As you know from previous posts, The Reluctant Gourmet receives lots of questions on various culinary topics including baking and pastry making. I am not a professional chef nor a baker but I try to answer what I can from personal experiences and when I can't answer a question, I ask a professional for help.
I seem to be getting a lot of baking questions since I posted Baking Questions Answered and More Baking Questions Answered covering a range of topics as diverse as Cracks in Cakes to Can Kitchen Smells Get Into a Cake. My favorite go to professional baker is Chef Jenni Field and here are a few more great questions I referred to her.
From Susanne: Forgot to Add Sugar to Fruit Cake - What Do I Do?
I have just made a rich 12" fruit cake, and very stupidly I forgot to add the sugar, is there anything I can do, I really don't want to throw this cake away. Thanks I look forward to your reply.
Oh, Susanne. The short answer is, "No." But don't feel too stupid. We've all been there. Or, speaking for myself, I've been there. I learned the hard way to taste the batter every step of the way. Most of the time, it's a pleasure, but occasionally I'll catch a potentially Big Problem, such as no sugar, no butter or no salt.
Sugar is a critical ingredient in baking. Not only does it make baked goods taste sweet, it also keeps them moist, assists in browning and aids in tenderizing. Without sugar, baked goods are unappetizing because of the lack of sweetness, but they are also dry, pale and tough.
It's too bad that this happened to a fruit cake, because the ingredients can be pretty expensive. I suppose that you could try dousing the whole thing with a sugar syrup (bring equal parts, by weight, of sugar and water to a boil, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Cool).
Barring that, I'd think outside of the box and consider using your unsweetened fruitcake as a base for stuffing or a bread pudding. Think about it. You've probably got some sort of nuts and fruits in the cake, and the fact that it's tougher than a "regular" cake would work in its favor in helping the cubes to keep their shape.
For stuffing, just crumble up the fruit cake and dry it out in a very low oven (maybe 180F-200F). Mix together with chicken stock, sauteed mire poix (onion, carrot and celery), an egg, some poultry seasoning, salt, pepper and maybe some cooked and crumbled sausage.
For the bread pudding, you can introduce sweetness through the custard. Mix up a basic sweet custard: one egg and 2-3 tablespoons of sugar per cup of dairy (whole milk, half&half, cream, etc). Cube your fruit cake, put in a buttered baking dish and pour the custard over. Let it soak in for a good half hour to hour, and then bake at 325F until somewhat risen, golden brown, set on the edges and just a bit jiggly in the center. Let cool for about half an hour, and then serve with some ice cream. Good luck with it!
From Ellen:"¨"¨ Cracked Chocolate Chip Cookies
Help! We have a chocolate chip recipe that we have been making for years. Recently the baked cookies have a different appearance - even from within the same batch. Baked in the same oven, at the same time and even on the same pan - some cookies bake as usual and others look "cracked" or like they might even have oats in them. We have had no ingredient substitutions, no change in mixing, climate, etc. Please share any insights as we are really stuck. Thank you.
I'm going to assume that you're talking about a "standard" creaming method chocolate chip cookie. Given that, the only real thing I can think of is that your butter isn't soft enough when you cream it together with the sugar.
Or maybe your eggs aren't at room temperature and the batter curdles slightly as the butter seizes up when the cold eggs hits it. That could definitely leave you with a bit of an "oatmealy" look to your batter.
If your recipe contains baking powder, make sure that it is fresh. Old baking powder just takes up space and can affect the texture of your batter.
That's all the insight I can give you since I don't know your specific ingredient list or technique. I hope this helps, though.
From Margaret: Altitude Adjustments for Angel Food Cake
I am having trouble with Betty Crocker angel food cake mixes. I live at 5,280 feet and have a brand new stove. I followed the high altitude adjustments to the basic mix (added 2 tbsp. corn starch to the dry mix), used a 10" pan as called for, and baked at 350 degrees. Three times I have tried this and each time, the cake overflows the pan while baking. Then when I place it upside down to cool, it falls from the pan. What can I do to resolve this? Thanks for your time.
Have you used this mix before and had it turn out correctly? Maybe with your old oven?
I just looked up the ingredients for this cake mix, and I'd like to take a quick second to suggest that you make angel food cake from scratch. There's sodium lauryl sulfate in the mix as a "whipping aid." That ingredient is also found in shampoos and is considered irritating. Plus, it also contains artificial flavorings and BHT as a preservative. I'd just make a standard angel food cake using real whites, vanilla, salt, cake flour and a little leavening.
If you really love the boxed mix, though, I'll try to help. The high altitude directions that I read called for adding 1/3 cup of corn starch, which is 5 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon of corn starch. It also says to increase the water from 1 1/4 cup to 1 1/3 cup. The additional dry ingredients will help to "weigh down" the leavening and keep it from overflowing your pan, even with the relatively low atmospheric pressure. The wee bit of extra water will help it to blend in more evenly.
Make sure that you're not greasing your pan. Angel food cake needs to grab onto the sides of the pan to "climb." Baking in an ungreased pan also ensures that, when you turn it upside down to cool, it won't fall out.
I hope that helps (and I really hope you try to make one from scratch)!
So, that concludes this round-up of mostly baking-related questions. Please note that Chef Jenni often asks to know the recipe - the exact ingredients and procedure you use to make your baked goods. She says that this is because there are a lot of variables in baking and pastry, that there is a lot of chemistry involved and that knowing the ingredients and procedures can help to narrow down the problem and making it easier to come up with the correct answer.