The worlds worst baker, until…..
I don’t like to bake. It’s a discipline and it involves science—yes, it does! I flunked chemistry. So it came as no surprise to me that when I tried my hand at baking it was a disaster.
I have spent years and years trying to make desserts. My cookies were always either too dry, too soft, not baked through or they completely melted together in the oven to form one giant cookie that I told my family was a cookie pizza!
My cakes always were sunken, so I used gobs and gobs of frosting to fill up the hole. Pies were watery and runny and the crust soggy. Cream puff pastries came out so hard I could have used them for candle holders. My brownies were always so dry and hard around the edges I had to use a cleaver to loosen them.
I always start with the best intentions, and every time I started a new “project” (that’s what I called it because it’s so difficult for me), I swore that this time I would be successful and my beautiful creations would look like pictures from a magazine. It never worked! What was I doing wrong?
Well, we could start with the fact that I don’t have a sweet tooth and I’m not a dessert eater. I would rather have a sandwich for dessert than a piece of cake. So my lack of enthusiasm could be one reason. I’m the type of cook who never measures anything—I just eye it, and the palm of my hand is my measuring cup, so maybe that’s not a good thing when you bake.
The other reason may be that I’m impatient and I don’t have time to wait for things to whip up with stiff peaks, fold in gently, wait for butter and eggs to get to room temperature, add eggs one at a time until blended and separate egg yolks from egg whites. I also don’t want to figure out the difference between self-rising flour, cake flour, all-purpose flour, a cup of sifted flour as opposed to one cup of flour sifted (I still have to stop and think about that one), proofing, rising or waiting for a cake to cool before you frost it.
I frosted a cake while it was still warm “once”. After I finished my masterpiece, I placed the cake on the counter and watched, in what seemed like slow motion, as the top portion of the cake began to slide and fall to the floor, breaking into sections. The dogs came running (there are three) from nowhere to surround the broken morsels and started to devour it like a pack of wolves. I had to get into the fray because it was a chocolate cake and dogs can’t eat chocolate. It can make them deathly sick and, in some cases, can be fatal! After that debacle, I decided I needed to face my fear of measuring cups. I was going to take a baking class. Not just any baking class, but a professional baking class—the kind that gives you a certificate and a chef’s jacket with your name embroidered on it when you have completed the course!
It was in the summer, so I asked my daughter Arianna if she would like to join me since she actually loves to bake and is quite good at it. It would be something I knew she would enjoy, plus it was a great mother-daughter bonding experience.
ARIANNA BAKED THE CHEESECAKE FOR PHOTO SHOOT WITH DIANE CU AND TODD PORTER
I was on a mission. I was surprised (no, I wasn’t) the very first day to learn all the things that I had been doing since I was a kid were all wrong, starting with the simple task of measuring flour. Normally, I would dig my measuring cup into the flour canister, level it off and plop it in the bowl. I found out that the correct way to do it was not to dig into the flour with the measuring cup like a shovel, but to use a tablespoon to lift the flour and gently shake it into the cup until full and then level it off. Do not tap it on the counter and don’t pack it. Evidently, too much flour will end up doing things to your cake that will result in frustration and failure! So tru
Our baking instructor told us the importance of purchasing a food scale for accurate measurements in ounces. That freaked me out because it took me right back to grammar school when you had to figure out how many cups make a quart, how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon, how many ounces are in a pound. Arianna told me to calm down because there wasn’t going to be a test!
Our baking instructor gave us these helpful hints that really pay off:
Bring the butter and eggs to room temperature. The reason: Cold eggs added to cold butter will result in holes and pockets caused by tiny lumps after the butter has melted while baking. The cake won’t rise as much, and you are left with a denser cake. You need the butter and eggs to emulsify so air can be beaten into the batter resulting in a moist, fluffy and light cake! Remember: Preheat your oven and place the baking rack on the middle shelf of the oven before you start baking. If you forget to preheat your oven, you might as well make your batter again. The moment the wet ingredients meet the dry, a chemical action starts to happen immediately from the leveling agents (baking soda and baking powder).
If you don’t get it into the oven right away, your cake won’t rise properly and you will not be happy with the results. Wait at least 10 to 15 minutes after the oven has reached the desired temperature before you put anything in the oven to bake.
If you are making a cake or cupcakes, make sure you grease and flour the pans first before you make the batter.
Have all of the ingredients measured, sifted and lined up before you start to bake.
I found out the crater in my cakes was the result of the leavening agents such as baking powder and baking soda. Improperly measured leavening agents can result in the cakes rising too high in the oven. Air bubbles then burst, causing the sinkhole. Make sure to change out the baking soda and baking powder because they lose their effectiveness over time. Stop using the ones you have had for three years on your shelf (that would be me), and, oh yes, don’t use the one in the refrigerator that you have been using to freshen the air in there (that would be me too)! I change my baking soda every six months. I change the one in the fridge at the same time.
Always place anything you are baking in the middle rack of your oven for even, all-around heat.
Do not use the convection oven to bake, it throws of the timing.
Remember, baking is chemistry and there is a science to it. Follow the instructions to the letter and stay calm. You don’t have to turn in a term paper, and there are no tests to be graded.
Having applied my new found information and finding out that baking can be fun (except for the cleanup and getting whipped cream off the ceiling), I have been successful in my new attempts at baking. I have to say I’ve made some pretty impressive desserts! Oh yes, and my pastry chef’s jacket with my name on it looks great!
Sending a “Big Bowl of Love” from the oven!
Here is the recipe for the FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE
I will be posting the recipes for the Carrot Cake, Cupcakes and Cheesecake so please watch for it!
3/4 cups (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter cut up into pieces plus 1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter for greasing the pan
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature (set 3 eggs whites aside; save the other 2 for an egg-white omelet)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso, dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Use half of the 1-1/2 tablespoons of butter to grease the inside of an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan. Line the pan with parchment paper; grease the paper with the other half of the 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. Dust with the cocoa powder.
In the top of double boiler over simmering water, combine the chocolate and 3/4 cup of butter, and melt completely. Mix together will and set aside to cool, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Using a mixer with a wire whisk on medium-high, beat the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the sugar, 1 tablespoon of the coffee, the vanilla, and the salt for 3 minutes, until the mixture is pale and thick. With the mixer on medium-low, slowly add the cooled chocolate mixture; beat until well incorporated.
In a clean bowl beat the egg whites, using the wire whisk until foamy. Gradually add the 2 tablespoons of sugar, beating until medium-firm peaks form. Gently fold the half of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining egg whites just until no streaks remain.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Spread the batter in the pan. Bake for 40 minutes, until the cake puffs slightly and toothpick inserted into the center comes out moist. Do not over bake. Cool on a rack for 30 minutes.
Run a butter knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake;then invert it onto a flat plate. Gently lift off the pan and peel off the paper. Cool at room temperature for 1 hour; refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours.
To make the glaze, combine the butter and chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water and melt, whisking until smooth. Whisk in the corn syrup until the glaze is smooth and shiny. Set the cake on a wire rack over a large baking sheet. Pour the warm glaze over the center of the cake. The glaze should cover the surface evenly, spilling over the edges and down the sides, with all the excess falling onto the baking sheet. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.
Slice the cake in small slices (it’s very rich), dipping your knife into hot water and wiping it dry before you cut each slice.