Tips & Tricks

1 Measuring Tips for Baking - when baking, always measure dry ingredients and mix together well in a separate bowl before adding to wet ingredients. This will ensure even distribution.

2) Don't skip greasing and flouring a pan if called for in a recipe. Even fudgey brownies and baked goods come out of the pan easily if you follow those 2 important steps.

3) Lemon (or lime) Zesting Tips - here's how to get the most out of each lemon: *If you are using both zest and juice, always zest the lemon first. You want just the thin yellow top layer of the skin - any more than that will result in a bitter flavor. 

* The oils in the lemon peel are strongest just after zesting, so grate lemons just before you plan to use them. Grate lemon zest over waxed paper to make it easier to gather. Finely grated lemon releases more flavor than larger strips of zest.

* To get the most juice out of your lemons, pop them in the microwave for about 30 seconds, then roll back & forth on the counter with the palm of your hand before squeezing.

*Have more lemons than you can use? Grate or peel the zest, juice the lemons, then freeze them separately. Well wrapped, they keep for up to 3 mos.

*My favorite gadget for making zesting a snap - the Microplane zester grater. A $10 wonder tool that you can use to zest citrus, grate parmesan cheese, chocolate or nutmeg.

* A wooden juice reamer is another helpful tool if you're just juicing a few lemons. I've had the same one (from Williams Sonoma) for about 15 years and it's still going strong.

4) Did you know strawberries don't ripen after picking?  For the juiciest, sweetest berries, choose those that have very little white around the very top.

5) Onions got your mascara running?  Try popping them in the fridge for 30 minutes prior to chopping - no more tears!

6) What's the scoop on cocoa powder?  Some recipes call for unsweetened "natural" cocoa powder, while others call for Dutch-processed cocoa. Natural cocoa is intense, full flavored, and somewhat acidic. Dutch-processed cocoa (also called Dutched or European style) is treated with alkali to neutralize its acidity, giving it a mellowed flavor. The two types aren't interchangeable though - leavening agents in recipes are usually balanced against the specific ph of the cocoa called for.

Baking soda, which is alkaline, is usually paired with natural cocoa to neutralize its acidity.  Baking powder is paired with Dutched cocoa because both ingredients are basically neutral already.  Dutched process cocoa isn't as widely available as regular cocoa, but some supermarkets carry both - it also carries a much heftier price tag of about $9 for an 8 ounce box.

Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate?  They can be used interchangeably, with semisweet giving a slightly sweeter result.  Bittersweet generally contains less sugar, but the difference between the two types varies from brand to brand.  Most bittersweet chocolate offered by a supermarket brand has more sugar than semisweet chocolate made by a premium chocolate brand.

7) Cutting Raw Meat? - Pop it into the freezer about 30 minutes or so before slicing or dicing - cutting will be a breeze!

8)  BakingTips:

*We can afford to be free wheeling when it comes to cooking - adding a pinch of this and a pinch of that to achieve the desired result.   Baking, however, is a definite science. The ingredients combine to form a chemical reaction - so anything in the wrong amount can affect your finished product - and not in a good way!  My best advice when baking is to measure everything!!

*To properly measure flour for baking:  use a soup spoon to scoop the flour into your measuring cup, then lightly level off the top with the flat side of a knife. (or if you're lazy like me, use your forefinger and level it off).  Don't shake your measuring cup, or pack it down!  While we're on the subject of measuring cups - glass or plastic clear measuring cups are meant for liquid ingredients, and are usually available in 1, 2 and 5 cup size.  Dry ingredient measuring cups usually come in sets with 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup and 1 cup sizes.

*Brown sugar, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal when it comes to measuring.  You want to pack it down in your measuring cup so you don't have any air pockets.

*Unless your recipe directs otherwise, always measure your dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder,baking soda, cocoa powder and spices) and whisk them together in a separate bowl before adding to the wet ingredients.  This ensures everything is evenly distributed.

*Crack your eggs into a separate bowl before adding them to your dough/batter. This way you can fish out any pieces of shell before hand, and if you run into the occasional rotten egg, it will prevent you from ruining your batter/dough and having to start all over.

*When adding flour and a liquid or liquid mixture like we did in this recipe, you'll most always want to alternate wet and dry ingredients, starting and ending with the flour. 

*Unless your recipe instructs otherwise, when mixing in the flour, mix on low speed (if you don't have a cover on your stand mixer, using a quick on/off pulsing motion really helps keep the flour from flying all over your kitchen!), or mix it in gently by hand.  You want your cakes, etc. to be tender.  Unless you're making bread, stirring the flour in vigorously will develop the gluten, and you'll end up with tough goodies - so go gentle on the stirring!    Though it's not required, I prefer to use a folding in motion for most of my baked goods until the flour is just incorporated (scooping under the batter and coming up over the top).  I use this method when making cookies, brownies, cakes and muffins, and it hasn't failed me yet!

*It's important to have your butter, eggs, and most liquids at room temperature in your baking recipes.  This allows everything to rise and bake properly as soon as it hits the heat of your oven.  If ingredients are cold, your end product isn't going to be nearly as nice as you hoped.

*When you are making a butter cream, cream cheese or mascarpone cheese frosting/filling, always soften butter and cheese at room temperature so you'll end up with the fluffiest, lightest texture.  And no, microwaving it isn't a good substitute, it defrosts unevenly, and you'll have some of it liquid and/or too soft.

Happy Baking!