Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How To Line Cake Pans

Close on the heels of the post on preparing tins for baking, here comes the next one. Am going to stick to just square and round tins as they are the most commonly used ones. Some people simply grease and flour their pans but lining them is just extra insurance to be doubly sure that the cake doesn't stick. Chocolate cakes are supposed to be even more notorious. You will appreciate the smooth top and sides when you want a neat ganache draped chocolate cake. That smooth top is joy to place candles on or scatter on some sprinkles for your little ones. 

Be it for a layer cake or a foam cake to frost, I would cry copious tears if I had to saw off a good portion of it to repair and even out the torn part. No that such bits and pieces are bad to eat, just saves you the trouble of baking another if its beyond repair. Hope I have sold the idea of lining pans to you?

Though you will find other ways of lining pans, here is what I find easiest. I must tell you, I am not an art or crafts person at all (Sr.Susan, my craft teacher in school will vouch for this!) and the first time I traced something after school was the outline of a baking tin. You know this but I will tell you -you simply need to keep the tin right side up on the baking parchment and trace the outline with a pencil (duh!). Use a pencil, pens don't work. Cut along the traced line as neatly as you can.

So when you are tracing one, you may as well cut more of these. Draw aligned to one side of the roll so that you can use the left over parchment for the sides. Convenient to have them on hand. Mark them as 8'' and 9'' if it helps. Store these flat in a box, they do kind of curl up though. Folding them gives irritating creases. Between you and me, I am not always so organized, I cut these out just for this post.

Again, follow recipe directions for greasing. This is when there are no specific instructions and the recipe just says  'grease and line the pans', or ' grease and line the pans, sides as well'

For all pans : Cut out parchment for the bottom of the pan as usual. Grease the bottom lightly and stick the parchment. Smoothen it out, grease lightly again.

For round pans when you need to line the sides too: Grease the sides lightly with butter or ghee. Do not flour as the parchment will not stick.

You will need the parchment lining to come up to the sides. If I make the sides higher  I always end up with a cake with a slight angle. So I avoid that. Measure the circumference and height of the tin using a tape and scale. Cut a strip of parchment according to it. Stick it along the sides. Cut it into two pieces if needed as its easier that way (see picture below). Grease it lightly again.

Square pan :You will find lining the sides particularly useful when you bake brownies and bars. Grease the pan lightly. Take a piece of parchment which is 4 inches wider and longer than the bottom of the pan. For example for an 8'' tin, cut out a 12''x12'' parchment.

Turn the pan upside down and center the parchment over it. Press hard at the edges to create an impression. . Fold, press and crease the corners over as though wrapping a present. Slip the liner off the pan. Cut at the corners as shown in the picture. Turn the pan right side up and insert the liner. Push in the strips at the corners, cut off excess. If needed, use a little more grease to keep the parchment in place. Grease it lightly again. Fold the excess over the sides of the pan. I know am bad explaining these things, so this is mostly ad verbatim from Alice Medrich. Try it, you will figure it out.

You could alternatively use aluminum foil and grease it but it tears easily. 

Bake-even strips / Cake Strips : When you bake a cake, the heat of the oven and also the heat of the metal bakes the cake. The batter on the sides cooks faster as it comes into contact with the hot metal. Sometimes cakes peak in the center and crack. It may look appealing sometimes in tea loaves but you want an even top in layer cakes. Sometimes the sides may be cooked or dried out and the center remains gummy. This is something you don't really want.

Bake-even strips are supposed to help get perfectly even tops while also helping the cake bake evenly. These strips are normally dampened and fastened on the  sides of the tin. This way the sides are insulated and the cake bakes evenly.You can buy cake strips or make your own since these are not commonly available in India. Here is the most common and easy home-made version. I don't use these but its surely worth a try.

Take a thick old cotton towel and cut out a strip to the circumference and height needed. It should come up all the way to the sides. You will need to fasten this with a strong pin or two so that its tight. (I would imagine this easier done well ahead, without batter in it)  Dip the strip in water, squeeze such that its very moist but not dripping wet. Pour the batter in the pan and bake. In case the strip feels dry, you could try covering the pan with a plate, carefully spray water on the strip to moisten it again.

This is how I line my pans, take it as a suggestion, stick to whatever works for you. Please do come back and tell me your favorite way of doing it!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Choux Pastry And Cream Puffs - An Attempt

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” - Martin Luther King Jr.

Like most of us, I have a bucket list of baking recipes.  Still a long way to go with versatile recipes and techniques like pie crusts, breads, foam cakes, real and rough puff pastry, Danish, phyllo, custards, meringues, pâte à choux to name a few.  I may not fall madly in love with all of them, but if I can turn them out the way they are supposed to be, that will be satisfaction enough.  I sometimes wish I could have had a chance to learn at a good culinary school.  For now, the wealth of information on the internet is my guide, my little kitchen my school.

I will stumble, I will fail, I will throw my hands up in despair, learn from my failures and bounce back sooner or later.  Oh yes, succeed too at times.  As they say, I am in no race.  This is my journey and I have just myself to compete with. The little triumphs are a big high.  If I am just a little better than yesterday, it still is progress.

One little triumph I must chronicle - choux pastry! Something I had done once successfully before I started blogging - may be it was just my luck.  Not so lucky the next attempt after years as I ended up with high rising puffs which deflated later.  And then after a long choux pastry hiatus, the pastry Gods smile upon me.  Yes, I made some not-bad-puffs!

Choux pastry (pronounced shoo pastry) or pâte à choux is a French pastry which is first cooked on the stove top and then baked.  The pastry puffs up in the oven creating a hollow inside and a crispy outer shell.  Its the base for desserts like cream puffs, éclairs, profiteroles, Paris Brest, Gateau Saint-Honore and Croqembouche. There could be savory fillings and savory puffs (called gougères) too!

Of course most things are easy once you get the hang of it, this one sounds simple enough too.  But then there are always the little details that make a difference.

Here are a few pointers I gather about this pastry.

1. The dough is first mixed and dried out on the stove.  The amount of evaporation of the liquid will affect the dough consistency and how much of egg you add to the pastry later.  So, careful about the liquid evaporation.  

2. The butter must melt before the liquid comes to a boil or you may end up evaporating more of it.  So, having the butter soft and in pieces helps.

3. It is almost effortless to incorporate the egg into the mixture using a stand mixer*. If mixing by hand, it requires some muscle power to do a good job!

4. Most recipes specify you hold back some egg and add if needed. You can't really say how much of it you will need as it depends on the flour, the amount of water that evaporates when you boil it with butter, and probably also how much the pastry is dried out on the stove.

5. Pay special attention to the desired consistency of the dough when you add the egg.  At the right consistency, its supposed to stay on the spatula and then fall in a thick ribbon.  Watch the video for a better idea. 

6. The pastry is first baked at a high temperature for it to puff up and then at a lower temperature to crisp up the shells, dry the insides.  The interior may still have a moist (not wet) crumb which is fine.  You could just pull out the moist insides, dry it out further if you want it more crisp.  This is a matter of preference.

7. The tops cracking probably is alright I guess as I see the puffs of Stephanie and Micheal Roux too looking the same. The salt is supposed to help prevent cracking. 

8. Finally, a properly baked choux pastry is one which is light, holds its shape when baked, has a dry and crisp exterior.  Don't know if mine were light enough, but certainly held their shape and were crisp.  So I think its not a bad start.  But looks like I have dried them out a wee bit more - nothing that can't be remedied!

Choux pastry / pâte à choux  Recipe from Joy Of Baking

Ingredients (To make about 12 puffs for sweet fillings)

Flour - 65 grams
Water - 112 grams / 120 ml
Unsalted butter, soft, cut into pieces - 57 grams
Salt - 1/4 teaspoon
Granulated sugar - 1/2 teaspoon
Caviar from 1 vanilla bean
Eggs - 96 grams / 2 large, whisked

1 egg, whisked for the glaze
Getting ready : 
  • Line your baking tray(s) with baking parchment. 
  • If piping the pastry, have a pastry bag fitted with a plain nozzle or just a coupler, folded and poised over a glass to spoon the pastry in.  You could also just spoon the dough using 2 spoons.
  • You will need a spatula, a wooden spoon, a heavy saucepan, another medium sized bowl to beat the pastry in. A hand mixer or a stand mixer. Strong arms your pride? You could also beat by hand.
  • A pastry brush to glaze the tops.
          Mise en place.  Pre heat oven to 200 C / 400 F.

