Author Archives: Gail Sokol

There’s Comfort in My Chocolate Cake

I must admit that my favorite cake of all time is my Chocolate Java Cake. That is probably why I included it in my new cookbook Baking with Success and put a big  picture of it on the cover.

What makes it so scrumptious is the texture of the cake which perfectly complements the creaminess of the rich chocolate frosting. It even has a decadent chocolate coffee filling in which I use crushed chocolate covered coffee beans for an extra blast of java flavor. The combo of chocolate and coffee is killer!

The tender mouth feel of the cake is from using the creaming method of mixing. There are a few methods of mixing cakes, and this method has to be my all time favorite because of the light, yet firmness of the cakes it creates. It begins with creaming softened butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. The air bubbles that are created, work with the chemical leaveners, helping to allow that cake to rise to a perfect height.

I am not a light and airy cake lover. No angel cake for me!  I like my cakes, especially my chocolate cake, to have some structure. I want to really be able to sink my teeth in it! The frosting should also hold its’ own against the density of the cake.  If you try this chocolate cake recipe you will experience chocolate nirvana.

If you are not much of a coffee fan I made a  video on my YouTube channel of a version of this chocolate cake without any coffee filling.

Please try this cake for your next occasion and you will be comforted and VERY happy!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

My Cookbook is Finally Here!

After more than a year and a half of hard work, my new book “Baking with Success”, is finally out and available. I am so proud of it, because the recipes are quite special to me. I have inserted personal anecdotes in the introductions of each chapter about specific recipes and  what they mean to me. Many recipes have links to my YouTube channel so that you can watch how the recipe should be made.

Writing a book is sort of like having a baby. You are creating something and nurturing it until is takes on a life of its own.

It involves lots of effort and a stick-to-it kind of passion that never sleeps. When I am working on a book I leave paper and pen by my bed so I can jot down a recipe idea that may come to me during the night.

There is not a huge amount of text in a cookbook, but there must be clear and concise methods and procedures that anyone can follow. This can be a challenge to say the least. One example was when I was trying to write out the directions for a lattice topped peach pie. After I wrote out the procedure and steps for the recipe I had my husband (a non-baker) try to follow them with strips of paper to resemble real strips of pie dough. Needless to say, my husband would now be able to make a lattice topped pie. He may not be willing, but he sure is able!

There were several versions of the book, and after writing the last iteration, I was finally happy. After re-working the text, re-writing the recipes, making oodles of tweaks and changes to those recipes and finally making each version over and over the book was complete.

At one point I had so many baked goods that I had to keep giving them to friends and family. I always know when I have had enough versions of my baked goods when my family says things like “molten chocolate cakes, again?!” Really?

If you are a baker or know someone that is, check out my book which will, also, have an e-version, with links to my YouTube videos, in just a few weeks as well.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Getting Ready for Baking Camp

Every year around this time, I am hard at work planning my Summer Kids Baking Camp. I have been teaching these mini week long baking courses for kids in middle school to high school for over 16 years!

Although it is lots of work and takes oodles of patience I LOVE IT! I meet all sorts of kids from different geographical areas. Some of the kids are quiet and some not so much. However, once the quiet ones start feeling comfortable watch out…

I am excited about this summer’s first week. We begin the week with home made marshmallows. They are super simple to make and the kids love taking them home to make S’mores with their parents. I even put a home made S’mores recipe in my new cookbook, “Baking with Success” with graham cracker cookies that you make from scratch.

Some marshmallow recipes start out with a meringue using egg whites that have a boiling sugar syrup beaten into them with a bit of gelatin. And some recipes just use a lot of unflavored gelatin instead of the meringue with the boiling syrup beaten in as well. Both ways work well and taste great.

I know what you are thinking. Why don’t we just use store bought marshmallows?Well, buying them is no fun, and I find that kids love to explore how to make an item that seems so hard to do and yet is not. When they see the food science of how air can be beaten into egg whites, or gelatin, and then stabilized by using the gelatin itself, it becomes an edible science experiment. The kids are amazed that they actually made something that they never thought they could.

