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Entries in baking tips (3)

Saturday
Dec082012

How to Soften Hardened Brown Sugar

Brown Sugar 1

Recently, I found myself with a dense, hard brick that used to be brown sugar. The idea of shelling out more money for soft brown sugar kind of killed me a little inside, because I hadn't gotten my money's worth out of this sugar. But could it be brought back to life? 

Recalling a tip I'd read about adding an apple slice to the sugar to soften it, I decided to give it a try. I put in half an apple that was bruised and I didn't want to eat out of hand, and in a few days, sure enough, the brown sugar was soft, moistened, and use-able. But how and why did this occur?

I hit the internet to find out. 

According to the Domino Sugar website, "Brown sugar becomes hard when moisture in the sugar evaporates. Therefore, the various methods used for softening brown sugar are intended to return moisture to the sugar."

It makes sense that an apple slice would help in this regard...but why not, say, a slice of pear? It is interesting to note that in the various tips I found online, the two objects suggested to re-moisten the sugar were a slice of white bread, or an apple. 

Brown sugar 2

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find conclusive evidence of why these two items are most commonly suggested, but I am going to make an educated guess: in the case of the white bread, the bland flavor will not affect the flavor of the sugar; in the case of the apple, any flavor imparted to the sugar would be fairly mild and harmonious. 

Of course, if you don't have a few days to soften your sugar, according to the Domino Sugar website, there are other tried-and-true methods for re-moistening your hardened sugar:

Quick softening method: If you need to use hard brown sugar immediately, remove it from the package into an oven-safe container and heat it at 250-degrees. Watch it carefully. As soon as it’s soft, measure the amount you need right away because it will again harden as it cools. Please use caution. Oven heated sugar is very hot!

Microwave softening method: Place about 1/2 lb. of hardened brown sugar in microwave safe bowl. Cover sugar with two pieces of wet (but not dripping) white paper towels. Tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap. Heat in microwave at HIGH for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. Divide sugar with fork (sugar will be hot); stir. Again, microwave-softened sugar hardens as it cools so microwave only the amount of sugar you need. Use immediately and use caution as it will be hot. Microwave ovens vary in power; cooking time may need adjustment.

Brown sugar

Time-permitting softening method: Place hardened brown sugar in a tight sealing container.  Cover sugar with two pieces of dampened – not dripping, wet paper towels placed over a small piece of plastic wrap or foil on top of the sugar. Or you can also use a slice of bread to add the bowl of sugar.  Place lid on container and seal tightly. Remove the paper towel or bread after the sugar absorbs the moisture and softens (about two days) and tightly reseal the container. Divide sugar with fork; stir. Sugar should remain soft.

Got another tip? Leave a comment!

Sunday
Sep022012

Sweet Idea: Hummingbird Cake Truffles

Hummingbird Cake Truffles

Cake Pops and truffles are getting a lot of press these days. And with good reason--they're delicious.

But they don't have to be an all-out production--they can also be a clever and quick way to use up cake scraps. For instance, when I recently made a delicious Hummingbird Cake, I found that I had several cake scraps left from when I leveled the cake layers. Rather than discard them, I did the following, and suggest you do so too, the next time you have some cake scraps:

Hummingbird cake

First, I mashed them up by hand, making them into cakey crumbs. Then, I mixed the crumbs with about a half-cup of the remaining cake frosting (I waited til after frosting the cake to make sure I had extra!). This doesn't have to be a scientific thing--you just need enough frosting so that the mashed cake will stick together and form into balls, but not so much that they turn into gooey, shapeless masses. Some more dense cakes actually don't need frosting at all to be able to shape into balls! You can shape them into balls by hand, or use an ice cream scoop for more free-form truffles.

Hummingbird cake truffles

Next, let the balls freeze for a good 2 hours - this will ensure that when you coat them in chocolate or candy coating, they won't melt, and will retain their shape.

At the end of the cooling period, set up a double boiler or just gently melt some chocolate or candy melt wafers (I did 2 squares of Baker's chocolate for about 10 truffles). Then dip your truffles directly from the freezer into the melted mixture, coating on all sides. Using a fork, tap them on the side of the pan to let excess chocolate drip off. Place on parchment paper or waxed paper and top with sprinkles or garnish while still quite wet, to ensure that it sticks (optional, but aren't sprinkles always cute?). 

Hummingbird Cake Truffles

Let them set for an hour or so before eating to ensure you're not going to get too messy. Then, enjoy! these keep quite well too, for up to a week. 

Hummingbird Cake Truffles

Saturday
Feb192011

A Baker’s Dozen: Sweet Tips for Baking in College

CakeSpy Note: Talk about knowledge you could have used in college: Cake Gumshoe Sarah (a student at Seattle University) dishes with a baker's dozen of sweet tips for the dorm-room baker!

College kids are hungry, and there is nothing they love more than baked goods. Baking at school is the perfect way to make your tummy and your friends happy. Walk through the library at 11pm handing out ice cream cone cupcakes and you might even be deemed a hero. (Plus giving away your sweet treats helps you from eating them all yourself – hello freshman 15). Here are a few tips for baking on the cheap without sacrificing homemade quality.

Oven mitts! You probably don’t give a second thought to oven mitts at home but your dorm kitchen may or may not have them. Mine doesn’t, which I learned the moment I needed to take a hot pan out of the oven. While your friend’s sweatshirt does work, it’s not ideal – invest in some oven mitts, for your hands’ sake.

Keep it simple - if you’re anything like me (a poor college student), you can’t drop twenty bucks at the grocery store on every recipe. This means saying no to recipes with a laundry list of ingredients, try to keep it under ten or so. You can make that five-layer coconut buttercream dream cake when you go home for break.

Be resourceful! If you have a meal plan (aka your parents' money), use it to your full advantage. Buy fruit at the cafeteria and if your campus has a convenience store, snag any baking products you can there. The more you can acquire on campus, the better.

Be wary of recipes that require lots of whipping or beating. I’m guessing you probably left your precious Kitchenaid mixer at home, and may not even have a hand beater. You’ll have to rely on mixing with a spoon or whisk - so sadly, fluffy frostings and meringues must wait for summer break.

Invest in the essentials – two or three mixing bowls, a wooden spoon, a spatula, a whisk, one or two pans, measuring cups, and measuring spoons can take you a long way.

No rolling pin? No problem! Remember that bottle from last night… Voila! Say hello to beautiful piecrusts at college – sometimes dreams do come true.

A lack of equipment doesn’t mean your cakes and cupcakes can’t still be beautiful. You can pipe store bought frosting from a Ziploc bag and use candy and sprinkles to create fun, delicious finished products.

Avoid ingredients that you only need a half-cup of and will never use again. I’ve been dying to make vanilla chai cupcakes, but I can’t quite justify buying vanilla bean paste and cardamom when I only need half a teaspoon of each. Recipes with just a few simple and common ingredients are your friend! And won’t make your baked goods any less scrumptious.

Use your imagination to improve boxed cake mix – saves you money and time! Add shredded coconut, peanut butter, or Nutella to chocolate cake or brownie mix. Throw some mashed up bananas and chocolate chips into vanilla cake mix. Swirl some chopped nuts, coffee syrup, mint extract, or peanut butter into vanilla frosting for an exciting and tasty topping for your cakes and cupcakes.

Frozen puff pastry is the secret key to fancy looking but super easy and yummy desserts. It’s cheap and found in any grocery store. Make homemade pop tarts, jam filled turnovers, or simply layer baked puff pastry with vanilla pudding and fresh fruit. You can also use puff pastry for savory appetizers like herb and cheese wheels or baked Brie. A simple way to bring classy to college.

If you don’t have a pie pan or a fridge to chill your dough, the galette may be your new favorite vehicle for fruit filling in a flaky crust. Super simple, fancy looking, and just as tasty as your favorite pie, the galette is just pie dough rolled out with fruit filling placed in the middle and the remaining dough wrapped up around the sides. The rustic appearance of this dish means it doesn’t have to look perfect, taking the pressure off rolling out a perfect crust. Works well with apples, peaches, and berries.

Collaborate! Baking is easier with friends and more fun too! You can share ingredients, supplies, and the baked goods at the end. Just make sure to clean up the kitchen or face the wrath of your RA and floormates.

Depending on your level of generosity, you may need to be ready to protect your baked goods. People will see you carrying a brownie pan, detect the delightful smells from the kitchen, and try to acquire some of your treats. Be prepared to fight off these hungry dorm dwellers. Or share to your heart’s content.

Happy Baking!

About the student: Sarah Spiller is a nursing student at Seattle University, an aspiring baker, and an overall lover of food. She refuses to take sides in the pie/cake debate and can’t think of a baked good she doesn’t like.

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