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The Buzz on Baking Books: Food Allergies

  • Jun 14, 2016
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Photo credit to amazon.com

Food allergies are on the rise, leaving many concerned parents and bewildered bakers scratching their heads. How do you make muffins without milk, eclairs without eggs, or ooey-gooey bars without gluten? 

In keeping with our “The Buzz on Baking Books” series, we’re highlighting three cookbooks that will help you whip up all your favorite baked goods — free of allergy-inducing ingredients — without sacrificing taste.

  • The Food Allergy Mama’s Baking Book: Great Dairy-, Egg-, and Nut-Free Treats for the Whole Family by Kelly Rudnicki. Popular blogger Rudnicki has taken her passion for promoting allergy awareness and funneled it into dozens of delicious recipes that don’t use dairy, eggs or nuts. She includes all the fan favorites, ingredient substitution suggestions, and advice for handling children’s parties. Be sure to try her banana chocolate chip muffins!
  • The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook by Cybele Pascal. Though her book includes recipes that are free of gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame, food writer Pascal believes in focusing on what you can eat versus what you can’t. She provides bakers with 100 scrumptious recipes, including Red Velvet Cake, Glazed Vanilla Scones and Lemon-Lime Squares.
  • The Allergy-Free Cook Bakes Cakes & Cookies by Laurie Sadowski. Gluten, dairy, egg and soy — beware. You’re not included here, and you’re not missed. Nutrition and wellness specialist Sadowski advocates using fresh ingredients and provides fresh advice on eating safely. Her recipes, from creamy-dreamy cupcakes to gooey bars, don’t sacrifice one iota of taste.

 

Celebrate confectioners sugar

  • Jun 06, 2016
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Photo credit to wisegeek.com

As a baker, you’re well acquainted with sugar. It makes your cakes more creamy-dreamy, s’mores so much more, and your muffins more melt-in-your-mouth good. In short, it makes just about everything more extraordinary.

But what’s the deal with confectioners sugar? Chances are you know it’s the same thing as powdered sugar or 10X sugar (and that it’s sometimes also called “icing sugar” – yum!). Whatever the name, it’s granulated sugar that has been ground to a fine powder, and there are varying degrees of fineness (hence the 10X reference – you may also see labels with additional Xs, which represent finer grains.) With finer particles comes more moisture, so confectioners sugar typically has an anti-caking agent such as corn starch added to it to prevent clumping of the crystals. If you’re a brave soul who opts to make confectioners sugar at home, you can do so by putting granular sugar in a food processor, a coffee grinder or even by using a mortar and pestle. Just don’t forget the corn starch!

There’s nothing like a light dusting of confectioners sugar on just-from-the-oven baked goods, for both added sweetness and for aesthetic purposes. It’s also ideal for icings, frostings, and glazes, allowing you to avoid the grainy texture that would result from using regular sugar. Similarly, confectioners sugar won’t weigh down whipped cream or a rich meringue the way granular sugar will.

If you’re not regularly using confectioners sugar, start doing so. It will make your life (and your baked goods) infinitely more delicious!

10 things you didn't know about vanilla extract and vanilla beans

  • May 23, 2016
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Photo credit to nutiana.com

10 Things You Didn't Know About Vanilla

In most contexts besides food, “vanilla” is considered plain or ordinary. But when it comes to food and baking — wow! Vanilla is delicious on its own, yes, but it also works to enhance the deliciousness of other foods. Indeed, vanilla is extraordinary, whether you bake with vanilla extract, beans or paste. Here are 10 fun vanilla facts.

  1. Ancient history: Vanilla beans were plundered throughout history, from the Aztecs to Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés.
  2. Not-so ancient history. Thomas Jefferson reportedly brought his affinity for French vanilla ice cream (and the recipe) to the American shores.  
  3. A rose by any other name. Vanilla is a flowering plant and produces the only edible fruit within the orchid family.
  4. Vineyard vines. Vanilla vines are slow to grow, but can reach 30 feet in height. 
  5. Bee mighty. Only the stingless melipona bee, native to Mexico, can pollinate vanilla vines. (Well, and humans.)
  6. Mexican monopoly. Vanilla is indigenous to Mexico, but Indonesia and Madagascar now top the list of vanilla-producing countries.
  7. U.S. monopoly. Sources vary, but some cite the United States as the world’s largest consumer of vanilla.
  8. Vanilla monopoly. Some sources cite vanilla as the most popular ice cream flavor in the United States.
  9. Medicinal benefits. Vanilla has long been revered for its soothing, mood-boosting, mind-sharpening properties.
  10. Beyond baking. Vanilla is in most perfumes and has industrial uses too, but it is most beloved for the way it transforms our baked goods.