  • Keep the flour in a bowl near the stove. Take the butter, water, sugar, vanilla caviar and salt in the saucepan.
  • Over low heat, bring the water to a rolling boil. The butter should melt before the water starts boiling.
  • Take the saucepan off the heat, dump all the flour at once into the boiling water.
  • Stir rapidly with the spatula till the mixture is smooth and starts coming away from the sides of the pan.
  • Put it back on the stove, over medium heat, vigorously stir the flour mixture  without stopping (Phew!)
  • Keep beating till it forms a thick smooth ball, a slight crust at the bottom. This may take a couple of minutes or longer.
  • Quickly, transfer it to the waiting bowl (or the bowl of the stand mixer* ).
  • Let it cool for a few minutes till it is lukewarm.
  • On speed 2, slowly  start adding the whisked egg.
  • Increase speed make sure the egg you have added is fully incorporated into the mixture before adding more egg.
  • At first you will see the mixture break up and look curdled. Then it will gradually come together. 
  • Keep adding the whisked egg, checking the dough for consistency when about 2 tablespoons of egg is left. (It will be a little thick, so the dough kept going into the blades, times I wish I had a stand mixer).
  • Using the spatula, drop some of the mixture into the bowl. If it falls in a thick ribbon/ curtain, you are there (video again). If the dough doesn't drop or is very thick , add the remaining egg, beat again till fully incorporated. Check again. I had to add 96 grams plus a tablespoon more. If the dough kind of just flows down, you know you have added more egg than you need to.
  • Transfer the mixture into the pastry bag (not sure if you could keep the dough waiting). Pipe about 12 mounds of pastry spaced 2 inches apart. Brush with the beaten egg. 
  • Bake at 200 C for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 180 C / 350 F and bake for a further 30-35 minutes.
  • The pastry must be puffed, golden on top, dry and crisp. To test, bake 30 minutes, take one out of the oven (still on), break open. If the insides are wet, score the shells and bake for 5 minutes more. Its fine if the insides are moist. 
  • You must eat one when still warm! Buttery, eggy, I liked that! I have pulled out the moist insides and baked again for 5 minutes to really crisp them up. 
  • When cool, store them in an airtight container. You can freeze the baked puffs. Defrost the puffs and then reheat in a 350 degree F (177 degree C) oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until crisp.

Cream puffs : Pipe some vanilla flavored sweetened whipped cream into the shells and drizzle over some chocolate glaze. Serve immediately. Alternatively you could fill and refrigerate them for some time for softer pastry. I think I liked them a little softer and warm. 

In some recipes, the eggs are added to the hot dough. Also read that you can pipe the dough and freeze it for later use. I am going to be trying more variations, more recipes of this.  Just curious!

I want to try recipes of Michael Roux (those puffs look really light!) and Rose Levy Beranbaum too if Santa gifts me a food processor soon! More updates here as I learn my lessons with choux pastry. 

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Preparing Pans For Baking - A General Guide For Beginners

Imagine trying a great cookie recipe only to get some with burnt bottoms and under cooked tops? Imagine baking a lovely cake which sadly sticks to the pan and refuses to get out in one piece? It will still taste good no doubt, but the joy of inverting a neat cake is something most new bakers revel in! Be it the intended taste or texture or just a neat bake, preparing your pan right helps to a large extent.

Invariably, most baking recipes begin with instructions to 'prepare' the baking pan.  More often than not, it simply means greasing, flouring and lining the pan with baking parchment. For some cakes you may need to line the sides too. Some recipes direct NOT to grease or flour the sides. This of course depends on what you would be baking. A foam cake, a regular butter cake, a chiffon cake, a mousse cake, shortbread cookies, tuiles, brownies or a rich fruit cake.

The baking pan needed could be a round tin, a square tin or a muffin pan, a bundt pan, a spring form pan, a tube pan, a jelly roll pan, a muffin tin, cookie sheet (or tray), a loaf pan, ramekins, a tart tin or any kind of oven safe bake ware. 

Here are some general guidelines which may help.

GENERAL RULE : Preparing the pan is the very first thing you must do before you proceed with the recipe directions. The batter once prepared must immediately go into the prepared pan and then into the oven. In foam cakes, the batter will deflate if kept waiting. In other bakes which have baking powder or soda, the waiting batter may result in a denser or flat cake.

For cakes, lightly grease the bottom and sides of the pan, place the round / square piece of parchment at the bottom of the tin to fit snugly. Its safer to line the sides as wellLightly grease the parchment again , flour the pan.  Remember, this is the general rule in the absence of specific instructions.  Otherwise, always follow recipe instructions.

BAKING PARCHMENT Available at baking supplies store, sold online too, this is best for lining your cookie sheets and cake tins.  NOT the same as wax paper or butter paper it aids easy release of the cake from the pan. The added advantage of using baking parchment is, it does not tear easily or burn even at high temperatures, just darkens in color. You will appreciate this when you bake pizza. Pre-cut parchment pieces are also available, but not in India. Do not use wax paper as the waxy coating melts in the oven heat. Eating waxy bakes is neither appealing nor healthy.

So, when you put a piece of parchment  on the bottom and sides of the pan,(or foil on cookie sheets) you are 'lining' it.

