Sunday, August 7, 2011

The History of Cake

     At my bakery, cakes are my highest selling product.  There are so many variations and types of cakes that it isn't difficult to see why this is so.  At least 60% of daily sales are in the form of cakes.  Because of this, I'm trying to research fresh, new ideas for cakes and there is so much information!  It is becoming apparent that I need to learn more about cakes and the best place to start is probably the beginning. 

     The history of cakes is a topic that shows the progress from an occassional sweet treat to having dessert every night.  Cake wasn't always known as a light, sugary, frosted snack.  From the discovery of flour to somewhere around the late 18th century, cake was considered merely a version of sweetened bread, often with fruits or nuts.  This was largely due to the fact that baking soda and baking powder didn't exist.  Bakers had to work with yeast or highly beaten eggs to create rise and this can be very difficult.  Once the Industrial Revolution rolled around, baking powder was invented and cake became insanely easier to bake.  If you'd like to learn more about the history of cakes, check this out The History of Cake.
You can also check out this page History of Cake and Kinds of Cake
     As a baker, the date my recipe was created tells me a lot.  If it is dated from the 1800's, it may be difficult to bake or may call for yeast.  I think I need to research more ideas before I make any decision.  Ladyfingers?  Tres Leches? Tarte Tartin?  Any suggestions?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Substitute For Brown Sugar In Baking

Brown sugar is simply white granulated sugar with molasses added.  The molasses is responsible for the brown color, the higher moisture content, and the extra sweetness of brown sugar.
The best alternative is maple syrup.  It has about the same number of calories as white sugar.  It is better, though, because only 65% of it is carbohydrates, whereas other sugars are 100% carbohydrates.  It is also high in calcium and potassium.
In recipes, you can substitute the same amount of maple syrup for brown sugar.  One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the maple taste may come through a little in the baked good in question, so make sure that it will still taste good.  Other substitutes for brown sugar in baking include corn syrup and honey.
If you decide to substitute brown sugar with white sugar, remember that white sugar has no flavor and may make your baked good drier.  To remedy this, add a pinch extra of whatever liquid is called for.  If you do decide to use white sugar in place of brown, try to use raw sugar such as demerara or turbinado sugars.  The raw sugars will provide a much more similar taste to brown sugar than regular white sugar.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Brown Sugar Cookies

Sometimes the average sugar cookie just won't cut it and I want something a little different.  In times like these, brown sugar cookies are a great option!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups packed brown sugar

Cream the brown sugar and butter together in a large bowl.  Beat in the egg, heavy cream, and vanilla extract.  Once blended, slowly stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt.  When it is mixed thoroughly cover it with a lid, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and roll out the dough on a lightly floured counter.  You want the dough to be about 1/8th of an inch thick.  Cut with cookie cutters or an upside down cup and place them on a greased cookie sheet at least an inch apart.  Bake about 10 minutes.  They should be lightly brown colored when finished baking.

Yields 4 dozen cookies

Sometimes I add one cup of mini chocolate chips for extra sweetness.  Icing is a great idea, especially when I'm making them for kids.  Half and half can be substituted for the heavy cream.  If the dough seems difficult to work with when rolling it out, add a teaspoon of water or cream to increase the moisture content.

Try these out and let me know what you think!

Monday, May 23, 2011


I use some form of sugar in almost everything I bake.  When I first started baking I would constantly mess up the sugar component of recipes.  I would use brown sugar or confectioner's sugar instead of granulated sugar.  I would only half-heartedly cream the butter and sugar.  Then I would wonder why my cookies were flat and tasted funny! Lol.  Sugar is a vital part of any recipe and if you use it right, your baked goods will have the perfect amount of sweetness! 
To use it properly, you must understand the purpose of sugar in baking processes.
-It helps fats disperse evenly
-It helps browning in the oven
-It helps preserve the shelf life of the baked good
-It sweetens!

While sugar is amazing, do watch your sugar intake.  All too often, customers ask why is sugar bad for you?  Sugar itself isn't!  High sugar intake, however, is unhealthy! 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Freshness of Baking Ingredients

Today I was thinking back to when I first started at my aunt's bakery, the one that later became my own.  I was fresh out of high school and didn't know anything about baking.  On my first day, my aunt asked me to take stock of the inventory.  Part of the process was to check expiration dates and make sure all the ingredients were fresh.  I did not realize this and a few days later I received a stern lecture from my aunt...and dish duty for a month.  For those of you who don't know, here is a list of the shelf-lives of some common baking ingredients.

Eggs  These will stay good for about 4 weeks in the refrigerator.  If you can't remember how long they've been in there, try this:  Fill a bowl with enough cold water to cover an egg and put it in the bowl.  If the egg sinks to the bottom and lies on its side, it's fresh.  If it floats on the surface, throw it away.
Flour  This greatly depends on the type of flour we're talking about.  In the case of white flour from the supermarket, it can easily last 18 months if stored in an air-tight container.  It can also be frozen for up to 2 years.  If in doubt, put a half cup or so in the oven and bake it for 20 minutes.  Once cool, taste it.  If it tastes even slightly sour, throw it away.
Milk  It will stay fresh for around 7 days after the sell by date if kept in the refrigerator.  If the milk is sour and spoiled, you can be thrifty by using it to bake things like pancakes or muffins.  It can also be frozen for up to 3 weeks.  When in doubt, smell it.  If it smells even remotely sour, throw it away.
Vanilla Extract  With this ingredient it actually gets better with age due to alcohol content.  Store in a cool, dark place and it will keep almost indefinitely.  Most bakers, though, will not have this problem.  I'm constantly running out of this extract.
Baking Soda or Powder These leavening agents will last up to 18 months in your cupboard.  They can lose their active properties, though, which will cause baked goods to stay flat and not rise.  You can test the baking powder by adding half a teaspoon of the powder to 4 tablespoons of water.  It should produce a light fizzing reaction.  Test the baking soda by adding half a teaspoon to 4 tablespoons of vinegar.  This should create a bigger fizzing reaction.  If the reactions do not occur, throw it away.

Hope this helps anyone wondering about their ingredients!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bleached and Unbleached Flour

The differences between bleached and unbleached flour are very small, but the very small difference- the bleaching agent- made a world of difference for my baking.

Unbleached flour is natural flour, slowly whitened over time.  Flour is bleached to whiten it more quickly than it would occur naturally.  Bleaching cake flour helps it produce stronger starches and helps fats disperse more evenly in the batter.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization find bleached flour to be safe.  However, the European Union does not agree and people in Europe sometimes find it difficult to obtain bleached flour, though I doubt it bothers them.  Many millers are simply impatient and do not want to wait for flour to whiten, which is why bleached flour is much more common in the U.S.  Bleached flour and unbleached flour can be substituted equally.  One cup of unbleached
flour equals one cup of bleached flour.  For more information, check this out: Bleached and Unbleached Flour

I recently made the switch from bleached to unbleached flour and my food tastes so much better!  The most noticeable difference it made was in my cakes.  Try it and see how it works for you!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Origin Of Wheat And Rust

Wheat And Rust

Two Things That Don't Seem To Go Together

My first post!!!  I bake practically all day every day and I use flour in almost everything.  Lately I've been wondering about where flour actually comes from.  It turns out that almost all the flours I use are made from wheat.  So where does wheat come from?  The origin of wheat is a seed.  Wheat is grown from disease-free seeds in dry, mild climates.  It's planted in a particular pattern of narrow channels called furrows.  While growing, farmers must protect the wheat crop from any serious problems.  Most people would guess that insects are the most damaging problem for any plant.  There are over one hundred different insects that like to attack wheat, but insects only damage less than 10% of wheat in the U.S.  Interestingly enough, the biggest disease that hits wheat crops is rust.  Who would've thought?  Seriously though, rust is a fungus that will infect and grow on the wheat and even results in rust-colored spots.  So if you're growing wheat, watch out for rust!  If you want to read more about the origin of wheat, read How To Use Flour a great guide that explains the different types of flour, how flour is made and substitutions for various flours.