Category Archives: Tips for Success

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

Customizing Desserts

I usually follow recipes unless I have a specific preference about one or more of the ingredients that I may wish to swap out. As long as you know the role that the specific ingredient plays in the recipe and replace it with a similar ingredient, you can customize your own desserts.

This is easily done in cooking, but can be tricky with baking. For example, if I wish to add scallions instead of shallots to a recipe for meatloaf the final dish will still work out. However, if I wish to swap eggs for applesauce in a baked good that may not work. Eggs give structure and thicken while applesauce has no protein to speak of.

My mother did this substituting thing frequently all through my childhood. That is the primary reason that I learned how to handle myself in the kitchen–self-preservation!!

The worst substitution she ever made was for Thanksgiving one year.  Gravy calls for a thickening agent like flour or cornstarch, right? Well, even though mom had neither of those, she did have baking powder. And like she told me,” it’s white and a powder, right??” Needless to say, the gravy exploded up and all over the ceiling!  This is a true story. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

I typically don’t buy buttermilk and just use thinned out Greek yogurt when I need a cultured, acidic dairy product to make pancakes or biscuits. Since I am swapping out one acidic dairy product for another it will work fine with no ill effects in the final baked good.

Substituting a light butter for a fully fatted butter works well too. It’s an easy swap out and works great if the recipe calls for the creaming method. The bonus is you are saving saturated fat calories, yet still maintaining the integrity of the original recipe.

The craziest substitution that I have ever made was using pureed tofu instead of eggs for a cookie recipe. And you know what? They were pretty good. So who would be nutty enough to do this? Perhaps someone with an egg allergy who still wishes to have their cookies and eat them too. Remember one of my past blog entries on black bean brownies??

So experiment and make workable substitutions to create baked goods that are customized to your families’ likes and needs.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Celebrating 85 Years with Flan

My mother just turned 85 years old yesterday, and my family and I are having a small celebration tomorrow night to honor this milestone. Although, my mom almost did not live to see this wonderful age. She almost died when I was a young teenager.

After a life saving surgery for a bleeding ulcer, and a tremendous weight loss due to complications after the surgery, the doctors desperately wanted her to gain weight.

Even as a teenager I was always making something in the kitchen, and I knew my mom loved custards. All types– flan, crème caramel, crème brulee, and pastry creams. Looking at a dessert menu at a restaurant the family ALWAYS knew what she would order for dessert. If there was a custard, they had better save one for her.

Knowing this, I thought if I made her some custard it may help her appetite and help her to eat. After checking with the nursing staff they thought it was a wonderful idea.

A few days later, I brought  my best vanilla custard to the hospital. It was rich and smooth, full of egg and milk proteins to help mom to bulk up. It turned out she loved it so much she sometimes craved it in the middle of the night. The nurses had a solution for this. The custard was put in an airtight container outside on the window ledge of her hospital room for easy access. It was winter time so there was no chance that the custard would spoil.

Now almost every year I make some sort of custard to honor mom’s birthday, and she loves every bit of it.

For mom’s 85th we will have flan- a coconut coffee flan! Flan is super easy to make. So that you can celebrate along with us here is a quick recipe for you to enjoy:

Coconut Coffee Flan

Melt down some granulated sugar, about 1/2 cup to make a caramel. Add about 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice to the sugar to prevent it from crystalizing. Stir it with a fork. Allow it to melt undisturbed in a small saucepan until it is the color of a lightly brewed tea. Remove it from the heat and slowly whisk in about 3 tablespoons brewed coffee. Do this over the heat so that the clumps of caramel melt.

Now quickly pour some of the coffee caramel into each of 6 ramekins. The ramekins should each have a 3/4 cup capacity. Tilt the ramekins so that the caramel covers the bottoms and slightly up the sides of each. Place the ramekins into a rectangular oven safe pan with a kitchen towel under them.

Heat about 1 1/4 cups of milk and one can of coconut milk to the simmer. In another bowl whisk 3 whole eggs and 2 yolks with 2/3 cup granulated sugar. Slowly whisk the milk into the eggs. Add about 1 teaspoon coconut extract and blend well. Divide the custard evenly between each ramekin. Pour some hot water into the pan being careful not to get any into the custard until the water comes halfway up the sides of the pan.

Bake the flan for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cut around each flan with a knife and allow to cool and chill over night.