GREASE : This 'grease' again helps release. Shortening is preferred to butter. Clarified butter or ghee can also be used. You could also use baking spray which is really convenient especially when you use bundt pans with all those crevices. Baking spray contains flour and fat. Whatever grease you use, do not use too much as it may make the cake crust greasy. Just a dab, enough to coat the pan with a thin film.

PROFESSIONAL BAKERS GREASE : This is a mix of equal parts of shortening, flour and oil which can stored in the fridge for some time. Applied to the cake tin with a silicon brush, there is no need to flour the tin again.

WHAT YOU COULD USE: I like to use non stick baking spray (Bakers Joy) or even ghee at times. I use oil for my bread pan. I have used oil, ghee, spray, on rare occasions butter  and I have had no real complaints with the release or taste so far.

- Use baking spray or shortening for your cake pans.

FLOUR THE PAN : Once you grease the pan and line the bottom, tilt the pan on its side, dump a teaspoon of flour on the side of the pan. Rotate the pan, tapping the sides as you go. The sides are now coated with a thin layer of flour. Use another teaspoon if needed. Invert the pan and tap off any excess flour. The idea is to coat the sides with flour, but with as thin a layer as possible. If there is excessive flour, the sides of the cake will have a crust. You could also use cocoa in place of the flour for chocolate cakes, but I do not like it.

When baking high rising cakes, its important to flour the sides after greasing. Otherwise the sides will be slippery and not allow the cake to rise to its optimum height. 

SILICON BRUSH: A silicon brush is very useful to help spread that little bit of grease evenly, especially the corners and crevices.

DO YOU ALWAYS NEED TO GREASE? Mostly yes. Exceptions would be angel food cakes, chiffon cakes and some foam cakes. In these recipes, the grease does not allow the light cake rise to its full height. So follow recipe instructions.

Chiffon cakes are baked in un greased tube pans, no flour. One reason, the light cake has to rise to the maximum height. Another, the cake is cooled upside down. So it would slip out if the pan is greased.

COOKIES : General rule in the absence of specific instructions: Line the tray with baking parchment, no need to grease. Parchment promotes even baking. It has a slightly insulating effect which is a good thing when we use thin cookie sheets (medium to heavy, light colored ones are recommended).
  • When a recipe requires you to grease the pan or parchment, use a flavorless oil or melted butter, grease lightly using a brush.
  • When recipes specify baking using an un greased, unlined cookie sheet, and your cookies sheets are thin and not of very good quality (mostly the case here), use parchment to line the sheet.
  • When cookies are baked directly on an un greased pan, the intended result is browning, caramelized edges, chewy centers. When placed dull side up, aluminum foil conducts heat and produces results similar to that of an un greased pan, its convenient too.  So you could use foil to line in recipes like this.
  • In cookies with a higher amount of butter, un greased sheets are used. Greasing the pan may make the cookies spread too much. 
  • Meringue based cookies like macarons are normally baked on un greased parchment.
  • Silicon mats or liners (like Slipat) are good for very fragile wafers and lace cookies. But they are not ideal for all kinds of cookies as they provide more insulation.
(Above information compiled from Alice Medrich's book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Cookies.)

Tart / Pie Tins : These are generally not greased. I will admit I have been guilty of lightly greasing my tart tins. Fear that the case will not come out in one neat piece! Thankfully it has worked well, but I will bake without greasing next time.

BreadsI use just a little oil for my bread pan unless its a very wet dough. A generous amount of oil for my focaccia and pizza for good flavor and that crisp crust (even if I use a non-stick pan). Normally cornmeal is used on pizza pans or pizza peels  to prevent the pizza from sticking.

Brownies and Bars : Pans lined with foil or parchment on the bottom and sides too, with an over hang to help lift the entire thing out. Brownies are normally allowed to cool completely before being lifted out and cut into neat squares. You could of course invert and cut at the cost of ruining that shiny crust on top.

I again realize, small details make a difference! More on preparing pans in another post.

You may see more of basic baking posts and simple recipes here. I am doing a series of Baking Basics posts every Wednesday on a Facebook Forum called as the Home Bakers Guild. I will be taking this opportunity to build on the posts for beginners on the blog. You should hopefully see a new page meant for beginners exclusively. What would you like to see? Suggestions are most welcome!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ottolenghi's Carrot Walnut Cake

I really envy people who have mothers, grandmothers and aunts who bake. My mother never even cooked with garlic much less eggs. Traditional food was the norm in the conservative family. And then later I shocked them all by bringing home some eggs (gasp!), baking regularly like its part of my daily routine. My family is now quite accustomed to my obsession, they rest assured all's well in my world as long as I bake frequently.

