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Blog: The girl who’s learning to bake


yorkshirepud
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Welcome to my baking blog.

As a home baker (a novice one at that), I’ve whipped up chocolate chip cookies and the odd pie. I’ve delighted in watching my family’s face smile in joy as they take their first bite and declare it better than store bought. Of course, they just see the plated results. What they don’t see is the throwing together of ingredients and me simply hoping for the best.

So, I have set myself the challenge of truly learning how to bake. I invite you to join me on my ride.

First things first, my baking background.

My “baking efforts” began a few years ago as a newlywed. This included cookies from a bag. I believe you just had to add water. It all seemed so easy, but alas, I recall not even getting that right. Another favorite was opening a pudding mix, adding milk and beating it with a hand mixer. If I was feeling adventurous I’d also serve it with Jell-O. Before going any further, in my defense, I must say that I made killer Butterfly Cakes as a kid.

Of course, since then, I have learned that one can create desserts without the aid of a premixed batter. Gone are the days where I walk down the baking aisle ignoring the bags of flour, baking powder and other essentials to get to the ‘bag’ of cookie dough. My baking pantry (okay, so it’s two drawers but you get the idea) was transformed.

Hence, the real baking began … or did it?

My leap into the baking world immediately began on the wrong path. At the time, I was of the mindset that all fat was evil. Hence, butter and whipping cream was the enemy. I recollect trying to make a pecan pie with a crust made from tub margarine! Needless to say, it was a major flop. The actual filling was quite delightful scooped from my pathetic crust though.

Since, I have made many wonderful lower fat desserts that family has devoured. However, was I making progress as a baker? Sure, I could follow a recipe and produce pleasing results, but what was the point of creating a pie crust if I didn’t understand why the butter was there in the first place (and reduced at that!). Why replace whipping cream with the stuff you can buy in a tub for a Banana Cream Pie if I haven’t experienced the joy of the pie at its greatest?

I soon found myself wanting to understand the ingredients and their place in recipes. To garner this knowledge, I decided I needed to embrace the recipes in their truest form. I needed to see and practice baking at its best. Hence, I have armed myself with baking books that inspire and leave me intrigued by the procedures followed and the resulting outcome. I’ve stocked my kitchen with the necessary tools and ingredients (of which I’m sure more will follow). So, I am all set. Let the games begin!

My plan is to bake something on a weekly basis (if not more) and share with you my experiences, successes and failures. I look to you to share your knowledge and expertise, offer advice and understanding. Questions are welcome and I hope that over time, if related to baking, I will be able to clearly answer them without referring to books.

So, inspired by the following quote:

"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." — James Beard (1903-1985)

… my journey begins. Bring on the butter and whipping cream!

Adele
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I'm looking forward to seeing your progress. I'm in kind of the same boat as you (though I learned to embrace fat early on because you can't make a good pie crust without it) and have decided to release the baker within me.

Eclairs went off with my husband to work this morning. Not bad, although the puffs softened a bit overnight (I didn't fill them until this morning).

Good luck to you! I'd love to know what books/tools you've armed yourself with in your quest and what you hope to accomplish/achieve.

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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jgarner53,

Well, I have recently purchased a variety of baking books which include:

Baking with Julia – Dorie Greenspan (I have to thank SethG and his thread for inspiring me to purchase this book)

A Passion for Desserts – Emily Luchetti

The Bread Bible – Rose Levy Beranbaum

The Pie & Pastry Bible - Rose Levy Beranbaum

Bittersweet – Alice Medrich

The Secrets of Baking – Sherry Yard

Celebrate with Chocolate – Marcel Desaulniers

I’m sure more will find a home on my bookshelf as I progress. However, I think these will lead me in the right direction.

Equipment wise its never-ending (will it ever be?). I purchased a stand mixer a few months ago but haven’t really unleashed its potential yet. Basically, I’ve just bought (sometimes replaced) the basics (decent pans, whisks, baking stone) with a few extras (i.e. mini cheesecake pans, digital candy thermometer). Yes, I’m star struck when I hit Williams-Sonoma.

