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Category Archives: Baking

Easy Buttercream Frosting

We interrupt the Pad Thai experimentation for a brief foray into the land of desserts.

Yes, the Pad Thai experiment has reached it’s inevitable (and successful) conclusion.

No, I haven’t gotten around to writing it up. I will soon however. One good thing about this blog – it may be boring, but at least it’s sporadic!

Seriously, it’s all written up, but apparently I forgot to actually post it. Now it’s been so long since I wrote it up, I have to go through it to make sure I actually finished it and it doesn’t have any (glaring, insurmountable) errors in it. It’ll be up soon. Ish.

In the meantime, here’s my favorite (to date) recipe for frosting. This is the original “traditional” frosting for a Red Velvet cake, but it’s suited to many other cakes (of course) as well.

No, I’m not kidding. Cream Cheese frosting came along later. RVC originally was topped with a cooked buttercream frosting like this, and that’s the one I prefer. YMMV.

Easy Buttercream Frosting

This is a quick cooked buttercream frosting with a rich taste. Don’t be fooled – tasting it right out of the bowl, it invariably seems overwhelmingly rich and buttery (even if you used Parkay instead of actual butter), but it’ll be fine – and better than fine – when it’s actually on the cake

I usually make this using Parkay margarine. It makes a very rich, very light, very fluffy frosting. The flavor is very like a rich French vanilla ice cream.

If it is too rich, try using either butter flavored Crisco or half butter/margarine and half plain shortening. Doing this will change the texture and you may need to experiment; I prefer just to stick with straight butter or margarine.

You will need

  • Small saucepan
  • Mixing bowl
  • Electric mixer OR a whisk or rotary beater an’ a whole lotta elbow grease

Ingredients

  • 2 T cornstarch or 1/4c AP Flour
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 c butter or margarine (2 sticks)
  • 1 c sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Whisk the cornstarch into the milk in a small saucepan.
  2. Over a low to medium heat, cook until it thickens, whisking continuously. It will set up pretty quickly.
  3. Let it cool COMPLETELY.
  4. When the cornstarch mixture is cool (it will be pretty well set and gelatinous, don’t worry that’s how it’s supposed to be), cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
  5. Mix in the vanilla, then beat in the cooked cornstarch mixture a little at a time. Beat beat beat until it has the consistency of whipped cream. I beat it for 10 to 15 minutes with the whip in my KA mixer. I think it would be hard to overbeat it.
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Reusable parchment! Gadget review #2

Baking happiness!

I have been using reusable parchment for 2 years now.

Super ParchmentThe first type I used was called Super Parchment (available at Amazon).  I found mine at a local kitchen supply store.  In the past I had tried some of those silicon mats that were supposed to be reusable (such as SilPat) and I HATED them.  I could not clean them for love nor money – I ended up throwing them away after just a handful of uses.  HATED THEM with a passion.

In 45 years of baking and cooking, I have never been able to develop the magical nose-twitch, holding-the-mouth-just-right-while-praying-to-the-god-of-pizza, special flip of the wrist to get a loaded pizza to slide off the paddle and into the oven. (And btw, I am convinced the God-of-Pizza – or at least the God-of-Getting-the-Pizza-off-the-Paddle – must be Loki or Coyote or one of those other trickster gods)

I do not care how many times people say it, corn meal does NOT act like little ball bearings.  The pizza sticks to the paddle anyway!

So when I came across this Super Parchment while browsing the kitchen store, I was more than ready to give it a try. From the first time I used it I was hooked.  There has been more pizza and bread baked in this household in the past 2 years than in all the preceding 43 years!  Not only did it totally solve our pizza woes, it has also been useful for baking cookies, cakes, and breads.

I have since added some reusable parchment under the name “Pan Pal liners” sold by The Webstaurant Store.  This stuff is much heavier duty than my original Super Parchment, 6 ml compared to 4 ml.  My supposition is that it will last longer, but the Super Parchment is 2 years old now and while it’s definitely showing its age, it is still every bit as useful as it was day 1 out of the package.

However, the Pan Pal comes in a larger size which I have cut to fit my baking stone.  I have also cut out liners for my cake pans, and I have liners for my cookie sheets.  They all work like a charm.

For cookies, I wipe the liner off with a dry towel between batches.  It makes baking batches of cookies go a LOT faster.

I store the liners for the cake pans in the pans.

The liners for the baking stone and cookie sheets may be rolled up and stored in a paper towel tube, a piece of PVC, or one of those mailing tubes for maps and posters. I have a spring-loaded curtain rod mounted over the sink between my kitchen cabinets where I hang a dishtowel and dishcloth; I hang the pan liners over this rod to dry after cleaning.

They do get, well, USED looking, as time passes – but I wouldn’t trade my reusable parchment for love nor money!  I have to say, of all the gadgets in my kitchen, the Super Parchment is the one that has made the most difference to what I am able to bake, LOL!

The heavier duty Pan Pal liners are easier to handle when cutting cake pan liners and my expectation is that they will last longer than the lighter weight Super Parchment, but both perform admirably in the oven.

DO:

  • cut to size (silicon mats cannot be cut to size)
  • wipe clean with a damp sponge
  • safe for oven use up to 500F
  • use for cookies, pizza, breads, cakes
  • roll or hang (unfolded) to store

DO NOT:

  • fold, spindle or mutilate
  • try to cut something on the liner with a knife
  • use with meats or greasy foods
  • Immerse in water – spraying off is ok, but don’t soak.  The fibers will soak the water up through the edges and accelerate the deterioration of the liner (plus it looks ugly)
  • Allow to overhang the edges of the baking pan

Honey Apple Mango bread

Honey Apple Mango Loaf

I made this up to enter a contest on Manjula’s Kitchen site for a desert that incorporates apples. I could have used just apples but I was in a mood for something a bit more complicated. So Honey Apple Mango it is!

Hey, at least I controlled myself enough not to drop in the raisins I was contemplating adding as well.

I would normally have made this with egg but the contest rules specified eggless, so I used apple-banana baby food to replace the eggs. You could use real mashed bananas or applesauce or any combination thereof, but I keep the baby food on hand for small tasks like this because (a) it’s handy and (b) I have a bazillion uses for baby food jars and never have any on hand. I would have preferred to use just plain banana baby food in this case because you get better binding from bananas, and frankly probably real bananas would have been best, but just about anything in the apple-banana line as an egg replacement would do.

I seriously contemplated using the silken tofu, but when push came to shove, I just wasn’t ready to try it. Besides, I really need some baby food jars – I’m out of empty small jars and I have stuff to put in ’em!

It made a nice, moist loaf. Next time I would leave the chunks a little larger – I diced them about the size of, well, actual dice. You can see chunks in the bread but they cooked quite thoroughly, so larger chunks would have been fine.

It came out great:

Honey Apple Mango Loaf

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 T (one stick, 1/2 c) SOFTENED butter
  • 2/3 c brown sugar
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 heaping tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 T honey
  • 2 T mango puree (OPTIONAL)
  • 2 eggs OR add 1 tsp baking powder to dry ingredients plus one of the following
    • 1/2 c silken tofu (blended with the rest of the liquids)
    • 1/2 c mashed bananas
    • 1/2 c applesauce
    • 1/2 c (about 1 4oz size jar) banana/apple baby food
  • 1 medium size apple, peeled, cored, and cubed
  • large ripe mango, pitted, peeled, and cubed
  • 10 oz by weight All Purpose flour

 
In case you don’t know how to peel a mango, watch this video.


Learn more about how to handle mangos here

I used the baby food option for this. I think the mashed bananas as a substitute for the eggs would have been a little better maybe, but I didn’t have any bananas, so baby food it was!

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Take out one stick (4 oz, 1/2 c) butter to let it soften. GIVE IT SOME TIME – a couple hours in advance at least.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  3. Cream together butter, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Yes, all at once, it works out just fine! Beat til it has a smooth consistency.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the apples, mango, and flour, and beat till smooth again. I do this in my Kitchenaid stand mixer with the wire whip.
  5. Replace the wire whip with the beater blade, scrape the bowl down, and stir in the diced fruit, just to incorporate.
  6. Stir in the flour on a low speed, stirring just to mix. You want a smooth mixture but don’t over beat it or it will be heavy and dense.
  7. Grease a 9×5 loaf pan (I use vegetable shortening and a Pyrex pan, but butter or veg. oil would work) and pour the batter in. Smooth the top so it’s more or less even-ish.
  8. Bake in a 350 F oven for 55 mins to an hour, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cover the top with foil towards the end if it is browning too fast.
  9. Let cool, slice and serve.

 
Now all I have to do is figure out what to do with the remaining 2 3/4c of mango pulp…. oh, the burdens of the baker!
 

Honey Mango Banana Bread

I make a lot of Indian food (in case no one had noticed that) and one of the products I have in my pantry at all times, for no particular reason, is mango pulp. It comes in large cans and it is, well, mango pulp.

I love mangos but you don’t get good mangos here in the US (unless you’re fortunate enough to live in Hawaii). Even so, I can only eat one raw mango because my lips blister if the juices touch my skin. So there I go, whenever I can manage to get a ripe-ish mango, carefully peeling it and cutting it into small chunks and ever so carefully edging it past my lips without brushing the skin . . . YUM!

If I eat 2, the inside of my mouth gets a bit raw, but one is safe. I don’t know what causes it, but cooked mango products don’t cause the problem.

So there’s the mango pulp. I buy it all the time but I almost never actually use it because I don’t know HOW. It wasn’t something my ex’s family used, so I’ve never really figured out what to do with it, other than make Mango Lassi (a drink with yogurt) which I don’t really care for. My son used to eat it right out of the can with a spoon. Pretty sure that’s not the intended use for it either. I keep hoping to figure out something useful to do with it because I absolutely LOVE mangos. So far I haven’t really come up with very many uses for it.

In an attempt to incorporate some of this yummy ingredient into my repertoire, I came up with the following modification of a standard banana bread recipe (from the King Arthur website). It makes a very moist, flavorful quick bread. There’s just a hint of the mango – in future I’d like to try incorporating some ripe mango chunks into the bread for a stronger mango flavor, but lacking ripe (or at least ripe-ish) mangos, this isn’t a bad effort.

  • 8 T (one stick) butter
  • 2/3 c brown sugar
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 T cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 12 oz mashed overripe bananas
  • 1/4 c mango puree
  • 2 large eggs
  • 10 oz by weight flour

I used King Arthur All Purpose flour, which is about the same as anybody else’s bread flour at 11.6% protein.

  1. Cream together butter, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat til it has a smooth consistency.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the flour and beat till smooth again. I do this in my Kitchenaid stand mixer with the wire whip.
  3. Replace the wire whip with the beater blade and beat in the flour, stirring just to mix. You want a smooth mixture but don’t over beat it or it will be heavy and dense.
  4. Grease a 9×5 loaf pan and pour the batter in. Smooth the top so it’s more or less even-ish.
  5. Bake in a 350 F oven for 45 mins, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cover the top with foil towards the end if the top is browning too fast.
  6. Let cool, slice and serve.


Pie Crust – VICTORY!

For many years I have avoided making pies. I haven’t even tried to make a pie since I left home at the age of 17. Why? Because I was completely and utterly convinced that I could not make a decent pie crust to save my life, having been told this for years by my mother. So, much as I love pies, and despite the hundreds of pies I’d made while living at home (pies which, upon further investigation, it turns out NO ONE in the family ever complained about except my mother), I haven’t tried to make a pie in 35 years.

Until now.

The first pie wasn’t all that good, but you know what?

IT DIDN’T SUCK, EITHER!

What more could anyone want for the first pie in 35 years?

So I tried again.

This time the crust was pretty darn good.

In reality, I think any pie crust recipe would be fine, but here’s the one I was using. Here’s the original source.

I have found the suggested measurements for a single 9″ pie crust is not enough. I use 1 ½ cups of the pie crust mix and 2 T of water.

Pie Crust Mix:

  • 6 c All Purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 ⅓ c shortening (I used all regular Crisco, though the recipe calls for half regular and half butter flavored)
  1. Use a fork or whisk to stir the salt and flour together in a mixing bowl.
  2. Using a pastry blender, cut the shortening into the flour until you have a mealy mixture with particles varying up to about pea size. It won’t be perfectly uniform, and that’s fine. You just don’t want big lumps or too many tiny crumbs.
  3. The original directions say to cut the shortening in half at a time. I didn’t do that and it came out fine, but it might be advantageous to go ahead and do it that way.

Store this mixture in the refrigerator. I’m told this can be held in the fridge for up to 3 months. I’ve had some in there for about a month now and it’s still fine. I’m using a gallon size Ziploc freezer bag; typical plastic baggies are not heavy duty enough for this type of long term storage and the extra handling. In addition, the lighter weight plastic baggies may also tend to allow the pie dough mixture to pick up odors and flavors from other things stored in the fridge if its going to be in there for more than a week or so. A plastic tub or other container would be the safest storage option, but the Freezer style Ziploc has been adequate for me so far.

To make pie dough, use 2 T of ice cold water to 1 C of the pie dough mix. Add the water a little bit at a time – if the dough is too dry, it won’t hold together. If it’s too wet, it will stick to EVERYTHING. In either case you will end up over-handling the dough, which will make the pie crust tough instead of tender and flaky.

Stir with a fork until the dough just begins to hold together. Be careful about adding water a little bit at a time until you’ve achieved this.

Suggested measurements:
9″ double crust – 2 c dough mix plus 4 T ice cold water
10″ double crust – 4 C dough mix plus 8 T ice cold water
9″ single crust – 1 ½ cups dough crust mix and 2 T of water.

The only one of these I’ve tried is the 9″ single crust so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the double crust measurements. The original directions called for 1 ¼ c of dough mix and 2 T of water for a 9″ single crust. I found this to be insufficient to fit into a 9″ pie pan. It also made a very wet dough – I had to add a fair amount of flour the first time when I followed these directions. The extra handling contributed to the crust being only OK instead of pretty good. Increasing the dough mix to 1 ½ cups brought the dry to wet ratio closer to being correct.

ROLLING THE DOUGH OUT

This is the other area (besides getting the wet to dry ratio right) where things can get a little tricky. Over-handling is always the danger.

Pat the dough into a ball and wrap well with plastic wrap. Let rest and chill in the refrigerator for 30 mins to an hour.

Tape a piece of plastic wrap to the countertop or table (use masking tape). It needs to be at least as wide as the dough you want to roll out. I usually tape 2 pieces together from the underside. I used to use wax paper but a friend suggested using the plastic wrap, which actually works out better, I think. Wrinkles in the plastic will leave wrinkles in the underside of your dough, but in the end it won’t matter. You should be able to stretch the plastic enough to eliminate most of that when you tape it down.

Dust this lightly with flour. Keep a small bowl of flour nearby so you can dust with more flour as needed.

Wrap a piece of plastic wrap around your rolling pin. I manage without any additional tape, but if this slips for you, you can wrap rubber bands or rolling pin rings around the ends of the rolling pin to help hold it on. I use the plastic the dough was wrapped in when it went into the fridge to chill.

A pastry cloth would probably be easier to set up, but harder to clean. Also I happen not to own one. This works OK for me. I’ve also seen it suggested that you use a gallon size ziplock bag, placing the ball of dough in the center of the bag, closing it up (squeeze all the air out), and rolling it out inside the bag. Then you cut the bag off.

Take the dough out of the fridge and place it on your lightly floured work surface. Flatten the dough into a disc, lift and flour the surface again. Roll out to about ¼” thick – there should be an inch or so of dough hanging over the edge of the pie pan. Roll out to about 13″ in diameter to fit into a 9″ pie pan, that’ll give you enough overhang to form the edge.

There are a lot of ways to form the edges. I’ll take some pictures next time I make a pie – this is easier to demonstrate than to describe.

About rolling pin rings: these can help you achieve a uniform thickness, but they’re generally made for specific sizes of rolling pins. There are also guides (Perfection Strips) in the form of long strips that you lay on either side of your dough that will help to ensure a uniform thickness. These run about $10, but you should be able to easily make your own with craft materials or square doweling from a hardware store. Finally, there are adjustable rolling pins that come with ring inserts that you install on the ends of the rolling pins to create a gap between the rolling pin and your work surface. These vary in cost from about $20 up to over $100.

Personally I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter that much – once I get enough diameter to fit it into the pie pan I’m good to go.

Baking times depend on what you fill the pie with, but here are a few tips:

  1. Verify the actual operating temperature of your oven with an oven thermometer and adjust your settings accordingly.
  2. Preheat the oven according to the recipe instructions.
  3. If you are using a Pyrex pie plate, you might want to reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees. Personally, I have found that this matters when you’re talking about cakes, but I have seen no difference with pies. YMMV.
  4. Some recipes suggest chilling the pie dough after you’ve rolled it out and put it in the pie pan. If you’re using a pyrex or ceramic pie pan, I would not suggest doing this. You increase the risk of shattering the pan when you put the cold pie pan in the hot preheated oven. A metal pan would be ok.
  5. Place a cookie sheet or piece of foil under the pie pan to catch any overflow.
  6. Often the top of the pie bakes much faster than the bottom. One way to deal with this is to shield the top with a pie crust shield or a piece of foil. Or if you have a baking stone, put the pie plate on the stone with a piece of foil underneath to catch any filling overflow. For a pyrex or ceramic plate, let it heat up in the oven for 10 minutes or so on the rack before placing it on the hot stone so it won’t fracture. The hot stone will help the bottom crust brown up faster.
  7. If you are baking a fruit filled pie with a top crust, sometimes the bubbling filling can make a real mess of your top crust, even if you’ve cut steam vents into the top crust. Making a lattice top is one way to avoid this, or get a pie bird – this is a little ceramic vent in the shape of a bird or other critter which allows the steam to vent out of the pie without making the filling boil over.
  8. If you are making a fruit filled pie, pre-cook the filling partially so you can drain off the liquid, cook that down, and add back to the pie when you fill it. This helps to avoid a soggy bottom on your pie while retaining the full flavor of the filling.

Why I Prefer a Pyrex (glass) Pie Plate

  1. I can see the bottom crust and know when it’s done.
  2. You can cut the pie in a glass plate without scarring up the surface
  3. Ease of cleaning – glass is as close to durable non-stick as we are likely to get for the foreseeable future.
  4. Glass is a poor conductor of heat. Oddly enough, this has the opposite effect one might expect; because it conducts heat poorly, heat is more evenly distributed, resulting in a more evenly baked filling and better browning of the crust. Metal pans often develop hot spots, leaving fillings underdone in the center and causing uneven baking.
  5. I have NEVER experienced pie crust sticking in a glass pie plate.
  6. They’re cheap and durable. Unlike metal pans, they don’t stain, dent, or ding. You can break one, but I never have.