Saturday, January 1, 2011

Preparing Batter & Baking Tips

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Preparing Batter
 
Mixing your ingredients:

There are a variety of methods for mixing ingredients in a recipe. Different techniques are used to produce different outcomes in your baked goods. For instance a cake recipe may have you "cream" the butter and sugar, "beat" the eggs and "fold" in the sprinkles. If you don't follow the precise methods correctly, your baked good may turn out a complete disaster. Get to know the following common baking terminology and you will end up with chewy cookies, fudge brownies and fluffy, moist, tender cakes rather than a dense, dry, tough cornbread-like consistency.

  • "Beat": When your recipe instructs you to "beat", this means to vigorously mix, either by hand (usually with a wooden spoon, fork or spatula) or with an electric mixer (usually on medium speed, unless otherwise directed) until ingredients are combined, incorporating air into your recipe.
  • "Cream": When your recipe instructs you to "cream" (usually butter and sugar(s) together), this means to 
  • "Fold": When your recipe instructs you to "fold", this means to 

 - to gently incorporate one ingredient (or mixture of ingredients) into another without stirring or beating. Folding usually involves the addition of one light, aerated mixture (whipped cream or beaten egg whites) to a more dense/moist base mixture (batter). A rubber spatula is often used to cut down through the two mixtures, sliding the spatula across the bottom of the bowl, and then turning the mixtures over one another by bringing the base mixture up from beneath the aerated one. This technique is repeated to gently combine the ingredients. It is done to retain air within the batter and create a very light product, such as angel food cake, sponge cake, soufflĂ© or mousse. Overmixing your ingredients can alter the outcome of your baked goods.
  • "Stir": When your recipe instructs you to "stir", this means to  

stirring or blending refers to a moderately gentle (but not too gentle) circular motion intended to combine ingredients evenly and create a homogeneous mixture. This can be done using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, but not an electric device.

NOTE:
  • Over-beating your butter can make it too soft and will reduce its ability to trap air give structure to your baked goods.
  • Over-beating your eggs will beat in too much air and create air tunnels in your baked goods.
  • Over-beating or over-stirring your batter once you add the liquid to your dry ingredients creates gluten, which changes the texture of your baked goods, making the final product more tough and dense.
In the oven
  • 325°F = gas mark 3 =160°C 
  • 350°F = gas mark 4 =180°C 
  • 375°F = gas mark 5 =190°C
  • 400°F = gas mark 6 =200°C
Always make sure your oven is preheated or about 20 minutes prior to baking. Most newer ovens will "bing" when they are preheated, but even then, the oven might still need a little more time to reach the set temperature. Ovens can also fluctuate in temperature and either run hot or cold, so make sure to use an oven thermometer to make sure your oven is at the temperature it says it is at. I suggest using two oven thermometers to check that your oven is calibrated correctly. My oven runs 25 degrees hotter than I set it which can drastically affect the outcome of your baked goods, so be sure to get to know your oven before baking!

To avoid uneven baking, do not bake with more than 2-3 pans in the oven at a time. Keep pans on the middle of the center rack, at least an inch away from each other and the sides of the oven, to ensure even circulation of hot air around the pans. If you need 2 racks, keep the pans staggered instead of directly above one another. Once in the oven, do not open the oven door within the first half of the baking time. Opening the oven door releases the hot air and will cause oven temperature to fluctuate. This can compromise the structure of your baked goods and cause them to sink in the middle.

Overbaking is one of the most common causes of baking failures. To avoid overbaking, check for doneness at the beginning of the suggested baking time. When in doubt, slightly undercook the recipe as it will continue to bake in the hot pan when cooling down.

Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature before adding them to your recipe. If cold ingredients are incorporated into the room temperature batter it may curdle. Batter can also start to look curdled if too much liquid, like milk or eggs are added too quickly before it has a chance to incorporate into the batter. The batter will usually come together once you continue to beat it or once more flour is added, but by adding room temperature ingredients slowly until incorporated before adding more, you will not run the risk of over beating or having your batter separate/look curdled.


Cooling 

Place pans from the oven on a cooling rack and let stand for 5-10 minutes (unless otherwise noted). With cakes, make sure your cooling rack is higher than 2 inches from the countertop, to avoid condensation forming, creating a slightly soggy bottom. To elevate your cooling rack you can use four glasses underneath each corner.

