Category Archives: Pastry

What’s the difference between parchment and waxed paper?

Oh there’s quite a lot of difference. Wax paper is basically tissue paper with a wax coating on the outside, nowhere near as tough and useful as parchment. Parchment is thick (or at any rate thick-er) paper that’s been passed through an acid bath to increase its rigidity and give it a hard, smooth, glossy surface that resists just about everything. Most of the time parchment is also coated with silicone to give it extra stick-resistance.

The result is an all-purpose ktichen paper that stays strong, even when it’s wet or covered with grease, and that won’t melt or catch fire, even in a very hot oven. In short it does everything wax paper can do, only better. It is, how do you say in your country…indispensable.

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Cake and Composite Flour

Reader Wale has a very interesting question:

I would like to ask you what composite flours are. Presently the Nigerian Govt has requested that all flour millers include cassava in wheat flour so as to support the agricultural industry and reduce the buying of wheat from out side the country. This new hybrid flour contains 90% wheat flour and 10% high quality cassava flour. Please can you talk more about composite flours and tell me if it’s ok to use them for cake baking, especially American high ratio cakes.

Hi Wale! Yes I’ve read here an there about composite flours, mostly in regard to western Africa where governments have been anxious to reduce the costs associated with imported wheat. Since root crops like cassava are plentiful, so the thinking goes, why not cut the flour with some less expensive filler? It makes a certain amount of sense, at least when seen from a government perspective. Bakers may well feel differently of course.

The theory is that if a strong, high-gluten hard red winter wheat flour is combined with a pure, unfermented cassava flour the mixture will perform more or less the same as standard all-purpose flour in bread. That’s the theory anyway. The problem is that a rising bread crumb is actually quite complicated. A cake crumb is even more complicated since there’s lots of sugar and fat in the mix as well.

So I think you’re just going to have to experiment, Wale. The one study that I saw on compound flour indicated that breads made with compound flour needed either a higher temperature or a longer baking time to reach their full volume. But that’s bread. It may turn out that a very strong flour that’s cut with cassava will make an excellent cake flour. Theoretically it should make a better cake flour than a bread flour.

So my first suggestion is to try making a few cake layers the regular way. If you notice a volume problem, try the same process with a higher baking temperature rather than a longer baking time, since longer baking will tend to dry the cake out. Then again, cassava flour is extremely absorbent, so you might not have a moisture problem with a longer baking time. So many variables to consider. The important thing as you experiment is to only change one thing at a time. Let me know how things progress, Wale. I’d be happy to help you troubleshoot the recipe as you go along. Good luck!

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What’s the best way to add flavor to cheesecake?

I came home to over 200 comments and emails, so don’t mind if I answer a few in the main window here. This one from reader Hattie I especially like because, well, I love that name. But also because there are so many different ways to answer it.

I’ll be honest and say at the outset that a plain vanilla cheesecake is my personal favorite. However I recognize that there are plenty of cheesecake makers out there who consider plain cheesecake to be a mere starting point, a blank canvass if you will. For those folks I have a few basic suggestions.

Fruit toppings are of course a natural. Personally I’d leap straight for some lemon curd and slather it over the top once the cake had a chance to chill and firm completely. Chunky fruit toppings work great too: strawberry, blueberry, cherry, apricot, mango. Most often these are simple fresh fruit compotes. To make one of those simply combine three quarters of a cup of water with half a cup of sugar, two teaspoons of lemon juice and then a dribble of some sort of liqueur if you like. Heat the mixture to a simmer and add a cup and a half or more of fresh fruit. Cook to your desired softness, cool and spoon the mixture onto slices before serving.

Another way to go is to swirl a fruit purée straight into the batter before you bake. To do this pour about half your cheesecake batter into the pan, then add about three quarters of a cup of fruit purée and give it a brief stir with a fork. Gently pour on the remaining cheesecake batter. Make a simple fruit puree by putting about three quarters of a pound of seeded and/or hulled fresh or frozen (and thawed) fruit into a blender or food processor with a teaspoon of lemon juice. Puree until the mixture is spoonable (add water if needed to thin it). Do this with just about any fruit you like save for citrus or peaches which will curdle the baking cake. To make the purée as smooth as possible press it through a fine mesh strainer. Add a little sugar to taste.

What about chocolate? I can hear many of you saying. Yes of course you can add chocolate. A cup or so of chocolate chips, pieces or warm ganache can be stirred into the batter like a fruit purée. You can also just make a chocolate cheesecake by melting about half a pound of a good quality milk, semi-sweet or white chocolate and stirring it into your batter until it’s evenly incorporated. Similar effects can be created with mashed ripe banana (swap 1 cup mashed banana combined with two teaspoons lemon juice for an equal amount of sour cream) or peanut butter (again, swap out a cup of peanut butter for an equal amount of sour cream).