I guess my biggest equipment purchase (if you could call it that) is a new kitchen (just finished a week or so ago). When we were designing it, I incorporated a designated baking area on one side arming the countertops with butcher-block maple wood, mentally placing all my baking goodies in the area. My KA (I call her Ruby) stands proud in the corner. Now, I have no excuse!

As to what I hope to accomplish and achieve: I think the biggest thing is understanding and confidence. Previously I’ve just followed a recipe, paying little regard to the ingredients and why they are there. Why they make a recipe work. This no longer satisfied me. Sure, I could take all the praise from family when they tried my goodies, but in the back of my mind as we all took out first bite; I was praying it was okay. I want to develop the confidence to know the ingredients I used will work, not because the recipe says it will, but because I get it. I get how they work together. I want to develop the confidence to take a recipe and create my own renditions. My list is endless really.

Adele
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And she’s off …

Well guys, I just finalized my tasks for this weekend. In an ode to my failed pecan pie in days past, I deemed it fitting to bake off a pecan pie to officially launch my project. Of course, what is pie without ice-cream?

So, the project for this weekend is:

Pecan PieThe Pie & Pastry Bible (Rose Levy Beranbaum)

Vanilla Ice-CreamRecipe TBD

Creamy Caramel Sauce - The Secrets of Baking (Sherry Yard)

Off the bat, I’m already a little nervous about the pecan pie. I just read through the recipe and see I have to cook egg yolks on the stove. Will they scramble? Time will tell (will buy extra eggs just in case). I’ve cooked eggs on the stove before for ice-cream, but they were already tempered before being placed over heat (not to say that has ever stopped me scrambling the eggs a little). I’m also nervous about using my digital candy thermometer. It’s a recent purchase and has helped me fail twice already (bitter caramel anyone?). My biggest problem is making it stay clipped to the pan. It always seems to bloody fall off.

On the subject of ice-cream, here’s where you can help. While I know vanilla ice-cream would match well with the pecan pie, I feel the need to branch out (READ – vanilla ice-cream is all I ever do!). So, here’s where I need some advice.

What ice-cream do you think would compliment my pecan pie?

By all means, offer your suggestions, but I would also appreciate it if you could explain your choice. I want to understand why flavors are brought together and how they accentuate their partners on the plate.

My first thought was Butter Pecan, but then I realized this is likely pecan overkill. Or is it?

My second thought was Caramel Gelato in The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard. Would it compete with the pie? Perhaps is would replicate the delicious pecan turtles I love. Of course, this means working with my thermometer again to make caramel (Note to self: it is my friend not foe). Another concern is that the recipe includes amaretto liqueur. Would the almond and pecan flavors work together?

Edited to add my finalized plan for this weekend's project

Edited by yorkshirepud (log)
Adele
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As far as the ice cream question - I think that a Dulce de Leche ice cream would be delicious with Pecan Pie. It would accent the carmelized flavors nicely. Could be too sweet, though... hmmm...

Another option could be to go with vanilla, but stir in a ribbon of caramel at the end. Although if I remember correctly, that's exactly what you were going for when you wound up with bitter caramel, correct?

An interesting flavor combination could be a coffee ice cream with the pecan pie. I love nutty flavors with coffee, and I think that the coffee wouldn't be too sweet with the pie.

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sequim, I plan on serving the pie warm. Like you, I enjoy the melting goodness of the ice-cream.

Rebecca, nice to see you. :smile:

I did consider a caramel swirl ice-cream also. That might be the route to go as it still forces me to make caramel which is one of my goals. The bitter caramel was for caramel ice-cream, so it wasn’t for a swirl as such. A coffee ice-cream is interesting also.

Now I’ve read about this Dulce de Leche ice cream and understand you boil a tin of sweetened condensed milk in water, or something along those lines. Interesting. :hmmm: What exactly does this ice-cream taste like?

