Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Birthday Cupcakes...again

Not much new to see here. I used the same recipe that I used for Seconda's birthday cupcakes last year. And colored the frosting almost the same color. But it was all on request, so blame her. I did attempt to fill them with BAKED milk chocolate frosting (again, on request),

which was delicious, but without the right kind of pastry tip, my technique was lacking. I need one of these:

But they looked pretty.

And the birthday girl blew out 8 candles in one try.

I have vowed never to use these again.

(Wilton baking cups. The Reynolds brand is just fine. These ones pull away from the cake as you can see. Which can be pretty problematic)

Oh, and, I participated in my first bake sale.

And it wasn't even for my kids' school. It was for a theatre. Bet you could have guessed that one.

Next up: Farmers' Market challenge. I don't know what I'm baking next. I'm going to visit the Farmers' Market on a Saturday morning, see what there is to be seen, and make a decision about what to bake. I'm crossing my fingers that there will be more than rhubarb and collard greens available.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


The BAKED boys will be on Throwdown with Bobby Flay tonight. Making banana cream pies. I have no idea what time. I have gotten myself into making brownies for a bake sale. BAKED brownies. So, that will be keeping me busy tonight. BUT I am recording the show and plan to take copious notes when I watch it!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

High Altitude Baking

After this unfortunate outcome, I decided it was time to do a little research into high altitude baking. I've never really given it a lot of thought. I use the high altitude directions for Nestle Toll House cookies--because otherwise my cookies end up flat--delicious, but flat. But that's about the extent of thought I've put into it before now.

And in my research I discovered that...wait for elevation doesn't even count as high altitude. I'm at 4,350 feet. The high altitude directions for Toll House cookies specify "5,200 feet". I visited Zuni this past weekend--with an elevation of over 6,000 feet above sea level. I'm guessing they probably need to make more alterations than I do. Which might account for the casual mention of lard in their sourdough...or not...but that's another blog.

Nevertheless I found some interesting information. This is from an article by Martha Archuleta, Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist at New Mexico State University:

At altitudes above 3,500 ft, increase the oven temperature 25° over the temperature required at sea level unless using glass pans when no increase is needed. (Glass does not conduct heat as efficiently as metal.) For example, cakes baked in metal pans at sea level at 350° should be
baked at 375° at all altitudes over 3,500 ft. Faster baking “sets” the cell framework within the flour mixture and helps prevent falling. Use this adjustment for all leavened foods that are high in sugar and shortening.

In areas of low humidity, dry ingredients (specifically flour) become excessively dry unless stored in air-tight containers. A scant decrease in flour or an additional tablespoon of liquid per cup of flour will often bring a batter or dough to the correct consistency. Recipes must be adjusted for flour mixtures that contain considerable amounts of sugar and shortening and
that are leavened with carbon dioxide gas from baking powder or soda and acid.

Some sea-level cakes are delicate and defy adjustment to varying altitudes. Other recipes, especially commercial cake mixes, are so well balanced that little, if any, adjustment may be necessary up to 5,000 ft.

Cakes without fat: Air from beaten eggs is the leavening agent. For angel food cakes beat egg whites until they form peaks that droop slightly; in sponge cakes, beat eggs or egg yolks until slightly thickened.
Cakes with fat: Solid shortening gives good results in high altitude baking because the emulsifier enables the shortening to tolerate a larger amount of liquid. Solid shortening is preferred for “speed-mix” cakes with a high sugar ratio.

You can find the whole article here (that's a downloadable pdf file).

Alton Brown corroborates much of what she says in his book I'm Just Here for More Food. In addition, he says about shortening, "Shortening is amazingly useful stuff because it's everything that butter isn't. It remains plastic between 98 degrees F and 110 degrees F, which means that shortening will be workable when butter would be either rock hard or soup." And, "Unlike butter, shortening is 100 percent fat."

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not advocating replacing butter with shortening in all of your favorite recipes. I am postulating that the all-butter situation is what caused my cupcake mishap. Butter is partially water and has a "narrow window of plasticity" according to Alton. So, it melts quickly and the water portion can cause "trouble". I think the reason for my success with cakes that contain SOME shortening (not all) is that the shortening tempers the butter's tendency to melt quickly. And I'm okay with using shortening--I don't believe it's the devil. I use organic, non-hydrogenated shortening, and usually in recipes that call for mostly butter, so they still taste delicious.

But, really, what do I know? And why does any of this effect me since I'm not really at a high altitude? Questions for another day. The bonus part of this: pies don't generally require any altitude adjustments!

P.S. Alton also has something interesting to say about baking bread at high altitude: "Rising times for yeast breads should be reduced slightly so that bread doesn't overproof. And when working with yeast, go with a high protein flour. A higher protein content will result in stronger gluten capable of stretching with quickly expanding bubbles."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

S'more Pie

This summer break has sort of gotten away from us. It was the first summer that both of us have worked since before we had children. The girls have been at home all day with mr. (while he tries to work), pretty much driving him crazy. And then we've been at rehearsals and performances most evenings. So we haven't had many traditional summer activities. No picnics up the canyon (yet), no's kind of pathetic, isn't it? So, in a shoddy attempt to mend that, I...made a pie. A pie that I thought would taste like those missed campfires. kind of did...I guess. But can anything really take the place of a s'more? Eaten outside? With hands possibly covered with charcoal and/or pitch? In the dark? Knowing you'll come home smelling like campfire? I really don't think anything can.

I had planned to just sort of make this up from various sources--a basic graham cracker crust,

a BAKED Diner-Style Chocolate filling, a marshmallow topping (which I planned to toast with my kitchen torch).

But then I found this recipe at smitten kitchen and decided to trust her. And it turned out pretty good. Not one of my triumphant baking successes, but good. Good enough, apparently, to cause one of my castmates to piegasm (thanks for the word, Mel!). But for my taste, it wasn't great. I liked the way the torched marshmallow topping got crusty just like the outside of a toasted marshmallow would get. I liked the overall effect. But the chocolate filling...just sort of left me unimpressed. It's different than any I've done before--custardy and baked.

And I don't know that that was the texture I really wanted.

TGIP Rating--smitten kitchen's S'more Pie--PRETTY GOOD. If there's a next time, I'll probably use all but the chocolate filling from her recipe and the BAKED Diner-Style recipe for the filling. See how that goes.

Next Up: Seconda is turning 8. She's been watching Cupcake Wars, and Ace of Cakes, and Good Eats a lot lately, so she has had all sorts of fancy ideas about what sort of cake she wants for her birthday, as you can imagine. I think we've settled on cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes. With raspberry filling and vanilla buttercream frosting.