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Chris Amirault

Baking 101

331 posts in this topic

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.

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"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.

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"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 (log)

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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....

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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....

This is hilarious.

:laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh::laugh:

edited to say the above is a quote from the previous post. I screwed up the reply.


Edited by Beanie (log)

Ilene

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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....

This is hilarious.

:laugh:  :laugh:  :laugh:  :laugh:  :laugh:  :laugh:

edited to say the above is a quote from the previous post. I screwed up the reply.

:laugh: Half the reviews really do read like that.


"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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^^ But at least those people are intelligent and have a sense of humour.

Then you get ones like: "I have always hated liver, my husband hates liver and our kids have always hated it too, so I made this liver recipe and......."

Now those people are stupid! And then they wonder why they didn't like liver this time.... again!

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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!

I am far from an expert but here's what I did:

Proofed the yeast (mixed the required amount of yeast w/about 1/2 cup of warm water, I think the package say 115 degrees) after it was nice and frothy I made the recipe as written (but deducted 1/2 cup of the water from the original recipe.

My house is also cold, I either increase the proofing time (look at the dough until it's doubled) or put in the microwave with a cup of hot water (increases the surrounding temp) or you could put it in the luandry room:).

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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. 

Respectfully, I disagree - sometimes you want a little gluten in your cake, it just depends on what kind of structure you want your cake to have. I've done chiffon cakes with cake flour and gotten fluffy, light cakes, and I've done chiffon cakes with AP flour and gotten firm, dense, moist cakes, and both have turned out great - but they serve different purposes for me.

I gotta ask - do some people have different types of AP flour for different types of baking? For example, I use King Arthur AP for a lot of my stuff, including cakes that ask for AP, but am wondering if I should use a bleached one like Gold Medal for cakes.

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I gotta ask - do some people have different types of AP flour for different types of baking?  For example, I use King Arthur AP for a lot of my stuff, including cakes that ask for AP, but am wondering if I should use a bleached one like Gold Medal for cakes.

Now I'm confused. Does bleaching break down the protein or gluten too? Otherwise, what difference would it make, bleached or unbleached, save taste or quality considerations?


Edited by Sugarella (log)

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Bleaching can, depending upon the bleaching agent used, weaken the gluten structure of a soft wheat flour and allowing the starch to absorb water more quickly. Chlorine is used on cake flours for just this effect. Benzoyl peroxide is used on all types of flours and mostly just whitens and matures the flour.

Bromating is a maturing agent that strengthens the flour.

So, yes, they do have an impact of the strength of the flour. And, you may notice that cake flours are hard to find in natural food stores because those stores won't sell bleached flours. The softest you can usually find is pastry flour.


Cheryl, The Sweet Side

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And soft means less gluten, whereas hard means more?

Generally, soft means less protein and hard means more protein. More protein means more gluten.

But, it also depends upon the region where the wheat was grown. And, it depends on whether it is spring wheat or winter wheat. Or, whether it is a red wheat or a white wheat... And because I am now going beyond my realm of comfort, I'll stop. It also goes way beyond Baking 101. A bread baker would run circles around me!


Cheryl, The Sweet Side

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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. 

Respectfully, I disagree - sometimes you want a little gluten in your cake, it just depends on what kind of structure you want your cake to have. I've done chiffon cakes with cake flour and gotten fluffy, light cakes, and I've done chiffon cakes with AP flour and gotten firm, dense, moist cakes, and both have turned out great - but they serve different purposes for me.

I gotta ask - do some people have different types of AP flour for different types of baking? For example, I use King Arthur AP for a lot of my stuff, including cakes that ask for AP, but am wondering if I should use a bleached one like Gold Medal for cakes.

Skyflyer,

That is why I said "simplistically." As pointed out in a later post (and rightfully so) flour is a complex thing. But this is "Baking 101" so I was attempting to give a rather basic view of the properties of why one would choose cake vs. AP vs. whatever else kind of flour.

But to answer your question, it's definitely worth experimenting with. I do use different APs (although KA is my "go to" flour), because KA is such a high protein AP and I don't think it's always the best choice for some of the things I'm making, e.g., certain cakes and pastries. Occasionally, I'll make a batch of something with two different flours side-by-side to test the difference.

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Bleaching can, depending upon the bleaching agent used, weaken the gluten structure of a soft wheat flour and allowing the starch to absorb water more quickly.  Chlorine is used on cake flours for just this effect.  Benzoyl peroxide is used on all types of flours and mostly just whitens and matures the flour.

Bromating is a maturing agent that strengthens the flour.

So, yes, they do have an impact of the strength of the flour.  And, you may notice that cake flours are hard to find in natural food stores because those stores won't sell bleached flours.  The softest you can usually find is pastry flour.

And soft means less gluten, whereas hard means more?

Not long ago, my grocery store ran out of cake flour. I stopped at a health food store and the only kind they had was pastry flour. Since I was unfamiliar with this type of flour, I didn't buy it. Is this a comparable substitute? What is the difference in protien content?

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Not long ago, my grocery store ran out of cake flour.  I stopped at a health food store and the only kind they had was pastry flour.  Since I was unfamiliar with this type of flour, I didn't buy it.  Is this a comparable substitute?  What is the difference in protien content?

Pastry flour is softer -- lower in protein -- than A/P flour. It may even be softer than cake flour; I would use a mix of 75% pastry flour, 25% A/P flour to sub for cake flour.

