Thursday, August 28, 2008

Basic Tips for Beginner Bakers

So you really want to bake? You've finally convinced your husband (or wife or parents) to buy you an oven? I would suggest you take a lesson or two on beginner baking from the numerous baking schools in the city. They offer a whole wealth of knowledge from the best kitchen tools to where to buy ingredients at a steal.

But if you want to be self-taught or simply don't have the time or resources, I suggest you read. A lot. Almost all books I've read about beginner baking talk about the same tips for novice bakers. I'll be listing some important notes that I personally think anyone who is thinking of getting into baking should know by heart.

1. Read the recipe in its entirety before starting.

2. Make sure that you have all the necessary ingredients and gather them together.

3. Preheat your oven before you commence. Saves you both time and energy.

4. Use only the freshest ingredients. Believe me, people will notice the difference.

5. Invest in standard measuring spoons and cups for both dry and liquid ingredients.

6. Prepare the pan(s) needed, greasing them as necessary. Make sure to use the correct size of pan called for in the recipe.

7. Let butter or margarine stand a little to soften before using if you don't want butter flying around your kitchen.

8. Get to know your oven. No two ovens are alike and most times the temperature reading is not accurate. It is advisable to put a portable oven thermometer inside to test its accuracy.

9. Test for doneness a good 5 minutes before the prescribed baking time. Butter cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Sponge and chiffon cakes spring back when lightly pressed. Pies and cookies are done when golden brown and fragrant.

10. Cooling is also vital. Let butter cakes cool in pan for about 10 minutes then remove from pan to cool completely on rack. Invert the pans onto racks at once for chiffon and sponge cakes. Remove cookies from baking sheets at once to cool on racks.

11. Frost and decorate cakes only after they have cooled completely.

12. Bake as often as you can. It is such a rewarding experience.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Red Velvet Craze

Red Velvet Cake has achieved celebrity status these last couple of years in Manila. Almost all home bakers are offering this on their menu. It is a hit to both adults and kids alike.

You gotta hand it to people from the Southern US for coming up with this delightful concoction. Where on earth can you find a cake that when you slice into it will reveal a richly red cake that will no doubt stain your lips and teeth? And the cream cheese frosting that covers it...simply divine.

Of all the recipes for red velvet cake I tried, the one from Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit
is the one for me. She did a lot of research to perfect the recipe and I think she did an excellent job. This cake is moist with a tender crumb and the rich red color is fantastic.

This is not really a chocolate cake. The addition of cocoa powder is done only to enhance the dark red color because you can't actually taste the chocolate.

For the cream cheese frosting, I used my own recipe:

Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups confectioner's powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla extract. Continue beating until you get a smooth and fluffy icing.


Whether you make cupcakes or a whole cake with the recipe, it will surely be a hit. Trust me.

Friday, August 8, 2008

My Favorite Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

Ah, warm cookies and milk. Good times. Notice how many fond memories you have over this duo? Create some more with this very easy and fuss-free recipe. Half the fun is in making these traditional hand-molded cookies which can be a bonding activity with the kids.

I bet this recipe will be a classic in your household. It is in mine. Happy Baking!


Peanut Butter Cookies


3 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup refined sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. In a bowl, sift together flour and baking soda. Set aside.
3. Cream butter and sugars until creamy at medium speed of mixer, about 5 minutes.
4. Add peanut butter and cream for another minute.
5. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla.
6. At low speed, add flour mixture in four parts, blending thoroughly.
7. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets two inches apart. Alternately, you can scoop dough onto ungreased cookie sheets.
8. Press balls down with a fork, making a crisscross mark on each with fork tines.
9. Bake at 375°F for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch the time so you end up with soft and chewy cookies.
10. Transfer cookies to rack to cool completely.
Store airtight.

Makes about 60 medium-sized cookies.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Cheesecake Love Part 3: Bite-sized Blueberry Cheesecakes


Every time I make cheesecakes, they always disappear before the end of the day. I always end up rummaging through the fridge at midnight wishing I'd made more. Well, one day as I was window shopping at Amazon, I happen to come across this wonderful new product to solve my dilemma...the Norpro mini cheesecake pan. With its non-stick finish and removable bottom, this pan is a dream.

Not only does this extend the life of a batch of cheesecake, this is also a great way to serve this dessert at parties or picnics. And the baking time is dramatically shorter so it makes my job so much easier. And who doesn't want that, right?

Miniature New York Cheesecakes with Blueberry Topping

Crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons refined sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/3 cup melted butter

1. Stir all ingredients together in a bowl.
2. Press crust onto bottom and sides of mini cheesecake pan. (I use the end of a mini rolling pin to press the crumbs onto the pan.)
3. Chill until needed.


