Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Blind Baking

May 30, 2017

Sometimes, we want to bake our pie or tart crusts before filling them. This can be done when you want to use a no-bake filling, one that is cooked on the stovetop, or to partially bake the crust if the filling is one which bakes faster than the crust. This process is referred to as “blind baking.”

To blind bake a crust, line it with aluminum foil or parchment paper, being sure to get the paper into the edges. Fill the lined crust with pie weights*, and bake covered for about 12-20 minutes, depending on the recipe and the oven temperature.

Once the crust has started to harden a bit and become less pliable, it is safe to carefully remove the lining and weights, and place the tart back into the oven to brown.

The concept of baking the crust this way is to emulate the weight and density of the absent filling, thus helping it hold it’s shape and prevent extreme shrinkage.

I generally trim the tart crust before blind baking, but last night, I was watching the contestants on the Great British Baking Show make cream filled tarts. Most of them left the dough untrimmed and hanging over the edges of the pan, and then trimmed it after it was baked. This accounted for shrinkage, and ensured that the crust came up to the top of the pan evenly each time. While some of theirs had a bit of a raggedy edge after baking, I found that trimming it after the first bake is a nice compromise, as the dough is softer and easier to trim without cracking and crumbling. This could work for a tart that is baked with the filling as well, just pulling it out part way in for the trim, and then placing it back in the oven to finish baking.

Be extra gentle when taking a blind baked tart from the ring…it tends to be more delicate than it’s filling baked counterparts.

*I use dried beans as weights, but rice or other grains that won’t burn or pop are also fine. You can purchase commercially made pie weights for this purpose at kitchen stores as well. I keep my beans and reuse them for this purpose only.

photos: Spencer Jones |Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Thursday: Dried Fruit

December 8, 2016

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What exactly is Kitchen Tips Thursday, you may be asking? It’s when I am too busy to get the post up in time to call it Kitchen Tips Tuesday! Better late than never, right?
Today’s tip is about using dried fruit in baking. Before you stop reading, this isn’t just about fruit cake. In fact, I have never made a fruit cake, nor have I even considered it. I do however make delicious scones, and oatmeal walnut cookies, both of which use dried fruit in different ways.

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For the scones, the dried fruit (usually cranberries, but sometimes raisins, currents, dried cherries, dried blueberries or combination there of) are tossed in flour before being mixed into the dough. This is to keep them separated, and prevent them from getting sticky. This technique is often used in muffins when the fruit is fresh, as in the case of blueberry muffins, for example, to allow the fruit to disperse within the batter, rather than drop down to the bottom. Both of these items have heartier dough, and allow the fruit to become imbedded into the scone or muffin, thus protecting it from the heat of the oven.

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The opposite is the case for the cookies. My recipe calls for the dried fruit ( they use the classic raisins, but I make mine with cranberries) to be soaked in lightly beaten eggs and vanilla for an hour before getting added to the dry ingredients. This makes them plumper and prevents them from sucking the life out of the delicate cookie dough during baking. A very dry raisin will try to seek hydration from the moisture in the cookie, and it can also end up almost petrified after baking dries it out further. This method takes a bit longer ( get it started and go do something else for an hour) but it is well worth it for the end result.

Happy holiday baking!!!

photos: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Chilling Cookie Dough

May 31, 2016

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When we make rolled cookies, chilling the dough is a crucial step in the process. The room temperature dough is very soft and difficult to work with, while the chilled dough is firmer and holds it’s shape better.

The same principle holds true for drop cookies. While most of us (guilty as charged) just mix, drop and bake our cookies, chilling the batter is a step that greatly enhances the shape, texture and even flavor of our favorite chocolate chippers.

Just 30 minutes in the fridge has a positive effect on the batter. Chilled cookies spread less when baked. The result is a slightly denser cookie, with a more chewy- crisp texture. Because the dough dries out slightly when chilled, the flavors become more pronounced as the excess water evaporates, leaving the sugars to almost caramelize when baked.

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Next time you are baking chocolate chip cookies, try to resist the temptation to have them NOW, and cover the bowl and allow it chill for at least 30 minutes or up to a few days for optimum results. You’ll be glad you did!

This may also save you time, as you can mix the batter, go about your day, and bake them later. You can also bake a few to get your fix, and bake the rest another day.

Trust us, it is worth the wait!

Photos: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Clean As You Go

January 12, 2016

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It is easy to make a big mess in the kitchen. Pots, pans, utensils, mixing bowls… they add up fast! Not to mention all of the ingredients spread out on the counters.  All that clutter can cause a bad case of kitchen chaos. Cooking, and especially baking is a methodical process. It becomes almost impossible to acheive perfection in a messy kitchen, and cleaning up becomes a chore that is unpleasant enough to drive you straight to Seamless. ( For non- New Yorkers, that means take-out!)

Here are my tips for dealing with the colossal mess that comes with cooking and baking for a crowd. Trust me on this one people. I just made 200 pink marshmallows. It doesn’t get much messier than that!

Start with a clean slate. Put away the clean dishes, wipe down the counters and empty the sink before you begin. Starting clean makes it easier to find things, and to have ample room for the task at hand.

Take out all of your ingredients. Rummaging through the cupboards with sticky hands is not the way to go. Suddenly, everything is sticky and will require you to wipe down things you wouldn’t normally have to. It also helps make sure that you have everything you need before you get started.

Wash the dishes as you go. When you are done with something, put it right into the sink to soak. Once you finish that part of the project, wash them or put them into the dishwasher. Don’t leave the mixing bowls from the cake in the sink, only to find you don’t have room to wash the lettuce for salad. It will also help you keep tabs on where things are. If you need to reuse a bowl or utensil for something else, it will be clean and ready for you.

Keep up with the wiping up! If something spills, wipe it up as soon as you can. Not only will it keep your workspace tidy, it will avoid cross contamination of foods. It is also easier to wipe up something fresh, than to try to clean it up later when it becomes dry and crusted onto things.  Been there. Done that. Not fun.

For me, cooking and baking should be a calm experience. When all hell breaks loose in the kitchen, it takes the joy out of the process. It almost always shows in the end result too. Do your self a favor, and clean as you go. Its worth it!!

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Even Baking

January 5, 2016

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True confession: I hate my ovens! Many years ago, when I researched appliances for my kitchen, I read that electric ovens bake more evenly than gas. Gas however, is far superior for a cooktop. For these reasons, I opted to put in a gas range, and two electric ovens, which is quite unusual in New York City. I chose Viking, which had high ratings at the time. I even bought mulitple racks so that I could bake 6 sheets of cookies at a time. I hoped I would see a big difference from the standard issue gas oven I had been using. Yep, I saw a big difference and it wasn’t pretty.
Just after our big renovation was complete, we hosted Thanksgiving dinner. The dining table was delivered the day before, as were a sofa and chair for the den. My kitchen was glistening and new, fully upgraded and ready to be broken in with this fall feast.

The turkey was placed in the bottom oven and I used the top for the side dishes and desserts. At 9:30 pm, I cut the still uncooked turkey into pieces and popped it into the top oven to finish cooking. What a fiasco! After many checks, the Viking people have assured me that the temperature of the ovens is correct. It turns out, that after extensive research,using an architect, interior designer and visiting appliance showrooms, nobody mentioned that New York City doesn’t have the appropriate voltage for electric ovens. If one oven is in use, the second one doesn’t have enough volts to come to temperature and stay there. Pre-heating is a nightmare, as it takes easily half an hour to heat up. To make matters worse, the temperature control panel erased after a few cleanings, and the self-clean function doesn’t seem to work anymore. For a high end and expensive product, they are a huge source of disappointment. For a baker, they are a nightmare!

For better or worse, these ovens are my ovens, so I have learned to navigate my way through the undercooked, the burnt to a crisp and the unevenly baked items, one tray of ruined cookies at a time. My burden could become your bonus, as I have aquired all kinds of ways to try to alleviate the problem of uneven cooking. Since no oven is perfect, and few ovens are exactly the same, these tips could come in handy even for those of you who don’t suffer from oven issues.

Baking Tips for an Erratic Oven:

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Set the timer for a few minutes less than the recipe states. Check to see how the food is cooking and adjust the time or temperature accordingly. This means catching the cookies before they burn, covering the cake that is browning quickly but still raw inside, or noticing that one side of the pan is cooking faster than the other.

Rotate the pans. When I am baking, I sometimes notice hot spots, where cookies might burn on one side of the pan, while the others are perfectly fine. Also, the bottom of my oven is where the heating element is, so keeping cookies as far away from that as possible keeps the bottoms from burning before the tops are done. Rotating the pans among the different shelves as well as turning them around prevents any one part from living in the hot zone.

Go undercover. If a cake, pie or other item is getting very brown while the rest still needs some quality time in the oven, cover it loosely with aluminium foil. This stops the browning on the outside while allowing the inside to keep cooking.

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Adjust the temperature as necessary. Sometimes, I think a hotter temperature might be required than that in which my oven is set. Othertimes, I find baking with convenction at a slightly lower temperature allows for better circulation, and more even cooking. This is the case with some thinner cookies, where I want them to fully bake in the center, without becoming overly colored around the edges. Going to 325 degrees with convection vs. 350 or 375 degrees with normal baking can make a big difference.

Keep the oven door closed. Opening the oven door to check on the food frequently, allows the hot air to escape, and can alter the way the food is cooking. A quick glimpse here and there is often critical. Frequent checking, not so much. In my case, this problem is exacerbated by the quick loss of temperature, requiring that bottom heating element to kick into high gear to try bring things back to normal, thus burning my cookies in the process. Try to avoid opening the oven door until it is necessary.

While most people think of baking as an exact science, dealing with my erratic ovens has taught me otherwise. Learing how to watch out for over or under cooking, feeling the texture of dough or learning how to adjust flavors takes experience but is often necessary to get a superior outcome. It is sometimes a matter of a minute between perfectly baked and burnt to a crisp. Practice makes perfect!

PHOTOS: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Be Prepared

September 15, 2015

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Even the most seasoned cooks get caught off guard sometimes. We think we have a well stocked pantry, and then discover that while we may in fact have the necessary item, its not enough to complete the recipe. We may get distracted and fail to pay attention to the recipe’s ingredient list until after we got started. Whatever the reason, it sucks to be in the middle of a recipe and realize we don’t have the right ingredients. Living in New York City has its benefits. I ran to the market on the corner twice mid-recipe last weekend, drastically overspending on items that I needed right that second. When cooking and baking in the ‘burbs, the drive to the supermarket might be more than you, or the stage of preparation can handle. Here are a few tips to make sure that this doesn’t happen to you:

Read the entire recipe through to make sure you have everything you need before you get started. Actually go to the cupboard or refrigerator and check so you don’t get caught short. ( One of my emergency trips was to pick up more eggs, only to discover that I had another carton in the fridge when I got back!)

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Mis en place is a french phrase used in the culinary world which translates as ” put in place.” This means measuring out the ingredients you need for a recipe ahead of time, so you can just grab and go. Garlic and onions get pre-diced, things get brought to room temperature, such as butter and eggs, and nothing gets forgotten. Make mis en place a part of your cooking and you will marvel at how much time you save.

Set out your tools. Once you are underway, hands covered with _________, (insert gooey, messy food item here:) is not the time to start frantically rumaging through the drawers looking for that random utensil.  Not having the right things you need can make or break an otherwise great dish.

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Preheat the oven before you get started so that it is the correct temperature when you are ready for it. Starting at the proper temperature makes a big difference in the cook time, and final outcome of the dish. Don’t just set the timer and assume that is the proper cook time. My oven is a bit erratic, and I have had things start to burn long before they were supposed to be done, because the oven temperature increased over time. Conversely, things aren’t always done when they are supposed to be. Check food regularly to insure it is cooking properly. For baked goods, such as cookies or muffins, rotate the pan part way through cooking to make sure that things are browning evenly. Insering a toothpick into baked items will let you know if the inside is cooked throroughly. A meat thermometer will let you know when the turkey or roast has reached the proper internal temperature.

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Stay present. I got distracted last week and grabbed baking soda instead of baking powder for my scones. Two big ole tablespoons of it. Needless to say, they were inedible. The “blessing in disguise” moment was forgetting to take them out of the oven, forcing me to take a little bite to make sure they weren’t dried out. Dryness was the least of  my problem.  Re-read the recipe as you go, and focus on the job at hand. If you get sidetracked, go back and check your recipe and ingredients from the beginning to make sure you don’t forget something, or use the wrong item. The time spent double checking yourself is substantially less time than it took me to throw away two dozen nasty tasting scones, run to the market to get more ingredients and remake them. By the way, the second batch was perfect, so all is well that ends well!

Happy Cooking!

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Unrecipe of the Week: Tulipes With Frozen Yogurt

July 22, 2015

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Summer is all about ice-cream and frozen yogurt. An ideal weekend evening often involves a trip to Pinkberry and leisurely stroll on the Highline. It comes as no suprise that when our friends at Pinkberry invited us to taste their newest flavors, we jumped at the chance. Never one to leave well enough alone, it was only fitting that these new flavors be given a worthy vessel. That vessel happened to be tulipes, made of paper thin cookie batter, molded into freeform shaped bowls. They take a little practice to get them right, but they are well worth the effort when your friends swoon over your edible works of art. (And the delicious frozen yogurt inside!)

You can fill them with whatever you like, but we are kind of partial to berries, topped with a generous swirl of Pinkberry’s blueberry yogurt. Ok, maybe we should be honest and say we like them best when filled to the brim with frozen yogurt, and then spinkled with a few blueberries. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Tulipes:

Beat 2 egg whites until they form soft peaks. Set aside.

Beat six tablespoons of softened butter and 1/4 cup of sugar in a bowl until it is light and creamy. Continue beating and add 1/2 cup of sifted flour and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Fold in egg whites until combined.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Using the bowl you would like to use for a mold, trace a circle around it on a piece of parchment paper. Place no more than 2 circles on the paper. We used a large teacup for our template and mold.

Place the parchment paper with the ink side down and lightly brush it with butter. Add a dollop of batter in the center of each circle, and spread it evenly to fill the entire circle. Bake for 3-4 minutes until the edges are brown and the center is set. Remove the circles from the oven and quickly lift them off the pan one at a time and place them inside your cup, gently ruffling the edges to make it fit. Allow it to cool, and remove it to a plate. Do not bake more than 2 at a time, as they harden very quickly. It is important to work fast while they are still pliable, without burning your fingers. It may take a try or two to perfect your technique, but once you get the hang of it, it is pretty easy.

Fill the tulipes with fresh berries and a generous portion of frozen yogurt and enjoy!

Photo: Spencer Jones for Glasshouse Images

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Frozen yogurt courtesy of Pinkberry

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Pan Color Matters

July 14, 2015

 

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When you reach into your cupboard to pull out a baking sheet, it is important to choose one that is appropriate to the food you are cooking. Did you know that the shade of the pan has an effect on the way the food cooks? This is especially critical when baking cookies.

Light pans reflect the heat and darker pans absorb it, often effecting the baking time.

The darker pans will make food cook faster, and will often yield a darker bottom on the food you are cooking. Cookies will brown more deeply, and sometimes even burn if they are not watched like a hawk. If you opt to use a dark pan, reduce cooking time by 25% and then watch carefully to make sure that things don’t start to brown too quickly. These pans are great for things like roasting vegetables, where the darker pan will help them caramelize.

Those shiny silver pans may be harder to keep that way, but they are optimal for baked goods. I use parchement paper most of the time, which helps keep them looking fresh for a longer period of time, and prevents food from sticking. Usually made of aluminium, they are light weight, easy to clean and relatively inexpensive. As they start to age, they will get a beautiful patina. I love my old, mottled and discolored pans for photography, or as drip pans, but they are no longer suitable for baking. As your pans begin to darken, or have a mottled appearence, it is time to put them into retirement as baking sheets.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Healthy Reset: Week Two

July 13, 2015

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This week has been pretty unremarkable. I am completely into the vibe of eating only whole foods, and don’t feel deprived or overly hungry at all.
I fully understand why they don’t want you to weigh yourself on this program. It distracts from the idea that this is a way of life and not a crash diet, and they don’t want you to obsess over a number on the scale. Of course I weighed myself anyways. I  was shocked at the almost five pound drop last week, (which is a huge amount for a relatively small person,) but on day nine, some of it seemed to be back. No big surprise, as daily fluctuations occur, but it can be a bit disconcerting.  Add this as just another reason to step away from the scale during Whole30.