If I had a mother or aunt who baked, I would probably be the proud successor of a few tins and tools. I would have fiercely guarded those heirloom handwritten recipes in that dog-eared diary. Recipes I could fall back on and compare other recipes with. I would blog about recipes like 'Mom's Famous Fruit Cake' Or 'Gran's Best Ever Pound Cake' and I would challenge there just can't be another like this. For now, riding on my (plump) shoulders is the great responsibility of trying out and building a small repository of tried and tested recipes for my children.

Ever since I baked those little Spiced Carrot Macaroons, I have been wanting to bake a carrot cake with the same flavors. Yotam Ottolenghi 's famous Carrot Walnut Cake the obvious choice. Turned out to be a moist one flecked with carrots, coconut, toasted walnuts, spices and orange zest. Hubby loved it as the texture and spices are reminiscent of a fruit cake, albeit a light one.

I am honestly not sure if my cake had the texture its meant to have, but it was tasty and I really did not miss the frosting. I think this cake tastes better the day after it is baked, so do save some. I had grated the carrots in a small holed grater making them almost invisible in the cake. Slightly thickly grated carrot will add more texture and visual appeal too. Will increase the quantity of nuts next time. 

If like me, you have never tasted or baked a carrot cake, here is a good one you could start with.

Ottolenghi's Carrot Walnut Cake, recipe from here


All purpose Flour - 160 grams
Baking powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Baking Soda - 1/2 teaspoon
Salt - a pinch
Ground Cinnamon - 1 teaspoon
Ground cloves - 1/4 teaspoon
Vegetable Oil / sunflower oil - 200 grams / 240 ml / 1 cup
Sugar, weigh and then powder - 270 grams
Vanilla extract - 1 teaspoon
Grated Orange zest - 2 teaspoons, from about 2 really fresh oranges( My addition and I loved it!)
Egg, whole - 48 grams / 1 whole
Egg yolk - 18 grams / 1 yolk
Grated carrots -135 grams (weight after peeling and grating)
Walnuts, toasted and chopped - 50 grams
Shredded coconut - 50 grams (have used dried copra, peeled and grated)
Egg whites - 60 grams, from 2 egg white

For the cream cheese frosting ( I skipped this)
Cream cheese - 175 grams (at room temperature)
Soft unsalted butter - 70 grams
Icing Sugar - 35 grams
Honey - 25 grams
Walnuts - 30 grams, chopped and lightly toasted

Method :
  • Grease, dust and line an 8 inch (20 cm) round spring form tin. Line the sides too with parchment. I did not line the sides. Pre-heat oven to 170 C.
  • Weigh all dry ingredients first, wash and dry your measuring bowl. Weigh egg whites first and then the rest of the wet ingredients.
  • To beat egg whites : A medium sized bowl and beaters of your hand mixer, 2 small cups to drop the whites in. Another small bowl to drop the yolks in. All of these need to be really clean and free of even a speck of grease.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon and clove powders. 
  • In another small bowl, lightly whisk together the whole egg, egg yolk, orange zest and vanilla. 
  • Beat the egg whites till stiff peaks form. Do this first before you use the hand mixer for beating the oil. 
  • Take the oil and sugar in a large mixing bowl, beat on medium speed (speed 2) for a minute. On low speed, slowly add the beaten egg, beat 30 seconds just to incorporate.
  • Using a spatula, mix in the walnuts, coconut and carrots. Gently fold in the flour mixture. Do not over mix as you will be mixing more when you fold in the egg whites.
  • Now gently fold in the beaten egg whites in 3 additions. Be careful to not over mix, a few streaks of white here and there are OK.
  • Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 55 minutes to an hour. Check at 55 minutes. A tester should come out dry. Cover the cake with foil if the cake browns too much before its fully baked.
  • Let the cake cool completely before removing from the tin. I removed it after 5 minutes and cooled on the rack. 
  • To make the icing : Beat the cream cheese until light and smooth. In a separate bowl, beat the butter, icing sugar and honey until light and airy. Fold together the cream cheese and butter mixture. spread on top of the cake, sprinkle with the toasted walnuts. Alternatively, decorate with marzipan carrots with neon green stems.

Please note : If the whites are not beaten right and folded in right, the cake may be denser. But it should still be tasty. The recipe gives the baking time as 60 minutes and for this cake I had set my timer for 70 by mistake. The second cake I baked was done at 55. Do not over bake as the cake may feel dry.

I have sliced the cake soon after it cooled. If you can be more patient, you should be rewarded with neater slices!