Thanks for the recommendation on the thermometer. I’ll give mine another shot (or a few) and see how it goes.

Adele
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Adele, do you want the personal discovery of the laws of baking science to be part of your adventure or have you considered acquiring Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" and/or Shirley Corriher's "Cookwise" to help you with some of the kitchen chemistry and physics?

Good luck on your journey and I am looking forward to reading your posts!

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Thanks Rebecca.

I think I’m going to go the caramel route, likely the swirl. Now this raises some questions.

I was just browsing a variety of books checking out the caramel sauce recipes. What I don’t understand is why some use butter and others don’t. One uses crème fraiche which the author states will add a touch of acidity. That part I get as it will tame the sweetness, but now I wonder what a difference it would make to add/or not butter.

mktye,

I imagine it will be a combination of both. Part of my quest is to trust my instincts, but I realise first, I need to grasp and ins and outs of it all. I have seen Cookwise mentioned often here and will have a gander at it. I haven’t heard of the other bloke, but thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Adele
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The Dulce de Leche ice cream sounds like a great foil for the pecan pie. As for worrying about scrambling the egg yolks, could you do it in a double boiler? Less direct heat, slower to cook, less chance that you'll have scrambled eggs.

(bitter caramel anyone?)

as for the bitter caramel, I don't watch my caramel's temp. I eyeball it. :shock: At Christmas I made multiple batches of caramel sauce for gifts and learned how to watch for the sugar to turn. I found it easiest in a good, heavy saucepan where it heated evenly. Otherwise the caramel tended to darken from the outside in.

Practice makes perfect! And if you didn't already know this, you can get hardened sugar off a pan by filling it with water and bringing it to a boil. It will melt the sugar. :smile:

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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jgarner53

It would have to be a make shift double boiler but that’s a good route to go. I successfully made custard for a Black Bottom Tiramisu Tart this past weekend using this method.

Here’s a picture of it. I was mightily impressed with myself!

i7521.jpg

I think the problem with my first attempt at caramel was using a recipe that asked you to take the temp to 380 (this was to increase the intensity). In the beginning, it seemed fine and I began to get excited when that familiar caramel aroma began to fill my kitchen. Yet, within seconds, the damn thing was smoking! I should have trusted my instinct. I had a feeling it was perfect (perhaps not the bitter version the author was hoping for), but my thermometer told me I had more degrees to go. What a load of bollocks!

Adele
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Adele, I know you are going to have a good time with your adventures in baking. There is something so satisfying about watching something that looks like an offspring of the Blob, emerge looking like a piece of art.

There are people who will tell you that there are "born" bakers or cooks but the truth is that baking works on scientific principals that are dependably predictable. There are of course certain variables, altitude, humidity or the lack of it, barometric pressure, all of which can have an effect but once you understand how to work in your area you have the basics.

I have a couple of hints when baking a new recipe for the first time. Gather all the utensils, pans and ingredients ahead of time. I use a tray for each recipe. This insures that you will have all the necessary ingredients and implements when you are ready to start. You can even measure the dry ingredients and store them in ziploc bags days ahead of time so when you are ready to bake all you have to do is combine the ingredients. If you figure out how much time it takes to do all the measuring and other prep work you will see that it will make a difference, particularly when you run into something that has 10 or 15 ingredients.

(I bake numerous batches of various types of cookies for the holidays each year and I do all this prep work ahead of time and have all the pre-measured dry ingredients assembled on a tray or in a bus tub and placed in plastic bags and stacked in my pantry. When I am ready to start baking it works like an assembly line and saves me loads of time.)

I use a lot of shortbread for bases in desserts, or just for tea cookies.

I mix it in large batches in a food processor and store it in a sealed container in the fridge. When needed I just scoop out as much as I need, press it into a pan and bake. It keeps for several weeks.

Heres wishing you the very best of luck in your endeavors,

Andie

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Just thought I would put in my two cents on ice cream flavors with pecan pie. Personally I would steer clear of caramel-based flavors (too similar to the filling flavor) and head more toward the contrasting and complimentary. Think about what goes with pecans - peaches, bourbon, bananas, coffee, pineapple...

