Below are tips on working with these ingredients.
- Butter & margarine
- Brown sugar
- Flavour extracts
- Ingredient temperatures
- Leavening agents
Butter & margarine:
You can purchase tub butter, butter sticks, margarine blocks.
Tub butter/marg is soft and spreadable. You can spread it on toast or use it to grease a pan, but it’s unsuitable as a baking ingredient because it contains additives which affect melting temperature, causing recipes to yield unexpected results.
However, butter sticks and margarine blocks are optimized for baking, they come in individually wrapped, pre-measured portions; 1/2C or 8 TBSP. Cut off the amount required.
Once you remove brown sugar from it’s original plastic wrap, the sugar will eventually get dry and hard over time, even if it has been placed in an sealed container. It makes measuring out sugar difficult. Fix this by placing a slice of bread in the sugar container. After a few hours, the bread will dry out, and the sugar will be usable again. The same trick applies to dried out cookies.
Chocolate 101 – types of chocolate:
Chocolate is made from the roasted seeds of the cacao tree. The seeds are bitter, and fermentation develops their flavour. Later the seeds are dried, cleaned, roasted, de-shelled, and ground into liquefied form (chocolate liquor).
- Unsweetened (bitter) chocolate contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter
- Bittersweet chocolate is chocolate liquor mixed with sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, and sometimes lecithin
- Semi-sweet chocolate is a dark chocolate with a low sugar content
- Dark chocolate is made of cocoa solids mixed with fat and sugar
- Milk chocolate contains cocoa solids mixed with powdered milk or condensed milk
- White chocolate does not contain cocoa solids, but is a mixture of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk
Grocery stores sell packages which usually contain 8 squares of brown chocolate, and 6 squares of white chocolate. Each square = 1 oz.
Those are okay, but chocolate shoppes and farmers markets generally sell higher quality blocks of chocolate, which have a better flavour. I prefer Callebaut.
Brands like Nestle or Hershey are suitable for s’mores, but they contain oils to extend their shelf life. This affects melting temperature and how they bond with other ingredients, so I avoid them for baked goods. You’ll find the same issue with chocolate chips; they are fine in cookies but also contain additives so I wouldn’t use them in anything fancy.
Chocolate 102 – storage & handling:
- Store in a cool, dry, dark place
- Ideal temperature: between 15-17°C (59-63°F), with little to no humidity
- Store in an airtight container because chocolate can absorb aromas
- Pieces should be seperated by a layer of wax paper
- Never allow moisture to come in contact with chocolate, water, including steam or condensation, will cause “seizing” (it turns hard and grainy)
- Dry pans and utensils thoroughly
- Don’t refrigerate tempered chocolate to avoid “fat bloom”
- If the dish contains a product that must be refrigerated, when you remove the chocolate from the fridge, keep it covered until it’s at room temperature to avoid condensation forming
White chocolate is light-sensitive, and can go rancid from direct light exposure. Rancid chocolate should be thrown out.
Exposure to high temperatures causes “blooming”, when the fats rise to the surface causing a white cloudy colour to appear. It won’t affect the taste but looks ugly. This can sometimes be fixed by melting the chocolate to correct temper.
Chocolate 103 – tempering:
Chocolate has a very low melting temperature, and should be tempered.
Chocolate has six crystal structures, forms I-VI. “Good chocolate” which is glossy and snaps easily, has a high number of form V crystals. To achieve form V, chocolate must be slowly heated to the correct temperature until all crystals have melted, then cooled so crystals IV and V can form, and then re-heated to eliminate the IV crystals. (COMING SOON: how to temper).
Concentrated vials of flavouring extract are overpowering when used in excess. Of all the extracts on the market, the only one that requires more than a few drops is vanilla. So what is the best way to get a drop of peppermint, banana, almond, lemon, orange, or coconut?
Take something with a small but strong edge, like a metal cake tester or a toothpick. Poke one hole in the foil that covers the vial. When you shake the vial over a spoon, one drop should come out – if not, gently and slowly widen the hole by wiggling the toothpick back and forth, until one drop falls out.
Cold ingredients are easier to work with after standing at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. Creaming ingredients works a lot better when they have softened without being heated in a microwave or stove.
If the recipe calls for dairy (especially milk, butter, margarine, eggs, cream cheese, or cheese in general), take what you need from the fridge and set it on the counter. Set a timer for 20-40 minutes before you use it. Avoid leaving it out too long or harmful bacteria can grow.
Items like yeast, baking soda, and baking powder have an expiry date. As they age, they rise less. After about a year they won’t do their job anymore. If your cookies remain flat or your bread doesn’t rise like it used to, it’s time to toss the old ones.
Buying these ingredients in bulk packages is often a waste of money because they’ll expire before the entire box is used up. I replace all three on the same day to keep things simple.
You can either leave them in their original box and write the date of purchase onto the box, or transfer to a sealed container, and tape the date onto it. After 12 months are up, say goodbye.
It comes in four varieties:
- artificial vanilla extra – cheap, contains alcohol
- pure vanilla extract – pricier, no alcohol, better flavour
- vanilla bean paste – pricer, hard to remove from jar, potent; one TBSP of paste = one whole bean.
- whole vanilla beans – an expensive but worthwhile investment, easy to split and scrape, has an intoxicating aroma and intense flavour