Dear Baker: What can I substitute for flour, sugar or honey?

  • May 16, 2016
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It’s substitution time! Maybe you want to avoid what have been called the “malicious whites” (also known as flour and sugar), maybe you’re battling a food allergy, or maybe you just don’t have a particular ingredient on hand. Whatever the case, here are some delicious alternatives for this month’s spotlight ingredients: flour, sugar and honey. (Scale your recipes accordingly.)

Flour

  • Almond flour: Finely ground almonds allow you to avoid grains and boost protein at once. Used in French macarons, almond flour also works well in cakes, muffins and quick breads.
  • Coconut flour: High in healthy fats and packed with fiber, dried coconut absorbs a lot of liquid, so you may need to add eggs to your recipes to bind the ingredients.
  • Spelt flour: Sweet, light and slightly nutty, spelt flour is part of the wheat family but is not exactly wheat. Give your baking goods the same texture as regular flour, with a richer nutritional profile.

Sugar

  • Agave nectar: As a syrup, agave nectar requires you to reduce the amount of liquid in your recipe. It’s purported to have less effect on blood sugar than regular white table sugar — without a compromise in taste.
  • Maple syrup: Stick with real maple syrup vs. maple-flavored products for the nutritional benefits and healthy dose of minerals. Keep in mind that maple syrup baked goods brown faster than those made with sugar.
  • Honey: Swap out 3/4 cup honey for every 1 cup of sugar, and keep in mind that, like syrups, honey adds moisture (not to mention potassium and vitamins).

Honey

  • Need a honey substitute? Try agave nectar or maple syrup.

The buzz on baking books: Culinary references to keep on hand

  • May 09, 2016
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As a baker, your kitchen is likely home to dog-eared, chocolate-fingerprint-stained baking books. And as your skills evolve, so too should your reading material.

If you’re not so much a novice baker as you are an artisan, then you need more than just recipes. You need theories, techniques, and information on the latest trends. Here are our top picks for bakers who need deeper insight into the craft:

Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen

This has served as the quintessential guide to baking for many a chef and baking professional. Whatever your level, there’s a treasure trove of information here, from baking for special diets to sugar confections to how particular ingredients will perform in the oven.

Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft by The Culinary Institute of America

Another comprehensive source for professionals and aspiring professionals alike, the latest version of this guide contains new recipes, new techniques and input on sustainability and seasonality. Named "Best Book: Professional Kitchen" at the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Cookbook Awards.

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

As co-owner of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, Robertson is considered by many to be the country’s best bread baker. Inspiration leaps from every page and the author’s passion for loaves of bread as life’s foundation shines through as well.

Flavor Bible by Karen Page

Flavor provides color to a world that would otherwise be black and white, and Page provides confidence and creativity for bakers who would otherwise shun experimentation. Excite all your senses with this tremendous index of ingredients that can combine into endless flavor combinations.

Photo credit to Amazon.com

Celebrate Cocoa Powder

  • May 02, 2016
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Does Hershey’s cocoa powder occupy pride of place in your baking pantry? Maybe, maybe not. But at the very least, you probably have fond childhood memories of the familiar brown can, particularly of snowy mornings when nothing hit the spot like a mug of hot cocoa. You may have also used it to whip up brownies, decadent chocolate cakes and creamy frosting.

As a child, you probably just knew that it tasted good, but there’s much more to cocoa powder than meets the eye – er, taste buds. It comes in two main varieties, including natural and Dutch process, and never the twain shall meet.

Natural cocoa powder is the classic unsweetened powder many of us grew up with. It is non-alkalized — in other words, acidic — giving it a slightly bitter flavor, but because it contains no fat, sugar or other ingredients that you find in regular chocolate, it retains a strong chocolate taste overall (hence the term “natural”). If a recipe calls for cocoa powder but doesn’t specify natural or Dutch, opt for the former.

Dutch process cocoa has a lower acidity, so you get a pure yet more mild chocolate flavor. Some bakers find it to have an earthy or nutty flavor. Dutch cocoa works well in recipes that require a deep chocolate color but not necessarily a deep chocolate taste.

Because of the difference in acidity levels, you shouldn’t use the two cocoa powders interchangeably. If your recipe calls for leavening agents such as baking soda or powder, natural cocoa powder works well to counterbalance them. But as any baker worth his or her salt knows, it’s always good to experiment. In fact, take those experiments beyond desserts by sprinkling cocoa powder in homemade breads or muffins to ignite your childhood memories — and your taste buds.