The key to success has been preparation. I have been working from home lately, but this week I needed to head to the office. I roasted an assortment of vegetables, boiled some eggs and cleaned some salad greens so I could have healthy, compliant lunches, and a jumpstart on dinner when I get home. During the week, leftovers often added variety. In the past, I could broil a piece of fish and steam a little broccoli and call it night. If I wasn’t satisfied, I grazed. Now I focus on a delicious, healthy dinner, eaten mindfully at the table with my family, so I walk away satiated. It seems to be working. I sip a cup of mint tea after dinner, and it has become my post meal ritual to relax, and aid digestion before bed.

I am often making food for others that I am not eating. I can’t get the rest of the family to join my quest, so I am making pasta, bread and sweets to supplement my protein and plant heavy diet. I tend to entertain over the weekend, and run a small baking business on the side, so the temptation to eat broken cookies, taste icing or cake scraps is always there. I know this sets off a chain reaction, so “nope, not going there” is my mantra. It is easy to walk away from the crumbs, but not easy to stop once that door has been opened. Another lesson from Whole 30.

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The weekend is here. The sweets in the office and the pizza at home held no great appeal, but I wouldn’t mind a glass of wine about now. I am not a big drinker, but relaxing with a nice glass of wine at the end of a busy week is more of a spiritual indulgence than a dietectic one. It’s something I know I will want to add back into my diet at the end of the month, in moderation. Plus, a little wine does have its health benefits.

Freshly made pasta that I won't eat. One of the many things on that list!

Freshly made pasta that I won’t eat. One of the many things on that list!

Willpower! I just made s’mores, mini shortcakes (for strawberry shortcake), coconut icecream, and fresh pasta, none of which I will eat. Monday’s baking includes marbled cheesecake brownies, yum! Before you start to feel sorry for me, or tell me to just “eat the cookie,” let me tell you about the dinner I have planned tonight.

We are celebrating a friend’s birthday and I am making her favorite dishes. The guests will have a salad with roasted beets and heirloom carrots, chicken piccata on a bed of homemade fettuccini with butter and parmesan cheese. There will be roasted green beans, and grilled tomatoes. They will finish the meal with the above mentioned strawberry shortcakes with coconut icecream and fresh strawberries in Grand Marnier. ( The other stuff is for indigo jones eats customers.)

I will have the salad and vegetables, and my chicken will not be breaded. It will be simply prepared with fresh lemon and capers, rather than the buttery lemon- caper sauce the others will have. No pasta, and sparkling water instead of wine. For dessert, I will have fresh strawberries. That doesn’t really sound like a big sacrifice, does it? I certainly don’t think so. Once again, the event is at my home, and I am the one cooking, so it is easy to be compliant without inconveniencing anyone else, or making an unwanted fuss about my restrictions.

I have hit the half way point, and I can see eating this way indefinately, with a few splurges and a little wine along the way.

On to week three!

Top photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Separating Eggs

April 7, 2015

 

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Separating eggs is serious business. If you are making something like a souffle, meringue or another dish that requires beaten, fluffy egg whites, it is crucial that no yolk gets mixed in. If there is any moisture, egg yolks, or other impurities in the bowl, the egg whites will fail to become the big, white peaks you are looking for.
For this reason, we recommend using 3 bowls to separate eggs. One for the white, one for the yolks and one to separate the eggs over.

We separate the eggs and put the white in the small bowl and throw the yolks into the designated yolk bowl, before transferring the whites to the larger bowl. That way, if you get a little yolk into the whites while separating, you only lose one egg.

If you happen to get a little yolk into the whites, put it aside to use for things like egg white omelets, or other dishes that don’t require the egg whites to be beaten into stiff peaks. A little cream of tartar can also keep the egg whites stiff after beating.

Happy Baking!

GIF: Glasshouse Images

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