Category Archives: Tips for Success

Increasing the Lifespan of your Whipped Cream

Desserts topped with whipped cream can be a beautiful thing. However, they can be frustrating as well! Once you whip the cream and beat the air into it there is a finite life to the heavenly cloud-like mass.

Over several hours whipped cream will begin to go back to its original state (a liquid) and lose the air bubbles that kept it thick and lovely. I have 2 tips for you to prevent this from happening.

First, you can use a bit of unflavored gelatin to stabilize the whipped cream. It is quite simple to do actually. After you beat the cream to stiff peaks you can fold in about 1 teaspoon of unflavored gelatin that has been dissolved in a little cold water to soften it, and then heated gently to bring it back to a liquid state. Make sure the melted gelatin is not hot, but only slightly warm. If it is too hot when you add it to your whipped cream the cream will fizzle and go right back to a liquid. Trust me on this. I have had it happen to me.

I have even heard of chefs melting a few marshmallows and folding THEM into the whipped cream. The reason this works is that marshmallows have– you guessed it, GELATIN in them! Who knew that marshmallows were not just for S’mores?

The second tip is to fold some thick Greek-style yogurt, which has had the liquid strained out of it, into the whipped cream. Put the yogurt into a sieve in which you have placed a coffee filter or several layers of paper towels and set it over a bowl. Leave it in the fridge for a few hours to drain. The yogurt will be very thick.

Folding the yogurt into the whipped cream keeps it thick for several days, and the tanginess from the yogurt mixed in with the ceam is very complementary to any dessert.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

 

Top off Your Cookies

I have a tip for you. If you are baking cookies and you have any leftover nuts, cookies or candy, save them to top off your cookie dough before the little guys go into the oven!

What do all of these things have in common? A quarter of a bag of mini marshmallows, some graham crackers, some potato chips, some chopped dates or apricots, nuts, peanut butter cups… the list goes on and on.

If you haven’t guessed yet, they all make great toppings for cookie dough before  baking.  Just portion out the dough onto your parchment- lined sheet pans and then just poke the various toppings into the dough. Any combos will work.

I made outstanding S’more cookies by poking coarsely crushed graham crackers and some leftover stale mini marshmallows into chocolate chunk cookie dough. And let’s face it, we all know stale marshmallows are better than when they are fresh. When they are stale they hold up so much better in the oven.

So make your own creations and share your ideas! You may just become famous like that Toll House cookie gal who came up with the idea to put chopped chocolate into HER cookie dough!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Grilling tips for Desserts

Strawberry shortcakes and s’mores are great this time of year, but have you ever entertained the idea of grilling your desserts? Here are a few tips.

Try grilling pound cake, sponge cake or angel food cake and then piling on the toppings of whipped cream, fruit, nuts and/or chocolate. I must say browning that cake, whatever type it is, on the grill provides a crunchy and toasty sweetness that makes that dessert something special. Grilling the cake actually caramelizes the sugars that are on the surface of that cake elevating the taste and mouth feel. Make sure the cake is pretty sturdy and won’t break apart on the grill.

I also recommend grilling fruit halves like peaches, plums, apples and pears. After lightly marking them on the grill for a few minutes, brush them with a bit of a glaze. This can take many forms like a simple syrup or thinned down preserves or jelly. Do this on a low flame, and when they become softer and glazed, serve over vanilla ice cream and top with whipped cream and nuts or shaved chocolate. Yum!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

 

Leftover Bread– It’s Not Just For the Birds

Bread crumbs or French toast are the go to things to do with leftover bread. I get that, but whenever I have some leftover bread I love to make croutons out of it. Croutons are so easy to make and taste one hundred percent better than the store bought ones. There really is no comparison! Homemade croutons can really spice up any soup or salad or even a dessert.