Filling:

1- 225 gram bar cream cheese
1/2 cup refined sugar
2 medium-sized eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping:

1 cup blueberry pie filling

1. To prepare filling, beat together cream cheese and refined sugar until smooth.
2. Add eggs one at a time.
3. Stir in flour, sour cream, lemon zest and vanilla extract.
4. Pour filling over prepared crust.
5. Bake at 325°F for 15 minutes.
8. Cool thoroughly. Remove cheesecakes from pan then chill overnight
9. Before serving, top each cheesecake with a teaspoon of blueberry pie filling.

Makes about 18 pieces miniature cheesecakes.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ooey Gooey Fudgy Brownies



Rich fudgy brownies may well be on top of everyone's comfort food list. I bet it is one of the very first bars beginner bakers learn how to make. And with good reason. It is quite simple to prepare and can be done without the aid of a mixer.

There are a few tips I can share to achieve fudgy and moist brownies. One, line your baking pan with aluminum foil so you can easily lift the brownie off the pan for easier cutting. Two, use a wooden spoon to mix your brownies so you don't incorporate too much air.

Next tip is it is always to better underbake a little than overbake so watch that clock! There's possibly nothing worse than dry crumbly brownies. Lastly, cut brownies into bars only when it is cool and if you have it use a plastic disposable knife for clean slices.


Fudge Brownies


1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder (for darker color)
1/2 cup refined sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
3 tablespoons light corn syrup (for moist, chewy brownies)
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 9" x 9" pan with aluminum foil. Grease pan with butter.
2. Sift flour and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.
3. Over low heat or in a microwave, melt butter.
4. Stir in cocoa powder and set aside to cool.
5. To cooled chocolate mixture, add sugars, syrup and eggs. Beat till just mixed.
6. Stir in flour mixture and mix till flour is just incorporated (Don't overmix.).
7. Pour into prepared pan and top with nuts.
8. Bake at 350°F for 40 to 45 minutes.
9. Cool in pan then cut into squares.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cheesecake Love Part 2: New York Cheesecake with Mango Compote


This is the second installment of my cheesecake series. I told you, I'm obsessed with cheesecake.

If you're looking for a recipe for basic New York Cheesecake, this is it. You can easily make variations by changing the flavoring and crust as well as the topping.

I urge you to follow the baking instructions detailed here especially the baine-marie style of baking. You won't regret it. The possibility of cracking and overbaking is eliminated and you are left with a rich and velvety cheesecake that everyone will rave about.


New York Cheesecake with Mango Compote


Crust:

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons refined sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/4 cup melted butter

1. Stir all ingredients together in a bowl.
2. Press crust onto bottom of an ungreased 9" springform pan. Chill until needed. (This recipe is also good for 2- 6" mini cheesecake pans).

Filling:
2 bars (225 grams each) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup refined sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To prepare filling, beat together cream cheese and refined sugar until smooth.
2. Add eggs one at a time.
3. Stir in flour, sour cream, lemon zest and vanilla extract.
4. Pour filling over prepared crust.
5. Wrap bottom of pan with a big piece of aluminum foil.
6. Place springform pan inside a roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to go one inch up the side of springform pan (baine-marie style).
7. Bake in a slow oven 300°F for about one hour. (Center should still be jiggly. It will firm up as it chills.)
8. Cool thoroughly then chill overnight before serving.

Mango Compote:
1/2 cup mango preserves
1/4 cup water
2 cups fresh mango balls

1. Warm mango preserves and water.
2. Gently stir in mango balls. Turn off heat.
3. Cool thoroughly. Spoon over cheesecake.


Makes 8 to 10 generous servings.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Cheesecake Love Part 1: Oreo Cheesecake

I must admit, I'm addicted to cheesecakes. I make them at home and almost always order cheesecake whenever I go out to eat. Who can resist that creamy, melt -in-your-mouth goodness. I particularly like this cheesecake because of the chocolate crust.

You may notice from the procedure that making cheesecakes is not complicated at all. In fact, it is simpler than a lot of cakes I bake. The only thing I don't like about it is having to wait overnight before I can indulge.

Here's the recipe:

Oreo Cheesecake
(Serves 8 to 10)

Crust:
1 pack (about 12 pieces) Oreo cookies
1/4 cup butter, melted

1. Grind up Oreo cookies in food processor.
2. Add melted butter and mix well.
3. Press on bottom of an ungreased 9" springform pan. Chill in refrigerator until needed.

Filling:
2 bars (225 grams each) cream cheese
1 cup refined sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To prepare filling, beat together cream cheese and refined sugar till smooth.
2. Add eggs one at a time.
3. Stir in flour, sour cream and vanilla extract.
4. Pour filling over prepared crust.
5. Wrap bottom of pan with a big piece of aluminum foil.
6. Place cheesecake pan inside a roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into pan to go one inch up the side of springform pan (baine-marie style).
7. Bake in a slow oven 300°F for about one hour. (Center should still be jiggly. It will firm up as it chills.)
8. Cool thoroughly then chill overnight before serving.

Note: You can decorate the cheesecake with whipped cream rosettes and mini Oreos. It is a good idea to use a warm knife to slice cheesecake for a clean cut.