Baking Basics Save the Day
By Deborah Salomon
The week before Christmas: All you need now is a kitchen calamity, like the cake falling flat or the cookies burning.
Luckily, most baking accidents can be avoided by thinking ahead and staying calm. Post these pointers:
n Buy leavening (baking powder, baking soda, yeast) in small quantities and replace every six months, especially during damp weather. Same goes for sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves. Buy in bulk, a few tablespoons at a time.
n Unbleached flour generally gives a better result than bleached. Even if recipe specifies unsifted, pass a wire whisk through the flour to remove clumps.
n Cheap measuring utensils are often off - some by a quarter cup. Test them against an old faithful.
n To soften hardened brown sugar, put in a tightly sealed container with a slice of fresh white bread and wait six to eight hours. A minute in the microwave works, too.
n To keep molasses, honey or corn syrup from sticking to measuring cup, spray (or wipe out) the cup with cooking oil.
n Use fine sea salt (a little less than called for) in baked goods.
n Substitute only stick margarine for butter. Package must be marked "margarine," not "spread" or "light," and contain 80 percent fat. Light margarine contains air and water and will ruin some baked goods. Blue Bonnet, Mrs. Filbert's and Imperial are not "margarine."
n Toast nuts in low oven, then cool before adding to batter or dough for much improved flavor.
n No cookie sheet works better than shiny metal covered with parchment paper, which is expensive but reusable.
n Never break an egg directly into batter. Egg might be spoiled or the shell could shatter into the mixing bowl.
n Don't trust nonstick Bundt pans, even brand new ones. Two minutes rubbing with Crisco and dusting with flour can save many tears. Grease layer cake and loaf pans, line bottom with waxed paper, grease paper.
n Always sift confectioners' sugar. Frosting will be lump-free and fluffier.
n Never use imitation vanilla.
n Plump raisins, dried cranberries and other fruit by covering with water, microwaving until boiling. Set aside for 10 minutes. Pour off water and squeeze fruit dry in paper towels.
n Baking times can be problematic, even in cookbooks. Ovens vary. If the cake looks soggy and underdone, leave it in for another 5-10 minutes
n If you must resort to a yellow cake mix, substitute orange juice for one-third the water and add a teaspoon of vanilla to mask the chemical taste. For a richer taste, use two whole eggs and two yolks instead of three eggs.
n Add a teaspoon of instant coffee granules dissolved in a teaspoon of water to anything chocolate: cake, brownies, frostings.
n For taller muffins, heat oven to 425 degrees; turn down to specified temperature after muffins have baked about three minutes.
n If rolling pie crust is your nemesis try this: Prepare crust for a double-crust pie. Divide in two balls, one slightly larger. Refrigerate the larger, freeze the smaller. Press dough from larger ball into bottom and ? inch up sides of a pie plate or springform pan. Fill with fruit. Grate frozen dough on largest hole of a grater directly onto filling and bake.
n To avoid soggy cookies cool completely before closing in a tin.
n Baking cocoa and cocoa drink mix are not interchangeable.
n Plain yogurt thinned with a little milk can be substituted for buttermilk.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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