Dark Chocolate Cupcakes w/ White Chocolate Cream Filling & Carnival Frosting

It has been a long time since I’ve baked anything in my own kitchen.  I’ve been spending every livingwakingbreathingpossible moment either at work (hostessing for a simply fantastic restaurant) or tucked away in my work’s kitchen helping out and learning from the chefs there.  I love every minute, but that doesn’t mean I’m not desperately enjoying my day off.  There is something very wonderful about being in my own kitchen again, using the same wooden spoon I was licking brownie batter off of when I was five, and knowing exactly where every bowl is.  There is also something wonderful about returning to the kitchen I grew up in with a new confidence and mastery of the culinary arts.

Somewhere in-between the hot-press and stress-rush of the professional kitchen, I lost the doubt, hesitation, and waffling that always surrounded my baking endeavors.  Do I use this recipe or this one?  Two to five hours of deliberation.  Should I add that extra egg yolk in?  One hour of intense consideration.  Is it ready to take out of the oven?  Several minutes of gut-wrenching indecision.  Now I can create a multi-part dessert in 3 hours; that time including prepping, baking, cooling, presenting, and the initial ten minutes of excited imagining.  I can even create frostings sans recipe, with just a few moments of rifling through my fridge.

I had recently made a milk-chocolate panna cotta at work and I wanted to make another.  The original idea was for a dark chocolate panna cotta topped with a white chocolate one and filled with a raspberry or strawberry syrup.  That idea turned into dark-chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate panna cotta filling and bacon-fat icing.  I really need to find a more attractive name for that last bit.

First, the panna cotta middle.  This recipe produces a smooth and deliciously rich panna cotta with a heavy milky taste.  It’s not too gelatinous and pudding-y, it’s more of a creamy and dense feel with a slight goey-ness.  The white chocolate gives it that sweet-cream taste and the vanilla beans come through for an added layering of flavor, giving this dessert a more sophisticated and complex taste.  If you like white chocolate, you will love this.  If you don’t like white chocolate, chances are you’ll still like it.  It’s great just plain in ramekins, topped with tart berry syrup, or accompanied by dark chocolate ice cream.

Second, the dark-chocolate body of the cupcake.  I love this recipe.  I love dark chocolate, I love fudgy dessert, I love little hot molten cakes, and I love this recipe.  It doesn’t produce a liquid-center chocolate cake (which is good because of how I used it), rather a dense, rich cake with a soft and gooey-center.  This is less of a cake kind of cake and more of an almost-brownie.  These little chocolate delights have a little bit of a rise, just enough for a plump and rounded top (which remains delightfully crispy) but not enough to overflow in leavened abundance.  The texture is dense and thick, with a deep flavor that’s all chocolate and bittersweet.  These are absolutely fabulous on their own with a little vanilla ice-cream.

Third, the unusual and really quite good, bacon-fat vanilla icing.  This is something I saw in the fridge, said hey, a little bacon fat never hurt, and went for it.  No recipe, no research, nada.  Just winged it.  It’s a little salty, a little sweet, and completely addictive.  The bacon fat gives it a little extra something that’s hard to identify (if you don’t happen to eat a lot of bacon fat) and very unique.  A good friend of mine said it tasted something like funnel cake or the kind of fried, sugary treats you find at a carnival (which is why I’m calling it “carnival” frosting).  It requires a very delicate balance between the individual elements; too much bacon-fat and it’s too greasy tasting, too little salt and the bacon-fat won’t come through, etc.  I recommend tweaking it to your personal taste but being bold enough to give it a try.

SOFT-CENTER DARK-CHOCOLATE CAKE

Yields 12 regular-sized cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 9 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 large yolks (at room temperature)
  • 2 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 7 tbsp of sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
  • 1 pinch salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a standard-sized cupcake pan with appropriate sized cupcake liners.  You can also do larger or smaller cupcakes, but it’ll affect estimated yield and baking time.
  2. Cut your butter into roughly 1” pieces and chop your chocolate.  You can set aside 2 oz. of your chocolate and place the rest into a small saucepan with your butter or you can just melt it all.  Melt the chocolate slowly over a low flame, checking frequently and stirring slightly less frequently.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium-large bowl, combine your eggs and egg yolks, whisk until homogenous.  Mix in your sugar, then sift in your flour, cocoa powder, and salt.  Mix until just incorporated.
  4. Once your chocolate has melted, let it cool until it’s about body temperature (so that you can’t feel it as hot or cold when you stick your finger in it) and pour over the rest of your batter slowly and stir until completely mixed.  Fold in the remaining chopped chocolate if you chose to set some aside.
  5. Pour your batter into the prepared cupcake tins (I scoop it with an ice-cream scooper to help keep the amount of batter even) and bake for 12-14 minutes, until top cracks and a toothpick comes out fairly cleanly.
  6. Once they’re baked, carefully take them out of the cupcake pan; try not to let them separate from the cupcake liner.  Let them cool on a wire rack.

WHITE-CHOCOLATE PANNA COTTA

Yields 3-4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean pod
  • 4 oz white chocolate
  • 1 tsp (0.125 oz)
 gelatin
  • 1 tsp water

Directions:

  1. Pour your heavy cream, vanilla, and sugar into a small saucepan.  Split your vanilla pod and scrape the beans into the cream; toss the leftover pod in, as well.  Heat this over a low to medium flame, stirring occasionally, until your mixture begins to simmer.
  2. While that’s heating, chop your white chocolate (unless you’re using small chocolate chips) and pour into a medium-sized heatproof bowl.
  3. Mix your gelatin with your water in a small cup (I did it in a 1/8 cup measurer).  Stir with a toothpick; it’ll be solid and grainy.
  4. Once your cream mixture has simmered, remove the vanilla pod, and pour the cream over your white chocolate.  Let stand 1-2 minutes till melted, add in the gelatin, then stir slowly until all incorporated.
  5. If you’re using it as a filling, pour your panna cotta through a sieve into the prepared cupcakes and refrigerate for 3 hours.  If you’re just making straight-up panna cotta, pour it through a sieve into individual ramekins and refrigerate for at least 3 hours to set.

Tips:

Don’t let your cream scald or it’ll get a burnt-cream flavor.  Remember to stir it occasionally to disperse any skin that forms over the top of the cream.  If one forms, don’t fret, it’ll be strained out later when you pour the panna cotta through a sieve.

Always strain your panna cotta before pouring it into ramekins (or wherever it’ll end up when you serve it) to get out any larger solids and make sure your panna cotta has a smooth, even texture.  It’s also a good idea to strain ice cream bases and anything else where eggs or dairy is heated.

When you’re melting chocolate by pouring hot cream (or milk, etc.) over it (ie. when making a ganache), pour the hot liquid over it and let it stand for a few minutes to melt.  Then, using a whisk or a spoon, start at the center and make small, calm, circular stirs that slowly, steadily spiral out to the edges of the bowl.  Your chocolate should be melted by the time you get to the edges of your bowl.  Try not to incorporate too much air as you go.

CARNIVAL FROSTING

Yields enough to frost 6 cupcakes excessively or 12 cupcakes moderately

Ingredients:

  • 16 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 10 tbsp solid bacon lard
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped crispy bacon-fat bits (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a medium-large mixing bowl, cream together your butter and bacon lard on a high speed until fluffy.  Beat in your vanilla until fully incorporated.
  2. Slowly add in your powdered sugar and salt until frosting reaches desired consistency and taste.  I suggest tasting after each addition and adding more if needed.
  3. If you’re adding in bacon-fat bits, then mix them in at the end at a low speed until evenly incorporated.

Tips:

To obtain bacon grease, simply drain off and save the liquid grease every time you fry up some bacon for breakfast.  Keep it refrigerated and soon you’ll have enough (depending on how much bacon you and your household go through).  I get mine from the restaurant I work at, so I have pretty much an unlimited supply.  The bacon fat I get is also not salty, so make sure to adjust the amount of salt you add to your frosting if yours is.

The key to this frosting is balancing the bacon fat and the salt.  Too much salt will turn your frosting into sea-water but too little and it’ll taste greasy.  The goal is to make a salty-sweet frosting with a hint of something extra.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

  1. Make your cupcakes first and when they’ve cooled a bit, cut out little holes in them for the filling.  My holes were big enough for about 2-3 tbsp of filling. I used a small knife to saw out a hole in the top, leaving about a 1.5 cm rim, then carefully dug out cupcake to deepen it.  Don’t dig too deep though; if you go through the bottom of your cupcake, your filling will drain out.  Try to leave at least 1 cm padding at the bottom.
  2. Stick the hollowed cupcakes in the freezer and let them hang out for 30 min-1 hr.
  3. Meanwhile, make the panna cotta.
  4. Once the panna cotta is done, pour some out into a room-temperature (or slightly warmed) cup and pour into your cupcakes (still in the freezer) until each is filled. Leave the panna cotta somewhere warm (I let it sit on the top of my stove while the oven’s on to keep it nice and toasty)
  5. After about 5-10 minutes, you’ll want to check your filled cupcakes.  The filling’s probably soaked into the cupcake a little, possibly leaked out a little, so you may need to top them off again with more panna cotta.  Then, if you have any left, you can pour it off into little ramekins and voila, two desserts for the price of one.
  6. Once your panna cotta has set (it’ll be firmer to the touch and won’t stick to your fingertip), make your frosting.
  7. When your frosting is done and ready to go, take the cupcakes out and frost them as you please using a piping bag, a spatula, or any other method you so desire (I opted for spatula and massive frosting overload).
  8. Lick the frosting bowl clean, stick the cupcakes back in the fridge after decorating them (chocolate sprinkles, fleur de sel, bacon bits, etc.) or serve them right away if you absolutely cannot wait to eat them.  Mine did not quite make it to the fridge; the crumbs might have though.

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Chocolate Pots de Crème (Cayenne-Chocolate)

I have found my new obsession.  Perfect, creamy, fun, little pots de crème.  They’re adorable, sophisticated, and utterly divine.  I eat them tiny spoon-scrape by tiny spoon-scrape because I absolutely don’t want the taste to end.  These chocolate delights are unbelievably decadent and rich.  The texture is the perfect blend of smooth yet solid, something dense but something that will melt like satin on your tongue.  This is the kind of dessert that turns heads, the kind that will leave your friends dumbfounded and wanting more.  The best part is that it’s so versatile.  This recipe can be added onto, tweaked, and modified almost endlessly.  That’s why it never gets old and always stays fun.

I’ve included the recipe for my absolute favorite version: cayenne-chocolate pots de crème.  It’s got a sweet spice that pricks the tongue gently before rolling into a slow, sensuous warmth.  The combination of cayenne and cinnamon is classic, but combined with the silky richness of the chocolate, it creates a unique and irresistible taste.  Eating these little pots de crème is truly an experience.

CAYENNE-CHOCOLATE POTS DE CRÈME:

Ingredients:

  • 1.3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 oz. sweetened chocolate
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 2 sprinkles cinnamon
  • 1-2 dashes of cayenne
  • 1 pinches of salt
  • 2/3 c heavy cream
  • 1/6 c half n half
  • 2 tsp bourbon

Directions:

  1. Finely chop (or grate) your chocolate into a medium-sized, heatproof bowl.  Set a sieve or a strainer over the top (make sure it’s not too fine, otherwise your creme anglaise may not pass through easily)
  2. Whisk your egg yolks and powdered sugar together in a small saucepan. Then, whisk in your heavy cream, half ‘n half, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt (it’s a good idea to taste the mix now, to see if it has enough cinnamon/cayenne.  Remember that the point of this is the spicy kick of cayenne; the cinnamon is only there for additional warmth and a subtle touch of aromatic spice).
  3. Heat  this mix (your crème anglaise) over medium-low flame until thickened (8-12 minutes), stirring constantly (really, constantly.  Get lazy and you end up with lumpy bits of cooked egg not a smooth crème anglaise).
  4. Pour immediately through strainer onto your chocolate and let stand for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Whisk together mixture, adding in your bourbon as you go.  You should also taste your mixture again and add more cayenne, if needed; the rich chocolate taste may cut out some of the cayenne’s punch.
  6. Pour into ramekins and let stand to cool.  Then cover and store in refrigerator for at least 2-4 hours.

Tips:

Stir, stir, stir, stir, stir your crème anglais.  Heat it slowly, building up the consistancy, and keep it lively (treat it like a good romance).  You want every part of your crème anglaise in equal movement at all times (just don’t get splashy and rambunctious).

Add in a splash of alcohol (rum is always a good, complimentary option) to help keep your chocolate pots de crème nice and smooth.  Just don’t add too much or you’ll cut out the chocolate flavor.

If you’re one of those rare people who don’t taste cayenne as spicy (like me), it’s best to have a guinea pig standing by to taste your creation as you go and make sure it’s edible for everyone (unlike my first batch).

*Other variations I like are espresso+vanilla (mix up about 1 tsp strong espresso and 2 tsp vanilla, add in after the chocolate has melted), ginger+anise (mince some fresh ginger and toss it in your crème anglaise with 3/4 tsp anise seeds; you can add in some powdered ginger, too, once your chocolate has melted), and orange liqueur (grate some orange zest and add into your crème anglaise; stir in some vermouth or orange liqueur once your chocolate has melted)

Oreo Cheesecake Cookies

There were more, but they were devoured by the time I got my camera out

You really don’t have to read further than the name to be hooked.  I found these cookies on one of my new favorite blogs, BrownEyedBaker, and they were fantastic. I did make some alterations;  I chose to go for crushed chocolate graham crackers instead of crushed Oreos and I’m happy I did because these had a creamy and milky enough taste without the added Oreo filling.  Plus, it’s healthier and, while I’m not a health-nut when it comes to dessert, if the healthier option tastes just as good (if not better), then why not go for it?

These cookies are incredibly easy and simple, but they have that little extra something that makes them interesting and special.  They taste exactly like an Oreo cookie, chocolatey but also milky.  In fact, I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies a few days later and discovered the Oreo cheesecake cookies taste exactly like a fresh chocolate chip cookie dipped in milk.

These cookies are crispy on the outside and chewy-soft on the inside.  The cream cheese really does a fantastic job of keeping these babies moist and soft even after spending a couple days out and uncovered.  Plus it gives the cookies their unique and intriguing creaminess.  This is one of my new favorite recipes and perfect for summer gatherings.  It’s certain to impress and leave nothing but cookie crumbs on the plate.

OREO CHEESECAKE COOKIES:

Yields 1 dozen cookies (you’ll want the whole batch!)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 4 oz. cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (chopped to chocolate-chip sized pieces)
  • 1/2 cup (aprox.) crushed chocolate graham cracker crumbs

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat liner.
  2. Cream together your butter and your cream cheese in a medium until smooth and well-combined.
  3. Add in your sugar and vanilla, mixing until they’re well-combined.
  4. Add in your flour and mix on low until it’s just incorporated.
  5. Use a plastic or wooden spoon to stir in your chopped chocolate.
  6. Pour your chocolate graham cracker crumbs onto a plate and, using an ice-cream scoop to scoop up your cookie dough, roll your cookie dough banks in the crushed graham crackers until thoroughly coated.  Place on the baking sheet 1-2 inches apart (they spread out a bit, but not too much).
  7. Bake for 10 – 13 minutes, until the edges are golden (it is a little hard to tell when these are done, but you want them still a little soft when you take them out so that they’re not too crunchy when they cool).
  8. Let them cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Tips:
Because the cookies get rolled in crushed chocolate graham cracker crumbs, it can be a little challenging to see when they’re done.  It took me a couple batches to figure out how long to bake them since it’s tough to see the edges turn golden.  I’ve decided that at 10 minutes, they’re coming out, even if they look a little soft (they’ll firm up and bake a little more on the sheet).

Chinese Scallion Pancakes

I first clicked on a recipe for Chinese scallion pancakes because the name sounded so intriguing.  I had never had scallion pancakes before, and I thought a pancake with scallions in it would be quite bizarre.  As I found out, they’re a typical Chinese dim-sum and not actually a breakfast food.  They’re also really tasty, easy, fast, and make a great lunch topped with some sautéed mushrooms, onions, and spinach.  I’ve changed the original recipe a little, and I don’t know enough about traditional Chinese dishes, but I’m betting they’re no longer true, classic “scallion pancakes”.  Especially since I’ve opted out of using scallions.

NON-TRADITIONAL CHINESE SCALLION PANCAKES

Yields about 3 pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp butter (melted)
  • 1/3 (approximately) finely chopped onion
  • 1 dash of vegetable oil
  • 1 pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl mix your flour with half (1/8 cup) of your water and the melted butter.  If you wish to use a stand-mixer, then use the hook attachment and mix on low. Stir until the water and butter are absorbed.  Keep adding water a little at a time and mixing thoroughly until your dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Your dough should be firm and barely sticky.  Remember that any additions of flour or liquid take time to work into your dough, so make sure you mix it well before adding more.
  2. Keep kneading the dough, either by hand or in the mixer until smooth and elastic. Roll your dough into a ball and cover with a damp towel (or plastic-wrap) for 15 minutes.
  3. After it’s done resting, cut your dough into 3 even pieces (or more if you want smaller pancakes) and roll the pieces into balls.
  4. Take a ball of dough and roll it out into a thin circle (maybe a few millimeters thick) on a well floured surface (though, I’ve found that mine don’t stick too badly, so I don’t bother flouring).
  5. Spread a bit of olive oil over the surface of the pancake, just enough to coat it, and sprinkle salt liberally.
  6. Place 1/3 of your finely chopped onions (the finer, the better) in a line about half an inch from one side of the pancake.  Then, like a burrito, roll the pancake up from the onion end to form a tight tube.  You may wish to pinch the ends closed so that your onions don’t squeeze out.  Then, curl the roll around in a spiral, like a cinnamon bun, and pinch the end to keep it wrapped.
  7. Roll out the curled pancake to about 1/8 inch thickness.  Oil and onions will come out as you roll, but don’t worry, just press the onions back on, or toss them in the pan later.
  8. Put a bit of oil in your favorite skillet and heat it over a medium flame till hot.  Fry the pancake until the bottom is crispy and golden-brown, then flip and repeat.  Don’t be afraid to add more oil as needed. While your pancake is frying, roll out and curl up your remaining dough balls (the timing usually works out pretty well for me)
  9. I like to top my pancakes with leftover onion bits, mushrooms, and spinach lightly sautéed in a vodka-cream sauce.  They are absolutely delicious plain, as well.
Review:
The first time I made scallion pancakes, I followed a traditional recipe and actually made it with scallions.  I did forget to salt it, however, and since I was absolutely famished, I undercooked them, as well.  Perhaps it was some combination of those two mistakes that led me to alter the recipe, but I also found that the scallions were just too thin and insubstantial; I wanted something a little more, well, more.  So I opted for onion and I threw in some butter because, really, you can’t go wrong with the stuff.  This is now one of my favorite recipes to make (and eat).  It’s fun, easy, and quick.  The dough is incredibly non-fussy and forgiving; it’s definitely an eye-ball kind of recipe.  These pancakes are one of those things that you make once and immediately remember how to make the second and third time.  Plus they’re gorgeous and incredibly tasty!
*I’m including the original recipe because it’s worth trying out and also has wonderful photos showing how to make these step-by-step. The photos on this post are from the first time I made them, following the traditional recipe.

Baking Science III – Baking Soda & Baking Powder


I remember once asking my mother what the difference was between baking soda and baking powder (in my head, I knew it was that one was used for making volcanoes and the other one wasn’t).  She was busy and distractedly told me that baking powder had baking soda in it and a bunch of other things, including salt. My mind skipped right over the “bunch of other things” and latched onto “salt”.  So for years, I thought that baking powder was simply baking soda with salt (and maybe some other, non-important stuff) in it.  This is completely wrong.

Recently, I decided to take a closer look at baking soda and baking powder since I began to suspect the difference hinged on a little more than just the presence/absence of salt.  Turns out, salt doesn’t even play a role in the matter.

I. Anatomy:

BAKING SODA – made of pure sodium bicarbonate.  It reacts chemically with acidic ingredients (ex. chocolate, honey, molasses, buttermilk, etc.) to produce carbon dioxide bubbles.  These bubbles expand during the baking process, creating a leavening effect.  Because baking soda is alkaline, it speeds up the Maillard reaction (the browning that occurs when you bake/cook/burn something) and can add a nice touch of color to your pastries.

BAKING POWDER – made from sodium bicarbonate, starch (a drying agent), and cream of tartar (an acidifying agent).  It can also contain sodium aluminum sulfate, another dry acid.  Cornstarch helps prevent clumping, keeps the sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar dry (to prevent them from reacting in the container), and bulks up the powder to facilitate measuring/standardization.  There are two main types of baking powder: single-acting and double-acting.

Single-acting powder is set off by moisture (so reactions occur immediately).  They differ based on the acids they include.  Tartrate baking powders contain cream of tartar and tartaric acid; they react quickly with liquids, so batter containing them must be cooked immediately. Phosphate baking powders contain calcium phosphate or disodium pyrophosphate; they react a little slower, but most of the reaction still takes place before heating in the oven and should be cooked quickly.  SAS baking powders contain sodium aluminum sulfate; they react little until heated, but have a bitter taste.  SAS is often used in double-acting powders.

Double-acting powder reacts to moisture, also, but most of the reaction takes place during baking.  The first reaction creates the initial bubbles, which are trapped while the dough cooks and forms solid structure during baking.  Double-acting powder contains a dry acid as well as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) which reacts when the powder comes into contact with liquid.

II. Baking:

Whether a recipe calls for baking soda or baking powder depends on the other ingredients.  Since baking soda is basic, it won’t react and leaven the dough unless it is combined with an acid ingredient.  It will also create a bitter taste unless countered by an acidic ingredient.  When combined with cocoa powder, it causes reddening.  Baking soda is commonly used in cookie recipes. Baking powder is used when there is no acidic ingredient or in combination with neutral ingredients (ie. milk).  Baking powder is commonly used in cakes and biscuit recipes.

If you have too much baking soda, you’ll get an end result with a soapy taste and a coarse, open crumb.

If you have too much baking powder, you’ll get a bitter tasting batter that will rise and collapse quickly (since the carbon dioxide bubbles become too big, they break and the dough falls).  The end result will have a coarse, fragile crumb and a fallen center.  Too little baking powder gives a flat, tough final product with a compact, dense crumb.

III. Substitutions:

Baking powder –> Baking soda: Unless you find a way of separating the sodium bicarbonate from the dry acid and starch, this substitution doesn’t work.

Baking soda –> Baking powder: Combine 1/4 of the amount baking soda called for in the recipe with an equal measure of cornstarch and twice as much cream of tartar.  It’s not a perfect substitution, however, and taste/texture may be affected.

*Generally, it’s best to keep your pantry stocked with both baking soda and baking powder

IV. Tips:

Baking soda reacts immediately, so bake recipes calling for it right away (or they’ll collapse and flatten).

Bake recipes calling for single-acting baking powder as soon as possible (or they’ll collapse and flatten).

Even though double-acting baking powder reacts twice, the initial liquid reaction is vital to your finished product (so bake right away, or your pastries will — what’s that? Yes, that’s right, collapse and flatten.  Well, not really, but you can’t rely on the second reaction alone to do all your leavening)

*There is yet another type of leavening agent similar to baking soda and baking powder: ammonium bicarbonate/carbonate.  Recipes that need a quick rise before the dough spreads in the oven (ie. cream puffs, some cookies, and eclairs) need the fast rate gas release provided by ammonium bicarbonate/carbonate.  However, ammonium bicarbonate/carbonate aren’t usually used in household cooking since they don’t store well and lose their reacting ability quickly. 

A Pancake’s Pancake

I am not impressed with recipe titles that include words such as “ultimate” or “absolute best”, they never seem to live up to their names.  Having said that, these pancakes almost moved me to name them “The Ultimate Super Absolute Best Pancakes in the Entire Universe of All Time”.  They are that good.

I was first attracted to this recipe because it called for the egg whites to be whipped, which was novel and seemed like a promising way to ensure very fluffy pancakes.  I finally made these pancakes for my father last weekend, who declared them to be the best pancakes he’d ever had; when I tasted one, myself, I had to agree.  These are pancakes the way pancakes were meant to be.

PERFECT PANCAKES:

Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart’s “Neil’s Pancakes” recipe

Yields about 8 pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/8 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3/2 cup whole milk
  • 6 tbs unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or rum)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites (room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup lemon zest (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, sift your flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together your milk, melted butter, vanilla/rum, and yolks until well combined.
  3. Then, whisk your yolk mixture into your dry ingredients until just combined (it’ll be a little lumpy)
  4. In a small bowl, use a hand mixer to beat your egg whites into stiff peaks. Carefully fold your egg whites into the batter until fully incorporated (some small clumps of egg whites are fine)
  5. Butter your frying pan and heat it over a medium flame.  Use a ladle to drop batter onto it, and check it occasionally by using a spatula to carefully lift part of the pancake to check if the bottom is golden-brown.  Once done, flip the pancake and fry the other side to match.
  6. Top with fresh berries, syrup, bananas, sugar, or anything else.  These will go great with anything (they’re unbelievably good plain, too)

Review:

These pancakes are scrumptious, fluffy, heavenly, delicious, delectable, and absolutely perfect.  They’re gorgeous, puffy little golden cakes.  They’re amazingly airy and tender with a rich, full taste.  They come off the skillet looking like professional, magazine-cover pancakes and they taste even better.  So many recipes guarantee delicious, fluffy pancakes, but these are in a different league altogether.  If you like truly fluffy, full-flavored, classic pancakes, then these cannot, will not disappoint.  As my father said, “these are the pancakes other pancakes dream of becoming”.

Raspberry-Swirl Cheesecake vs. Caramel Macchiato Cheesecake

It has been way too long since I’ve made cheesecake.  It’s probably my third favorite dessert (second being brownies, and first being whatever I haven’t tried on the menu yet).  After doing a brief search through my saved recipes and through some of my favorite sites for new recipes, I quickly narrowed it down to some ten candidates.  My head was whirling in cheesecake-baking excitement.  I gave word of my upcoming cheesecake expedition to my mother, who promptly replied “keep it to one pan”.  I was crushed; ten cheesecakes would not fit into one pan.  But, two could.  So, I chose raspberry and caramel-macchiato to be pan-mates (later, I discovered that they went rather well together, but that was a happy accident).

The raspberry cheesecake comes from the fabulous Ms. Stewart.  It is a tartly sweet, wonderfully summery dessert with a smooth and creamy texture.  The caramel macchiato cheesecake comes from AllRecipes and actually has a taste to match its title (I was surprised).  This cheesecake is a bit denser, with a rich texture and a smoky-sweet coffee flavor.  I topped it with a luxurious caramel sauce recipe from SavorySweetLife (I have included the recipe in this post)

RASPBERRY SWIRL CHEESECAKE:

(original yields one 9″ cake, but I halved this version)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cups + 5 tbs sugar
  • 4 oz raspberries
  • 16 oz (2 packages) cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used Slovakian rum since we ran out of vanilla)
  • 2 large eggs (room temperature)

Directions: 

  1. Toss your raspberries into a food processor for about 30 seconds till they’re smoothly pureed. Strain the raspberry puree through fine sieve into a small bowl and throw out what remains in the sieve.  Whisk in 2 tbs of your sugar.
  2. Into a medium sized bowl, beat your cream cheese until fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and add in your remaining 1/2 cup + 3 tbs sugar slowly and steadily.
  3. Mix in your salt and vanilla (or rum) and, when they’ve combined, mix in your eggs, one by one (careful no to over mix, only stir until just combined).
  4. Your batter is ready to be poured into your crust (directions for creating and baking a half-and-half cheesecake are listed after the Caramel Macchiato recipe)
  5. After pouring in the batter, drop tablespoons of the raspberry puree on top and swirl with a toothpick

CARAMEL MACCHIATO CHEESECAKE:

(original yields one 9″ cake, but I halved this version)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 eggs
  • 4 oz sour cream
  • 1/8 cup brewed espresso (strong coffee will work, too)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used rum in this one, as well)

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, beat your cream cheese until fluffy. Slowly add in your sugar and keep beating until well-blended.
  2. Mix in your eggs, one by one, and beat well after each one. Then, mix in your sour cream, espresso, and vanilla/rum.
  3. Your second batter is ready to be poured into your crust
  4. Before you serve your cheesecake, top it with caramel sauce (it is, after all, a caramel macchiato cheesecake)
Baking Your Half-and-Half Cheesecake:
  1. Bake/make your crust
  2. Preheat your oven to 325°F
  3. You’ll want to get a piece of sturdy paper material (I used a strip cut from a pastry box) that’s not too thick for your divider.  You can use something plastic, metal, etc. for it, just remember that whatever it is, it will be touching your cake so make sure it’s sanitary.
  4. Fit the divider into your pan (trim the divider if necessary) after you’ve baked your crust and secure it to make sure it stays put while you pour your batter (it’s easiest to have someone hold the divider while you pour).
  5. Carefully, steadily, pour the first batter into one half of the pan.  Then, do the same with the second batter.
  6. Pull the divider out and, voila, two cheesecakes in one pan.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 50-65 minutes, until the cheesecake is set but still a little wobbly near the center.

CARAMEL SAUCE:

Yields 2 cups (and you’ll want all of it)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (heat for about 30 seconds in your microwave till lukewarm)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (heat for about 30 seconds in your microwave till lukewarm)
  • 2 tbs rum (use actual rum, not vanilla)

Directions:

  1. In a small or medium saucepan, cook your sugar and water over medium-high heat.  Monitor your syrup carefully until it changes colors around the edges to an amber-brown (350°F on a candy thermometer)
  2. When your syrup changes color, remove it from the heat and stir the mixture quickly with a wooden spoon or whisk (this keeps the syrup from burning).
  3. Continue stirring and carefully pour in 1/2 cup of warmed heavy cream and your butter (I just warmed my butter with/in the cream to make it easier).  This will make your mixture froth and spit, but stir on until everything is dissolved.
  4. Once the sugar’s completely dissolved, add in your 1/4 cup of warmed heavy cream and your rum, stirring until your caramel sauce is smooth.
  5. Once it’s cooled just a little bit, pour the sauce carefully into a heat proof jar and let it cool.
  6. Before topping the caramel macchiato cheesecake, warm the caramel in the microwave until pourable but not too hot.

Review:

Starting first with Ms. Stewart’s raspberry-swirl cheesecake, this fantastic dessert was top-notch.  Ms. Stewart has yet to disappoint, and this tart little treat was absolutely wonderful.  It had the perfect, sweet creaminess of a fine cheesecake with the playful tartness of raspberries.  The base was smooth, creamy, and indulgent, without being overly dense or heavy.  The flavor from the raspberry top came through the whole cake to give it a sweet, fresh flavor.   The recipe is simple, easy, and yields a stunningly gorgeous cheesecake just right for a summer treat.

The caramel macchiato cheesecake was luxuriously delicious and held its own against the fabulous raspberry-swirl.  The deep, smoky flavor from the coffee really comes through in this dessert.  I was a bit surprised at how much it tasted like a real caramel macchiato; the blend of sweet cream and dark coffee hit the perfect note.  The body of the cake was rich, dense, and utterly luscious.  It had the classic thickness of a cheesecake, but without feeling heavy.  This recipe was also simple and painless with an incredible result.  The caramel drizzled on top was perfect and neatly brought together this fantastic coffee-flavored indulgence.

The caramel sauce was sinful, dark, richly-flavored, and delicious.  I don’t think I’ll be using any other recipe from now on.  The caramel was rich, thick, and smooth with a deep and intense flavor.  There is a complexity and depth to this caramel that is truly extraordinary.  I will be topping everything I can with this from now on.

*Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten what exact recipe I used for the crust.  It was one of these two and it was absolutely fantastic:

CRUST 1:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup butter (melted)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
CRUST 2:
  • 1 1/2 cup crushed graham crackers
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons melted butter
Directions:
  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F
  2. Mix together all of your ingredients and press evenly into the bottom of a 9″ springform pan
  3. Bake your crust for 8 to 10 minutes.  Wait till cooled before pouring in batter.

Mother’s Day Croissants (Julia Childs’ Recipe)

My mother loves croissants, so for every special occasion I get my mother croissants for breakfast.  I always pop them in the toaster oven to warm them, always wrap them in a white linen napkin, and always put them in the same straw-woven basket.  This year, for Mother’s Day, I wanted to do something a little more special, though.  So, I decided to make her croissants.

Making croissants is a difficult process, but it’s even harder when you’re making them as a surprise for someone living under the same roof.  For the three days it took to make them, I had to operate in complete secrecy.  Luckily, we have two refrigerators, so I managed to hide the dough in the garage fridge.  Unluckily, my mother is almost always in the kitchen, so I had to ask my trusty sidekick (my father) to get her out of the house.   I started the croissants on Friday and kept rolling and folding all the way till 5:00am on Sunday morning.  I highly recommend planning out any croissant-making well in advance, as it’s impossible to eat them the same day you start making them.  Especially if it’s your first time making croissants (as this was for me); you’ll want to watch videos.  A lot of videos.

JULIA CHILDS CROISSANTS:

Yields 4 large croissants, or 8 smaller (this recipe is halved from the original)

Recipe:

  • 1/2 lb and 1 oz unsalted butter (cold)
  • 1 5/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/6 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp water
Directions:
Day 1:
  1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer (I use a Kitchen Aid), add your flour, yeast, salt, and sugar.  Then add your milk and mix on low speed using the hook attachment until ingredients are mixed (if the dough looks too dry, add a little more milk.  You’ll know when it’s enough when there’s no more dry flour at the bottom of the bowl.  But, you don’t want your dough becoming too sticky and wet, so make sure to give the mixer some time to do its magic before you start pouring in more milk)
  2. When your dough is mixed, take it out of the bowl and either hold it or place it on a clean bit of counter.  Turn your mixer back on and add your dough back into the bowl bit by bit.  Increase the mixer’s speed (medium-high) every time you add in a piece of dough, and reduce a bit before adding in the next piece.
  3. When the dough is all in the mixer again and unified, take it out and show it who’s boss.  Roll it into a ball and pound it a couple times on your counter (not too hard, you’re not trying to beat it to death), punch it, roll it with your hands, and knead it some.  Do this a couple times (it helps gluten form to give your croissants structure and airiness).
  4. Shape your dough into a nice ball and wrap it in plastic.  Put the wrapped dough into a large, sealed plastic bag.  Let it rest at room temperature for half an hour or so.
  5. While your dough is resting, change your mixer’s attachment to the paddle and take out your butter.
  6. Toss your butter in the bowl with add 2 tablespoons of flour and beat on a high speed.  Keep an eye on it, you don’t want to overwork your butter and turn it into oil. Beat it until just fluffy and malleable (it should still be chilled).
  7. Take the butter and squeeze it between your palms to push all the air out.  Pack and shape it into a ball (it’s better if it’s more bar-of-soap shaped than perfectly spherical), being careful not to handle it too long.  Wrap your butter in plastic and place it in the refrigerator until your dough is done resting.
  8. Then, put your butter and dough into the same large plastic bag and place them both in the refrigerator overnight.
Day 2:
  1. Flour your counter (or a marble slab) with flour for rolling (keep the flour nearby, you might need more as you get going)
  2. Take your dough out of the fridge (keep your butter in there though) and put it on your floured surface.  Roll your dough out evenly and patiently.  The key to rolling dough is never to force it, slow and steady keeps your dough from tearing and from rolling out crooked.  But make sure you’re firm, otherwise your dough is not going to move. Try to keep your dough in a roughly rectangular shape.  To make sure your dough is even, bend down to eye level with it and look across the surface to see if one side is higher or lower than another.
  3. When your dough has been rolled out, take your butter out of the fridge (if you have a very cold fridge, you may want to take the butter out a minute or two in advance so that it’s not rock solid).
  4. Unwrap your butter and place it in the middle of your dough.  Fold one side of your dough over the butter, making sure the sides of the dough line up (pinch them to make the dough stay, instead of shrinking back towards the butter).  Then, fold the other side over the butter to completely cover it (again, line up the sides and pinch to make the dough stay)
  5. With your rolling pin, beat the butter down, starting from the middle and working first to one side and then, when finished, the other. Continue beating firmly, but not aggressively, until your butter is evenly spread throughout the dough.  If your dough tears and the butter peeks through, just patch it up with any spare bits of dough (I just tore off little bits that didn’t get the butter beaten into them) or pat a little flour on it.
  6. Now, roll evenly, making sure you’re not forcing the dough.
  7. After it’s been rolled out to a rectangular shape, place your dough on a lightly-floured shallow baking pan (or a high-sided cookie sheet) and cover it with plastic wrap.   Stick the whole thing in the fridge for a couple hours (anywhere from 2-6 ought to do it)
  8. After it’s rested, take it out, and roll it out on a floured surface.  Sprinkle some flour over the top of your dough so that your rolling pin doesn’t stick (press an extra bit to any spots where butter peeks out).
  9. Roll your dough out again, evenly, patiently, and firmly.  Keep it in a rectangular shape.
  10. Fold into three (first bring one side to the middle, then the other, like folding a letter).  Before folding, brush the flour off each surface of the dough with a pastry brush (even a clean paintbrush will do).
  11. Then, put back onto your pan/cookie sheet, cover it all up with plastic wrap, and stick it back in the fridge for 1-4 hours.
  12. When you take it out this time, repeat the rolling, flouring, etc. you just did.  After you’ve folded it, roll it out a bit and fold it again, just the same way.  Roll it to make it even and place it back on the pan/cookie sheet.  Cover it and refrigerate for 1 hour (feel free to leave it in overnight, that’s what I did)
Day 3:
  1. Take your dough out of the refrigerator and cut it in half widthwise to give you 2 square pieces of dough.  Stick one back in the fridge and roll out the other on a floured surface (try not to let the dough warm too much while working with it).
  2. When your dough is about the length (and a little wider) than an average sheet of paper, cut diagonally across to make 2 triangles with approximately 4″ bases.
  3. Hold a triangle at the base and lengthen it by pulling (gently) on it (this step will help your croissant puff up as it bakes).
  4. Starting at the base, roll your triangle up by using your palms.  Pinch the two ends of the croissant together (they’ll come apart as it bakes, but it’ll help give your croissants a classic crescent shape).  Place your croissants on the pan/cookie sheet with the point side down (otherwise it likes to unstick).  Make sure to lay down a sheet of baking paper if your pans/cookie sheet aren’t non-stick.
  5. When you’ve finished rolling all your croissants and placing them on the pan/cookie sheet, make your egg wash (1 egg white + 1 tsp of water, whisk together until combines) and brush it over the croissants lightly.
  6.  *** Proofing: *** All the croissant recipes I’ve seen call for a proofing step (basically creating a humid environment between 75-80°F to help your pastry rise a final time before baking).  The recipe I followed says to turn the oven light on, stick a pot of boiling water in the oven and let your croissants sit in the oven (door closed) for 3 hours.  This method didn’t work out very well for me, so I suggest trying the method from Martha Stewart’s croissant recipe.
  7. When you have proofed your dough, take them out of the oven (if this is where you proofed them) and turn set it to 350°F.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until they turn a nice golden brown (keep a careful eye on them, they cook fast towards the end)
Tips:

Watch a video and look at step-by-step pictures to help visualize the rolling, folding, and cutting.  It’s simple once you see it done, but difficult to understand from just a written recipe

If your dough tears as you roll it out and butter comes through, pat a dab of flour on it or patch it with some butter-free dough (if you have any bits).  Don’t keep rolling over it without patching or flouring because it will stick to your rolling pin and make the tear worse.

Be careful when you take the pan out of the oven as there will probably be liquid butter in it (butter drains from the croissants as they cook).  Remove the croissants from the pan as quickly as possible or they will get greasy from sitting in the butter.

Review:

These croissants were amazing.  The fact that they turned out at all is incredible, after my “proofing” almost melted them (I think there was too much steam so they essentially got rained on).  I cannot put into words the heartbreak seeing my beautiful croissants, all my hard work from the past three days, mushy and flattened when they had gone in so perfect and proud.  I sat in front of the oven and tried not to cry.  I’m not sure what made me try to bake them anyways, but I’m glad that I did, because my wonderful little croissants recovered somehow.  The proofing step was my only complaint with the recipe, otherwise everything else turned out perfectly.  Each time that I took the dough out of the fridge, rolled it, and folded it, I was in awe that I had managed to make it thus far.  Croissants are supposed to be hard, but these weren’t.  Even after melting, they still puffed admirably, forming a perfect, professional-croissant crust and beautiful flaky layers inside.  The tops were crispy, and the golden inside was buttery and divine.  Somehow, magic happened, and I made croissants, real, French, honest-to-goodness croissants.  The best part?  My mother adored them.

Sweet Lemon Pancakes

I was home this past weekend and had a request for more pancakes, so I decided to try something new.  This recipe is adapted from King Arthur Flour’s recipe, but I added a little twist to it.  Instead of plain pancakes, I decided to go with lemon and I added in some cognac for a little extra something.

These pancakes are light and springlike, perfect for a summer breakfast outside on a sunny day.  They’re even better garnished with a little lemon zest and a light touch of maple syrup.

SWEET LEMON PANCAKES:

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter (or vegetable oil, but that makes for a drier pancake)
  • zest of one large lemon
  • 2 teaspoons of brandy
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flower
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Directions:  

  1. In a medium bowl, beat your eggs and milk until they become light and foamy (about 3 minutes at high speed of an electric mixer, though I did this step by hand with a whisk)
  2. Stir in the melted butter (or vegetable oil), then the brandy and lemon zest
  3. In a separate, small bowl, whisk the salt, baking powder, flour, and sugar together
  4. Mix your dry mixture into your wet batter, stirring until just incorporated (some small lumps are ok). Now let your batter stand and thicken for about 15 minutes (it’s ok to skip this step, I did and they turned out fine)
  5. Heat a skillet over medium heat and brush a light coating of vegetable oil or butter over it. You’ll know it’s hot enough when a drop of water sizzles and evaporates immediately.
  6. Using a small ladle (or measure 1/4 cupfuls of batter) drop batter into the center of your pan.  I usually spread mine out a bit so that they’re a little thinner.  Bubbles will form and break, but the best way to check is to simply lift the pancake a bit with a spatula and when the bottom is golden-brown, flip it.
  7. For an extra lemony taste, grate some more zest on top of each pancake.  Serve with your favorite topping (I recommend just a touch of maple syrup)
Tips:

Only flip the pancake once

Using a feather pastry brush or paper, brush your skillet with a light coat of vegetable oil/butter to ensure crispy (rather than soggy) pancakes

To keep your pancakes warm, preheat the oven to 200°F and place each pancake on a baking sheet inside when you take it off the skillet.  Open the oven door every now and then to keep the oven cooler and prevent your pancakes from drying out.

Review:

These pancakes were to die for.  The recipe yields light, sweet, summery pancakes.  The lemon zest gives them a fresh and irresistible taste, while the brandy plays in rich undertones.  The batter is simple, non-fussy, and delicious all by itself.  The pancakes fry up a nice gentle crisp on the edges, with a sweet, fluffy, and tender middle.  They’re fantastic with a little maple syrup, but absolutely divine just by themselves as well.  These pancakes are the perfect spring breakfast, served outside on a weathered wood table with white linen napkins, all lit up by morning sunshine.  I know what I’ll be eating all summer long.

Baking Science II – Flour

Courtesy of Google images
Flour is one of the pillars of classical baking.  As a kid, it was my least favorite ingredient.  Everything tasted so wonderful until my mother went and dumped in two cups of flour and the whole thing went to pieces.  The batter got all thick and tasted grainy, the eggs, butter, and sugar were so sadly overwhelmed, all my delicious batter was slowly losing its perfection and still, she kept on pouring in flour.  You can see I was staunchly pro-batter as a child (I still am); nothing ever tasted half as good baked as it did raw.

I still love batter and dough, but I’ve learned to appreciate the final, baked product a lot more, and I’ve come to terms with the necessary addition of flour.  There is a  reason, a very good, scientific reason, that none of my early experiments baked very well (despite tasting heavenly as batter).

I. The Anatomy:

Flour is made from finely ground cereal grains, most commonly from wheat.

It contains three key molecules that are essential to its role in baking: starch, glutenin, and gliadin.

Starch – is a large glucose (sugar) complex.  It’s a polysaccharide (a long carbohydrate molecule) also known as “amylum”.  Human digestive systems have a very difficult time processing and digesting starch unless it is cooked.  Starch is commonly found in plants and provides rigidity to plant cell structure; it does the same thing in baking, creating structure in pastries.

Glutenin – the major source of protein found in wheat flour.  It is a protein complex with high molecular weight and low molecular subunits.  It combines with gliadin to form gluten.

Gliadin – is a prolamin (a group of plant storage glycoproteins) found in wheat and other grasses.  It is only soluble in alcohol and can serve as a method for transporting fragile enzymes by protecting them from digestive acids.  It acts as a leavening agent and gives pastries their structure.

Gluten – a protein complex found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.  It is formed when glutenin combines with gliadin and forms molecular sub-networks.  This combination happens when you knead flour into dough. When gluten is leavened with sugar, carbon dioxide forms bubbles, causing the dough to rise.

II. Baking:

Flour is a true multi-tasker.  It makes dough elastic, helps build structure, and acts as a leavening agent.

Kneading flour creates gluten, and the more the batter is mixed, the more the gluten builds up (thats why over mixing baked goods like cookies can lead to an overly-tough final product). Gluten adds chewiness and that’s why tougher baked goods (like bread) use flour with higher gluten content than more tender baked goods, like pastries.  Fats and sugars prevent gluten formation (thereby increasing tenderness and decreasing structure rigidity).

Flour is a toughener; the more flour, the more proteins, and the more proteins, the stronger the structure of the pastry becomes.  Baking hardens gluten, which forms the structure in pastries.  Flour is integral in the formation of structure (that’s why flour less cakes are often soft, ‘fallen’, and/or flatter) as well as in the leavening process.  Without flour, you can get your pastry to puff up, but you won’t be able to get it to stay up.

Carbon dioxide is released from several chemical reactions (sugars fermenting, catalysis of chemical reagents like baking soda, etc.) during the baking process.  The carbon dioxide bubbles are trapped by the starch and gluten in flour, making the batter/dough rise.  However, the networks created by this process absorb water, leading to a drier pastry.

Too much flour and your pastry will be too dry and crumble, however, not enough flour and your pastry will fall (or with cookies, they’ll spread uncontrollably).

III.  Tips:

All-purpose flours have varying protein content, which means that they will each affect your pastry differently.  The higher the protein content, the tougher the baked good, and the less protein, the more tender. To test the protein of your flour, scoop two cups of flour into one cup of water and stir.  Flour high in protein will absorb the water and become dough very quickly, flour with less protein won’t combine until you add more flour.

Cake flour is high in starch, low in protein, and is very finely milled.  It’s specially made to carry large amounts of sugar and fat without collapsing.  It’s also been heavily bleached to make it lighter in color and to break down the protein.  To make cake flour yourself, mix 3/4 cup of bleached all purpose flour with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.

To make your pastry lighter, you can sift your flour.  The idea is that during shipping and packing, flour compacts, which means that you might use too much on accident and that, if the flour is packed too dense, it won’t lift your pastry properly.  It’s also considered an important step for better dispersing your leavening agent (ie. baking soda).  However, some bakers maintain that sifting your flour doesn’t actually help distribute the leavener any better.Courtesy of Google images