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Baking 101


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#1 Chris Amirault

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 06:22 AM

Sure, I'm a food nut. I'm curing lop yuk in my attic and have no more room in my freezer because of excessive stock -- nuff said. But it's all a lie, man, just a lie, because I have a shameful, glaring secret about one topic, perhaps the most noble topic in the world of cooking. I've managed to hide this deficiency by posting thousands of times on other subjects in these forums. However, I'm facing my demons, and I hope you'll join me.

My name is Chris A. and I'm a baking dumbass.

Friends, I have almost no clue whatsoever what happens when egg, liquid, flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and/or fat get all mixed up and stuck in an oven. I'm telling you, it's like Brigadoon appears whenever my partner pulls some magnificent creation out of the oven.

"Huh," she says, "I think the proportion of cake to AP flour is off. What do you think?"

"Um, yeah, right, probably," I murmur. Then I slink over to the liquor cabinet and make a double manhattan.

Secretly, I lurk in the pastry and baking threads, looking for tips. Who is this "RLB"? Surely she isn't Rose Levy Beranbaum, the evil temptress who tormented me with her talk of stable buttercreams and ideal crumb. And what the hell is a "flour nail"?!? It's a metaphor for what has punctured my wanna-be baker's heart, that's what.

But perhaps I am -- and, friend, perhaps you are -- ready to face these fears. I'm sufficiently armed: I've got a scale, a KitchenAid 6 quart mixer, and an apron with Yoko Ono's ass on it.

What say you? Are you brave enough to join me?!?
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#2 Anna N

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 06:43 AM

....
What say you? Are you brave enough to join me?!?

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Yes. But first you have to tell us your weapons of choice beyond the KA, the scale, and the infamous apron. For us non-bakers, supplies for baking are limited as is equipment! What will we need in order to join you. Start low and slow, please. :biggrin:
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#3 Chris Amirault

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 06:49 AM

All you need are questions, Anna. For example: "flour needle"? :huh:
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#4 OnigiriFB

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 06:56 AM

Hi my name is Onigiri and I am also a baking dumbass.

I've done somethings by following the recipes here and in cookbooks. I've always wanted to learn about baking but it's something that has scared me. This year I vowed to learn more so this thread is right up my alley.

I don't have any equipment really just some cookie sheets and some baking stuff that came in a set. I don't even have an electric mixer! Do I really need a KA mixer? I want one but I'm not sure if I need to run out NOW any get one. Um.. whats the difference between the flours? Does it make a huge difference if you don't use the right one? What do you do with leftover egg whites? I have 9 in my freezer right now after making creme brulee and I'm at a lost. How long will those egg whites be good for?


Yay! Thanks Chris. I'm so glad you stood up and confessed.

#5 SweetSide

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 06:59 AM

While we are on the subject of "flour needle"...

Actually, it is a "flower nail" and it is a big thing that looks just like a nail that you make buttercream roses on top of. Hold it in your non-dominant hand, turning while piping the flower with your dominant hand. Can I make them? Yes. Do they look lovely? No.

Now, my question is...

One thread (on pan sizes) referred to using a flower nail in a large cake pan when baking a cake. What this does is forms a heat core so the center of the cake will bake quicker. How do I know when to use one (or more)? How many do I use?

My cake baking has been limited to layers 12" rounds or smaller or on sheet pans, but those were thinner layers and didn't need a nail.

Thanks!
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#6 SweetSide

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 07:09 AM

I have 9 in my freezer right now after making creme brulee and I'm at a lost. How long will those egg whites be good for?


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Save those egg whites -- they'll last for 6 months. You can make angel food cake or buttercream from them. That's what I usually do with mine.

There is also a thread on using extra eggs / yolks / whites Here for some other ideas for the parts of a whole.

I'm not a baking dumbass, more a new professional. And, the stuff I see others out there posting, professionals or not, shows me that I have a whole h*ll of a lot to learn still. Ask, and someone will help!
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#7 WhiteTruffleGirl

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 07:33 AM

To address one question that came up...flour. The basic difference between flours is the protein content. The more protein in a flour, the more gluten you will develop. Simplistically, you want gluten development in something like bread, you don't want it something like cake. So while you can use AP when cake flour is called for (i.e., substituting a higher protein flour where a low protein is called for), you will end up with a denser, heavier product. But you cannot substitute willy-nilly. You certainly cannot use cake flour to make pain de campagne...oh, I suppose you could try...but you wouldn't.

