As a Chef Instructor who teaches cooking classes to many different audiences, I try to stay abreast of current dietary trends and food preferences so I can accommodate the needs of my clients.
Over the past few years, I have noticed an ever-increasing trend towards gluten-free diets. In order to understand why this is happening, I read lots of articles about the issue. In my research, I have come across a number of different theories as to what could be causing an increased sensitivity to gluten, from GMO (genetically modified) wheat that contains more protein (gluten is one of the proteins found in wheat) so that we can attempt to meet the food needs of an ever-increasing global population, to modernized processing of wheat that makes it harder for our bodies to digest the grain. [I had the pleasure of hearing farmer Joel Salatin speak at a university lecture series, and his explanation made a lot of sense to me.]
It would seem that the research is still unclear as to why there is such an increased prevalence of gluten sensitivity lately, but regardless of the reason, as a Chef, it is my job to cater to my customers’ requests, so I do my best to accommodate those needs.
And herein lies my challenge: Throughout history, baked goods have been made with a few basic ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Baking is a science…..all of the ingredients perform a very specific function in recipes. When you start substituting ingredients in recipes, it will have a noticeable difference in the finished product because the ingredients will react differently in the science of baking.
In my experience, I have found that you can make baked goods vegan–meaning they do not use any animal products (such as butter, milk, and eggs). You can also make baked goods gluten-free–without any wheat-based flour.
But to try to make baked goods both vegan and gluten-free is virtually impossible, in my opinion. Once you take away the flour, butter, and eggs and try to add in alternate substitutes, such as gluten-free flours, vegan margarine, flax seed in place of eggs, etc., the science of baking has changed so much that the finished product resembles nothing of the original recipe.
As an example, I attempted to make vegan and gluten-free brownies for a friend recently…..when I took the pan out of the oven, the mixture was actually boiling and bubbling like some kind of black volcanic sludge. It looked completely unappetizing, and it tasted as bad, too. If vegan, gluten-free baked goods don’t taste good, then why bother making them?
The only real solution I have is to simply make a recipe that is already by nature both vegan and gluten-free, such as sorbet, rather than trying to substitute alternative ingredients for the original ingredients in the recipe.
That’s my 2 cents on vegan and gluten-free baking. But if anyone out there has had any success with vegan, gluten-free baking, I would sure love to hear about it. I’m still trying to find something that actually works scientifically AND tastes good, too.
In the meantime, I’m going to stick with using good old-fashioned flour, sugar, butter and eggs in my baked goods. The first thing I learned in culinary school is that “fat tastes good.” And for me, nothing can replace the flavor and texture of butter in baked goods. Mmmmmmm!
Lisa asks: I just don’t seem able to make a chocolate cake that rises and stays risen. I’ve tried buying new baking powder, using my non fan oven and buying an electric device for beating.
I made one yesterday and it seemed to have worked and risen. I put a spike in to test and it came out clean so I took it out of the oven. It then immediately sank and was very dense in the middle.
Any ideas/tips? Many thanks for any advice you can offer.
Baking S.O.S. says: It sounds like you are doing everything right, so the only suggestion I can make is to go back to square one: if the recipe(s) you are making doesn’t turn out the way you want, try a different one.
I always fall back to the real experts, bakers and pastry chefs who have spent their entire careers testing and developing recipes to get the formula just right. When you start with a recipe that you know has been tested to work correctly, then the cake should turn out well when all those other variables have been tested, as well.
My favorite sources are “The Cake Bible” by Rose Levy Beranbaum and Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, which tests every recipe through countless variables and variations to find the perfect results and then publishes only the final winning recipe in the magazine.
You can search Rose’s cake recipes on her blog at the link above, or find one of her chocolate cake recipes here at the Community Food Co-op blog.
Or try Cook’s Illustrated’s Chocolate Layer Cake, posted on the Dallas Morning News website. I will note that in my experience, all my favorite cake recipes contain buttermilk, as this one does, so it should produce a delicious flavor.
