In the summer time, as a little girl, I would stay with my grandma Etta and my grandpa Jack in their camp near Lake Luzerne. I can shut my eyes and still see and smell the memories. The wonderful scent from the pine trees and the delicious smells wafting from grandma’s kitchen.
Swimming, long walks around the lake and cookouts with relatives were among my favorite things to do. By far the most favorite memory I have is picking wild blueberries with my grandma. We ate so many it was a miracle that we had any left over for us to bake into muffins when we got back.
My grandma was my first baking teacher. She was the one that taught me how to cream butter and sugar for a cookie dough, and how to fold beaten egg whites into a sponge cake batter. She inspired me. I attribute my life long passion for baking to her.
Years later as a teenager, I won first place in many competitions in local fairs with that blueberry muffin recipe, with her permission, of course. Now that she is gone I still think of her whenever I take out my electric mixer and begin to bake!
Memories are wonderful and so powerful. I smell those muffins in the oven. They must be done. Got to go!
I am going to make a confession to you and I am not even Catholic! Some years ago I entered a culinary competition in which I won first place for the sourdough bread that I made. I needed to be at the competition quite early and the executive chef in the restaurant that I worked in wanted me to stay up all night, the night before, and bake the bread so that it would be fresh. That is what all the other chef contestants would be doing, he told me. No way!
I am not at my best when I have had zero sleep and have NEVER been able to pull off an all-nighter and survive the next day. So I promised him I would do just what he suggested, but in reality I made the bread — several loaves in fact — the week before and froze them. My palms are getting sweaty just writing these words down for the first time; I guess I have a guilty conscience.
I have to admit that I am the Freezer Queen. I know just how to wrap my breads most successfully so that they will not taste stale or freezer burnt. The key, I have found, is to allow the freshly baked bread to cool completely. Then I wrap the bread tightly in plastic wrap, and then in aluminum foil. Then I place the mummified bread in a plastic bag, sucking out all of the air and securing it with a twist tie. Now I date and label it, and place it in the pyramids, or in my case, my freezer.
When I am ready to actually eat the bread, I remove it from the freezer and unwrap it until the only layer that remains is the plastic wrap. I let the bread thaw at room temperature and then heat it up in a very hot oven, say 450 degrees, for about 10-15 minutes. The crust becomes nice and crusty again and the bread is warm and chewy.
Getting back to the competition, I took two of my best frozen loaves, thawed them and re-heated them in the hotel’s kitchen where the competition took place and they were DELICIOUS! The best part was that the judges loved my bread and so did the other chefs in the competition!
So try putting your bread into cryogenic freeze sometime, then thaw and re-heat it as I have suggested! Let me know how it turns out, but DO NOT feel guilty!
When my daughter was quite young she was obsessed with dinosaurs. So I wanted to make her a dinosaur birthday cake, a T-Rex cake using a Wilton mold showing a lovely profile of the creature. So you might be asking yourself how exactly does this talk of prehistoric carnivores relate to the art of baking? Trust me it does.
The cake recipe I chose used the creaming method of mixing where the butter has to be at room temperature and softened so that it can be creamed with sugar. I was a busy mom and remember being in a rush that day so I started the mixer with the paddle attachment and then added the eggs right after I began the creaming process.
And if you read my Tips for Success you will discover that creaming the fat and the sugar forces air bubbles into the fat which later on will work together with the baking powder and baking soda in the recipe. The carbon dioxide bubbles that form in the cake batter seek out those air bubbles in the fat and get larger. This team action is what creates that lovely, light texture in a cake and many other baked goods as well.
I finished the batter and baked it off. What I found after it was baked was quite upsetting. The T-Rex had hardly risen and when I took it out of the pan it looked like one of those flattened fossils that are always discovered in the Midwest somewhere. So instead of being ecstatic that I found some bones from the Jurassic period I was mortified. You see I had a reputation as a good baker back then. How could I possibly serve such a thing especially to my daughter, her little friends and even worse their parents??
First, I began thinking of how I could cover the fossil with a lot and I mean A LOT of frosting. Then I realized no way. NO WAY! I had to figure out what went wrong.
So I re-traced my steps of exactly what I did when I put the batter together. I know that I am a perfectionist and obsess over little things in life, but I knew I had to make the cake again. And this time no rushing.