Or, you could probably make some killer biscuits with the straight pastry flour.....

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I think it would be helpful for all of us if those of you who think of yourselves as "baking dumbasses" would share what you have baked lately. Or maybe what you want to bake. We can direct you to some recipes tips, techniques.

I personally think that one of the most fun things you can learn to bake is cream puffs. I use a basic recipe:

1 stick butter

1 cup water

bring to a boil

1 cup flour

stir in until it forms a big lump and then stir for one minute more

beat in 4 eggs one at a time until fully incorporated

I then use a small ice cream scoop to put these on a baking sheet an bake them at 400 for 30 minutes. Mine come out perfect every time. You can also use the two teaspoon trick people use for cookies.

YMMV And you will definitely find some people on this board who use different recipes or techniques or both. I give you this recipe because it's easy to follow, it doesn't require any special equipment, and people are always impressed.

While these are cooling, make your favorite pudding then whip some heavy cream until it's almost stiff and fold it into the cooled pudding. When the puffs are cool, slice the tops off and use the same ice cream scoop (clean of course) or two teaspoons to fill the puffs with the pudding mixture. Put the tops back on and sprinkle with powdered sugar or drizzle melted chocolate on top. Serve these to your friends. They will not think you're a dumbass. They will think you rock as a baker.

If you don't understand any of the terms I used, please ask. We will all be glad to help.

What types of things are you working on?

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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....

:laugh::laugh:

Readers' reviews on epicurious are often like that, and depending on my mood I find it either hilarious or terribly frustrating.

Sugarella: thanks for all that information, it's great.

I love to bake. I'm getting much better at it. This thread is a wonderful idea.

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I think it would be helpful for all of us if those of you who think of yourselves as "baking dumbasses" would share what you have baked lately.  Or maybe what you want to bake.  We can direct you to some recipes tips, techniques. 

I personally think that one of the most fun things you can learn to bake is cream puffs.  I use a basic recipe:

1 stick butter

1 cup water

bring to a boil

1 cup flour

stir in until it forms a big lump and then stir for one minute more

beat in 4 eggs one at a time until fully incorporated

I then use a small ice cream scoop to put these on a baking sheet an bake them at 400 for 30 minutes.  Mine come out perfect every time.  You can also use the two teaspoon trick people use for cookies.

YMMV  And you will definitely find some people on this board who use different recipes or techniques or both.  I give you this recipe because it's easy to follow, it doesn't require any special equipment, and people are always impressed.

While these are cooling, make your favorite pudding then whip some heavy cream until it's almost stiff and fold it into the cooled pudding.  When the puffs are cool, slice the tops off and use the same ice cream scoop (clean of course) or two teaspoons to fill the puffs with the pudding mixture.  Put the tops back on and sprinkle with powdered sugar or drizzle melted chocolate on top.  Serve these to your friends.  They will not think you're a dumbass.  They will think you rock as a baker.

If you don't understand any of the terms I used, please ask.  We will all be glad to help.

What types of things are you working on?

I love a simple recipe that will make me look like a cooking genius. Not to make things complicated, but when you incorporate the eggs into to the flour mixture, do you do this in a mixer or by hand?

Ruth, thanks for your input on the flour!

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When I make cream puff (choux) paste, I beat the eggs in with a wooden spoon.

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My daughter dislikes pastry so yesterday I attempted to make some mini shells in a muffin pan using a recipe for coconut shells - coconut, egg white and sugar. All went well until it came time to remove the shells from the muffin tin - they were stuck so badly that I could only remove them by crumbling them. I soaked the tin and was able to get all the shells out but my time was wasted totally. The muffin pan is non-stick and the recipe made no mention of greasing the pan. Any one else try this? Would it work if I sprayed the pan with PAM?


Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Never call a stomach a tummy without good reason.” William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style

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I love a simple recipe that will make me look like a cooking genius.  Not to make things complicated, but when you  incorporate the eggs into to the flour mixture, do you do this in a mixer or by hand?

Ruth, thanks for your input on the flour!

I have done it both ways. It is more of a workout by hand but it is by no means impossible. If you have a mixer either a hand mixer or a stand mixer will work.

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While these are cooling, make your favorite pudding then whip some heavy cream until it's almost stiff and fold it into the cooled pudding.

Ellen -

I'm probably way over-pre-thinking this -- I've never worked with cream before, though, and I feel like every recipe I read warns against overbeating -- creams, batters, eggs. I'm terrified of beating anything because I have no clue how sensitive any of these things are or how you can tell when you're at the right point. I think I can figure out 'almost stiff' but I'm wondering if you could provide even a general time frame on that -- is it two minutes? Ten? I know it will vary depending on how you do the beating too. Would it be possible to whisk this by hand, or totally unadvisable? I have neither a stand nor a hand mixer, though I have an immersion blender with a few different attachments.

Thank you so much for all the help! Everyone here is so fantastic. :D

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The muffin pan is non-stick and the recipe made no mention of greasing the pan.  Any one else try this?  Would it work if I sprayed the pan with PAM?

I never trust non-stick pans to stay, well, un-stuck. I always grease and flour (or cocoa). You could also use Baker's Joy which already has flour in it. I find it more economical to mix up some baker's grease as mentioned in other threads--equal parts shortening, flour and oil whipped together.


Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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