I hope one of those recipes will produce better results for you. Good luck!
Shanne asks: I made this recipe (the banana blueberry version) but I substituted buttermilk for the milk. They ended up tasting like they had a horrible baking soda overload. I believe that I did not double the baking soda…of course, it is possible but I am generally careful about those things. Could the buttermilk have caused the baking soda to “over-react”? I made some other substitutions to the recipe but nothing “chemical” in nature. (Coconut oil instead of canola, brown rice flour instead of wheat, and ground flax/oat flour instead of oat bran.) I’ve made this recipe before and they were fine. Also, they “sunk” in the middle this time. It is so weird as I have never had this happen before in my baking. I’m very curious to know what caused this. If it was a momentary “brain cramp” then I know I have to be more careful in the future!
Thank you for your input!
Baking S.O.S. says: Substituting buttermilk for milk will definitely affect the chemical makeup of the muffin batter. Buttermilk is much more acidic than milk, so it reacts differently with the chemical leaveners in the recipe–the baking soda and baking powder. And when the chemical reaction is altered, it can create a metallic or bitter taste in your finished product. Also, altering the chemical reaction that causes the product to rise can also cause the product to sink in the middle once it comes out of the oven (as you said your muffins did).
Because buttermilk is acidic, it needs an alkaline leavener–specifically baking soda–to create the chemical reaction that makes a baked good rise.
Baking powder contains both acidic and alkaline ingredients to create chemical leavening all on its own–without any acidic ingredients needed in the recipe.
Since you introduced more acidity into the recipe with buttermilk, you should not need as much baking powder to make the muffins rise. (too much baking powder caused the metallic, bitter taste in this case)
The general rule of thumb for chemical leavening is: use about 1 tsp. of baking powder OR 1/4 tsp. of baking soda per 1 C. of flour in a recipe.
Given that the original recipe calls for oat and wheat brans in place of what would otherwise be flour (for dry ingredients), and since you altered the dry ingredients even further by using different flours and brans, it would be extremely difficult to advise you exactly how much baking soda you would need with all the different substitutions being made. All I can suggest is that you keep trying different variations until you achieve the desired results you are looking for–but expect to encounter several “mishaps” before you find the right combination of ingredients that work.
You could start by eliminating the baking powder all together and see what happens. If that doesn’t make the muffins rise enough, trying adding baking powder back in in smaller amounts–maybe 1/4 tsp. or 1/2 tsp. rather than the full 1 tsp. the recipe calls for.
Good luck with the experimentation!
Menakshi asks: I have a problem and am desperately looking for an answer. I am an amateur baker who is trying to bake without eggs. My problem is that my cakes come out of the oven perfect, but after cooling down, they are dense and heavy. I am also selling some cakes, but the general reviews are that they are tasty but hard (not hard as in difficult to cut the cake, but I am guessing what they are trying to say is that they are not as light, fluffy or soft as cakes with eggs). Are eggless cakes suppose to be dense? Is there a solution?
Can you suggest some recipes without eggs?
Baking S.O.S. says: I do not have much experience baking without eggs–I am not a vegan. But luckily, my boss’s sister IS a vegan, and she is also a nationally-famous vegan cookbook author, too.
So I am going to refer you to the Post Punk Kitchen blog where Isa Chandra Moskowitz gives plenty of advice on how to replace eggs in baked goods. She has some good recommendations here, so I would trust the expert vegan baker much more than myself!
Lastly, Isa has an entire cookbook dedicated to vegan cupcake recipes called Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I have perused the book, and the recipes look beautiful and delicious, though I have never made any myself. Still, I have it on good authority from my boss that Isa’s recipes are fantastic! So you could certainly use any of the recipes in the cupcake cookbook to make regular-size cakes. It is still cake batter–the only difference is the size of the pan you put it in.
coated in bittersweet chocolate cocoa or finely chopped, toasted almonds
Last night, I taught a Handmade Chocolates class at the Franklin Park Conservatory as part of their Food Education classes. We made traditional Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles and Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries.