So I softened some butter in the microwave and started creaming it with the sugar again using my paddle attachment in my mixer. This time I let the mixer go on medium speed for about 4-5 minutes until the mixture was light and fluffy. And I noticed something. The butter and sugar mixture was lighter in color. Wow! I could see that the butter had taken in air and went from a yellow butter color to an almost white. That is why it is called the creaming method of mixing! The fat and sugar are mashed together until air is forced into the fat. I was having an epiphany!
So I re-baked the new T-Rex cake and what a difference a little extra creaming time made. This cake was quite high and light in texture. And the cake was a hit! I buried the flattened fossil and no one ever knew.
I made a mistake that day, but I learned from it. I teach my students that they will, at some point, make their own mistakes when baking. Just be sure you learn from them.
Ok. So you have a recipe and it says to “cream some butter with sugar” or “whip the cream with the sugar”. And you ask yourself which tool do I use? Keep reading, help is on the way.
My electric mixer is great. Amazing actually! It is one of my most beloved and MOST used pieces of kitchen equipment. And it came with three attachments: a paddle, a whip and a dough hook. These attachments are standard if you buy any electric mixer.
The trouble starts when a recipe uses words like “cream the butter and the sugar” or “whip the egg whites” but doesn’t reference which attachment to use. Many recipes and their authors assume people know which one they mean. And we all know what happens when we assume! Many home bakers and even some of my baking students use the incorrect mixing attachment mainly because they do not understand what these terms actually mean and what they are meant to accomplish. This misunderstanding was so pervasive that I decided to ALWAYS include which attachment to use in all of my published recipes and for all of the new recipes in my soon to be published book as well.
So let’s have a quick review:
When should the paddle attachment be used? Whenever a recipe says to blend or mix ingredients together. Also, when a recipe uses the word to “cream” something like the softened butter with the sugar until they become “light and fluffy”. This direction is actually a part of a mixing method known as the creaming method.
The paddle helps the crystals of sugar force air into the fat, and these clever air cells actually get bigger when they get together with the chemical leaveners to help that baked good to rise in the oven. The act of mixing in this way really can affect the texture of your baked good. (Note to self: go and read about the T-Rex cake in my blog, The Icing on the Cake-Chef Gail’s blog)
When should the whip be used? NOT for creaming butter and sugar!! The whip is used only to beat lots of air bubbles into ingredients such as heavy cream to make whipped cream or eggs or egg whites to create egg foams for sponge cakes or meringues for many other types of baked goods. One such baked good can be seen on my YouTube video on how to make meringue mushrooms.
And the dough hook? Captain hook is only used to simulate the kneading process when making yeast breads.
1 cup water
½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1. Preheat the oven to 425° F.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring water and butter to a boil.
3. Quickly add flour and stir with a wooden spoon. A ball of dough will form. Lower the heat and cook for about 1 minute while mixing constantly. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool for several minutes.
4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing to incorporate with each addition. The dough should hold its shape.
5. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip with about 2/3’s of the dough. Pipe swan bodies spacing them evenly onto a parchment-lined sheet pan.
6. Using a small round tip and the remaining dough, pipe a neck and head for each swan body onto a different parchment paper lined sheet pan making extras in case of breakage. Bake necks in a 375° F. oven for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Place cream puffs or swan bodies in a 425° F. oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350o F. and continue baking for 15 minutes or until the swan bodies are puffed, brown and crisp. Cool.
Stabilized Whipped Cream
3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. In a small heatproof bowl, sprinkle gelatin over cold water. Stir and set aside.
2. Heat 1 inch of water to a simmer in a saucepan or skillet big enough for the bowl of gelatin to fit inside. Place bowl of gelatin into hot water bath just long enough to melt down the gelatin. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of the heavy cream just to cool down the gelatin.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer using the whip attachment, beat the remaining heavy cream until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, the melted gelatin, and the vanilla. Beat until stiff peaks form.
1. On a cutting board, slice each swan body in half crosswise. Cut the top portion lengthwise to form two wings. Leave bottom part intact.
2. Fill pastry bag, fitted with a large star tip with cream, and fill each bottom with cream. Place one wing on each side and stick a head and neck on front of each swan. Dust with powdered sugar.