Tips and Tricks Archive

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

Look at the Difference Between Sizes of Eggs

egg comparison image 1

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

egg color comparison

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

egg comparison broken open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10 Must-Haves for Your Holiday Pantry

Pantry Basics for Holiday Baking

Pantry Items

These coming months are filled with baking opportunities and sometimes they are last minute – the school bake sale your child forgot to tell you about, the eleventh hour potluck invite – so it makes sense to have your pantry ready to go at a moments notice. Here are your 10 Must-Haves for Your Holiday Pantry to get your through the season.

 

Butter! – Start looking for sales on unsalted butter and keep a few pounds in the freezer.

Cinnamon – You should probably take a look at your ginger, nutmeg and cloves, too, but cinnamon is by far the most used spice and you want it nice and fresh and in quantity so that you don’t run out.

Light Brown Sugar – Chances are you have granulated white sugar on hand but light brown sugar is in demand for everything from pumpkin pie to fruitcake, banana bread and gingerbread cookies.

Confectioners’ Sugar – While we are talking sugar, stock up on confectioners’ sugar, too. It will come in handy for royal icing and glazes for decorated cookies, buttercream and cream cheese frosting.

Lemons/Lemon juice – It’s nice to think that we will always have a fresh lemon around but we have no problem with frozen pure lemon juice. Fruit pie fillings are enhanced by lemon juice as is cream cheese frosting and lemon curd is a great item to keep in the fridge.

Leaveners – Baking powder and baking soda have a shelf-life and you want to make sure they have enough oomph for helping your holiday baked goods rise to the occasion. Buy new ones! We like to transfer our baking a soda into an airtight container like the one shown in the image.

Fluted Paper Liners – Cupcakes are in demand for bake sales and birthday parties (school and office) and muffins make a great hostess gift or breakfast for visiting guests. Fluted paper liners make a pretty presentation and make for easier clean up. Stock up on some basic colors as well as some with holiday themes.

Colored Sugars – Reaching for colored sugars might be obvious for decorated cookies but if you have them on hand you will use them for decorating casual cakes, on top of muffins, cupcakes and more. Add some sparkle to the holidays!

Airtight tins – We are dollar store devotees and we especially love to stock up on cookie tins this time of year. They are perfect for gift giving or even for your own baked goods – you do store your chocolate chip separately from your gingerbread, don’t you? Flavor transfers easily from one baked good to another, which is why we are proponents of every cookie getting its own tin. You will most likely find a plethora of holiday inspired tins, but keep an eye out for solid red, green, gold and silver and stockpile those for year-round. Read about shipping baked goods, too.

Zipper-top bags – With all the baking happening you are bound to end up with extra nuts, coconut, cookie crumbs (from crusts) and other assorted ingredients leftover from a recipe. It takes room to store containers, but you will always have space for a box of heavy-duty zipper-top bags. They are our go-to storage solution – just make sure you label the bag! And freezing most of these items is the best way to go.

Image: Peter Muka

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Pie Plates, Tart Pans and Tart Rings

Use the Right Pie Plate for the Best Results

pie plate comparison

Pies are all baked and presented in pie plates, which are typically round with sloping sides, but the actual dimensions are a very important detail to which you must pay attention. It is typical to come across pie plates that measure 9 to 9 ½-inches across and they can vary in depth, often 1 ¼-inches to 1 ½-inches. These seemingly small variations make a huge difference in the final dish. If the recipe is developed for a 9 x 1 ¼-inch pie plate and is made in a 9 1/2 x 1 ½-inch dish, the pie will be too thin and scant and look quite meager. Conversely, if you try to make a recipe made initially developed for the larger dimension in the smaller plate, you will most likely get overflow – and a mess. I use Pyrex pie plates as I find they give the most reliable results in terms of browning the crust evenly. I use two sizes: the larger deep-dish 9 ½ x 1 ½-inches (in the rear of top image) and the smaller 9 x1 ¼-inch size (in the front of top image). Our Bakepedia recipes will clearly tell you in the beginning of the recipe which size pie plate to use and I strongly suggest that you make sure you have the right size. It can make the difference between the pie working flawlessly – and not at all. I am not partial to 10-inch pie plates as I find the edges of these pies overbake by the time the centers are done.

tart-rings-flan-rings

Tarts are made in tart pans, either fluted-edge, loose-bottomed (seen below) or simple rings (seen above), and again, precise dimensions are important. When I call for a 10-inch tart pan I have measured it across the bottom. This is important to note because most fluted edge, loose-bottom pans flare out towards to the top and if measured there, would indicate a different diameter.

fluted tart ring 2

Many imported tart pans do not come is exact inches, as they are metric, so do measure your pans to make sure you have the correct size. Tart rings are exactly what they sound like; they are straight-sided rings, without a bottom of any sort. They must be placed on a pan, such as a jellyroll pan, in order to be used. Coat rings and tart pans well with nonstick spray unless otherwise noted. Take care when forming tart dough in a ring; the ring will be lifted up and off of the tart, so no dough can overhang the top of the ring. The fluted edge, loose-bottomed tart pans that I use are 1-inch high; the rings are 7/8-inch high.

fluted tart ring 1

Images: Dédé Wilson

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What is Pumpkin Pie Spice?

And What is in Your Pumpkin Spice Latte?

Pumpkin Pie Spice 1

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

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

PSL back label

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

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

Images: Peter Muka

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How to Prep Shaped Baking Pans

Fancy Pan Shapes Add Beauty to Your Baking

decorative-ring-pans-2

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

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

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

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

 

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

Whole Wheat Flour with a Boost

graham crackers rolled out

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try graham flour for:

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

 

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Fruit Spreads

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

fruit spreads

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

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

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

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

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

jam labels

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

sugar free jam

Top Image: Peter Muka

Other Images: Dédé Wilson

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How to Make Citrus Sugar

Preparing Citrus Sugar For Flavor and Decoration

lemon sugar 1

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

lemon sugar 2

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

lemon sugar 3

Use the scented sugar in a variety of ways:

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

 

 Images: Sarah Tenaglia

 

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Grilling Your Desserts in 5 Easy Steps

The Grill is Going Anyway: Make Dessert!

grill dome 1

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

grill dome 2

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

grill dome 3

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

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

Rule Number 1Your ceramic covered grill is an oven

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

 

Rule Number 2 – Make the Most of Indirect Heat

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

 

Rule Number 3 – Use What You Have

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

 

Rule Number 4 – Plan Ahead

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

 

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

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

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

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Cast Iron Cookware

Cast Iron is Very Versatile

Lodge pancakes

The very first piece of cookware I ever used was a cast iron skillet, learning to make omelets when I was 4. The pan has been passed down and is still going strong. You might think of cast-iron when it comes to pan frying chicken or making eggs but I use mine all the time when baking and making desserts.

cast iron

My Dutch oven gets a workout as a deep fryer for doughnuts and fritters, my griddle gets used almost every weekend for pancakes but it’s my skillets that get the most attention.

Whether I am roasting fruit in the oven, sautéing on top of the stove, making cornbread or upside down cakes, I reach for my cast-iron pans before any others. You can also start something on the stove and transfer to the oven with ease. For the Caramelized Vidalia Onion Bacon Cornbread below I fried the bacon in the pan, went on to caramelize the onions stovetop, then transferred the pan to the oven to bake the cornbread.

Lodge cornbread

When making pizza, we like to preheat the pans in the oven first,

Lodge skillet

 

whether we are using a skillet as seen above or the flat side of the double-sided grill/griddle, below.

Lodge griddle

Most of my pans are seasoned from years of use, but you can buy amazing pre-seasoned cast-iron from Lodge Manufacturing Company as seen in these images.

This 100-year plus company has operated a foundry in South Pittsburg, TN for generations surviving two World Wars and the Great Depression and is still producing amazing cast iron bakeware and cookware. They coat their seasoned products in vegetable oil and bake them at a very high temperature, which creates a natural nonstick surface. Mine worked great right out of the box after a quick hot water hand rinse and dry.

Lodge 2

If you need to season or re-season a cast-iron pan, follow these directions:

  • If you are buying new un-treated cast iron simply hand wash with water and dry. Then coat with a very thin layer of vegetable oil on all surfaces, inside and out. Some manufacturers recommend solid vegetable shortening (we prefer oil). Set pan upside down on top rack of oven preheat to 375°F. “Bake” the pan for at least an hour, turn oven off and allow pan to cool in oven. Store in dry place once cooled.
  • If you have a piece of cast-iron that has rusted, food is sticking or it has somehow otherwise lost its seasoning, follow above directions with the following exception: any rust must first be removed with a heavy-duty sponge or scrubber. Wash pan in hot soapy water and dry before seasoning with oil as described above.
  • We use hot water to wash out well-seasoned pans and don’t use soap. (Many manufacturers claim there is no need for soap). Never place in dishwasher or use metal scouring pads, which will remove seasoning. Coating with a thin layer of oil after every use will help reserve the seasoning.

With care cast-iron pans will last many lifetimes and are possibly the most versatile cooking pots and pans you can own. They heat very evenly and you can even use less fuel as they heat up quickly and then retain heat, allowing lower cooking temperatures. A good place to start is with a 9 or 10-inch skillet and then expand from there.