Photo credit to www.divineorganics.com

10 things you didn't know about chocolate baking bars

  • Apr 25, 2016
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The baking aisle of your local supermarket is like all of the other aisles: a sea of choices. You know that it’s where you find the baking bars of chocolate, and you likely know the basics of baking with it. It’s manufactured specifically for baking and not meant to be readily consumed like those tempting candy bars that reside near the cash registers. (Not that you couldn’t consume it that way.)

But as a baker, you need to know more than the basics. Here are some tantalizing (and tasty!) facts about baking bar chocolate:

  1. What baking chocolate lacks in sugar it makes up for it in cacao.
  2. It contains few ingredients other than cacao, helping it melt almost perfectly every time.
  3. Eaten out of hand, it has a naturally bitter taste.
  4. In baked goods, it has a richly delectable taste.   
  5. The ratio of other ingredients to the amount of cacao affects texture and how it will act in baked goods.
  6. Bars are known for their versatility. You can chop them and them and fold them into almost any batter.  
  7. The best way to store baking bars is in the original package with some plastic wrap for good measure. Refrigeration is not necessary.
  8. If exposed to moisture, your baking bar will experience a sugar bloom (whitish spots on its surface) but it’s still edible.
  9. If you’re considering chocolate chips as a substitute for bars (and we love chips, too) keep in mind that chips may not melt as readily and may not be as high quality.
  10. The higher the quality of bar chocolate, the better the finished product.

 

Dear Baker: What can I substitute for milk or buttermilk?

  • Apr 21, 2016
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The Dear Abby advice column is something you might rely upon if you need input on your love life or dealing with your in-laws — but not if you’re looking for baking advice. Fortunately, we’re here blogging on a regular basis with tried-and-true suggestions, including what to do when you’re out of an essential ingredient.

If that ingredient is milk or buttermilk (or if you’re baking for someone with milk allergies), you’re in luck. There are a number of viable alternatives you can use, saving you a run to the store.

Milk substitutions (1 cup)

  • ½ cup evaporated milk and ½ cup water
  • 1 cup reconstituted nonfat dry milk and 2 tsp. butter or oil
  • 1 cup water and 1 ½ tsp. butter
  • Soy milk
  • Rice milk
  • Almond milk
  • Potato milk

Buttermilk substitutions (1 cup)

  • 1 Tbsp. cider vinegar or lemon juice, plus enough milk to equal 1 cup (let stand 5 minutes)
  • 1 Tbsp. vinegar, plus 1 cup of milk alternative, such as rice or soy milk

While milk is part of baking recipes because it plays a specific role – namely, hydration of the dry ingredients, which other liquid alternatives can also accomplish – it also offers a plethora of nutrients (calcium and vitamin D ring a bell?) that may not be present in your alternatives. Also, baking substitutions can affect texture and flavor, so keep that in mind. That said, bakers are nothing if not experimenters, so why not try something new? (And if you’ve got problems with your love life or your in-laws, the same advice applies.)

The Buzz on Baking Books: Best Reads for the Beginner Baker

  • Apr 12, 2016
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Every baker who’s worth their salter, sugarneeds a few trusty cookbooks, even those who are new to the craft. But with literally thousands of cookbooks available, how do you choose? Here are our picks for basic baking books that are sure to quickly become dog-eared and chocolate-stained.

Basic Baking: Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Plus 101 Luscious Dessert Recipes that Anyone Can Make by Lora Brody

Lora Brody’s Basic Baking book takes us through the role of each ingredient (baking soda versus baking powder, for example) before moving on to basic baking techniques such as folding, beating and mixing. Brody demystifies culinary terms, simplifies seemingly daunting concoctions (meringue, anyone?), instills confidence in her readers, and helps them determine what to make for dessert, night after night.

Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook by Martha Stewart

The domestic diva that is Martha Stewart knows her stuff, and that includes crafts, home keeping, flower arranging, and of course, cooking. A sense of order rules all that she does, and baking is no exception. Follow her orderly step-by-step instructions, and you’ll end up with an incredible finished product, be it peach apricot tortes, blueberry muffins or devil’s food cake.

Betty Crocker Just Cupcakes: 100 Recipes for the Way You Really Cook 

While we’d argue that the word “just” should never apply to cupcakes, this book just about covers them. The quick tips make it beginner-friendly, and with everything from everyday to special occasion cupcakes, these foolproof recipes will make you swoon.