Just cut up whatever bread you happen to have into small cubes about 1/2-3/4ths of an inch square. You can even rip the bread with your hands into small pieces if you don’t feel like cutting it up. Now the type of bread that you use is up to you. Nothing is off limits. Think of white, whole grain or rye breads. Even focaccia, ciabatta or challah bread work well. And my thrifty grandma is certainly smiling down on me from heaven for using up that unused, extra hotdog or hamburger roll that no one will ever eat. At times, I have even used a corn muffin and a few slices of date nut or pumpkin bread as well.

Toss any of the above bread cubes with a little olive oil and as many spices or herbs as you like. They can be with or without salt. My favorite combo is garlic powder, onion powder and smoked paprika with some coarsely ground black pepper. Spread the cubes on a large sheet pan and bake them at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the cubes are nice and brown.  Be sure to mix them halfway through baking. They will crisp up even further as they cool.

You can also make crisps. I partially freeze a leftover bread and slice it very thin on a mandolin. Place the slices on a large sheet pan and brush with olive oil. Top with any of the above suggestions of herbs or spices. For a sweeter crisp, brush the bread slices with melted butter and then try apple pie spice or just plain old cinnamon sugar as a topping. Bake as you would for the croutons above.

So next time you have leftover bread make croutons or crisps and forget about making French toast or bread crumbs. That’s for the birds!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Looking at the Dark Side of Baking Pans

Did you ever wonder why dark clothing makes you feel warmer than lighter clothing? Dark colors do not radiate energy back. They absorb it instead.

Did you ever wonder why I am writing about clothing on a baking website??

Dark things, whether they are clothes or baking pans, behave the same. Baked goods that are baked in a dark aluminum pan, for example, will bake to a darker color than a baked good placed in a glass Pyrex pan.

You may not realize these pearls of wisdom now, but wait until you bake something. The advice comes in handy and can really make the difference between a dark almost burnt cake and a lightly browned cake that looks much more appealing.

If you bake in a dark pan don’t worry. Some of my favorite pans are dark metal. Just watch and make sure the baked good is not getting too overdone. There are times when a darker color is desirable. A pie crust will always become more golden brown in a darker pie pan. That can be desirable when making a pumpkin pie, for example, which can create a soggy bottom crust if it is not baked well enough.

 

Grilled Pizza- A Summer Twist on an Old Fav

I get that summer is all about grilling hotdogs, hamburgers, steaks, and chops, but grilling takes on a whole new twist when you grill your pizza crust!

In one single swoop you can please anyone!  Meat and non-meat eaters alike. A pizza can be an app or a meal. Just use your imagination!! Your guests can even make their own with a choice of toppings. Grilling a bunch of veggies ahead that you cube or slice make great toppings. An assortment of sliced meats (even sliced hot dogs would work for the kids) along with various cheeses and olives are other toppings that work well.  If you are using sausage or an uncooked meat, be sure that you cook it FIRST Even though it will be heated, the meat will NOT get cooked thoroughly on top of a pizza crust.

Look at Wolfgang Puck who made his pizzas famous by topping them with smoked salmon and cream cheese or crème fraiche. You can even make a dessert pizza by topping the grilled crust with chocolate sauce, fruits and whipped cream. A word of caution, though. DO NOT over fill the pizza with toppings or the fillings will weigh down the pizza and it won’t make it off the grill and onto your plate.

The great thing about pizza crusts is that you can make the crusts ahead of time, and then when you are ready to eat, just top them and heat them on the grill for just a few minutes. Be sure to oil the grill racks well or the pizza dough will stick. Use a low flame and have some patience and the crusts will have that yummy, smoky, wood fired taste.

I am not big on canning, but what I like to do in the summer is make a bunch of grilled individual pizza crusts. I wrap them and freeze them to use anytime I want a smoky pizza throughout the year. I just thaw them, put toppings on and put them in the oven until the toppings are nice and hot. Even when the snow is too high to get to the grill I can still have a grilled pizza.

Home made pizza dough or store bought- it doesn’t matter! These are after all the lazy days of summer…

Chef Gail

Flaky and Loving It

In my opinion the best part of a pie is the crust. The crunchy, buttery, flakes just falling apart as my fork cuts into the crust really excites me! I have been known to not allow guests to actually eat my pie until they see those pretty flakes and appreciate them.

