recently chatted with George Kim, the Coffee Quality Manager of the international chain, Caffebene – he trains the baristas at every location. He also takes part in barista competitions and participated in “America’s Best Espresso” competition in Seattle’s Coffee Festival as the sensory judge. Through an interpreter we sat down and had a chat about how to choose coffee to go with our baked goods and how to start making latte art at home.


Dédé Wilson: George, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. I thought we could first talk about coffee in general and then get to the latte art that you are known for. Many people like coffee along with their breakfast pastries and also sometimes after dessert at dinnertime. Do you have recommendations for choosing coffee for each instance?

George Kim: In the morning to accompanying breakfast I suggest something lighter like a pour-over or drip process. During lunch, something smaller like an espresso. Late in the evening I suggest decaffeinated coffee.


Have their been any advances for producing decaf in last few years?

I do recommend water process decaf but also recommend adding flavored syrups, like hazelnut or vanilla, so the coffee is more interesting.


George, you are known for our latte art. What coffee and what dairy do you like to work with when making your artful cups of coffee?

I like an espresso blend and for dairy it is easier and better to use whole milk. Milk with more fat creates a foam that is dense, which is what I want. If you use skim or lower fat milk it is harder create a good latte art.


What are the best temperatures for coffee and for milk when creating latte art?

200°F for coffee and the best temperature for milk – for best taste experience – is between 142°F and 160°F. The closer it is to 140°F the milk is sweeter and better; higher temperatures and the milk tastes off. 170°F to 180°F is too hot to drink and also alters the taste…


So your answer focused on the taste of the milk. How about the best temperature for creating the art? Is it the same range?

Yes, 142°F and 160°F also applies to latte art…over 160°F and the foam gets fluffy and dissipates…and any good barista who knows what they are doing keeps the pitchers in the refrigerator.


So you start with cold milk? Does it make a difference?

Yes, both the milk and the pitcher in which you foam the milk should be very cold. The colder the better.


How about non-dairy milks? Can you use them to make latte art?

You can’t create or draw latte art with detail when using non-dairy milk. Because it is not possible to create foam out of non-dairy; only thing you can do is a simple “heart” shaped latte art. But nowadays, there exists a soy-milk made for latte art. If you use this specific non-dairy milk for latte art, you can create milk foam that is close to the quality of whole milk foam. (Ed Note: at Bakepedia we have had good luck with Pacific Barista Series Original Soy Beverage).

Do you have a favorite mug/cup to use for latte art?

It is harder if the cup is deep and small. My choice is a cup with a rounder bottom and not too deep.


Because it gives more surface area?



All the better to see your pretty designs! If our community members want to try their hand at latte art at home, what tools do you recommend for home use?

There are two different gadgets that I recommend. One is a hand held milk-frother and the other is a professional model; there are pros and cons to both. It is actually best to use the hand held because it is easier and the foam doesn’t get to thick…of course you also need an espresso machine and there are many ways to make espresso at home.

(Ed. Note: The hand held George recommends is the Kuissential SlickFrothAlternatively he suggests the Nespresso Aeroccino3 3594 Black Milk Frother but these are much more expensive).


How does one get started making those pretty patterns?

Best to practice at home. Steam and then froth the milk then fill cups with 80% milk…and it is very important to keep times between each step very short.


So you have only 20% volume of espresso in the cup first?

Yes, the espresso first then the milk will be 80% of the total.


Here are George’s instructions for making a simple heart shape – a good one to start with:

1. Tilt the cup toward you as you pour about 80% of the steamed milk into the cup.

2. Bring the pitcher to the cup’s edge that’s nearest you and shake it quickly from left to right (as you are pouring the milk into the cup) to make a round shape of milk and foam.

3. After you create a round shape, move the pitcher in a straight line across the cup, away from you, to form a heart.

4. Serve to your special someone.



Once you get some practice under your belt, try your hand at a snowman!

1. When 40% of the milk is added to the cup, pour the steamed milk right into the middle of the coffee.

CB 1


2. Once a circle is formed, create another circle on top of the first circle. (slightly shake the pitcher left to right to make better circle)

cb 2


3. Once you have the shape of the snowman, use the pin to draw the face and snow flakes around the snowman.

cb 3


 George, thank you for your time and expertise! We are ready to give this a go at home.





Continue Reading •••
Posted in Comments { 1 }
Skip to toolbar