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Almond Paste:

Almond paste is a combination of equal parts ground blanched almonds and sugar, mixed with glucose, corn syrup or egg whites. It is pliable with a sweet almond flavor and grainy texture.  Sold in cans or tubes, I recommend using the can variety as it has a superior taste.  Almond paste is used in pastry making and confectionery to cover cakes and pastries, as well as forming into different shapes and figures.  Unused portions should be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated or else frozen.


If you have overripe bananas and don't want to bake with them right away, then freeze them whole (in their peels), wrapped airtight,  for up to 6 months.  Or you can peel and mash them (in food processor), stir in 1 teaspoon lemon juice for each banana, and freeze in an airtight container or bag.  


Marzipan is a cooked mixture of finely ground almonds, sugar, and water.  Slightly sweeter with a smoother texture, it is firmer than almond paste but is still pliable.  It can be colored and rolled out to cover cakes and pastries, or formed into shapes.  It comes in plastic- wrapped rolls.  Unused portions should be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated.

P?strong style="font-weight: 400">te Bris?/span>e:

Pronounced paht bree-ZAY.  It is a French short crust pastry dough made from a mixture of flour, a little sugar, salt, butter, and ice water.  It has a high ratio of fat to flour which gives the pastry its crumbly texture and buttery flavor.  Used in both sweet and savory pastries. 

Baking cookies:

When making cookies always place the cookie dough on a cool pan.  A warm pan melts the fat in the dough too quickly and will result in too much spreading when placed in the oven. 

For easy clean-up, line your baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat liner.  Parchment paper is a heavy paper that has been treated to resist moisture and grease.  Unlike wax paper, it can withstand high heat.  It is sold in rolls and can be found in most grocery stores or cookware stores.  You can also line your baking sheet with a Silpat liner which has the advantage of being reusable.  These mats can withstand high heat and are easy to clean as they are nonstick.  They are sold in cookware stores.

Making your own baking powder:

To make your own baking powder combine 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.  This is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of commercial baking powder.  If you are not using immediately, add 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch to absorb any moisture in the air and to prevent a premature chemical reaction between the acid and alkali. 

Whipping Cream:

To get maximum volume when whipping heavy cream, first place mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Making your own cake flour:

To make one cup of self-rising flour, combine 1 cup (140 grams) all purpose flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Do you have the problem of chocolate chips, nuts, or dried fruit settling to the bottom of your pan during baking?

If you have ever encountered this problem it was probably because your batter was not thick enough to suspend the ingredients during baking.  For thin batters, chop the nuts or dried fruit very finely before adding them to the batter.  Also, tossing these ingredients in a little flour will absorb any oils or water from the nuts or dried fruit and may help to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the pan during baking.

Flavored Sugars:

Flavored sugars are very expensive to buy, so next time you want vanilla or cinnamon flavored sugars make your own.  To make cinnamon sugar combine 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar with 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon.  Store in an airtight container.  For vanilla flavored sugar  combine 1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar with one vanilla bean.  Store in an airtight container for about a week before using, stirring it a few times,  to evenly distribute the vanilla flavor.

Superfine (Castor) Sugar:

Superfine sugar can be expensive and hard to find.  Make your own by taking granulated white sugar and processing it in your food processor until it is very fine.

Baking Muffins:

When baking muffins always fill any unused muffin cups with a little water to prevent the muffin pan from warping during baking.

For easy cleanup, line muffin cups with paper or foil muffin liners.  An easy way to place the muffin batter into the muffin cups is to use an ice cream scoop. 

Cocoa Powder:  What is the difference between Dutch-Processed and Natural Unsweetened?

There is a lot of confusion about these  two types of cocoa powder.  First off, both are unsweetened although the two types are usually referred to as Dutch-Processed and Natural Unsweetened.  Dutch-processed or alkalized unsweetened cocoa powder is treated with an alkali to neutralize its acids. Because it is neutral and does not react with baking soda, it must be used in recipes calling for baking powder, unless their are other acidic ingredients in sufficient quantities used in the recipe.  It has a reddish-brown color, mild flavor, and is easy to dissolve in liquids. Its delicate flavor makes it ideal in baked goods like European cakes and pastries where its subtle flavor complements other ingredients.  Droste, Lindt, Valrhona, Poulain and Pernigotti are some popular brands. Natural unsweetened cocoa powder tastes very bitter and gives a deep chocolate flavor to baked goods.  Its intense flavor make it well suited for use in brownies, cookies and some chocolate cakes.  When natural cocoa (an acid) is used in recipes calling for baking soda (an alkali), it creates a leavening action that causes the batter to rise when placed in the oven.  Popular brands are Hershey's, Ghirardelli, and Scharffen Berger.

How to Stop Sliced Apples from Browning:

To preserve the color of peeled and sliced apples, drizzle with a little fresh lemon juice.

Eggs in Baking:

Always use large eggs in recipes where egg size is not given. The size of the egg used will make a difference in the consistency of the batter and ultimately affects the outcome of the baked good. Also, to achieve maximum volume when beating eggs, have them at room temperature.

Using nuts in baking:

Toasting nuts before using them in your recipes will enhance the nut's buttery flavor and gives them a golden color with added crunch.  To toast the nuts, spread on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree F (180 degree C) oven for anywhere between 8-20 minutes.  The nuts are done when they are light golden-brown in color and fragrant.  The baking time depends on the type and size of the nut.   Nuts can be toasted in advance and stored at room temperature in airtight containers or plastic bags for up to a week.

Is your baking powder and baking soda still fresh?

To test baking powder's effectiveness: mix 1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder with 1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water and the mixture should bubble immediately. Store in a cool dry place and it should be replaced every 6-12 months.

To test baking soda's effectiveness: mix 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 2 teaspoons of vinegar and the mixture should bubble immediately.

How to Soften Hard Brown Sugar:

Brown sugar should be stored in a thick plastic bag in a cool, dry place. Sometimes, though, brown sugar does become hard. If this happens you can soften it by:

- Place a slice of apple in the plastic bag with the brown sugar. Seal and leave for a couple of days until the brown sugar softens. Remove the apple.

- Place about one cup (215 grams) of hard brown sugar in a microwave proof dish, cover, and microwave for 30 seconds to one minute, or until softened.

- Place brown sugar on a baking sheet and bake in a 250 degree F (120 degree C) oven for about 5 minutes, or until soft.

What to do with your overripe bananas:

If you have overripe bananas and don't want to bake with them right away, then freeze them whole (in their peels), wrapped airtight,  for up to 6 months.  Or you can peel and mash them (in food processor), stir in 1 teaspoon lemon juice for each banana, and freeze in an airtight container or bag.

What is Chocolate or Fat Bloom:

Have you ever opened a package of chocolate to find white spots/streaks or a dull gray film on the chocolate?  It is called chocolate bloom and occurs when the cocoa butter in the chocolate has separated causing it to rise to the surface of the chocolate.    This happens when the chocolate is stored in a too humid or too warm a temperature.  Don't worry though,  the chocolate can still be used and when the chocolate is melted the cocoa butter melts back into the chocolate.

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