Do you feel frustrated when your home-baked cookies/biscuits don’t turn out as you expect? Why are Cookies (called biscuits in Australia) sometimes too hard, too soft, way-too-spread-out, or hard enough to use as a cricket bat?
My investigations into this blight on the Home Baker led me to conclude that baking is a science, and pastry cooks and chefs who are required to replicate the exact same foods with the exact same textures and tastes every single time, have my endless admiration. For the path to creating the perfect biscuit is laden with pitfalls, and endless variables that are bound to confuse, frustrate and annoy the most patient and placid of us.
Not only do you have to achieve consistency at technique, control the uncontrollable variations in oven temperature and heat distribution, you also have to conquer such variables as appropriate shelf height and heat setting in multi-functional ovens, incorrect weighing/measuring of ingredients, the endless debate on whether to fold or beat, cover or uncover the cooked item, and the list goes on.
Something as simple as using low-fat butter or milk can drastically alter results. Nevertheless, it is useful to consider why things may have gone wrong. http://www.sunset.com had some answers for me:
What makes cookies soft and chewy?
High moisture content does; so the recipe, baking time, and temperature must be adjusted to retain moisture. Binding the water in butter, eggs, and brown sugar (it contains molasses, which is 10 % water) with flour slows its evaporation. The dough needs a little extra flour, which makes it stiffer. The stiff dough spreads less, less liquid evaporates, and the cookies are thicker.
Mass also helps cookies stay moist–big dollops of dough make softer and chewier cookies than tiny spoonfuls of dough. Bake these thick cookies for a shorter time at a high temperature to firm them quickly and minimise spreading. Most important, don’t bake them too long–remove them from the oven when the cookie rim is brown and at least 1/3 of the centre top remains pale. The cooked centres will be soft.
Why are some cookies cake-like instead of chewy?
A little extra liquid in the cookie dough from water, egg, or milk makes the dough more elastic and adds steam as the cookies bake, making them puff more.
What makes a cookie crisp or crunchy?
Reducing the amount of ingredients that hold moisture–flour, egg, and brown sugar–makes it easy for liquid to evaporate, producing crisp cookies. The fat, which goes up proportionately when other ingredients are cut back, gets hotter than the water in the dough and drives out the moisture. Fat also makes the dough softer and melts when hot, making the cookies spread. For crispness, bake cookies longer at a lower temperature to give them more time to spread before they firm. Then bake long enough to dry and brown them evenly to develop the maximum toasty flavour and crisp texture throughout.
What else makes cookies spread as they bake?
Having trouble with a favourite recipe? Cookies are suddenly spreading excessively?
Low-fat butter or margarine spread, which has about 20% more water, used in place of regular butter or margarine is often the culprit. Low-fat products can’t be used interchangeably with regular fats for baking without recipe adjustments.
Cookies also spread when you drop high-fat dough onto a hot baking sheet; the heat melts the dough, and cookies spread before they’re baked enough to hold their shape.
Some chocolate chip cookie recipes turn out crunchy. Others are chewy. Why?
The way they measure ingredients and the real temperature of their ovens are the usual reasons cooks get different results from the same recipe.
Flour should be stirred to loosen and fluff it, then spooned gently into a dry-measure cup (the kind you fill to the rim), and the top scraped level. If you tap the cup or scoop flour from the bag, the flour gets packed down, and you can easily add 2 to 4 extra tablespoons flour per cup. You can scoop up white sugar; it doesn’t pack. But you should firmly pack brown sugar into a dry-measure cup and scrape the top level.
Dry ingredients should not be measured in heaped-up cups or spoons; scrape dry ingredients level with the surface of the measuring tool.
Measure liquid ingredients with liquid-measuring (usually glass or plastic) cups.
It might be prudent to double-check your oven is heating correctly with a thermostat. Adjust if your oven is overly hot or cooler than it should be.
Controlling Spread in Cookies with Baking Soda: Cookies spread across a cookie sheet when they have too little structure and cannot hold their shape. Whether this is desirable or not depends on what kind of cookie you wish to bake. There are many ways to increase cookie spread: One way is to add a small amount of baking soda, as little as .25 to .5 ounces (5 to 15 grams) for 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of cookie dough. This increases the pH of the dough, weakening gluten, and also weakening egg protein structure. With less structure, cookies spread more and have a coarser, more porous crumb. Since moisture evaporates from a porous crumb more easily, baking soda often provides for a crisper crumb, as well. Measure baking soda carefully. Baking soda increases browning significantly, and if used at too high a level, it leaves a distance salty-chemical off flavour. When working at high altitudes, omit baking soda from the cookie dough. The lower air pressure at high altitudes already encourages spread.
How to Ensure Baking Success in Using Ingredients
Check the expiry date on egg carton and other ingredients too.
Eggs should be at room temperature. The emulsion can be ruined if eggs or other liquids are too cold or too hot when they are added.
Measuring Flour: Too much flour can make some cookies rock-hard. When in doubt, err on the side of less flour. Use a scale if the recipe offers a weight equivalent. Spoon the flour into your measuring cup and sweep a spatula across the top to level it off. Don’t use the measuring cup as a scoop, or it’ll pack the flour, and you’ll end up with more flour in the cup than intended.
Nuts: Smell and taste nuts before using. Oils in nuts can turn rancid quickly. Store any leftover nuts in the freezer for longest shelf life.
Butter: Make sure your butter is at room temperature, otherwise it won’t cream properly with the sugar. The terms “room temperature,” “softened” and “soft” mean different things. The temperature of the butter can make a difference in the recipe. Most cookie dough recipes depend on the emulsion that occurs when you cream butter and sugar together. This emulsion will not happen if the butter is too hot or too cold.
Room Temperature Butter: It should be pliable enough that your finger can leave a mark in it, without being soft and greasy. Set the butter out at least one (1) hour in advance.
Softened Butter: Will feel a little warmer to the touch, and it will be much easier to leave a deep indentation, but it should still be firm enough to pick up without falling apart.
Soft Butter: Will be too soft to pick up.
Microwave Butter: Do not try to microwave your butter as it will just end up too soft. If you don’t have an hour’s lead time, increase the surface area by cutting the butter into small pieces or shredding it on the large holes of a grater. It will then come up to temperature in approximately 10 minutes.
Unsalted Butter: Unsalted butter is generally recommended because some salted butters have more sodium than others. Do not use low fat butter/margarine. Low fat margarine has 20 % more water.
Salt: Use the full amount of salt called for in a recipe, especially is using unsalted butter. If you use salted butter, only use 1/2 the amount called for in the recipe. Don’t skip the salt, as salt brings out flavours and balances the sweetness in a recipe.
Sugar: The type of sugar used in your cookies can promote spread in baked cookies. To understand this, you need to know that sugar is a tenderiser which interferes with the formation structure. Sugars with a finger granulation promote more spread, (probably because they dissolve sooner, and only dissolved sugars will tenderise). Powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar), when it contains cornstarch, prevents spread in cookies despite it finer grind.
Honey has been on my mind, lately, as I was interviewing an expert on Beekeeping, in my job as a reporter, for a community magazine.
I can now tell you loads about the complexities of a bee colony, what threats they face, how they are heavily regulated by themselves and the bees and the process of making honey.
Whilst beekeeping can turn into an obsession, I am more obsessed with honey and its use as food. I sourced a wonderfully tasty Immune boosted raw Honey from the Beekeeper himself. This honey has all sorts of health benefits as the bees graze from a wide variety of food sources.
Apart from having one teaspoon of this delicious food from the Gods, each day, I made some Honey and Oat Biscuits, (or Honey and Oat Cookies if you are American), using a favourite recipe of mine, that I will share here:
Honey and Oat Cookies (Biscuits) Recipe
1 cup Self Raising Flour, (or all-purpose flour with 2 teaspoons Baking powder)
3 tablespoons custard powder
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup (125 g) or softened butter
1 – 2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup wheatgerm or bran
Blitz the flour and custard powder
Add sugar and oats and blitz again
Add butter through the chute as processing til blended
Add honey and process till well combined
Roll teaspoonfuls of the mix into balls and toss lightly in the wheatgerm/bran
Place on baking tray and flatten lightly with the back of a fork
Cook for 10 – 12 minutes in a moderate over 180 degrees C (350 F)
At the Home by the Sea, I am always looking to incorporate more vegetables in our diet.
If you have read this blog before you might be aware of my penchant for sweet treats. Especially those with brown sugar, walnuts and cinnamon, such as the Danish Spice Cake, or Walnut Streusal Cake.
Fellow blogger Sandy just had to go and post a delicious recipe of Chocolate and Zucchini cake with just those aforementioned ingredients that I love so much.
Clear the hallway! I said when I read the post.
“I am headed for the kitchen.” No sooner had I read the post then the cake was in the mixing bowl.
Here is the result:
Sandy’s Chocolate and Zucchini Cake
Health Benefits of Zucchini or Squash to your Diet
Zucchini is low in calories, fat, and sugar and is a great source of antioxidants and Folate. It also contains Vitamins (A, E and C) that improve skin integrity, alleviate puffiness, build collagen and fight damage from free radicals. So Zucchini make us look younger!
I reduced the zucchini – I use 2- 3 zucchini amounting to about 500 ml shredded – squeezed it out a little then added a 2- 3 tablespoons of extra flour to Sandy’s recipe.
I have had this small tin of crab meat in my pantry for (mumble, mumble) quite some time now. I really did not know what I was going to use it for.
I think it was originally destined for a party, hanging out with other Swedish sandwich cake ingredients, but things did not work out between them, and so the crab meat, was left on the shelf… literally!
Inspiration hit me one night when the Moth aka hubby and I were on our own, no family to cook for and decided on a light meal to end the week. Surfing the net always provides inspiration and along the way I found a recipe for Hot Crab Dip.
As one always does, there were adjustments I just had to make, serving it cold, and adding some extra vegetables for crunch. As I like fresh and crunchy celery, cucumber and capsicum, I chopped these up and added them in. The dish has some added Vitamin C and fibre this way.
But credit goes to Will Cook for Smiles for the essence of the recipe. She baked hers in the oven, whilst I often prefer my seafood cold, so I didn’t. It is totally agreeable either way.
It is just your own preference.
Here is what I mixed to make this superb light meal/appetizer/dip/wine & cheese accompaniment.
Crab Dip Recipe
130 g tinned Crabmeat
40g spreadable Cream cheese
1/4 cup Sour cream
1/4 cup Mayonnaise
2 stalks of Spring onion, finely chopped and diced.
1 Garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Lemon juice
1/4 cup of shaved Parmesan cheese, to mix in
1/4 cup of shaved Parmesan cheese, for topping
Salt & fresh cracked Pepper
Optional Extras if serving it cold:
1/2 medium Yellow and Green Capsicum, chopped & diced.
1/2 small Lebanese Cucumber, chopped & diced.
Celery – 1 stalk – only if you like it very crunchy
Method for Serving Cold Crab Dip
Mix all ingredients together. Serve with crackers, fresh bread or baguette.
To Serve Crab Dip Hot:
Preheat the oven to 170 degree celsius or 340 degrees Fahrenheit
Combine all the ingredients, top with the second 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese.
Bake 20 minutes
Serve with crusty sourdough bread or crackers of your choice.
It was hard to stop nibbling this more-ish mix with my water crackers!
Next time I’s serve it hot with some fresh salad and a secondary dish.
Never buy a packet cookie or cake mix again! Many of them are just flour, sugar and dehydrated egg or fat.
You can easily make good quality cake mixes on your own in a food processor, or by hand, if you relish manually rubbing in butter to flour; (I don’t). But it does save you money and assist in building a zero waste household!
Buying larger bags of flour and sugar, in order to make up a few batches of cake mix will save money in the long run, as you can access cheaper prices for buying in bulk. Think how much each individual box of cake mix costs. I estimate you could save at least 2/3 of the retail price. So in effect, 3 for the price of 1!
These pre-made mixes can be made up immediately they’re removed from the fridge, but it will take a little longer than if the ingredients are at room temperature when you make them up. Use this time well by preparing pans, trays etc. whilst waiting for the mix to acclimatize.
Hints on Making Your own Baking Mixes:
Measure ingredients accurately.
Place mixes into sealable plastic bags: large zip lock bags are great.
Mark down the date prepared and the contents: eg.Chocolate cake/ orange cake, on the label. You might even want to add some simple directions on preparing or baking and give these mixes as gifts to friends. A marble cake pre made mix is welcomed by my friends.
Sealed well these mixes will store in the freezer for 3 months.
Foundation Cake Pre-Mix
*NB: Self raising flour is the equivalent of 1 cup of plain or all purpose flour mixed with 2 teaspoons of Baking powder sifted and mixed thoroughly.
Cake Mix Ingredients
1 1/2 cups Self-raising Flour*
3/4 cup (180 g) castor sugar
2 tablespoons skim milk powder
125 g (4oz) butter, straight from fridge and chopped into small cubes
Combine sifted flour, sugar and milk powder in the bowl of food processor fitted with a metal blade for blending the butter.
Blitz dry ingredients for 2- 3 seconds to mix.
Add the chopped cold butter.
Process 10 to 20 seconds until butter is evenly distributed in dry ingredients.
Seal and store or continue to make a completed cake.
Making up the Cake from the Pre-Mix
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract or Vanillin Sugar
1/2 cup water
Prepare Foundation Cake Mix in a mixer bowl as instructed above.
Add the eggs, vanilla and water.
Beat on low speed until ingredients are combined.
Increase mixer speed to medium and mix for three minutes or until mixture changes in colour and is smooth. (There should not be any lumps in the mixture; if there are, beat til they’ve disappeared).
Spread mixture evenly into well-greased 20 cm Round, Bundt, Ring, or a 28 x 18 cm, (11x 7 in) lamington tin.
Bake in moderate oven 30 minutes and leave for 10 minutes before turning on to wire rack to cool.
Add 2 teaspoons grated orange rind with the water and eggs and omit vanilla.
Top cake with Orange glace icing when cold.
Dissolve 1 tablespoon instant coffee with 1/4 cup boiling water, and make up to 1/2 cup with cold water but leave to cool before using. Use this in place of the 1/2 cup water in original recipe.
Top with glace icing of your choice, or coffee icing.
Sift 1/3 cup Cocoa into a small basin, gradually blend in 2/3 cup water, stir till smooth. Use in place of water in original recipe. (The extra water is needed in this recipe to absorb the cocoa.)
Top with chocolate icing.
Cooking times vary so here is a guide to tin sizes and cooking times:
20 cm (8 inch) ring tin – 35 minutes
2 x 25 x 8 cm (10 in x 3 in) bar tins – 30 minutes
20 x 10 cm (8in x 4 in) loaf tin – 50 minutes
23 x 12 cm (9in x 5 in) loaf tin – 50 minutes
25 x 15 cm (10in x 6 in) – 45 minutes
Basic Cake Icing
Vanilla Glace Icing
1 1/2 cups Icing or Confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons Butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract or Vanillin sugar
2 tablespoons Milk, approximately
Stir Icing sugar into small heatproof bowl
Stir in butter, vanilla and enough milk to make a thick paste.
Stand basin over hot water, stir constantly until icing is of spreading consistency.
Spread over cold cake with spatula.
Orange Glace Icing: Use 2 tablespoons strained orange juice in place of milk and omit vanilla.
The beauty of this soup is that it works with most leftover vegetables. I chop up things I find in the fridge at the Home by the Sea, such as the leftover broccoli stalks or slightly limp-few days old -beans and add them in. The soup will taste just as good, if not better.
The addition of chickpeas adds a lot of fibre to this recipe and balances out the carbs hidden in the pancetta/bacon.
A hearty soup perfect for an easy family dinner.
Tuscan Bean Soup Recipe
2 tablespoons cold-pressed Olive Oil
2 medium Brown Onions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
200g Speck, or good quality Bacon or Pancetta, coarsely sliced
2 -3 Carrots, coarsely chopped
3 Celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 can Diced Tomatoes*
I didn’t have a can of chopped Roma Tomatoes, in the pantry, so I boiled up 8 fresh Roma tomatoes, chopped them roughly, then boiling them in a saucepan till soft, [about 8 -10 minutes on medium heat].
1/4 head of Cabbage, shredded coarsely
1- 2 Zucchinis, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons Thyme
2 cups Chicken or Vegetable stock
1 cup Water
1 small can of Chickpeas, in vinaigrette, rinsed and drained
1 new Potato, coarsely chopped
1 whole Celery stalk with leaves attached
Chives, a handful sliced plus some extra for garnishing
Heat oil in a large saucepan
Cook onion, celery, garlic, and selected cured meat, such as Pancetta, stirring until onion and celery is soft (about 5 minutes)
Add carrot, undrained tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini, potato, thyme, stock, drained chickpeas, water and the whole celery stalk, with leaves attached.
Bring to boil
Simmer uncovered about 30 – 40 minutes [go for a nice walk whilst it is simmering]
Remove the whole celery stalk with leaves
Add finely sliced chives and garnish with a sprinkle prior to serving.
Salmon is low in fat and high in protein. Not to mention it is a good source of B12, potassium, iron and vitamin D. No wonder the Scandinavians enjoy it.
Making pastry can be a pain but it’s a breeze with this recipe as the kitchen food processor blends and forms a delicious, cheesy pastry shell.
This recipe is substantial and makes a filling pie great for serving the family or group. The pie cuts easily and holding its form brilliantly on the day of cooking as well as the next day for a summer lunch.
Salmon Pie Recipe
Preheat Oven to 180 C (350F)
Cheesy Pastry Crust Ingredients
1.5 cups Plain flour
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
125 g Butter
1 cup grated Cheddar or firm Cheese (substitutes are fine as long as it isn’t a cheese that melts too much such as mozzarella)
Rub the butter into the flour using a Food Processor but not so much that it turns into a ball (keep it crumbly)
Add the grated cheese and mix through the pastry.
Set aside 1/4 of the mix to reserve for the pie topping
Press the remainder into an 8-9 inch pottery, or glass, pie dish until it covers the base and sides to form the pastry shell.
220 gram (around 8 oz) can cooked Red or Pink Salmon, preferably boneless
375 grams Sour cream (13 oz)
1 Onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped Chives
2-3 drops of Tabasco sauce (optional)
1/2 cup grated Cheese (extra)
Drain and flake salmon and combine with the rest of the filling ingredients
Place the combined mix into the pastry shell
Crumb the reserved portion of the pastry crumbs on top
Bake 40 – 50 minutes at 180 C (350 F) or until golden brown on top
Delicious served hot or cold the next day with a green salad.