The Handmade Chocolates class is always popular at Valentine’s Day, so in the spirit of the season, I share my recipe for you here. Enjoy!
Traditional Chocolate Truffles
Yield: approx. 3-4 dozen truffles
1/3 C. heavy whipping cream
6 Tbls. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 C. (one 12-ounce bag) semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (I prefer dark or bittersweet chocolate for this recipe)
1/3 C. Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/3 C. almond meal, lightly toasted in a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes
1. Place the chocolate chips in a medium stainless steel bowl.
2. Place the cream and butter in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, just until bubbles form around the edges and steam arises from the pan. [This is called “scalding” the cream.] *Be careful not to let the cream boil—it will spill over the edge of the pan!
3. Pour cream mixture over the chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 5 minutes so the chips can melt.
4. Stir with a wire whisk until completely smooth. NOTE: If chocolate does not melt completely, set the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water to create a double boiler. Continue stirring with whisk until mixture is complete smooth.
5. Remove bowl from double boiler. Cover with plastic wrap (works best when the wrap touches the surface of the chocolate directly) and refrigerate until firm, 1-2 hours.
6. Scoop and roll the mixture into 1-inch balls.
7. To coat the truffles, place the cocoa powder (or almond meal) in a small bowl. Roll each ball in the coating and transfer the truffles to a tray or container lined with waxed paper. Separate layers with additional waxed paper.
8. Cover tightly and refrigerate up to 2 weeks or freeze up to 3 months.
Note: Chocolate truffles taste best when served at room temperature. Allow them to warm to room temp. before serving.
Alma asks: I baked a moist 7-Up pound cake, but it turned out a disaster!!! The measurements I followed are:
3 C. all purpose flour
3 C. sugar (I used half the sugar)
1 C. Sprite (no 7-up available)
1 T. vanilla
Bake in 325 oven for 60+10 mins (1 hr.+10 mins). That was the recipe on YouTube I saw.
I preheated my oven @ 190 degree Celcius for 10 mins. I used a round cake pan (8 in. by 2 in.) and baked it for 60 mins+10 mins. Inside the oven, the cake was rising, but when my oven bell rang, I turned off the oven and took out my baked caked. It was heavy, unevenly cooked: toasted on the outside, uncooked inside. What do you think would be the cause of this??? Was it the oven? The mixing method? My oven is a toaster oven with rotisserie. Please help. I am desperate to bake a cake for my coming birthday.
Baking S.O.S. says: There are any number of things that could have gone wrong with your cake, but my guess is that the biggest problem was trying to bake a cake in the toaster oven, especially if the oven were set to “toast” rather than “bake” by mistake.
But let’s start from the beginning: The recipe itself could be part of the problem. If you have never made a recipe before, then you don’t know whether the recipe actually works or not. I have tried plenty of new recipes that I did not like the results, so rather than trying to make those recipes work, I simply scrap the recipe and move on to another one until I find one that produces the results I like.
In this case, the recipe does not call for any leavening agent to make it rise, such as baking powder or baking soda. Although traditional pound cake is made without any leavening agent, many recipes will call for some baking powder to help it rise a little bit. Since this recipe does not call for any baking powder or baking soda, that would explain why the cake sank after you removed it from the oven. There was nothing in it to make it rise and stay risen.
Also, since you cut the amount of sugar in half, that is going to affect the overall results, as well. Sugar provides not only sweetness, but some moisture to the cake, and it also helps the cake to brown evenly. Sugar caramelizes as it bakes, giving baked goods that lovely golden color. When you cut the sugar in half, it will certainly affect how your cake turns out. I always say that baking is a science: you must follow the recipe exactly the first time you make any recipe so that you know how it is supposed to turn out. Then you can experiment with adjusting ingredients to your own preferences.
Back to the problem of the toaster oven: You said your cake was baked unevenly–done on the outside, but not on the inside. My guess is that toaster ovens are not really designed to handle big baking projects like baking full-size cakes for over an hour. I cannot say from my own experience, but it seems as though toaster ovens are designed for smaller jobs–smaller items and baking for less time. Perhaps the toaster oven could not hold a consistent temperature for over an hour of baking time or when it was full of cake pans. If you have access to a conventional oven–even at a friend’s house–I would recommend baking your cake in a conventional oven.
Lastly, if your cake wasn’t fully done in the center at the end of the baking time, you can always leave it in longer and continue testing for doneness. The best way to tell if a cake is done all the way through is to insert a wooden toothpick in the center. If it comes out with wet cake batter, bake it longer. If it comes out clean or with dry cake crumbs on it, it is done.
Happy Birthday to you!
Ayush says: I’ve tried an egg-less chocolate cake many times but it is not doing nicely. Every time it turns hard or rubbery. Also it sinks down after rising before it can set. I make it in a convection microwave oven. Can you please help me so that i can get it right?
Baking S.O.S. says: I don’t have a lot of experience baking without eggs, but I can try to give you a few suggestions. Perhaps there might be something that you haven’t yet tried.
First, I don’t like to bake cakes in convection ovens because the movement of the fan causes the fragile cake batter to sink and fall. This could be part of the problem that is causing your cake to sink. If you have a standard conventional oven, or if you can turn the convection feature off, I would recommend baking your cake in a conventional oven.
Secondly, are you baking a cake recipe that is formulated to be baked without eggs? Or are you simply eliminating eggs from a standard cake recipe? If so, are you substituting anything else in place of the eggs?
If you simply eliminate the eggs from a cake recipe, that would explain why your cakes are turning out dense and rubbery. To make an egg-less cake, you would either need to find a recipe that is formulated to be baked without eggs, or you would need to use some kind of a substitute for the eggs. Eggs perform a number of important functions in baked goods, so it generally doesn’t work to simply eliminate them from a recipe. You need to substitute something else.
There are several egg replacer products, including: Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer and Ener-G Egg Replacer.
You can also use finely ground flax seed combined with water as a substitute for eggs. The formula is: 1 Tbsp. of ground flax seed + 3 Tbsp. water = 1 egg
Lastly, I have baked delicious chocolate cake recipes that use mayonnaise or Miracle Whip in place of the eggs. (just read the label carefully to make sure that the mayo doesn’t contain eggs in it) You could do a quick Internet search for chocolate mayonnaise cake recipes, or try this one here at allrecipes.com: Chocolate Mayo Cake. Good luck!
Ann Louise asks: With Christmas coming I am really desperate for helpful advice on what I’m doing wrong when baking the sponge cake for my trifle. I have always used the trifle recipe from The Joy of Cooking book, which I’ve had since 1979, although I’ve only begun using that particular recipe in the past few years. I always thought that the cake was o.k. until I tasted my friend’s trifle when we were at her place for Christmas last year. The cake in her trifle was moist with a fine grained texture whereas mine always comes out dry and full of large air holes. When I asked her for the recipe, she said it was the same one that I use from the Joy Of Cooking Book, but our cakes differ like night and day, and I was too embarrassed to let her know this. I’ve gone over the recipe and my method repeatedly but I can’t seem to figure out what I’m doing wrong. The recipe calls for whisking the eggs and sugar over simmering water until warm, and then beating them for 15 minutes until triple in volume. At this point, when I am whipping them for 15 minutes, the mixture is full of large pockets of air, whereas I’ve seen during a YouTube video of sponge cake making that the batter is relatively smooth with very little bubbles of air. What am I’m doing differently to create such an opposite result in my sponge cake? I would love to be able to master this cake so the trifle I serve my family this Christmas will be as delicious as my friend’s, but I need help deciphering what I’m doing wrong.
Baking S.O.S. says: Sponge cake is supposed to be dry by nature. If your sponge cake turns out dry, then it is probably turning out right.
Sponge cake is more commonly made in Europe, where desserts tend to be less sweet and less laden with buttery fat, as our desserts in America are. If you are expecting your sponge cake to turn out like a typical American butter cake, you will be disappointed because it will never be so, based on the ingredients in the recipe.
As for the large air holes from the whipped egg whites, that is the only thing that make a sponge cake rise. If you do not whip enough air into the egg white-sugar mixture, then the cake will not rise at all, so air holes are OK. To be sure that you are heating the egg whites & sugar enough before whipping them, try using a kitchen thermometer to take the temperature. They should reach about 117 degrees Fahrenheit before you remove them from the heat. Egg whites start to coagulate at around 120 degrees, so be careful not to let them get too hot!
So what is the secret to a moist sponge cake, you must be wondering? Simple syrup! The traditional preparation of a sponge cake is to soak it with some type of simple syrup–to give it extra flavor and moisture.
Simple syrup is equal parts of granulated sugar and water (ex. 1 cup sugar + 1 cup water) boiled together until the sugar dissolves. From there, you can add ANY kind of flavor imaginable. From something as simple as vanilla extra to various flavored liqueurs (which is the traditional preparation of a trifle)–almost anything goes.
So once you bake the sponge cake and allow it to cool, you then slice the cake into layers and brush each layer generously with a flavored simple syrup to give it moisture and additional flavor. Then follow your trifle recipe from there. I like to use homemade pastry cream and fresh fruit in my trifles–yummy!
But here’s my secret: I don’t even bother making sponge cake simply because it is dry, flavorless, and difficult to bake successfully without much practice or experience. I skip the sponge cake and simply make my favorite yellow cake recipe. We Americans like our cake to be tender and moist, so I go straight for the cake recipe I love best–no need to follow the trifle recipe exactly. The beauty of a trifle is that you can use ANY combination of cakes, flavorings, fillings, and toppings that you choose.
So if you don’t feel like fighting with the sponge cake recipe again and again, simply skip that step all together and try it with your own favorite cake recipe, instead. You can still soak the cake layers with some type of liqueur and/or simple syrup, if you like. (Here’s an interesting side note: Trifle is also called “tipsy pudding” because of the high alcohol content of the dessert!)
Kaylene asks: We made brownies tonight. The recipe calls for margarine, cocoa, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and flour. The only thing I did different was I used “I can’t believe it’s not butter”. It had a very strong metallic taste. We thought maybe the whisk we used was rusted so we dumped the whole thing and started over using only plastic and metal. We had the same results. This is a family recipe I have had many times, It is delicious. Please help. What am I doing wrong? We are baking to see if the taste bakes out.
Baking S.O.S. says: I am curious how the second batch turned out when you made it again without using the wire whisk. Did the metallic taste disappear?
You mentioned that you used “plastic and metal” in the second batch, so I am wondering if you baked the brownies in a metal pan? Could that potentially be the source of the metallic taste? I can’t imagine why it would, but you could try baking in a glass pan to see if that makes any difference.
My first instinct is to say that too much baking powder causes a metallic taste in baked goods, but you did not list baking powder in the list of ingredients. Does your recipe call for any baking powder or baking soda at all? If not, then that could not be the source of the problem.
And I do not have any experience baking with “I can’t believe it’s not butter!”, so I cannot say whether this would be the culprit of the metallic taste or not. I assume that margarines and butter substitutes that used to be made from hydrogenated vegetable oils have recently changed their formulas to somehow make their products without trans fats–since hydrogenated fats became undesirable as soon as manufacturers had to start labeling trans fats on their packages. So it is possible that “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” now behaves differently in baked goods than it used to because it is now made differently than it used to be.
You could try making your brownies with butter and see if that has any effect on the finished flavor and texture, too.
Let me know what you come up with–this is a perplexing problem!