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  • Cupcake Baking 101: 
    • The easiest way to fill cupcake liners is using an ice cream or cookie scoop for perfect uniform cupcakes. A 1-1.5 ounce scooper works well for standard size cupcakes while a .5-.7 ounce scooper will fill mini cupcake liners. If you don't have an ice cream scoop, another clean and flawless method is to fill a plastci sandwich bag or piping bag with batter, snip off the corner or tip and squeeze into the cupcake liners.
    • With cupcakes (standard size), it is important to fill each cup only 1/2-2/3 full so the batter doesn’t rise too high and spill over the top, but if you do not fill them up enough you will have a gap between the cupcake and the top of the cupcake liner. For perfectly domed cupcakes (instead of flat tops) preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, place the pan in the center rack of the oven, shut the oven door and then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F (or baking temperature stated in recipe). This burst of heat will cook and set the outside of the cupcake (which like in most foods, the outside cooks first). The center of the cupcake will then bake up and the cupcake will start to rise as if it is baking up in its cooked outer shell, instead of baking up and spreading over the sides, or deflating. This is a somewhat uncommon trick that every baker should try, for perfectly shaped cupcakes, with a nice rounded top.
    • Most cupcake recipes can be converted into mini cupcakes to yield over two times the amount of standard size cupcakes. Simply use a mini cupcake pan and mini baking cups/cupcake liners instead of the standard size and cut the baking time in half (most standard size cupcakes take between 16-20 minutes while minis take around 8-12 minutes) 
  • Cake Baking 101
    • With cakes, a handy trick is to fill your pan with batter, then lift the pan and drop it against the counter a few times to release air bubbles, for a more consistent, even result. Place a pan of water on the rack directly underneath our cake to keep it moist and level, for a perfectly flat top. 
    • Most cake recipes can be converted into cupcakes. You may want to bake one test cupcake to determine how long the cupcakes will take to bake (most standard cupcakes take between 16-20 minutes while minis take around 8-12 minutes) and whether you need to fill the cupcake liner more or less depending on if the cupcake liner was filled too much or not enough in your test cupcake.
  • Cheesecake Baking 101:
    • Ingredients: It is important to use room temperature ingredients, so you don't end up over beating the delicate batter, trying to smooth the cream cheese, or combine the eggs. I always use original cream cheese (not low fat or "lite") for the richest cheesecake possible. Make sure it is at room temperature so there are no lumps in your cheesecakes. You do not want to over beat the cream cheese trying to get it smooth. Over beating will incorporate too much air into your batter, causing the cheesecake to rise and then sink, or cause cracks in the top of your cheesecake. When adding the eggs, make sure to add them one at a time, and beat at low speed just until incorporated.
    • Preparing Pan: Cheesecakes are typically baked in a springform pan, but you can also use ring molds, or simply a ring of parchment paper. Lightly grease or butter the inside of the entire pan. This is to help prevent the batter from rising up too high and then falling.
    • Baking: Cheesecakes must be baked at a low temperature (I always bake at 325 degrees). Baking cheesecake at too high of a heat will cause shrinkage once cooled. Cheesecake should be baked in center of the oven on the center of middle oven rack. For standard size (6"-10") cheesecakes I always use a water bath/bain maire. This is done by wrapping the bottom of your pan with heavy duty foil. to prevent water from getting in, and placing it in a larger pan. Fill the larger, outer pan with about 1 1/2- 2 inches of hot water and place in the middle rack for baking. For a superior cheesecake, do not skip this step. For smaller cheesecakes, like cheesecakes baked in a cupcake pan, or mini 3-5 inch cheesecakes, I always place a shallow pan full of water on the rack directly below the cheesecake, in the oven. The steam helps keep your cheesecake moist and reduces chances of cracking the top of your cheesecake. Never open the oven during the first 30 minutes of baking. This can also cause your cheesecake to sink in the center or crack on top. You can tell when your cheesecake is done baking when center is almost set. Center of cheesecake will be a little jiggly and the edges puffed and golden. Once cheesecake is done baking, you must let it rest. Turn oven heat off. Open oven door slightly and let cheesecake cool and set inside the oven for about 1-3 more hours. The center will continue to cook and set as it cools down.
    • Cooling: Once your cheesecake is finished resting, remove cheesecake from oven and run a sharp knife around the edges of the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan, to reduce chances of cracking. Cool completely on a wire rack on the counter top until it has reached room temperature. You must cool your cheesecake completely before refrigerating. Placing a warm cheesecake in the refrigerator, before it is completely cooled, will create condensation, causing the cheesecake to get mushy and soggy. Once your cheesecake is completely cooled, refrigerate it at least 4-8 hours (depending on size) or overnight before serving. Cheesecakes always need to be well chilled before serving, preferably 12 to 24 hours before cutting (the cheesecake will solidify to a perfect consistency during this time).
    • Serving: If you baked your cheesecake in a springform pan, loosen the cheesecake from sides of pan by sliding a sharp knife around the edges to loosen it and remove sides of pan. Otherwise, peel away your DIY disposable parchment paper pan. Top with whipped cream, melted chocolate, or fruit topping just before serving. Check out my simple fruit filling recipes from my mini pie post for a perfect cheesecake topping! Cover leftovers with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.





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