Invert each flan onto a dessert plate allowing the coffee caramel sauce to spread all around it. Top with some shipped cream and serve at once!

Happy Baking and Happy Birthday Mom!

Chef Gail

 

Time To Make The Doughnuts

Hanukkah will soon be upon us, which means it’s doughnut time!! I always make apple cider doughnuts, because I love them so much. And I love them so much because I rarely make them, so I yearn for what I don’t make that often. That way, they become a REAL treat.

This year I came upon a recipe in Food and Wine magazine by the owners of Curiosity Doughnuts that uses a Japanese technique to make the dough. The technique is traditionally used to make bread dough that bakes up light and fluffy. When I read through the doughnut recipe, I decided I am all for doughnuts that are described as “light and fluffy”, and I decided to give the recipe a whirl.

The technique is called tangzhong. To make a dough that uses this special method you first make a dough on the stovetop combining water and flour. The idea here is that the flour can absorb a hot liquid like water much more readily than if it were cold. This creates a dough-like blob that once incorporated into a dough will create lots of steam as the doughnuts are fried. The steam not only leavens the dough, but forms a light and fluffy texture. The steam formed within the dough is trapped due to the increase in gluten development from the extra water being absorbed. This increases the structure of the dough, helping the moisture to stay inside the doughnuts as they fry, creating those two lovely adjectives- light and fluffy!

For my doughnut dough, instead of water, I used apple cider, which is water based, and a little butter. Once it was cooked (it only took a minute or two) the dough was allowed to cool. I then incorporated it with some cream, sugar, eggs and chemical leaveners to get a nice, yet sticky dough.

The dough is now in my fridge, chilling on a sheet pan, until I am ready to cut the doughnut shapes out and fry them. I know it’s silly, after all, they are only doughnuts, but I am giddy as a school girl to try this technique.

In a few days, once they are made, I will post some pictures and observations and let you know how they turned out.  I am so excited!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

 

The Case of the Missing Bottom

It’s holiday time and life can and will get CRAZY!

This time of year involves all sorts of goodies from cookies, cakes, candies and other confections, not to mention savory dishes as well, that get made and brought to friends and family. It all sounds so simple and ideal. However, say you are the host or hostess of a large gathering and someone brought you their famous cheesecake still on its springform pan base. Don’t see a problem? I do.

When the last slice of cheesecake has been eaten and the party is over, will you remember that pan base and who it belongs to? Perhaps not. Especially after that rum laden eggnog and extra glass of wine or two.

I have witnessed ill will between good friends when someone forgot to return or worse yet, threw out a plate or pan base that should have been returned. In all fairness, it is easy to avoid such problems. After all, aren’t the holidays stressful enough??

The case of the missing pan bottom can be avoided. Do what I do. Bring anything you make on a pretty foil-lined, or holiday napkin covered, cardboard cake circle or an inexpensive holiday plate.

For cheesecakes or tarts that have those false bottoms, create a cardboard bottom to swap out so that the cheesecake or tart bakes right on the cardboard bottom and you won’t have to worry about the metal one getting lost or misplaced. I learned  to create these cardboard bottoms for pans when I worked in restaurants that had no matching bottoms to their false bottom pans.

To do this, just use the real metal bottom to trace its shape onto a piece of cardboard. Cut it out carefully, and then make sure there is a snug fit when you fit it into the pan.

Another tip, before baking any baked good that is baked in a false bottom pan place it onto a sheet pan. This way when the baked good is hot from the oven you can just take the sheet pan out and not worry that the false bottom will come out and burn you, and worse yet, ruin your dessert.

Happy Holiday Baking!

Chef Gail

 

The Joys of Being a Yesterday Person

The holidays are quickly approaching. Yikes! I never feel ready even when I have almost 4 weeks before Thanksgiving! What is wrong with me, you might ask? I am just a yesterday person. An intense personality that will always do things ahead if I can. I would sleep 16 hours in one night just so I would not have to go to sleep for the week. Just think of everything that I could get done with my sleep requirement out of the way.

I must get this trait from my mother who will make a salad 3 days in advance with dressing, I might add, and wonder why no one ate the macerated mush and then gave her any compliments. Well, you will be happy to know that I am not THAT bad.

I will, however, make all my pie crust dough and freeze it ahead. This can be done up to 3 months in advance. That’s productive because all you have to do is thaw the dough in the fridge, and roll out your crusts as you bake your pies off.