If you are looking for a fun and educational activity for your middle schooler or high schooler this summer, please look into my Professional Baking Course for Kids at Schenectady County Community College.

Remember to never take the simple things in life, like marshmallows for granted!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

 

Baking Out of Bags

I am getting down to the wire now, emptying out all of my cabinets and drawers for the BIG re-do of my kitchen. It really isn’t pretty with bags and boxes all through out the house.

Yet amidst all the turmoil, I am still finding a way to bake right up to the day of demolition. I must be crazy. Why do I do this to myself? I know why– because baking calms me down and is like a relaxing yoga-like exercise for me. Really? Really.

So today, I have decided to stockpile my freezer with homemade good-for-you muffins that my family and I can have in a pinch when there is nothing to cook or bake on during the re-do. Continuing to bake in these conditions causes other upsetting issues, I can tell you right now. Such thoughts run through my mind like: where exactly did I pack the baking powder or the salt? Where are the muffin pans?? I almost feel like a lab rat in some weird memory experiment. Hint to self: packing together what was originally in each cabinet really helps you remember where things are in each bag.

Baking must REALLY be RELAXING for me if I am willing to go through this, or like I stated before, I must really be cray cray.

I will leave you with this thought: baking out of bags is better than NOT baking at all!  At least for me. Six days until demolition.

Happy Baking!

Chef  Gail

Time To Move On and Get Over It

My kitchen is 30 years old! You’ve seen it in my YouTube videos. There’s such atrocities as pink Formica counter tops and bright, peeling, white cabinets. What was I thinking way back when?!

Well, my next baking video that I make for you will be in the newly renovated kitchen. Yes. I am getting a kitchen face lift. I know that I should be thrilled to be getting a new kitchen, but part of me is a little sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I am lucky that I can swing this renovation, but I am not complaining because I am being a baking diva. Really! The whole process is unbelievably layered with thousands of both large and little decisions that you must live with for eternity. To me this is stressful.

Not to mention that during the renovation you can’t use the kitchen or even be in the vicinity! The kitchen is MY room. I spend at least 95% of my time there and I love every minute of it.

I am getting quite sentimental about destroying the old kitchen. My kids grew up in that kitchen, and we have so many memories in THAT room, of great times creating foods together.

When the kids were too young I put them on the counter top to watch me as I made meals and baked desserts. I even talked to them as if I was explaining to them what I was doing; like we were having our very own little cooking show, even though they could not understand what I was saying or doing.

As they got older, my kids happily joined me offering to stir or mix the ingredients for a recipe. Many memories were made.

On the schedule for the re-model of what gets done when, the first day is labeled as “Demo” day. Demo means DEMOLITION, where they remove everything I associate with this kitchen in order to start from scratch.

Am I excited to have a kitchen where the cabinets are not falling off the hinges? A kitchen where all the leaky ceiling stains can be removed and painted over? Absolutely. But a piece of my family’s history will be torn down and taken away. Getting a bit teary now. Do you hear music from the world’s smallest violin?

We will certainly create new memories in the new kitchen, which I do look forward to. I, also, look forward to creating more videos on baking for you that you may find more eye appealing.

Until then.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Excitement Over My New Cookbook About To Come Out

I have been working on a new cookbook for the past year and a half! Thankfully, it is almost done. I am now going over the galleys for final changes before it goes into publication.

I am very excited to see the fruits of my labor completed, and yet it’s scary because no matter how many times one goes over a manuscript, even one with recipes and little actual text, there is always something else to edit or tweak.

Ever the perfectionist,  I guess I just want the book to be the best it can be. I love to teach baking and know this new book explains the how to’s in a simple and basic way that anyone can understand. There are some fantastic recipes as well!

What I am most proud of is that the photographs for this book were done by my daughter, Rebekah. She did an amazing job working with me sometimes late into the night, after a long day at work, to get just the perfect shot of each of my baked goods.

The food is the real focus in the photos of this book, so you can actually see all of the different textures of the baked goods up close. I knew that I wanted to create a cookbook like that so that when I looked at the pictures of the foods,  I would have a strong urge to make those delicious looking recipes.

