Newsletter # 1  


Keeping your kitchen stocked with the right ingredients and equipment, as well as mastering these basic techniques, will ensure baking success every time!
Making any meal memorable is usually left to the finish. The last item you dine upon is the one that lasts the longest within the memory, so finish with memorable desserts.

Great desserts are not impossible. Never think that you cannot prepare them and when you master the building blocks of dessert making, you can create anything.

INTRODUCTION: It is not necessary to be an experienced pastry chef to make good pastry. The dictionary defines pastry as: “dough or paste consisting primarily of flour, water, and shortening that is baked”. There is a lot of truth in the old adage – “as easy as pie”. Making pastry is not difficult if you follow a few simple rules and master the basic techniques. Any good pastry chef knows that practice really does make perfect. You do not need fancy equipment. A bowl, a set of scales or measuring cups and a rolling pin are all you need to begin with, plus a few cake pans, pie plates or dishes in sizes to suit your style of cooking. As you become more proficient and discover how satisfying and creative making pastry can be, you may want to expand your range of utensils, but remember, when it comes to good pastry making, cool, competent hands are the cook’s most valuable assets.

Nothing equals the satisfaction of home baking. No commercial cake mix or store-bought cookie can match one that is made from the best fresh ingredients with all the added enjoyment that baking at home provides – the enticing aromas that fill the house and stimulate appetites, the delicious straight-from-the-oven flavor, as well as the pride of having created such wonderful goodies.

There is no reason why even beginners should not be able to create delicious pastry. Pastry making is based on a few golden rules, which, if adhered to, will ensure success every time.

Baking is an exact science and needs to be approached in an orderly way. The French term, “mise en place” means, “everything in its place” and it is the principal rule for having all ingredients measured and on the counter before you begin. If you do not have small custard cups or bowls, or you just do not want to wash additional equipment, you can use pieces of parchment paper or waxed paper. By doing this step, it reduces your chance of omitting an ingredient or measuring it incorrectly.

When baking, a pinch of this and a dash of that is a recipe for disaster, so measure everything and measure accurately. Unlike cooking recipes, which are guides that can be adjusted to taste without measuring and without consequence, baking recipes are exact formulas, and what you add or subtract could affect the final texture. The exception to this is adding spices where you can usually get away with a pinch instead of measuring out 1/8 teaspoon, as long as you are not heavy-handed.

KNOW YOUR RECIPE: First, and foremost, you must read through the entire recipe from beginning to end before doing anything else. Butter may have to be softened, nuts may need toasting, and chocolate may need melting. Once you have completed this, now go back and set out all the required ingredients in the prescribed measurements before you begin. Always measure ingredients accurately – even professionals with years of experience rely on weighing scales. Do not read the recipe for the first time and measure at the same time; this is a recipe for disaster.

TEMPERATURE: Keep everything cool: the work surface, ingredients, utensils, your hands and even your temper, as pastry needs careful, light handling. All ingredients should be at room temperature being 68 to 72° F, with the exception of preparing pastry shells like pie shells, tart shells and the like. The liquid should be held in the refrigerator at 41° F and if possible, the fat (butter and/or lard) and the pastry flour should be held in the freezer. The colder you have your ingredients before starting, the longer the fats will stay solidified, and that is exactly what you want for nice, soft and flaky crusts. Most pastries need to be rested and chilled after every stage of making and assembling. Do not be tempted to cut down on the times suggested for this, or your pastry may suffer. The reason for keeping the dough chilled is to reduce the shrinkage of the pastry when baked.

Use dry measuring cups to measure dry ingredients and liquid measuring cups for wet ingredients. The measuring cups are different and do not hold the same volume.

Be sure to soften or chill butter if the recipe calls for it. Some dough’s will not blend properly, for example: spritz, unless the fat is spoonable. Leave stick(s) of butter wrapped on the counter or unwrapped in the mixing bowl, cut into small pieces to speed up the softening process. This softening process can take up to 1 hour. For other dough’s, like some shortbreads, be aware that if the butter is not refrigerated, the dough will be too soft and greasy to work with.

Using a microwave to rapidly soften the fat can soften it unevenly, creating hot spots, or melt the butter in a blink. And if butter is melted or nearly melted, it will be too soft to cream properly and will affect texture.

Do not substitute ingredients; doing so can affect flavor and texture.

Unless the recipe says otherwise, mix dough only until blended after adding the flour, otherwise over mixing results in tough desserts.

MEASURING: Since baking and pastry making is an exact science, I use an electronic scale to weigh everything. It makes a big difference, since weight is the only true measure. For example: when you measure flour in a cup, it can weigh out differently, depending on how it was stored or how tightly it is packed in the cup.

How you measure flour is particularly important and could be argued to be the most important step. Flour should be sifted to aerate before you measure your desired amount and then spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level off with a straightedge. Do not tap or pack it down, because it will change the density of the measurement and your baked goods may turn out dry or rock-hard. A second sifting is done after the other dry ingredients are added. This second sifting incorporates all of the dry ingredients together and by elevating the sifter above the bowl, it will enhance the chance to aerate and lighten the dry ingredients.

EGGS: When a recipe calls for eggs, unless specified, always use large eggs. Eggs are a staple ingredient in most baking recipes. They should be stored in the refrigerator and used at room temperature for the best results. Take the number of eggs you require out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before starting the recipe to bring them to temperature. However, if you should have forgotten to do this step you can place them in a dish with hot tap water to take the chill off of them, but the first method is the method of choice.

FOLDING: When a recipe calls for folding one ingredient into another, it should be done in a way that incorporates as much air as possible into the batter. Use a large, wide rubber spatula or plastic pastry scraper, or a large metal spoon if the others are not available. To fold, gently plunge the spatula into the center of the batter completely to the bottom of the bowl and, scoop up a large amount of the batter and fold it over onto itself. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat this method so each scoop folds over another part of the batter.

OVENS: No two ovens are alike, regardless if they are the same make and model. All ovens will have, what is called a “hot spot” which means that one part of the oven will cook faster than another because there is more heat in that area. When possible, bake in the center of the oven where the heat is more evenly distributed and is more likely to be constant. When baking cakes in 2 pans, halfway through the baking time switch them to the opposite side, and cookies sheets should be rotated so the ones in the front will finish baking in the back of the oven. Good quality baking pans and baking sheets will improve your results, as they conduct heat more efficiently.

SUMMARY: Practice, patience, and enthusiasm are the keys to confident and successful baking. It is my sincere hope that this will inspire you to start sifting flour, breaking eggs and stirring up all sorts of delectable homemade treats – all guaranteed to bring great satisfaction to both the baker and those lucky enough to enjoy the results.

In upcoming articles in this series, we will cover topics like: “Know Your Ingredients”. This will be an informative look the different ingredients and what they do and why. We will also take a walk down the “Chocolate Brick Road”, but with a heart, a brain and courage. Without Toto and the ruby red slippers, we will look at chocolate, its origin and how it goes from the cacao pod to the finished product.

My goal is to inform you of the common products you use every day in the kitchen and help remove any fear and inhibitions you have in making your meal extraordinary with that special finishing touch, the dessert.

Until next time,

Joe Higgins
Chocolate Specialties by Joe
Your one stop shop for fine chocolates and specialty cakes for all occasions

Newsletter # 1


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