I have also been known to bake bread and freeze that ahead as well. I strongly suggest that you do that and then just re-heat the bread before you are ready to serve it on the big day, whatever big day that is. Be sure that you wrap any bread really well before freezing it. I usually do it in this order, for the best results: bake, cool to room temperature, wrap in plastic wrap, then foil AND then place in a large freezer bag and seal getting as much of the air out as possible. Always label whatever you are freezing. No one likes searching through the freezer looking for an unlabeled item with no name and no date showing when it was made. Everyone always has a story of an item that they found the following year way back in the freezer, dug it out and wondered what the heck it originally was. We have ALL been there!

So all you yesterday  people start your engines, and when you have an hour or two to kill start baking off cookies or just cookie dough. You will feel that much more in control when the family comes to visit, and they will think that you worked for days and days. And maybe you did, but you did it piecemeal and on your own time.

Never feel guilty about making things ahead, except maybe for that salad!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Refreshing Your Cake

Have you ever had a cake that you baked a little too long or it got a bit hard or dried out??

All you need to do is soften it, by making a flavorful syrup to moisten it. Simple syrups are used all the time in European style cakes especially sponge cakes that tend to be dry or flavorless.

First, make a simple sugar syrup. Combine equal parts water and granulated sugar; for example, 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil in a saucepan and then take it off the heat and allow it to cool. Now you can add any flavors you want.

For a vanilla syrup, add about 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract or the seeds from a vanilla bean that you have sliced open and scraped out.

For a lemon syrup, add a few tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and a touch of lemon extract.

Adding a liqueur adds wonderful flavor as well. Almond, coffee or raspberry liqueurs are my favorites. Add a few tablespoons to the simple syrup and then taste it.

Once you are happy with the flavor poke some holes in the cake you want to moisten. The holes should be deep enough to allow the syrup to penetrate throughout the cake. I like to use thin wooden skewers. You don’t want the holes to be obvious or look like someone mauled your cake. Using a pastry brush dipped into the syrup brush it all over the cake. You will notice the cake will absorb the liquid like a sponge soaks up water. Once the cake appears moist stop brushing. The cake should not appear wet. Allow your refreshed cake to soak in all of its glory with its newly found flavors.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

An Apple a Day…

I have a great idea for you. If you are not a great pie baker but want to enjoy a homemade apple pie? Try making my incredibly easy Puff Pastry in a Hurry seen on my YouTube channel or on this website, or buy all-ready made frozen puff pastry from the grocery store.

Roll the pastry out to a large square or circle. If using the frozen variety allow it to thaw in the fridge first. Fold the edges in a bit to create a border. Place thinly sliced apples, about 2-3, that have been combined with some sugar, about 1/3 cup; a small amount of flour, about 1 teaspoon; and some apple pie spice, about 1/2 teaspoon; all over the pastry leaving the border uncovered. Scatter a few tablespoons of unsalted butter cut into tiny dice all over the apples.

Egg wash the edges and bake the “pie” at 400 degrees until the pastry has puffed and the edges are brown, about 20-30 minutes. The apples should be soft and brown in places.

Vanilla ice cream would be a perfect accompaniment!!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Never Go Searching for the Bottom of Your Springform Pan Again!

I can’t believe Fall is upon us already, and that means the holidays are soon to follow. I have a great tip for those of you that bring a cheesecake or other torte to a friend’s or relatives house and forget to take back the metal bottom of the springform pan. Go to enough parties and you may even forget where you left it.

Create your own substitute bottom with a cardboard cake circle. Just cut a cake circle to the exact measurements of the metal one that comes with the springform pan. Place the cardboard one on top of the metal one and trace it with a pen. Cut with a scissor and fit it into the ring of the springform pan. Put the pan together and It should be a VERY snug fit. You don’t want any leakage from cheesecake or other cake batter. Then set the springform pan onto a larger piece of aluminum foil and wrap the foil up the outside of the pan. If there is any leakage it won’t go through.

Once your cake or cheesecake is baked and cooled, cut around the sides, and release the pan separating the sides away from the cake. Now you can wash your intact pan and not worry if you will remember the false bottom that got left somewhere. Your pan is also free to bake more cheesecakes.

Next for a professional look, I get a larger cake circle, cover it with a doily of the same size and gently lay my cheesecake in the center. It looks beautiful and no worries!!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail