Baking Tips: Angel Food, Chiffon and Sponge Cake

When you are looking for a lighter, fluffier sweet treat to make at home, you may want to direct your attention to the beauty of angel food-, chiffon-, and sponge cake recipes. While not everyone will enjoy the lightness or texture of this dessert, there are many different ways to enhance the taste by experimenting with spices, nuts, and flavored glazes.

What’s the Difference?

Angel Food Cake – This sponge cake is described as delicate, light and airy. Since egg whites are used instead of the entire egg, the dessert is low-calorie and virtually fat-free. The typical one-ounce piece of angel food is a little over 72 calories.

Chiffon Cake – Vegetable oil, eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder, and flavorings are used to make a rather light cake. A high oil and egg content produces a very moist cake.

Sponge Cake – A combination of flour, sugar, eggs and sometimes baking powder creates a firm, yet well aerated baked good.

Baking Tips

When making a light and airy dessert, most of your success will come when beating the eggs and mixing all the ingredients in the right manner. A few baking tips when making chiffon cake, angel food cake, and sponge cake include:

  • If your cake shows poor volume, you may not have beaten the egg whites long enough. You should beat the egg whites until they stand in straight peaks. When the beaters are removed, your egg white should look moist and glossy.
  • Do not overmix your cake batter when you add the flour – make sure to gently fold in the ingredients and combine well until the batter is just smooth.
  • Heavy frosting on your angel food cake will compromise the light texture and flavor of the cake. Instead, opt for a flavored glaze, such as lemon, orange or chocolate.
  • A chiffon cake with yellow streaks means that you added the yolks directly to the dry ingredients without making a “well” in the center of the dry ingredients. Oil should be added first – followed by the egg yolks.
  • Over-beaten or under-beaten egg whites will cause a layer to form in your chiffon cake. Only beat the egg whites until they are stiff and have a moist, glossy appearance.
  • Sponge cake that forms layers means that you did not beat the egg yolks long enough – remember that you should beat the yolks until they are thick and lemon-colored.
  • Blend your ingredients only until they are mixed or you run the risk of producing a tough cake from overmixing the batter when the dry ingredients are added.
  • Cakes that shrink or fall are a sign that the egg whites were beaten too long.

Baking Essentials: Vanilla

With a distinct aroma that sweetly fills the air, vanilla is one of the most used flavorings found in pastries, cakes, cookies, candy, and other desserts. At one point in time, vanilla was so rare and priceless that only royalty had access to the flavoring. Today, nearly almost every kitchen uses the flavor in some form. While there are plenty of imitations on the market, the cheaper man-made vanilla extract cannot compare to pure vanilla. If you are interested in baking a masterpiece or creating something sweet in the kitchen, vanilla is certainly a baking essential.

Vanilla extract comes from vanilla pods (or beans). There are three common types that you may encounter: Madagascar or Bourbon- Madagascar, Mexican, and Tahitian. Vanilla is the fruit of a thick green orchid vine that comes from regions, such as the islands of Madagascar and regions in the Indian Ocean. The vine also grows wildly in Mexico – producing a thicker, darker bean with a strong flavor. Tahitian vanilla beans are the thickest and are nearly black in color.

The green pods of the vine are picked by hand in an unripened state and undergo a fermentation process that can take between two to six months. The beans turn into a dark brown color as they age. The vanilla pods are then dried and cured to enhance their flavor.

Vanilla is sold in many different forms, including the very popular extract, pods (beans), powdered, essence and vanilla sugar. The vanilla extract often used in the kitchen is made by steeping the vanilla beans in an alcohol and water solution for several months. Some manufacturers will add sugar to produce a clear dark liquid with a rich flavor.

Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

To experience the flavor of fresh vanilla extract, you can make your own by cutting one whole vanilla bean in half – lengthwise. Place the vanilla bean in ¾ cup of vodka, which equals out to 180 milliliters. Cover the contents tightly and let steep for six months before using.

When cooking, keep in mind that one whole vanilla bean equals two to three teaspoons of vanilla extract.

Baking with a Springform Pan

When you’re looking for the perfect pan to bake a delicious cheesecake – choose a springform. This type of pan comes in two pieces with a removable base and bottom, and a buckle-joined vertical surface (or rim). With the flick of a latch, the sides can open and close for easy removal of your sweet creations after they have completely cooked and cooled. The pan truly comes in handy when baking delicate sweet treats, flourless chocolate cakes, and creamy cheesecake desserts.

