At our house, we've done a lot of baking the past couple of weeks, turning out some tasty treats. Sometimes taking shortcuts and making substitutions in baking can lead to less than desirable results. While time may be saved, quality can be sacrificed. Here are some tips to remember for successful baking:
Adding eggs. Some cookie recipes specify to add eggs one at a time and mix between each addition. If eggs are added one at a time, cookies can be thick and chewy. This allows the eggs to combine evenly with the fat. When eggs are added all at once, the cookies will spread more, be uneven in shape, and will not be chewy.
Softening butter. Many recipes call for softened butter. The ideal temperature to achieve is 67 degrees Fahrenheit. To speed up this process, cut the stick of butter into smaller pieces and let it set at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. Another option is to soften in the microwave. Be careful not to melt it!
Salted vs. unsalted butter. Many recipes call for unsalted butter. This does not add extra salt to the recipe. Softened butter has about 1/3 teaspoon salt per stick (1/2 cup). It can also have extra water which can affect the quality of the finished recipe.
Sifting. This step can be important as it incorporates air into the dry ingredient, such as flour. While measuring by weight is ideal, not all cooks have a scale. Therefore, it can be important to sift when using measuring cups. One cup of sifted flour will weigh less than one cup of unsifted flour. This can drastically affect the quality and texture of a baked product. Also, follow recipe directions regarding when to sift. "One cup flour, sifted" is measured, then sifted. "One cup sifted flour" is sifted, then measured.
Substitute for cocoa. This chocolate powder is unique and one-of-a-kind. There is not a good substitute as other chocolates have too much fat compared to cocoa. So, if a recipe calls for cocoa, that is what should be used.
Baking Pans. Don't crowd the oven. The pans should never touch each other or the sides of the oven, or be placed over or under each other on the racks. Grease pans using a piece of paper towel, rub a small amount of shortening, butter or margarine evenly over the bottom and on sides of pans, if directed. A small amount of pan spray may be used and spread over the pan, also using the paper towel technique. Prevent sharp edges on muffins, bar cookies or quick breads by greasing the muffin cups or pans only on the bottom and halfway up the sides so the batter is higher than the greaseline. This is one time you might not want to use a pan spray.
Fudge. There are many recipes for making fudge, but if you use an old-fashioned one made on the stovetop, here are some secrets to help make the smoothest fudge.
Clean the sides of the pan so crystals don't slip into the fudge mixture during boiling. Simply cover the pan with a lid to trap steam after the mixture starts boiling. Leave the lid on for two minutes and crystals will slide and melt into the fudge.
Use a candy thermometer to know the temperature. Fudge is cooked to the soft-ball stage (236 degrees F to 238 degrees F). This concentrates the sugar so the fudge will have the proper firmness in the end. If the temperature is too low, it will be soft. If too high, it will be too firm.
After reaching the soft-ball stage, leave the fudge alone. Shaking or stirring at this point results in crystal formation and the crystals will keep growing.
Let the mixture cool to 110 degrees F, glossy and dark brown. Be patient! If too hot, the result is grainy fudge. If too cool, it will set up and be stiff.
Beating creates smooth fudge with tiny crystals and a light brown color.
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.