More Baking Questions Answered

July 12, 2009 8 Comments

More Baking Questions Answered

Baking Questions You Want Answered

I get lots of baking questions from you guys so I decided to answer a few of them in bunches again. Some of them are straightforward, but like sometimes you get a really “interesting” question like one of the inquiries in this batch. I try to answer these as best I can, usually with the help of Pastry Chef Jenni Field, a graduate of a top baking and pastry school.  Jenni is one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to baking and pastries.

As much as I try to give helpful responses to your questions, I am always interested in what you have to say and often, you have better answers than I do and I appreciate your help. In fact, the last question in this post is a correction about my key lime pie recipe that I will be fixing.

Can Kitchen Smells Get Into a Cake

Robin contacted me and asked,

Can a potent/hot aroma alter the taste of a cake being prepared?  For example, if chilies are cooking (they are so potent I have to leave the kitchen!) in the same kitchen where a cake is being mixed together (at the same time), can the cake batter absorb any of the aroma?  Could the aroma possibly alter the taste of the cake?

I’ve never experienced such a thing, but that could be because I’ve never been roasting hot peppers while mixing cake batter.  As most of you who have been reading my blog or visited my site, I’m not much of a baker. My 11 year old daughter is getting interested in baking so you will see more recipes posted based on what she is making in the future.

Having said that, smells are physical properties. We smell tiny airborne molecules of whatever is giving off the scent.  From that standpoint, it stands to reason that some of the volatile components of peppers and other “hot” foods could waft about in a kitchen and settle on/in your cake batter.

I think it would further depend on the type of cake you’re mixing.  Fats readily absorb flavors, so a butter-heavy cake would most likely pick up more flavors than a leaner cake, such as angel food.  I can say that all sorts of scents waft around in commercial kitchens – roasting lobster shells being a particularly pervasive and pungent one and pastry chefs continue with dessert production in spite of it.  If you have any concerns about flavor transfer, I would recommend that you don’t do both tasks at the same time.  Hope this helps.

Help With Coconut Macaroon Recipe

Resi wrote:

Hi RG!
I have a coconut macaroon recipe that I’ve been having troubles with.  I’ve been cooking it for years but have never really perfected it. Usually I get different results every time i cook it. What I would like to achieve is a layer of chewy baked macaroon top with the bottom, a layer of custard not unlike flan or crème brulee.

I bake them in really small paper patty pans and they come out like this : Sometimes I get the result I would like to achieve, other times the macaroon is dry and the custard layer would not be there and it is hollow at the bottom.

These are the ingredients I generally use:desiccated coconut, eggs, condensed milk, vanilla, butter, molasses.

Combined, I bake them in a pre-heated 180 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Are there ingredients in my list that I should exclude? Help, where do I go wrong?

I asked Chef Jenni for help with this one. Here is what she had to say:

This is strictly speculation since I’ve never made macaroons with these specific ingredients.  Since Robin doesn’t give the amounts for any of the ingredients, I’m going to assume that these guys are mostly dessicated coconut and egg with the other ingredients there for body and additional flavor/richness.  If so, there are a few variables.

One would be the weather.  When working with an egg-heavy recipe, the amount of humidity will certainly affect the final product.  Low humidity will equal a crisp outcome and high humidity equals chewy.  So, that’s something to think about.

Another variable that the baker has more control over is mixing time.  I would suggest that over mixing yielded the hollow-bottomed result.  Next time, keep track of how long and how quickly – you’re mixing and write it down.  If the results are hollow bottomed, dry macaroons, decrease the mixing time.

Eventually, you’ll hit the magic speed/time combination. Then, assuming that humidity isn’t the deciding factor, you’ll always get your desired results by mixing for that specified amount of time..  My gut is, if you’re looking for chewy/custardy macaroons, you’d want to mix on no more than medium speed for a fairly minimal time.

I will be interested to hear how things turn out and would also really like to see the full recipe and the procedure sometime.

As to the last question Resi asks, if she she should exclude any ingredients to get the results she is after, I wouldn’t alter/omit any of the ingredients.  I would look to the mixing speed/time first and then to oven temperature.  And, for my part, I’d probably add a very healthy pinch of salt into the mix!

How Many Key Limes Does It Take For 1/2 Cup of Lime Juice?

Susan wrote and said:

I absolutely love your key lime pie recipe.  I only have one comment…  For 1/2 Cup of KEY lime juice, it requires 12-15 KEY limes.  I can’t help but think your suggestion of 3-4 limes refers to regular limes, hardly the same thing.  There is NO SUBSTITUTE for key limes, they are quite unique.  And, now, I must go make my pie!

Yes, Susan is absolutely right.  Key limes are very small, about the size of a pecan in the shell.  It would take quite a few to yield 1/2 cup of juice so I’m guessing 12 – 15 looks right.

Key limes are generally only grown in Mexico now, and they can be pretty hard to find in the States.  I  used Nellie and Joe’s Key Lime Juice rather than trying to juice a ton of hard-to-find key limes.  For folks who can’t find key limes or key lime juice, in a pinch you can substitute Persian (“regular”) limes, but the flavor won’t be as sharp.  If you have some citric acid, you can add a pinch of that, and it might get you closer to an actual key lime flavor.


Last modified on Thu 31 July 2014 10:17 am

Comments (8)

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  1. julia west says:

    how to bake a sugar free sweet potato pie

  2. Eileen Giggins says:

    good sight

  3. Virginia Farry says:

    Why does cake split on top when baking.

  4. hannah says:

    how does different cooking techniques have affect on the taste?

    Hi Hannah, great question and one that needs a few articles written to start to answer it. Look at various foods that you love and can be cooked in different ways and think about how they taste differently. For example, you know how a baked potato tastes, but then think about how that compares to French fried potatoes. Another example might be chicken. You can deep fry, saute, roast or poach it and each will taste differently although it is the same ingredient. For more on taste, read my post on How We Taste Food. – RG

  5. carla says:

    are dairy-free cakes healthier than regular cakes

  6. Jenni says:

    I don’t mean this answer to sound cavalier, Carla, but I would say only if you have a dairy allergy. I guess it would also depend upon what you use in place of the dairy. Subbing coconut oil for butter, for example, is a much healthier choice because the medium-chain fatty acids in the oil are metabolized rather than turned to fat. Margarine for butter is not the healthiest choice, however, since margarine has been shown to raise “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol.

  7. Kevin Martin says:

    I have a cake recipe that bakes in a bundt pan. I am making it for a dinner party, and I would like to make small, individual bundt cakes. I am not sure how to adjust the cooking time. The original recipe calls for baking at 350 for 1 hour 15 minutes. My cake pan has 6 individual (4 in. wide and 2 in. deep) cakes.Any help you can offer would be appreciated.

  8. Jenni says:

    @Kevin The best advice I can give is to start checking after about 20 minutes and take them out when they’re done. That isn’t meant to be a trite answer, but everyone’s ovens bake differently, so it’s really hard to say.

    I’ve occasionally baked Bundt-type recipes in regular round pans and vice versa or used a cake recipe to make cupcakes, and it’s never a sure thing. So I just keep an eye on it and take them out when they’re done. 🙂

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