Did you ever wonder what creates that flakiness in a pie crust? I bet you are one of those crazy pie people that just scarfs the whole piece down without really savoring it. Not good! I will now explain the art of the flake with a little pie background first.

When you make a pie crust it is actually named after a method known as the “flaky pie crust” method. The flour and salt are mixed together and then cold fat like BUTTER or shortening is cut into small chunks and “cut” into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender, or a fork and a knife, until it gets to pea sized pieces. It is crucial that the fat is cold and in small pieces but NOT completely blended into the flour. Explanation to follow. Keep reading. Ice water is then added. Only enough to be able to form a dough.

If too much water is added, the pie can become tough with too much gluten forming. Remember gluten is a protein matrix that forms when the proteins in wheat flour mix with water. Gluten gives strength and structure to all baked goods. Some more than others. Too much water, and the crust can be tough. Too little water and the crust falls apart due to not enough structure.

Too much mixing also develops gluten which will give the pie crust a tough texture. Not a positive attribute for a pie crust! A perfect flaky crust for a pie should be crispy, yet tender and flaky.

Flakiness. How does it happen? In the oven, the fat pieces melt and leave spaces where they used to be. These spaces fill with air and steam.  Both are powerful leaveners. And remember the water in the dough ? It also forms steam when heated. Pies are typically baked at a high temperature, about 425 degrees. At this temperature the trapped steam that forms inside pushes up onto the layers of dough above and beneath, causing those layers to separate and the flakiness that we all know and LOVE!!!!!

 

To Paddle or Whip: that is the question

Ok. So you have a recipe and it says to “cream some butter with sugar” or “whip the cream with the sugar”. And you ask yourself which tool do I use? Keep reading, help is on the way.

My electric mixer is great. Amazing actually! It is one of my most beloved and MOST used pieces of kitchen equipment. And it came with three attachments: a paddle, a whip and a dough hook. These attachments are standard if you buy any electric mixer.

The trouble starts when a recipe uses words like “cream the butter and the sugar” or “whip the egg whites” but doesn’t reference which attachment  to use. Many recipes and their authors assume people know which one they mean. And we all know what happens when we assume!  Many home bakers and even some of my baking students use the incorrect mixing attachment mainly because they do not understand what these terms actually mean and what they are meant to accomplish. This misunderstanding was so pervasive that I decided to ALWAYS include which attachment to use in all of my published recipes and for all of the new recipes in my soon to be published book as well.

So let’s have a quick review:

When should the paddle attachment be used? Whenever a recipe says to blend or mix ingredients together. Also, when a recipe uses the word  to “cream” something like the softened butter with the sugar until they become “light and fluffy”. This direction is actually a part of a mixing method known as the creaming method.

The paddle helps the crystals of sugar force air into the fat, and these clever air cells actually get bigger when they get together with the chemical leaveners to help that baked good to rise in the oven. The act of mixing in this way really can affect the texture of your baked good. (Note to self: go and read about the T-Rex cake in my blog, The Icing on the Cake-Chef Gail’s blog)

When should the whip be used? NOT for creaming butter and sugar!! The whip is used only to beat lots of air bubbles into ingredients such as heavy cream to make whipped cream or eggs or egg whites to create egg foams for sponge cakes or meringues for many other types of baked goods. One such baked good can be seen on my YouTube video on how to make meringue mushrooms.

And the dough hook? Captain hook is only used to simulate the kneading process when making yeast breads.

Teaching egg whites how to relax…

In any meringue recipe, the recipe always calls for room temperature egg whites. Why, you might ask? Good question. This is because there is surface tension within the egg whites’ albumin (which is a protein). When the whites are brought to room temperature, the surface tension relaxes, and makes it easier for you to beat the most air possible into them. This creates a billowy, stiff meringue!

Happy baking!

Chef Gail