The following chart may give you non-bakers a headache, but it will give you a sense of what I'm referring to. As you can see, it's not just that there are differences between types of flours, there are also differences between brands, winter vs. summer wheat, northern vs. southern wheat, etc. But don't worry about that. Just know that on a scale, it goes from (lowest to highest protein content): cake, pastry, AP, bread.

Cake (e.g., Swans Down) 7.5 to 8.5
Bleached Southern all-purpose (e.g., White Lily) 7.5 to 9.5
National brand self-rising (e.g., Gold Medal) 9 to 10
National brand bleached all-purpose (e.g., Gold Medal) 9.5 to 12
National brand unbleached all-purpose (e.g., Gold Medal) 10 to 12
Northern all-purpose (e.g., Hecker's) 11 to 12
Northern unbleached all-purpose (e.g., King Arthur) 11.7
Bread flour 11.5 to 12.5
Durum (semolina) 13 to 13.5

(From Shirley Corriher’s CookWise)

#8 Patrick S

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 10:42 AM

Do I really need a KA mixer?

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No. A stand mixer will make some jobs much easier (like breads or marshmallows), but most things you can do with a very inexpensive hand mixer, or even by hand.

Edited by Patrick S, 11 February 2006 - 10:42 AM.

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#9 Sugarella

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 11:16 AM

And what the hell is a "flour nail"?!? It's a metaphor for what has punctured my wanna-be baker's heart, that's what. But perhaps I am -- and, friend, perhaps you are -- ready to face these fears. I'm sufficiently armed: I've got a scale, a KitchenAid 6 quart mixer, and an apron with Yoko Ono's ass on it.

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Looks like you've got the most important piece of equipemnt.... the Yoko Ono ass apron. I happen to want one. Badly. :laugh:

The flower nail is now what we're all using instead of those gadawful heating cores one used to have to buy when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Those things left a giant hole in the cake about about an inch an a half in diameter. Gah.

Flower nails are for cake decorating, and are made of stainless steel, or aluminum coated in stainless steel. Same material as a good quality cake pan. They're placed flat side down in the pan with the pointed end sticking up, then you pour your batter on top of that. What they do is conduct heat evenly to the middle of the cake, so it starts baking at the same rate and temp as the cake near the sides of the pan, so the heat eventually radiates throughout the cake from the centre and the sides, not just starting at the sides and trying to make its way to the centre. When the cake is baked and cooled, you just turn it over and pull the nail out.

You can get them at any cake decorating store....they'll be about 69 cents or so. Maybe Wendy or someone can post a pic of one so you'll all know what you're looking for, but anybody in the store will know exactly what it is. A very very useful tool for baking cakes evenly.

Now, my question is...
How do I know when to use one (or more)?  How many do I use? My cake baking has been limited to layers 12" rounds or smaller or on sheet pans, but those were thinner layers and didn't need a nail.

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You'll want to use one, right in the middle, for cakes about 10" to 12" in diameter, as a general rule, but you can use them on smaller cakes too. You'll notice some batters seem to require it and some don't, but using one all the time won't hurt anything. If anything, your cake will just be done quicker.

For anything over 12" diameter I use 3 of them, placed in the form of a triangle sitting about halfway between the centre and the sides, so again, the heat would be evenly distributed through the cake because of them. Hope that makes sense.

You'll especially notice you'll need them if you start using 3" high pans, as recommended in the cake pan thread. Because the pans hold more batter which'll take longer to bake, even heat distribution is more critical than it would be for baking a short cake in a short pan.

I don't even have an electric mixer! Do I really need a KA mixer?

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Nope, not at all. I still don't own one. All I have is my electric hand mixer with the little beaters and a stand mixer, and for many years all I had was the hand mixer. Sure, the KA will be very handy for anybody, but cake batter is best mixed on lower speeds so as not to develop the gluten in the flour, so a little hand mixer on low speed works just fine.

Remember, pastry chefs were doing all of this stuff long before electric kitchen tools came along, so you can still do all of it. I've even made meringue buttercreams during a power outage just using old fashioned muscles, and it suprisingly didn't really take that much longer than doing it with a mixer. I kid you not. :smile:

Edited by Sugarella, 11 February 2006 - 03:04 PM.


#10 jackal10

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 11:42 AM

  So while you can use AP when cake flour is called for (i.e., substituting a higher protein flour where a low protein is called for), you will end up with a denser, heavier product.  But you cannot substitute willy-nilly.  You certainly cannot use cake flour to make pain de campagne...oh, I suppose you could try...but you wouldn't.

(From Shirley Corriher’s CookWise)

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Err, actually you can make a very good pain de campagne with cake flour, you just need to use a slightly different technique and less water. French bread flour is quite soft (low protein, typically around 9.5%).

Flour is complicated stuff, and the protein content doesn't give the whole story. For example in wholewheat flours the apparent protein content is higher, since there is protein in the wheat germ and bran. The type of protein can change from flour to flour, with different ratios of the various gluten components.

In France and Germany protein content is not used, but flour is characterised by ash content (the amount of ash left when the flour is heated to 500C). In Germany the numbers are ten times that of France. Ash content only loosely relates to protein, thus a french type 55 is a German 550 and is roughly an 11% protein All Purpose flour.

If you are not yet confused, then other factors to consider are the extraction, the amount of the whole grain that ends up in the flour, and the fineness of grind, as well of course as the type of wheat and the growing conditions. For example there is a type of french wholemeal flour that is so finely ground that it can be used like a white flour.

That also reminds me that although "wholemeal" is a regulated term (meaning 100% extraction), terms such as "granary" or "wholewheat" are not, and can mean anything you like.

Flour also often has additives, some required by law others, such as Vitamin C or diastic malt added to give better baking characteristics. Some prefer to use organic flours; others think the temperature and speed with which they have been milled is important. Flour characteristics also change with age.

In general, find a flour you like, and as you work with it you will get to know its characteristics.

#11 hazardnc

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 11:54 AM

Okay - my name is Tracy and I am a complete baking dumb ass!

I bought Peter Reinhart's Baker's Apprentice book. In it, he discusses in great detail the various types of yeast available, and states he prefers instant to active dry yeast. He also says one can use either form - but he does not tell me what to do in the method if I am using active dry yeast.

Sadly, I was not able to find instant yeast at my local grocer or at Sur la Table. What I do have is SAF brand "Bread machine Yeast" , which they claim can be used in traditional bread baking. The label says the water must be 120-130 degrees F, while the recipe I want to try first (the focaccia) says the water must be at room temp. I also have a couple of packets of active dry yeast - Fleischmann's brand. This must be proofed prior to adding it to the dry ingredients.

What should this dumb ass do? Do I mix the yeast in with the flour and add the water at the label's recommended temp or do I follow Peter's directions and add the water at room temp? Also, my house is cold - maybe 68 degrees. Now, I can put the dough in the laundry room to proof, where it is much warmer b/c of the dryer.

Don't tell me I have to wait until summer to make bread!

#12 Ling

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 11:55 AM

Do I really need a KA mixer?

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No. A stand mixer will make some jobs much easier (like breads or marshmallows), but most things you can do with a very inexpensive hand mixer, or even by hand.

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That's true...I bake quite often and I'm still using a hand mixer!

#13 Sugarella

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 12:49 PM

I'm going to post some very basic info for those of you who feel you are totally inept when it comes to baking. Likely you are not inept at all, but as stated earlier, standard north american recipe books don't really give the best information for optimum results. I'll specifically talk cakes here, because that is my greatest srength.

1) You should disregard the baking times given. All ovens vary, and extreme weather conditions and altitude also factor. When it's done it's done. More on how to test for doneness later.

2) As already stated, disregard the cake pan size it says to use. Just make the cake the size you want it to be. It'll still bake.... it'll just bake differently. Don't have a bundt pan and want to make a bundt cake? Fine. Just bake it in what you have..... but if you make it as a regular cake treat it as a regular cake, and if you make it as cupcakes treat it as cupcakes while baking.

3) Disregard the baking temperature given. For flour cakes, flourless tortes and cheesecakes, the optimal baking temperature is 325. Always preheat your oven.

(Those 3 points were a matter of opinion based on experience. Others may disagree.)

There are 2 main things to do first:

1) Convert any recipe you'd like to try to weights, and buy a kitchen scale. Not a cheap crappy scale like the kind you get at walmart....a really good scale. I would recommend this be the first piece of equipment you buy, before replacing or buying new pans and before getting an expensive mixer. It is essential to weigh ingredients rather than measuring them with cups and spoons. Make sure the one you buy has a TARE feature on it, which will allow you to reset the reading to zero so you're not including the weight of your bowl!

Be aware though, some baking books' recipes were actually developed using the measuring method rather than by weight, which can cause varying results after you do conversions. So, in my opinion, it's generally best to stick to recipe collections that were developed by professionals. Those recipes would have been tested using weight measurements, even if the book happens to list only the cup measurements.

And also be aware, there are just plenty of truly shitty recipes floating around out there. Seems just about anbody can get a cake book publishing deal without truly understanding the chemistry involved in baking. So if you've tried recipes in the past that were a total flop, this might be why.

2) Make friends with your oven, and learn the idiosyncrasies of your particular oven. Probably 100% of home ovens are off calibre, meaning they'll be a different temperature inside than what the knobs read, and they'll have some spots that are hotter than others. Going off calibre most often happens when you originally had the oven delivered, but can happen each time you move it to clean behind, which is why they tend to get worse over time. Think of it in the same sense as a piano going out of tune each time you move it, and needing a professional to come in and retune it. Ovens aren't as sensitive as pianos in this way, but they still do it.

You can hire a pro to come in and recalibrate your oven, which will be costly and will likely only last until the next time you move it, or you can go to a hardware store and pick up an oven thermometer, which'll be $5 or so. Most designs will clip to the rack and face forward, so you can read them through the window with the door closed.

Turn the oven on to 300 degrees and walk away for 20 minutes. When you come back, read the temp on the thermometer. It might be anywhere from 150 to 450 degrees, so adjust the knob until you get it to read 300. If yours reads 300 from the get-go, good for you. But it likely won't. Keep the thermometer in there every time you bake something.

In the meantime, make yourself up a batch of sugar cookies. I recommend sugar cookies in particular because they're thin and quick to do and are especially delicate and sensitive to hot spots, and you can use them to test your oven.

Roll them to 1/4" thick and lay them on a baking tray, preferably a tray that is a big as the whole inside of your oven, if you've got one. Bake the whole tray until they are all done, even if some spots burn while others are taking forever. When they're done, take them out and see where some spots burned. They might have burned all around the edges and the middle of the sheet if fine, or they might have burned on the left while the right is fine, or burned only in one corner, for example. These are your hot spots, and the areas you want to avoid placing delicate baked things in in the future. If you have to place cakes in one particular corner of your oven all the time, so be it. The areas where the cookies are perfectly golden brown on the edges and pale in the middle are the spots that are exactly 300 degrees, just like your thermometer is reading.

Finally, eat your cookies. :smile:

Edited by Sugarella, 11 February 2006 - 12:52 PM.


#14 freddurf

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 01:14 PM

Chris, you are an awesome writer! You crack me up. Ok, here's my question...how do you measure cocoa powder? I have a scale, but many of the recipes I have use cups. So am I supposed to fill the cup up with a spoon, dip the measuring cup in the c.powder or what? Depending on the method I can really get a wide range of measurments because the stuff is so fine.

#15 Chris Amirault

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 01:23 PM

Thanks freddurf -- and I think that the answer is scoop and level, right? You scoop it out with a spoon, pour it into the cup measure, and level with a knife. But your point that the weight varies wildly is a good one. And then there's all those different kinds of cocoa powder....

Sugarella and others, can you recommend some other books save Rose Levy Beranbaum? A list of books that are amateur-friendly and use weight measures would be swell.
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#16 Sugarella

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 01:53 PM

TESTING FOR DONENESS REGARDING FLOUR BASED CAKES

Many cake recipes in books, in almost all magazines or those you google off the 'net will almost always having baking directions that read something along the lines of this:

"Bake until cakes begin to shrink back from the edges of the pan, and a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean."


:angry: WRONG! :angry: WRONG! :angry: WRONG! :angry: WRONG! :angry: WRONG! :angry:


Oh, where to even start correcting this mess?! Ok, here goes:

"Bake until cakes begin to shrink back from the edges of the pan....:

Nope. Totally wrong. Cake batter expands with the heat of the oven, as I'm sure you've noticed. If, in the same heat, the batter is expanding then all of a sudden starts doing the opposite and shrinking, that means you are overbaking your cake! and reversing the chemical processes that allow for proper baking.

A cake when it's finished will still be firmly clinging to the sides, and will only start shrinking back from the sides when you take it out to start cooling. Heats expands, cooling contracts. Or burning contracts as well, as they case may be.

"a cake tester inserted into the centre"

Wrong again. Don't insert the cake tester straight down into the centre for two reasons. First, you might have used a flower nail in the centre (see previous post) and of course that part'll be done as it's touching a heat source. Second, the top of your cake is exposed to air and it will form a slight crust, and that crust will invariably clean your cake tester off when you pull it out, especially if you insert it straight up and down.

Instead, test the cake on a diagonal going from the middle of one side from the top to the middle of the other side to the bottom, going through the centre axis of the cake. Test 2 or 3 times in different directions and this will give you a good guage as to the doneness of all spots within your cake. Inserting it on the diagonal makes that slight top crust less likely to clean the tester off on the way out.

"a cake tester..... comes out clean."

Also wrong. You want your cake to have a nice moist fluffy crumb, so you want that same moist fluffy crumb to come out clinging to your cake tester. A clean tester means a dried out cake. You want the crumbs to be moist, but not wet. Scrape them off the tester between your thumb and forefinger and rub your fingers together. The crumbs should roll into a moist ball the same way fresh bread will, not smear between your fingers or feel wet at all.

Although it's true you don't actually need to use a cake tester and can learn to guage doneness based on how the cake looks and smells, it really is a handy tool for anyone not used to baking cakes to get used to what that look and smell should be. Eventually you may become confident enough to not have to use it, or you may never, and that's fine too.

The best cake tester to use isn't those thin metal spikes that are commonly labelled, "cake tester," it's a good old fashioned bamboo skewer like the kind you'd use for shish-ka-bobs. The thinner ones are better. The absorbant bamboo when inserted into a hot cake will attract the moisture of the crumbs, and they'll cling to it a lot easier than they'll cling to a piece of metal.

So there it is in a nutshell. Hope somebody finds the info useful. You hear from so many people that they don't like scratch cakes or so many recipes are always dry, etc., but this common misinformation is exactly why, and people with less experience just end up overbaking.

Edited by Sugarella, 11 February 2006 - 03:16 PM.


#17 freddurf

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 02:03 PM

Great info Sugarella! Thanks for taking the time to type that out.

#18 Adrienne Carmack

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 02:04 PM

1)    Convert any recipe you'd like to try to weights, and buy a kitchen scale.

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I've been wondering about this recommendation for a while now. I've been baking for a long time, self-taught in self-defense, and I've always followed recipes with cups and tablespoons. I do own a kitchen scale, but I use it to measure stuff that's not already measured, such as my chocolate that's not in neat little squares or my produce, but never my flour. I would say about 90% of the baking I try works fine, just by following a recipe. I do measure everything the same way every time (ie, flour leveled off with a knife, brown sugar packed in tight), but don't do anything else special. I definitely have no motivation to take the time to weigh everything and convert all of my recipes.

I don't know how I lived without my KitchenAid for so many years - I never thought I needed one, but I was given one as a wedding gift, and now I can't imagine going without it.
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#19 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 02:11 PM

Okay - my name is Tracy and I am a complete baking dumb ass!

I bought Peter Reinhart's Baker's Apprentice book.  In it, he discusses in great detail the various types of yeast available, and states he prefers instant to active dry yeast.  He also says one can use either form - but he does not tell me what to do in the method if I am using active dry yeast.

Sadly, I was not able to find instant yeast at my local grocer or at Sur la Table.  What  I do have is SAF brand "Bread machine Yeast" , which they claim can be used in traditional bread baking.  The label says the water must be 120-130 degrees F, while the recipe I want to try first (the focaccia) says the water must be at room temp.  I also have a couple of packets of active dry yeast - Fleischmann's brand.  This must be proofed prior to adding it to the dry ingredients.

What should this dumb ass do?  Do I mix the yeast in with the flour and add the water at the label's recommended temp or do I follow Peter's directions and add the water at room temp?  Also, my house is cold - maybe 68 degrees.  Now, I can put the dough in the laundry room to proof, where it is much warmer b/c of the dryer.

Don't tell me I have to wait until summer to make bread!

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Just in case you missed it, there's a long, informative topic here on Baking with The Bread Baker's Apprentice, where people may help with your question.

#20 Sugarella

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 02:50 PM

I've been baking for a long time, self-taught in self-defense

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Nothing to be defensive about.... I'm 100% self taught too. Sure, it would've been nice to go to school and learn all of these things instead of figuring it all out on my own, in much less time and with a much lower financial investment I might add, but learning is more about the student than it is the teacher, in my opinion. A passionate, driven student can learn anything without paying someone else to tell them the information. Some cooking institutions turn out graduates who are still inept in many areas, simply because the student wasn't as passionate about learning as the teacher was about teaching. Having said that, many of the very best pastry chefs did go to school, because getting that formal education was part of their plan for learning and an excellent foundation to build on. Being educated in something correctly by a knowledgable teacher has greater value than figuring it all out on your own in the long run, simply because you will end up knowing it all so much faster, and how to do things correctly, I think. There are plenty of things I still don't now that the educated professionals here do know, and we should all look to them first and foremost for guidance. I wrote the above blurbs about basics simply because I haven't seen them printed anywhere like that, and thought it'd be more useful than not for others to have them handy.

Your experiences with baking without incident may have a bit to do with your location. Florida has temperate climates and is close to sea level like a good portion of north america, so your variables in these areas aren't as extreme as someone at high altitude or in a dry or very frozen or damp climate. Some people in these areas can't get anything to turn out the way the recipe suggests it will. In addition, some of the ingredients available to you may have less variables than what's available elsewhere to someone else. Different brands of flour and sugar weigh differently, well, all brands of different ingredients do. The brand of cocoa you use might have a similar level of alkaline in it to what the recipe writer used; the cocoa someone else is using may not.

Sounds like you've had some pretty good success with your baking, so if it's working for you then stick with it. I still think weighing is always preferable, but I can't convince everyone to go out and spend $100 on a proper scale before they bake the next time either. But for anyone having a really troublesome time with their attempts at baking, starting to measure by weight is one of their easiest ways to eliminate an awful lot of problems. :smile:

Edited to correct coca into cocoa. Definitely don't bake with coca!!

!

Edited by Sugarella, 11 February 2006 - 03:24 PM.


#21 maggie

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Posted 11 February 2006 - 07:21 PM

Um...guys? it's just flour, eggs, sugar and butter. It's not rocket science. Besides, I think it's very important to know that bread senses fear. I DID go to culinary school, and I am one bad ass baker, to tell the honest truth, but what I've learned that's most important is that it's just food. If you mess stuff up, you throw it out and start over. Or if you've only mildly messed up, you eat what you can and start over. Or you tell your friends that you invented something new.

The best bread book ever is The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown. It's full of tree-hugging Zen stuff, but the bread recipe is the best, infinitely variable and extremely forgiving. And though I use a Kitchen Aid every day at work, at least 20 times a day, I just recently got one for my home, and most of the time forget it's there, until I'm done making stuff by hand. In culinary school, we weren't allowed to use mixers until the last semester, because they wanted us to know what things felt like when we made them by hand, a valuable lesson.

So my advice is loosen up, have fun. All that stuff about flours and yeasts and sugars are written by people with WAY too much time on their hands! Play around with what you can find in your stores, with recipes that are straightforward and friendly, and when you get your confidence up with those things, move on to more complicated things. Pastry makes people happy; that's what I love about it. Don't let it make you feel inadequate.

p.s. I can't cook! I make the worst soups on the planet!

#22 sanrensho

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 02:32 AM

I was a baking dumbass until a year ago. (Had almost zero baking experience before then.)

Nowadays, I'm a baking dumbass with a stand mixer and a copy of the Cake Bible.

Seriously, though, the two things that made the biggest difference to me were RLB's Cake Bible (sorry Chris) and getting a stand mixer. Working through the different types of cakes in the Cake Bible has helped me to understand some of the theory behind cake baking and allowed me to work on technique. Her directions are precise and everything is weighed out, so it is hard to mess things up. I have a lot more confidence in tackling other recipes with less specific instructions. There is also a lot of good reference material in that book.

The stand mixer just makes things immensely easier. I can walk away and do cleanup, so everything goes quicker. That means I'm inclined to bake more often, averaging one or two cakes a week for family and friends. (Any more than that and I wouldn't fit through doorways.)
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#23 SweetSide

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 06:46 AM

1) Convert any recipe you'd like to try to weights, and buy a kitchen scale. Not a cheap crappy scale like the kind you get at walmart....a really good scale. I would recommend this be the first piece of equipment you buy, before replacing or buying new pans and before getting an expensive mixer. It is essential to weigh ingredients rather than measuring them with cups and spoons. Make sure the one you buy has a TARE feature on it, which will allow you to reset the reading to zero so you're not including the weight of your bowl!

Be aware though, some baking books' recipes were actually developed using the measuring method rather than by weight, which can cause varying results after you do conversions. So, in my opinion, it's generally best to stick to recipe collections that were developed by professionals. Those recipes would have been tested using weight measurements, even if the book happens to list only the cup measurements.



I second this advice about a scale, but add a different twist on weighing. For years and years, I was a volume girl and always had good success. Weights are WAY better though -- I'm also WAY anal and a weight is way more precise.

When converting a recipe you've used before with success, don't use a chart to do your coversion. Your method of getting the flour into the cup may be different than that of the person using a conversion chart. Measure your ingredient as usual, then put it on the scale to get the weight. Then you'll know if your cup of flour is 4.5 oz, 4.7 oz, 5 oz, or some other number. Then write it down and forevermore use the weight. All of my old family recipes are going through such a conversion process.

No knocking professionals -- I'm a recent grad and hope to work my way up -- but those old grandma's recipes for the best darn cake should not be lost! :wub: And, there are non-professionals out on eGullet that would likely make me look like a baking dumbass even though I went to school!
Cheryl, The Sweet Side

#24 Chufi

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 12:44 PM

I'm not as dumb as I was - I'm learning, slowly, and becoming more confident. But baking still scares me and makes me nervous the way no other kitchen task does. It always feels like something magical, uncontrollable is going on in my oven. Still, this also means that whenever I bake something that comes out right, I'm extremely proud.

So, I'm going to love this thread, because knowledge is the best way to conquer these fears.

One thing I have learned (the hard way..) is to always take my cakes, pies cookies etc. out of the oven before I think they are done. When I firmly believe that they are really not done yet.. absolutely not.. that there is still raw dough in the center.. that they need another 5 minutes.. then, they're done. :laugh:
When I think they're done, they're actully not done, but ruined.

Edited by Chufi, 12 February 2006 - 12:45 PM.


#25 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 01:46 PM

Urg............where to begin..........first, I simply refuse to let someone label themselves a baking dumbass! Imo, you can only label yourself that if you refuse to listen to good advice from experienced people and can't follow a recipe as is written.

You really don't have to know alot about baking to bake well. But you definately must be able to follow written dirrections to have success baking. It is very different then cooking and to a certain point you need to think of it as a different skill, set of skills. It's a little more like science class then a cooking class is.

Even though working with weights is far more exact, using cups as measurements will be just fine. It's worked for millions of Americans for countless years. You just have to understand (in the back of your head) that HOW you fill that measuring cup will effect your finished baked good.

Then you have to have a sense of accuracy. We'll be searching for the best cake (in threads here at eG) and someone will test the core recipe we are working with and pronouce it shit because it wasn't great when they made it. But then as they write more they reveal that they didn't have the correct ingredients, didn't follow the method of mixing and then put it in the wrong pan in too hot of an oven. You just can't find success baking if you aren't accurate and if you don't follow the dirrections.

Perhaps some of the confusion happens when beginning bakers learn that advanced bakers break rules and don't always follow recipes exactly...so they think they can also. But baking isn't random.

So right this second, if you can follow written dirrections and the dirrections your given are good/accurate your a baker!

But of course it's not exactly that simple (but almost). Now you gotta figure out where to find the best recipes with the best written dirrections........and the book with the prettiest cover isn't necessarily the book you should be trusting. Theres authors out there with mutiple well selling baking books but because a book sells well doesn't mean it's a really good book on baking. I got into a discussion a couple months back with a website owner who had a top 10 list of must have baking books. His creteria included books that appeared to be reader freindly.........judged so by a critic whom has no real skill in baking themselves. How can you be on a panel to judge baking books if you don't bake?.....makes no sense to me.

#26 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 01:54 PM

How to pick your recipes:

The easiest short cut to achieving this, with-out learning a great deal about every book and every chef is to listen to more advanced bakers opinions of a book and author. Understand that you'll never see us all agree on any one book or author, that's a fact! But there are a couple authors and books that the vast majority of us will agree on.........seek those out. You can just look thru our forum (Pastry & Baking) and see that a few books and authors have some huge threads.....theres your clue.

If left totally on your own to find reliable recipes there are some sources that are typically reliable. Major brands like Kraft, Pillsbury, Cooks Illustrated, Godiva, Martha Stewart, etc... do alot of testing of their recipes before publishing. Where as Ms. Q. with her blog and cake website might not have even baked the recipe she's giving you. Looking closer, Ms. Q. might even be posting on this very thread..........just cause they are here doesn't give them instant crediblity (that includes myself). You gotta figure out who you can trust over a period of time.

#27 Wendy DeBord

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 03:45 PM

"Huh," she says, "I think the proportion of cake to AP flour is off. What do you think?"

"Um, yeah, right, probably," I murmur. Then I slink over to the liquor cabinet and make a double manhattan.