Writing a book is like raising a baby. You nurture it and then you must let it go and it takes on a life of its own. I hope my new book has a nice long life and people buy it and use it well!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

So Proud of My Quantity Foods Class at The Sage Colleges

I wanted to give my students some experience cooking food for a large quantity of people, and they had their moment this past Wednesday, April 12th. They created a delicious and nutritious meal, and they sold it to the Sage faculty and students as a Take Out Meal that they called “Sage To Go”. It consisted of BBQ chicken,  vegetable tabbouleh, a corn muffin and maple butter and a dark chocolate oatmeal cookie.

It was a huge success with the students selling 104 meals!! The students actually cooked the food in the large dining hall of the school to get experience working with commercial kitchen equipment.

You should have seen them marketing and advertising the meal to their target audience, then cooking, baking, measuring out portions, and packing all the food up in plastic containers with labels on how to re-heat the food and store it. The bags they placed the food in also had the nutrition facts of each component of the meal included.

I am so very proud of them!! They worked so hard, and the food was amazing. You may ask how would I know this? Well, I purchased a meal so I could try it for myself, of course.

This was our first attempt for such an ambitious project like this one. It got such accolades that I would love to make this Take Out Meal the capstone project for next year’s class as well, and do it every year after that. A great learning experience!

Happy Baking (and cooking)!

Chef Gail

 

 

You Call That a Cake?

My paternal grandmother has been gone now for many years and we were very close. I think of her often, but more now than ever as Passover is nearing.

I loved watching her cook or bake because she was such a natural at it. A little of this and a lot of that was the way she put her delicious dishes together. I remember following her around the kitchen with a notepad, writing down what I thought were the approximate amounts of ingredients that she used. She would always yell at me, in a loving way, stating that I was too attached to EXACT amounts, and yet I always strove for the results that she created.

As Passover approaches, I recall her showing me how to gently fold the dry ingredients into an egg foam to make a mile high sponge cake. When I was old enough, I made my own sponge cake and, well…it wasn’t quite the fine baked good that grandma would have produced. Now, my grandma was always one to speak her mind and not hold back on whatever she was thinking. To be blunt, she had absolutely NO TACT!! When she saw my attempt at a sponge cake, she said, “You call THAT a sponge cake?”

(We’ll save her colorful comments about my potato kugel for another day…)

Although it was painful to hear the negative critique of my first solo-made sponge cake, I took it well knowing she was saying it with love. Because of this, I kept making sponge cakes to ensure that they got closer to hers. My future attempts got rave reviews from her, so practice makes perfect.

After making another annual sponge cake, a new tradition has started. After the cake is baked and taken out of the pan, I proudly hold it up for grandma to see (wherever she may be) and state proudly,” Yes, grandma, I call THIS a sponge cake!”

Happy Baking and Happy Passover to all who celebrate it!

Chef Gail

 

Tips on How to Bake My St. Germain Bundtlette Cakes with Success

 

I recently made St. Germain Bundtlette Cakes on my YouTube channel and I have some tips for you to ensure success.

There are specific methods to mix cakes depending on what you are making. The St. Germain Bundtlettes use the creaming method of mixing. Utilizing this method always results in a beautiful, light and tender crumb to any cake.

This method always starts with softened butter and granulated sugar being mixed together in an electric mixer using the paddle attachment. The mixing basically forces air into the butter. This creates tiny air bubbles that will work together with the chemicals leaveners, baking powder and baking soda, to create a nice light crumb with tiny air bubbles throughout the finished bundtlettes. They almost melt in your mouth!

Next the eggs are added, one at a time, making sure that each is incorporated before adding the next.

Now the dry and wet ingredients are added in an alternating manner to create a creamy light emulsion resulting in a rich, thick cake batter. I usually add 1/3 of the dry ingredients first, followed by 1/2 of the wet ingredients. Combining these ingredients on low speed helps to prevent too much gluten from developing. Too much gluten development would create a tough cake.