And don't underestimate the power of perfectly done vanilla. :smile:

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What could possibly be more perfect, melting on top of a piece of warm pecan pie, than the soft yellow tint of an egg based custard, flecked with the rich black of vanilla and the contrast of the warm pie and cold ice cream. This is a sensory memory from many summer dinners and picnics.

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Personally I would steer clear of caramel-based flavors (too similar to the filling flavor) and head more toward the contrasting and complimentary. Think about what goes with pecans - peaches, bourbon, bananas, coffee, pineapple...

And don't underestimate the power of perfectly done vanilla. :smile:

nightscotsman, It's funny you should mention this. I just got done making caramel (more on that later) and upon tasting, I thought the taste was quite like the filling of pecan pie. I thought it would be too much. So, I think I may just go the vanilla ice-cream route and keep the caramel for another use. As you've mentioned, and dlc, could it be more perfect? Though I do like your other ideas, especially the peach. Oh decisions, decisions.

Dlc, I think your description there sold me on the vanilla ice-cream. Unless of course peach ice-cream wins the slot.

Andie, wow, you sound very organized. Being an organization freak myself, I appreciate that. I have to admit though, I can be one of those bakers that are scurrying around the kitchen looking for an ingredient with batters waiting on me. I plan to exercise better organization -- mise en place :biggrin: , in the future.

Edited by yorkshirepud (log)
Adele
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Hi, Adele! How exciting. I'll be looking forward to hearing how your pecan pie turns out. (I've never seen a recipe where you cook the eggs first. Whose is it?)

Just throwing in my two cents for Cookwise. It's an excellent book, and I think you'd find it very useful -- explanations of how the basic ingredients do what they do, and why, in baking (and other cooking) and how to manipulate them for different results (f'rinstance, she gives a basic cookie recipe, then tells you how to mess with it for chewy cookies, softer cookies, crisper cookies, and so on, and why).

When I redo my kitchen (whenever that ends up happening) I too have a baking area all planned out. I want a granite countertop for it...

Katharine

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Oh, one other thing: a scale. While probably most, if not all, of the recipes you're using call for volumetric measurements, a scale is VERY handy. I have one that's about 3/4 inch high and maybe 10 inches square, which is very easy to store. I find I'm using it more and more as I learn more about baking.

My dream kitchen has a baking area with a maple counter inset, too. And a pastry marble on the side. But the rest of the counters are soapstone.

Gather all the utensils, pans and ingredients ahead of time.

How true, how true.

BTW, your tiramisu tart looks yummy!

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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Katharine, nice to see you!

The recipe is from The Pie & Pastry Bible by RLB.

Thanks for the recommendation on Cookwise. I will check it out next time I'm in Chapters.

I have granite on the other side of the kitchen. I haven't tried it out for baking purposes yet, but I did read that granite is the next best thing for tempering chocolate next to marble.

jgarner53, I agree, scales are a must. I couldn't live without mine now. I initially just used it for bread baking, but now that I'm baking on a broader scale, I'm becoming quite frustrated that most books only offer volume measures, not weight. I like the accuracy weighing provides (it appeases the perfectionist in me). I'm now starting to write the weights into the books using the guide found in the Pie & Pastry Bible for various ingredients.

Adele
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Adele, now I'm going to have to check out that book. I've made pecan pies in all different shapes, sizes and colors but never have I seen a recipe that involves cooking the egg yolks over the stove. I'll bet the filling is very smooth. Yum.

I don't know if the recipe says to do this, but one thing you might consider doing is sauteeing the pecans in a bit of the butter. The pecans soak up some of the butter flavor and the butter browns -- which adds more flavor to the pie. Of course I haven't seen the RLB recipe you're using, so maybe it already says to do this.

And I am in total agreement that pecan pie would best be served with vanilla ice cream.

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