Reality time:

Sometimes I'm mumuring the same thing Chris.....or shaking my head saying "hell if I know". There aren't always simple answers...........theres so many variables with baking that it's almost impossible to figure out what the "wrong" factor is. Shirley C. was supposed to have a book out on baking, what like last year. But to the best of my knowledge it's not ready yet. Even great scientists struggle figuring out/singling out what reaction is causing what. We make educated guesses around here based on experience........but who knows our/my guesses could be way off from the real science of what went wrong.

So jump in, go for it!! It's exactly like learning anything else, give yourself time and repetition to learn.

Where you want to go on this topic depends upon you. I wish I could write a couple pages and clarify all of baking for you all. I'd be rich too if I could. We can reccomend some good baking books for beginners and someone or everyone will come in here behind me and tell you "no don't get this book, get that book.". The best I can do is tell you which books I'd buy if I had to re-learn basic baking, and which ones I wish I hadn't spent money on.

I wouldn't buy a baking book that was dumbed down for begginers or overly simplified. Often they leave out the brain work for you so your not learning as you go. They can mystify and pass on incomplete information on baking and pastisery so you never learn the 'why's' and 'hows' of baking. I'd choose books that show me specific skills, books that show me how those skills relate to other skills. Books that show me that 'this', is related to 'that'.

If I had to relearn baking tommarow I'd choose a teaching book from a major culinary school. I particularly like Le Cordon Bleu Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen. I know the fact that it's called a "professional" book will run off most people.......you gotta remember it's to teach you how to bake....not a book for only professionals.

Theres several similar teaching/professional books available but I can't reccomend those. Typcially because they don't stand alone as a teaching tool with-out a teacher teaching you as you go. Where as Gisslens book does a very good job of teaching with explainations, not a mear listing of recipes. He explains flours, sugars, fats, weighing ingredients, etc.... He talks about how things relate and interact with each other. His book even includes terms for review and questions for review if you were inclined to want to learn along with turning out a decent cake.

O.k..........I'm sure many peoples eyes are glazing over.........I know you just want to learn some basics of baking..........but this really is where I'd dirrect you as a person who just wants to learn the basics. It's not alot different then opening RBL's Cake Bible, as far as difficulty goes. In fact, I think Gisslen is more simplified, more basic, covers a much wider range of items, is more accurate, more trust worthy for the quality of the baked goods it produces.

#28 mrbigjas

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 03:57 PM

"a cake tester..... comes out clean."

Also wrong. You want your cake to have a nice moist fluffy crumb, so you want that same moist fluffy crumb to come out clinging to your cake tester. A clean tester means a dried out cake. You want the crumbs to be moist, but not wet. Scrape them off the tester between your thumb and forefinger and rub your fingers together. The crumbs should roll into a moist ball the same way fresh bread will, not smear between your fingers or feel wet at all.




omg as a member of the baking ignoramus community, i have wondered about that for YEARS--why would i want the thing to come out clean, when what was coming out on it seemed like delicious cake/muffin/bread/whatever. thank you!



(edited to change 'dumbass' to 'ignoramus' due to seeing the vigorous protest from baking professionals on the thread...)

Edited by mrbigjas, 12 February 2006 - 04:01 PM.


#29 sanrensho

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 04:07 PM

Here is the publisher's info for the Gisslen book that Wendy refers to. A link to the table of contents is also included.

I wish I could preview a copy of this book before buying it.

http://he-cda.wiley....llegeAbout.html
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#30 mrbigjas

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Posted 12 February 2006 - 04:13 PM

Then you have to have a sense of accuracy. We'll be searching for the best cake (in threads here at eG) and someone will test the core recipe we are working with and pronouce it shit because it wasn't great when they made it. But then as they write more they reveal that they didn't have the correct ingredients, didn't follow the method of mixing and then put it in the wrong pan in too hot of an oven.




these are my favorite recipe reviews on sites like epicurious.com:

"i tried to make this hazlenut torte with burnt sugar buttercream. but i was out of hazlenuts so i used peanuts. and i didn't have the amount of all purpose flour it called for, so i made up the rest with cornstarch and talcum powder. for the frosting i only had half the butter necessary so i made up the rest with bacon fat. and my cake pan was in use, so i baked the whole thing in an old running shoe i found in the basement. and my family hated it! i would definitely NOT make this recipe again, and i rate it one fork, but only because it won't let me give it zero!"

uh... ok....