Images: Dédé Wilson

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All About Honey

Learn How to Bake with Honey

honey array

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

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

honeycomb2

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

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

organics mountain honey

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

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

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

The Tao of Birthday Candles

candles lit

Birthday candles are not to be overlooked – they are really a must as they signify the birthday celebration and they can be as exciting, personal and varied as the cakes themselves. Beyond the classic, short, spiral ones found in supermarkets, there are tall, slender elegant candles, ones that glow in the dark, trick candles that relight when blown out, candles shaped like numbers, letters, and themed candles such as soccer players, dinosaurs, flowers or rubber duckies, to name a few. Wilton has an enormous selection and I also always check dollar stores and gift shops. You can find hundreds of options online, from candles that look like trout, sea horses, ballerinas, and vegetables to monarch butterflies and pansies.

Rainbow candles

Candles can be put directly on the cake or in decorative candleholders. Simple plastic ones can be found in supermarkets. Reusable silver, pewter, or ceramic sets of birthday cake candleholders can be purchased new, or vintage sets are available from online auctions. They usually come in sets of six in themes ranging from Peter Rabbit, Teddy bears, and more. These candleholders make a unique baby shower gift, and can be passed down to the next generation.

Cake Candelabra Candle

We love this elegant candelabra from Fancy Flours, seen above.

 

gold moose candle holder

Etsy has much to choose from including the gold moose above (they have a unicorn, too) from the GnomeSweetGnome shop and the personalized silver ones you can order from neatlydoesitsilver seen below

silver candle holder

Alicesvintagewonder has a set unlike any we have ever seen – it is comprised of three wooden rings. Use one ring, two or all 3 as seen below!

wooden candle holder

 

MotherandSonVintage has adorable wooden holders, farmer, farmer’s wife and animals in a set.

wooden farmer candles

Other creative ideas include using LifeSavers candies to hold candles, choosing a candy flavor to complement the cake, of course, or caramels, gumdrops, and peppermint patties work, too. Check out our instructions for making Gumdrop Candleholders. Take a walk down the candy aisle and look for new ideas.

 Top 2 Images: Peter Muka

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Decorating Birthday Cakes: Beyond Frosting and Candles

Personalizing Birthday Cakes

edited birthday decorations

Baking birthday cakes for friends and family is one of my greatest joys in life. I always begin with flavor. What do they want? Chocolate? Lemon? Soaked in rum? I always try to give the birthday guy or gal what they like. After the cake is baked and frosted and suitable birthday candles chosen, are we done? Perhaps, but why not add something extra when decorating birthday cakes?

Let’s say your birthday girl is a golfer or an avid botanist? A small golfer figurine or a gorgeous edible cymbidium orchid would be perfect. Or your birthday guy is into scuba or dogs? A toy snorkel emerging out of wave colored frosting or a tiny dog toy in his breed of choice perched on top fits the bill. You get the idea. There are ways to bring a much more personalized approach to the decoration of your cake and really, the sky is the limit. You can find new purchased items, you can make things out of soft polymer clay (like FIMO), create origami shapes, make paper flowers, find vintage knick knacks, etc. A great example of this kind of approach occurred years ago when I was making a wedding cake for a young couple. We were discussing what would be on top of the cake and the bride-to-be had two tiny porcelain mice, a girl and boy mouse couple, that she had owned since childhood. They were adorable, size appropriate and held tons of meaning. Perfect.

Peruse the image, which is here for inspiration. I am on a constant hunt at dollar stores, flea markets and tag sales. You never know when you are going to find that perfect little embellishment.

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All About Gluten-Free Flour Blends

Bakepedia’s Overview of Pre-Blended GF Flour Mixes

Bob's 1 to 1

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Be Safe and Learn What Flowers are Edible

edible rose petals

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

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

Apple blossoms

Tuberous begonias

Borage

Calendula

Carnations

Chive blossoms

Chrysanthemums

Cymbidium orchid

Citrus blossoms

Cornflower

Dandelion

Day lily

Dianthus

Elderflower

English daisies

Fuchsia

Gardenia

Geraniums

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

Hibiscus

Hollyhock

Honeysuckle

Hyssop

Iceland poppy

Lavender

Lilac

Lemon verbena

Marigold

Nasturtiums

Passionflower

Roses

Pansies

Petunias

Safflower

Sunflower

Tulip

Violas

Violets

Yucca

Zucchini blossoms

 

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

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

scones on edible flowers

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

wedding-cake

pansies under glass

Last Image: Courtesy Dennis Gottlieb

Other Images: Dédé Wilson

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All About Superfine Sugar

How to Make Superfine Sugar and When to Use It

Domino Superfine sugar

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

sugar comparison

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

Top Image: Peter Muka

Bottom Image: Dédé Wilson

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All About Coconut Flour

Coconut Flour Offers Gluten-Free Alternative

coconut flour 2

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

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

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

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

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

The advantages?

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

 

Use chopped nuts:

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

 

 Use chopped praline and brittle:

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

Image: Sarah Tenaglia

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