Celebrate the Iconic Chocolate Chip

  • Apr 04, 2016
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What’s more American than apple pie (except perhaps pumpkin piethanks, Pilgrims!)? Why, chocolate chips, of course! These ubiquitous little bits of melt-in-your-mouth goodness are about as iconic as you can get, and with National Chocolate Chip Day coming up on May 15, there’s no time like the present to pop some in your mouth and get baking.

A Little History

First, from whence do chocolate chips come? Sources indicate that British tea time played a role. A nineteenth century English tea biscuit recipe called for chocolate chips, though the term referenced the biscuits’ shape versus the traditional chips we know today.

Supposedly, Ruth Graves Wakefield, who was the owner of the Toll House Inn, accidentally created the first chocolate chip cookie recipe in 1930 when she chopped up a Nestlé chocolate bar and added it to her cookie batter, expecting the bits to fully melt. Instead, they remained semi-solid and a new cookie was born.

A Little Controversy

Some question the Toll House story, pointing to the fact that Wakefield was a trained baker who likely knew exactly what she was doing when she sprinkled those chocolate bitswhich Nestlé unfailingly refers to as “morsels”into her batter.

A Lot of Reasons to Celebrate

Nevertheless, the chocolate chip cookie took off, and soon there was an entire grocery store cookie aisle, with many shelves strictly devoted to chocolate chip cookies.

But why limit yourself? Our bakeware is good for much more than cookie baking. Add chocolate chips (or morsels, if you will) to cupcakes, muffins or loaf cakes. And choose from dark or white chocolate, butterscotch, mini chips, or the ever iconic-in-its-own-right semi-sweet. Yum!

Photo credit to www.emaze.com

Easy-Bake Ovens: The Tool of Little Bakers in Training

  • Mar 21, 2016
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Many of today’s great bakers (and not-so-great bakers) may have gotten their start using the ever-popular toy known as the Easy-Bake Oven. After over half a century, this iconic item is still going strong, though the manufacturer replaced the original incandescent light bulbs in favor of a built-in heating element. But the cake and frosting mix packets, slide-through baking pans and utensils haven’t changed much since the early days.

When Kenner first introduced the toy in 1963, the hope was that children would relish baking on their own—and at their own workstations, no less. And they did! In fact, the Easy-Bake Oven has been named to Time Magazine’s “All-TIME 100 Greatest Toys” list and is part of the National Toy Hall of Fame. This perennial favorite even made an appearance on the favorite sitcom, Seinfeld, in an episode when Jerry’s latest girlfriend has an Easy-Bake Oven as part of her heirloom toy collection. Elaine lights up with childlike glee at the idea of playing with the girlfriend’s Easy-Bake Oven and its accompanying 30-year-old batter.

Perhaps our innate desire to bake is a testament to the toy’s staying power. But baking with your kids is a practice that not enough of us engage in. Kids are more likely to “bake” using a cooking app, but that’s a far cry from cracking literal eggs, beating, mixing, measuring and making glorious messes. Fortunately, Welcome Home Brands makes it easier than ever to keep messes to a minimum if that’s your desire.

So start creating baking masterpieces with your kids today—Easy-Bake Oven optional.

Photo credit to www.nbcdfw.com

Funky Fruits: Currants

  • Mar 10, 2016
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With the warmer months approaching, you’ll be heading back to the farmers market, and, if you’re lucky, you may stumble across a little fruit gem known as the currant.

Currants are much more popular and readily available in Europe than in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean you should count them out. Because they are susceptible to a white pine disease, they are sometimes banned in areas that boast a lot of pine trees, and because they are usually only harvested in small batches, your local farmers market (or neighbor down the street) might be your best bet for getting your hands (and baking utensils) on fresh currants.

When you do, be prepared for a bold, tart burst of goodness. Red currants, which are technically small seedless raisins (not to be confused with currant berries, which are used in jams and jellies), work particularly well in cake and cupcake recipes, while black and white currants are a tad sweeter. Whatever the color, they pair well with almonds and other nuts, chocolate and other fruits such as cherries and those of the citrus variety.

Consider tossing in a handful of currants the next time you’re whipping up cake batter or any other sweet baked treat. The tartness and sweetness provide just the right amount of contrast. Get ready for a sun-kissed, antioxidant-rich burst of flavor!

If you can’t find currants, opt for dried currants, though keep in mind that (just to add to the confusion) dried currants aren’t really currants at all but rather dried grapes.

Photo credit to www.greensandjeans.com

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