Anyone else who’d like to weigh in with some ideas please do!

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Back and Bewildered

Hey all, I seem to be plagued by one problem after another this fall/winter. Due to some apparent host problems I haven’t been able to access the site for the last four days. I haven’t even been able to see it from the front end most of that time, so I don’t know if it’s been up or down. Hopefully the problem is fixed now. Let me know if you’re noticing any technical issues. Assuming the comments reach me I’ll try to tend to them.

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Later, Turkeys!

No I didn’t get my torte made, dernit. What a travesty, but I did flap my fingers quite a bit on chemical leavening, if that was any fun. I’ll set things to rights after Thanksgiving. Have a great one, all you Americans. Those of you in other locales, I apologize for the blogging lapse that’s about to ensue. See you Monday!

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The Difference Between Punching and De-Gassing

Reader Sally had a great question: what’s the difference between “punching down” dough and “gently de-gassing” it as so many artisan bread recipes instruct? Functionally speaking, Sally, there’s not that much difference, both are about releasing built up CO2 and stretching the dough to further distribute the yeast (being buds, yeast don’t move on their own so we have to manually move them if we want to spread them around a bread dough).

That said, the texture of your bread will be different depending on whether you punch your dough or handle it with, er, kid gloves. Punching dough not only deflates large bubbles it breaks them up into lots of smaller ones. After a well-punched dough is baked it tends to have a very tight crumb, which is desirable for sandwich breads, pain de mie and such. Big holes just let sandwich fillings fall through, which is why it’s important to beat sandwich breads mercilessly.

“De-gassing” is what you do for artisan-style breads since the big holes are part of the aesthetic. The idea is to apply only gentle pressure so that the CO2 escapes but the gaps inside the dough are more or less preserved. That’s a good thing since they’ll fill up again with CO2 in the proofing step and bake up to a nice open crumb (i.e. full of holes).

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Is clabber anything like yogurt?

In fact it is, reader Erica, it is exactly the same principle, the main difference being the type of bacterial culture involved. If you were around for my exhausting — I’m sorry I mean exhaustive — series on fermented dairy foods from several years ago, you may recall that it’s the species of lactic acid bacteria in the milk that ultimately determines both the flavor and the texture of fermented milk and/or cream. Milk exposed to the kind of lactic acid bacteria common to Khazakhstan will be transformed into a thick and tangy yogurt. Milk exposed to the kind of lactic acid bacteria common to places like Kentucky will produce the thinner product we call clabber. Ireland and Scotland are in the same situation, so is pretty much all of western Europe. We just don’t have the bugs for yogurt. Thanks for the question, Erica!

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Tartaric Acid and Wine

Reader Gustav asks if the tartaric acid (cream of tartar) crystals that form on wine corks happen all the time or only if the wine has “turned.” The answer is that tartaric acid crystals can form anytime in just about any wine (white or red) and do not indicate that a wine has “turned” in any way. In fact tartrate crystals on the inside end of a cork probably indicate that you’re in possession of a rather good bottle. Mass producers of wine, knowing that wine drinkers are frequently put off by tartrate crystals (making them prone to return opened bottles) chill — or “cold stabilize” — their wines, so that the tartrate crystals form in the vat and not later in the bottle. Purists insist that this extra processing step detracts from a wine’s character, and so smaller vintners tend to omit it. This is especially true where red wine is concerned. White wine producers tend to do more cold stabilization since white tartrate crystals are so frequently mistaken for tiny shards of glass.

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On Kitchen Acids

Reader Cynthia writes:

So OK, I get that alkalines like baking soda are rare things in the kitchen. But what about the other side of the reaction: acids? They seem more common. Can you give us a list of things that react with soda? And are there any other alkaline ingredients out there?

Cynthia, I’d be positively delighted to answer. As you’ve intuited, acids are a much more common in the kitchen than bases. The strongest of these are vinegar, cream of tartar and lemon juice. Other citrus juices like orange and lime are acidic, so is tomato juice and any fermented dairy product (buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, etc.). Other, milder acids include molasses, cocoa powder, milk, honey, canned pumpkin and brown sugar. As far as foods that fall on the base side of the pH scale, egg whites are mildly alkaline, but that’s all I can think of.

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How does baking soda kill odors?

That’s an excellent question, reader Ronny! Given all you now know about how leavening reactions work, the answer will probably strike you as obvious. As you know, sodium bicarbonate reacts when it combines with acid and water. Many odor-causing molecules are organic acids, so when they come into contact with the soda in a humid environment like a refrigerator they react, spelling the end of the offending molecule.

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