Stop the mixer periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl with dry ingredients that have not been blended in well. After scraping down the bowl, I add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by the remaining wet ingredients. I end with adding the remaining dry ingredients, blending the mixture just until all of the ingredients are well combined. STOP MIXING AT THIS POINT or the cake will bake up tough.

Be sure you heavily spray the bundtlette pan with nonstick cooking spray. Bundtlette pans have nooks and crannies so smear the spray around with your fingers or a paper towel to cover all surfaces or the cakes will not come out!

The biggest tip I can give you is to NOT over fill the pans. Only fill each bundtlette 1/2 full. They will rise quite a bit.

After baking, do not remove them right away. Allow them to cool until they feel just lukewarm. I made a batch and tried to remove a few of them when they were too warm, and they broke as I took them out. Trust me, I ate every one of those broken baby bundts. It was for quality control and research purposes, and I enjoyed every crumb!

I then made a scrumptious St. Germain syrup to soak those bundtlettes in. The syrup is very easy to make. It’s just a simple syrup to start, which is simply equal parts water and sugar brought to the boil until the sugar dissolves.

I allowed it to cool down and then added my St. Germain liqueur. I then gave each of my little cakes a dunk in the pool flipping them over in the process.

Remove the cakes and place them onto a serving plate dusting them with powdered sugar before serving them.

Try these little cakes, and remember, when you make individual cakes, there is NO sharing.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Useful Tips When Baking My Chocolate Babka

I recently created a YouTube video on how to make the most scrumptious Chocolate Babka ever! Babkas are rich, sweet, European-style yeast breads filled with anything from cinnamon and sugar to nuts and jams and my favorite flavor– the Chocolate Babka full of chocolate bits, cocoa and brown sugar.

Now many people may say, “Oh, pleeze, it’s too much effort to making a Babka”. To the naysayers I say, you are mistaken. The small amount of effort needed is so well worth it that I guarantee you’ll be baking Babka before you know it. A little alliteration never hurt anyone either!

The yeast dough is quite easy to put together, especially since instant yeast is used. Instant yeast can be combined right in with the dry ingredients. No more proofing the yeast with warm water and waiting to see if it’s alive. I use instant yeast, also, known as fast-rising yeast, for all of my yeast breads.

The addition of rich ingredients such as: whole milk, butter and egg yolks makes the dough feel silky and satiny. This dough definitely feels different than a pizza dough. It is important to remember that rich yeast dough will not rise as high because the fat-based ingredients actually shorten the gluten strands within the dough which will create a more tender baked good. Enough baking science.

After the dough has risen, it is cut in half. Be sure that you don’t just rip it with your hands. Take a chef’s knife or a dough cutter and CUT it in half. This way you won’t destroy the gluten strands which could prevent your dough from rising later on in the oven.

Next we roll out each half to a large rectangle. Like I say in the video, try not to use any flour if you can. Too much flour can create a very DRY yeast bread. Now if you really need a bit of flour go for it, but use as little as possible. The dough is so silky that it rolls out beautifully and I don’t get need any flour at all!

Once you place the filling over the dough press on it with a rolling pin to help the filling adhere to the dough. Now as you roll up the dough, from the longest edge into a very tight spiral, be sure to gently pull back to create an even tighter log. If you do this you will get a well formed Babka with many lovely spiraled layers of chocolate filling peaking through after baking. Trust me, it is a beautiful thing!

The log is then cut in half crosswise. The two smaller logs are crisscrossed and twisted, and then gently placed into a loaf pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, and has had the two longest sides covered in parchment paper and then sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.

Next a light streusel topping is scattered on top and the loaf is baked for 40-45 minutes or until nice and brown. Every oven is different so a good rule of thumb is to rotate the loaf pan halfway through the baking time.

It’ll smell so good when it comes out of the oven, but don’t be tempted to take it out of the pan until it has cooled. Babkas, may seem old world, like a lost art. However, making and eating Babkas, is NEVER a lost art. Try this recipe and experience what I am talking about.

I’ve included the link to the YouTube video, if you want to watch me make one:

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail