Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Softening Butter

July 30, 2019


Many recipes call for softened butter. Soft butter integrates into cake and cookie batters more easily than cold butter, which is ideal for biscuits, scones and pie crusts.  It’s often assumed that the butter should sit out for hours until it is so soft it no longer holds its shape. The reality of the situation is that for many items, the butter reacts best when is at about 65 degrees F.

Butter at this temperature still holds its stick shape but is pliable enough to blend into your dough or batter easily when using a mixer. It is also cool to the touch, but not cold.

This temperature can be achieved by allowing the butter to sit out for a bit, or by helping it along. Placing it in the microwave for a mere 10 -15 seconds takes stick butter from refrigerator hard to cool and pliable in no time. Be very careful not to leave it in longer, or the edges will start to melt, which affects the texture of your baked goods. While microwave strength may vary, it shouldn’t take more than just a few SECONDS to take your butter to the proper temperature and get you ready to bake in no time.

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Life Is Short. Eat The Damn Cookies

December 2, 2018

These chocolate chippers were a winner with chunks of hand-cut chocolate and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt

This week, I devoted a few days to recipe development for cookies and muffins that did not contain any refined sugars or gluten. After spending a full day baking, tasting and tweaking, I stumbled upon a few conclusions.

Although it is possible to create really good items despite the restrictions, I’m not sure they are actually healthier than their conventional alternatives. Although I only used natural ingredients and avoided artificial sweeteners, including Stevia ( which is naturally derived and then processed making its purity questionable) my stomach has been bloated and gurgling ever since.

Gluten-free flour blends are high in carbs. Most include various rice flours, tapioca flour, sorghum, and potato starch, and require something binding to replace the gluten. This is usually the addition of Xanthan gum, which is derived from a fermented, inactive bacteria. For those looking to follow a low-carb lifestyle for weight loss and energy, removing the gluten doesn’t lower the carb count.

These cinnamon streusel muffins could be a good base for add-ins and held moisture better than the loaf cake version

Store-bought gluten-free flour blends have varied calorie counts, ranging from 400 calories to 587 calories per cup depending on the contents. White, all-purpose wheat flour comes in at about 455 calories per cup.

Coconut nectar sugar is the sweetener of choice. Purported to have a lower glycemic index than white or brown sugars, it still is loaded with fructose and is similar in calories to refined white sugar. Honey and pure maple syrup have more nutritional value, but also are high in fructose, and can weigh in at a greater calorie count than conventional sugar.

Maybe some apples would help these keep moist and fresh for a longer period of time

While many people have health issues that prevent them from enjoying foods containing gluten, for the rest of us, there may be no value in avoiding it. I am guilty of eliminating foods from my diet, whether for vanity or perceived good health, but I try not to replace them with faux versions. Diet soda is actually worse for your health than the real deal, although I would strongly advocate for passing up soda in general. If you are eliminating food groups ( i.e. gluten or refined sugar) and eating a lot of replacement foods, especially those with processed and fabricated ingredients, it might be affecting your health in a negative way. In my case, too many cookies were simply too many cookies, regardless of what might be in them.

These were a winner. RIch and fudgy!

The moral of the story: Life is short. Eat the damn cookies.

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Baking A Few Items At Once

October 24, 2017

I keep lots of cookie and scone dough on hand, so I can just pull it out and bake it off at a moment’s notice. Sometimes this means I need a few of these and a few of those. While all those cookies might fit easily on one cookie sheet, bake times are not always the same.

King Arthur Flour recently shared a great tip, which rectifies that problem completely. They suggest placing each type of cookie on its own strip of parchment paper on the baking trays. When one row is done, simply pull the entire sheet off the pan and continue baking the others.

Pretty smart, huh?

photo: Glasshouse Images



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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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


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:


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.


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


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!)


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.


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.

ZC8X5976 Scones_Blog Indigo Jones Eats

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

ZC8X5784 Pinkberry_Fin_Light_Blog

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.


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

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