The traditional material used to make springform pans is tinned steel. The waffle-shaped bottom of the pan gives it strength to handle the relatively heavy weight of cheesecake and torts. The tin coating covers the steel of the pan and helps prevent rust from developing. It is important to thoroughly dry the pan after washing and place in the oven to remove all traces of moisture.

Choosing aluminum springform pans is an advantage in the kitchen because they don’t rust and can be cleaned in the dishwasher. The base is kept in place because the rim is curved inward at the bottom. They don’t have a lip that is locked so they are less likely to suffer damage over time. However, stainless steel springform pans are still popular and non-stick versions make it easier to remove cakes.

Springform pans can be used to make:

  • Traditional layered cakes with a moist texture, such as carrot cake
  • Cheesecakes with crumbly crusts
  • Graham cracker crust before filling
  • Flourless cakes
  • Quiches with their custard-like fillings

Minimize Springform Pan Leakage

To ensure proper use and care of a springform pan, you should know that all springform pans have the potential to leak, especially when baking a very light batter. Pans with a more intricate design are more likely to leak. To minimize leakage, you can place the pan in a water bath when in the oven or line the outside of the pan with aluminum foil. When storing your springform pan, put in a place where no one can reach to avoid any bending, which can lead to leakage.

 

 

7 Pie Crust Tips for the Holidays

From crisp apple to seasonal mincemeat, thousands of holiday cooks will scramble to create the perfect pie for the dinner table. Thanksgiving and Christmas are popular occasions where pies become an important part of the festivities. To enhance the look and taste of your pies, consider the following tips for the holidays.

1. For a Flaky Crust

Thanks to pockets of fat in the dough, a pie crust develops its flakiness. A pastry blender or two knives that cut into the fat will help achieve these results. The dough should still have some pea-size pieces. It is important to handle the dough as little as possible with your hands. Another way to create a flakier crust is to substitute ice-cold sour cream or heavy cream for the water in your recipe.

2. Buttery and Tender Crusts

If you are interested in making a tender pie crust, use lard and shortening. If you want a buttery flavor in your crust, use half lard or shortening, and replace the other half with butter.

3. Refrigeration

For the best results, try refrigerating all of your ingredients (even the flour) before making the dough for your pie crust.

4. Easy Rolling

To make rolling the pie crust dough easier, chill for 30 minutes.

5. Spice Up Your Pie Crusts

Adding nutmeg, ginger, or cinnamon to pie crust dough will enhance the overall flavor.

6. Choice of Baking Dish

The baking dish you select for your pies will affect the end result of your pie crust. Pyrex glass pie plates are a good choice because it evenly conducts heat and lets the bottom crust of the pie bake all of the way through. When using a glass pie plate, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees. Also, do not oil or grease your pie plates. Aluminum pie pans do not cook evenly and if you must use – try using two.

7. Egg Washes for a Better Appearance

When you’re looking for a shiny crust, use a pastry brush to apply an egg wash to the tops of your pies. For every egg, only one teaspoon of liquid is required. A few combinations to consider include combining a whole egg and salt for a shiny crust; egg yolk and cream for a shiny, dark crust; and just plain ol’ egg white to achieve a pale, crisp crust.

Herbs and Spices for Your Desserts

Without spices, your desserts would lack the flavor, punch, and sparkle that you’ve come to expect. Experimenting with different spices will create desserts that help you think out of the box. If you’re looking for new ideas on how to use herbs and spices in your desserts, consider the following suggestions.

Allspice: Allspice gets its name because it offers a taste similar to cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. The dried spice berries come in whole or ground form. The spice is ideal for spice cakes and cookies. For pies, use in plum, peach and apple creations. Allspice also works well in flavored breads and steamed puddings.

Anise: The small seeds of anise add a licorice flavoring to cookies, cakes and breads. This spice comes in dried whole seeds or a powdered form. Examples of desserts with anise include Anise Biscotti and Anise Mousse served with tropical fruit.

Cardamom: You tend to see cardamom used in a lot of Indian dishes, but the fragrant, cinnamon-like seed can add pizzazz to your breads, spice cakes, and cookies as well. Use the spice in apple and pumpkin pies. Consider making Cardamom Rice Pudding or a rich carrot pudding for your next dessert.

Cinnamon: The spicy bark of the cassia tree offers a sweet, hot flavored spice for desserts – especially apple pie served during the holidays. Other desserts that benefit from cinnamon include spice cakes, cookies, custards, and other fruit pies.

Cloves: With a pungent and sweet flavor, clove is a spice that often emerges during the winter holidays. The dried whole buds and powdered form adds flavor to spice cakes, cookies, quick breads, and fruit pies. Try making Apple Butter Tarts or Greek Baked Stuffed Apples with cloves.

Fennel Seeds: Offering a slight licorice flavor, fennel seeds are a favorite for Scandinavian bakers who add the spice to their cakes, cookies, and breads.

Ginger: Adding aroma and tang to desserts, ginger is a versatile spice that appears in many cultural sweet treats. Depending on the recipe, you may use dried ground, dried whole, preserved, crystallized, or fresh ginger. Ground dried ginger is used to flavor cakes, cookies, custard, and fruit pies. Cakes and cookies (such as ginger snaps) blossom when crystallized and preserved ginger is added.

Mace: The outer covering of nutmeg is called mace, which offers a similar yet slightly milder flavor than nutmeg. The spice works well in spice cakes, cookies, and custards. Try adding to fruit desserts – especially those made with peaches, plums and apples. Mace Pound Cake could become your next crowd pleaser.

Mint: The refreshing scent of mint adds a cool, flavorful taste to desserts. There are more than 30 varieties of mint, including peppermint, apple mint, and lemon mint. Use in various fruit salad and dessert recipes, such as Mint Chocolate Pie and Peppermint Ice Cream.

Nutmeg: Nutmeg offers a sweet, nutty taste that livens up cookies, cakes, pies, custard, and pastries. The spice is also a flavorful component when making eggnog. Add to your pecan or sweet potato pie recipe. Since ground nutmeg quickly loses its flavor, it is recommended to purchase whole nutmeg and grate when needed.

Poppy Seeds: What is a lemon poppy seed muffin without the poppy seeds? A flower produces the tiny, blue-black seeds that can be used when making cakes, cookies, breads, and pastries. Interestingly, it takes 900,000 poppy seeds to make a pound. Sometimes, the whole seeds are ground into a paste that serves as a filling for some desserts.

Saffron: Swedish bakers add the fragrant spice to cakes and breads. Doesn’t Pears Poached in Saffron Vanilla Bean Syrup sound delicious?

How to Prepare Nuts for Desserts

Nuts often play an important role in preparing, flavoring, and garnishing some of your favorite desserts. From pecan cinnamon rolls to syrupy baklava, many recipes call for different preparations of nuts. Sometimes, you must remove the skins from nuts to prevent a bitter taste in your desserts. Toasting nuts also releases their natural flavor and adds crispness. Below you will find a few ways to prepare nuts for desserts:

Skinning Hazelnuts and Brazil Nuts

Spread the hazelnuts and Brazil nuts on a baking sheet. Toast in a pre-heated oven set to 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. This will dry out the skins. After removing from the oven, wrap the nuts in a rough tea towel and rub until the skins are removed. You can pick off any remaining bits of skin still on the nuts with your fingers.

Skinning Almonds and Pistachios

You will use a process called blanching to skin almonds and pistachios. Place the nuts in a bowl and cover with boiling water for two minutes. Drain the water and let the nuts slightly cool. Squeeze or rub each nut with your fingers to remove the skins.

Oven-Toasted Nuts

To toast nuts for a recipe, spread nuts on a baking sheet, and place in a pre-heated oven set to 350 degrees. Toast until they turn a golden brown color and smell ‘nutty.’ Occasionally stir the nuts.

Fry-Toasted Nuts

Place nuts in a frying pan, but do not add any fat or oils. Toast the nuts over moderate heat until they turn golden brown. Stir constantly and watch carefully because the nuts can easily scorch.

Grinding Nuts

For recipes that call for finely chopped nuts, a nut mill or clean coffee grinder will come in handy. It is suggested to grind a small batch of nuts to achieve an even texture. Do not overwork or you will turn the nuts into paste. Some people have used food processors to grind nuts, but it’s a bit harder to get even results. A downfall is the risk of overworking the nuts into a paste. Try grinding the nuts with some of the flour or sugar called for in the recipe to avoid this mishap.

10 Tips for Baking Brownies

Brownies became a favorite treat of the United States and Canada during the first half of the 20th century. With a texture resembling a cross between a cake and cookie, the brownie has come a long way from the first example to appear in public. A chef at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, Illinois created the sweet treat using walnuts and an apricot glaze. The original recipe is still being served at the hotel. When you wish to create your own brownie magic, consider the following tips for baking brownies.

1. Even-Textured Brownies

If you want to make brownies with an even texture, use the correct sized pan stated in the recipe. If you use a different pan, the brownies will form a different texture.

2. Moist and Chewy Brownies

If you over-bake your brownies, they will become dry. Make sure to follow the recommended baking time listed in the recipe to enjoy moist and chewy brownies.

3. Mixing Your Brownies

For better results, it is suggested to hand-mix your brownies and avoid using an electric mixer.

4. Easy Cleanup

To minimize the amount of clean up after making your brownies, line your pan with aluminum foil. Once the brownies have cooled, they will lift straight out of the pan, which makes it easier to cut into uniform squares.

5. Avoid Crumbly Brownies

Not only are crumbly brownies messy, but they also lessen the overall appearance of a fresh plate. To prevent crumbling, completely cool your brownies before cutting into squares.

6. Smooth Sides

To make brownie bars with smooth sides, make sure your treats have thoroughly cooled before cutting with a plastic knife.

iconicon7. Brownie Toppings

To add a little something extra to your brownies, there are many different toppings to consider. For starters, you can sprinkle powdered sugar on unfrosted brownie bars. Chocolate curls on top of frosted bars add a hint of elegance. Other toppings for brownies include mini chocolate chips, nuts, and colorful sprinkles for kids.

8. White Chocolate Brownies

If you’d like to make decadent brownies for your next get-together, combine 1/3 cup of coarsely chopped white chocolate and two teaspoons of vegetable shortening in a small, heavy saucepan. Melt the ingredients over low heat – making sure to constantly stir. Drizzle over your brownies.

9. Blonde Brownies

Use brown sugar and no chocolate to create a ‘blondie.’

10. A la Mode Brownies

A popular dessert offered at restaurants is brownie a la mode, which means that your treat is warmed and served with ice cream topped with whipped cream.

8 Tips for Cheesecake Makers

The history of cheesecake is one traced back to ancient Greek times before the Romans embraced the dessert after their conquest of the city. Over the years, the sweet treat comprised of soft, fresh cheese has been sweetened and topped with sugar, nuts, fruit, glazes, and chocolate sauce. If you wish to enjoy cheesecake in the comforts of you own home – perhaps the following tips can ease the process and improve the outcome:

1) Testing for Doneness

Avoid overbaking your cheesecake by testing it for doneness at the minimum baking time range. To test for doneness, do not insert a knife because the hole left behind could turn into a large crack. Instead, gently shake the cake. If it jiggles, return the cheesecake to the oven for more baking.

2) Prevent Cracking

To prevent cracking, there are a couple of things to do. After adding eggs to the filling, gently beat, and then stir in the remaining ingredient by hand. If you beat too vigorously, too much air will cause the cheesecake to “puff up,” fall, and then crack. When baking, situate a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to prevent cracks in your cheesecake.

3) Low-Calorie Cheesecake

If you’d like to make a cheesecake with fewer calories, use light cream cheese instead of regular.

4) New York Style Cheesecake

If you are interested in making a New York-style cheesecake, expect a dessert with a lot of heavy cream. Typical ingredients include cream cheese, eggs, and egg yolks, which add richness and smoothness to the filling. It is typical to bake the cheesecake in a special springform pan measuring 5 to 6 inches tall. To vary the texture and flavor, consider using cottage cheese and lemon. Other suggestions include adding strawberry sauce or chocolate sauce to a basic cheesecake recipe.

5) Is It Done?

It’s OK if the center of your cheesecake is soft when you first remove it from the oven. This is normal and as the dessert chills, the center will become firm.

6) Cutting Cheesecake

Use a wet knife to better cut cheesecakes and make sure to clean the knife after each cut.

7) Storage

Cheesecakes will keep for up to three days if they are covered and refrigerated.

8) Freezing Cheesecakes

If you are unable to eat all of your cheesecake, you can freeze leftovers in an airtight container or heavy foil. Plan on eating a whole cheesecake within one month or consume individual slices within two weeks. When serving frozen cheesecake, loosen the covering and thaw a whole cheesecake in the refrigerator for 24 hours or allow slices to thaw at room temperature.