A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

Excursions in vegan baking

My youngest kid decided to become vegan a couple of years ago. I have been teaching healthful, plant-based cooking classes for over a dozen years, so it is easy to cook vegan meals when my kid comes home from college to visit.

But baking is a completely different story: I love butter, eggs, and dairy in my baked goods! Making substitutions for dietary restrictions is always challenging.

I have at times experimented with vegan baking and gluten-free baking, but I haven’t yet perfected many recipes. My advice used to be: Start with a recipe that has already been developed to be vegan (or gluten-free), rather than trying to adapt a traditional recipe to be vegan. Surely, if a chef or cook has taken the time to develop a vegan recipe, it must work and be good, right? Sadly, I have discovered – through much trial and error – that my assumption was wrong.

So now I have gone back to the original plan of taking a traditional baking recipe that I know works well and making vegan modifications to it. Some adaptations I have found to be very successful; others, I am still working on.

Here is what I have learned so far:

  • Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer is an excellent substitute for eggs – particularly in quick breads. They seems to turn out moister and a little more dense – delicious!
  • Coconut milk (the full-fat kind) works great as a cream & other dairy substitute for recipes like chocolate ganache and frostings – YUM!
  • I don’t care for the flavor of vegan butters in baked goods (i.e. Earth Balance). But it is also hard to find a true plant-based margarine now that trans fats are no longer acceptable. When I was a kid, all my mom’s hand-written recipe cards called for “Oleo,” but that product is since long gone. What to use now? Imperial seems to be the only brand of non-dairy margarine available in my local groceries.
  • I’ve tried using good old-fashioned Crisco and butter-flavored Crisco to replace the butter in cookies, but shortening makes the cookie dough crumbly. I have to work really hard to get the cookie dough to hold together in the shape of a cookie, so I still need to experiment more to try to solve this problem.

I tried searching the Internet to see if vegan food bloggers have any suggestions for dry, crumbly cookie dough, but all I found was a “vegan” website that looked like it copied and pasted answers from other websites – giving answers that called for using ingredients like milk and eggs to add moisture to the cookie dough (insert eye roll emoji here).

I will continue to experiment with vegan baking to see if I can perfect some more recipes using non-dairy substitutions. I’d love to hear from you if you have any successful suggestions I can try!

Happy baking!
Chef Laura

Baking S.O.S. is here for you

Hello World!

I’m still here, though I haven’t published anything in years. But we keep Baking S.O.S. going because it’s still a helpful resource – even for me! And honestly, with the proliferation of food bloggers out there on the web, I find Baking S.O.S. to be a welcome respite from the standard formula you find on so many foodie websites everywhere – tons of ads and food porn photos but virtually impossible-to-find recipes. Because I started this website before food bloggers and food porn became ubiquitous, it has a totally different look and feel, and I like that. So we’ll keep Baking S.O.S. going for now, and I hope you’ll find some baking inspiration here.

Happy baking!
– Chef Laura

Chocolate Ganache recipe

I like to use chocolate ganache to decorate cakes and pastries. It gives desserts a glossy and smooth finish. Plus, chocolate just tastes good.

Chocolate Ganache is very simply to make, and although it can be customized with a wide variety of flavors, it really only requires 2 ingredients: heavy cream and good quality chocolate. Furthermore, ganache doesn’t really require a recipe as it is a simple formula of equal parts cream and chocolate, or a 1:1 ratio.

But if you do a search for Chocolate Ganache recipes on the Internet, you’ll find many variations in the types of ingredients called for, the quantities called for, and the process for making it.

Reading all of these various recipes can make it more complicated than it really needs to be to understand how to make chocolate ganache.

So I share with you now my Pastry Chef knowledge and experience that I learned by making chocolate ganache in professional bakeries….not the kind of thing you can get in a typical recipe. Once you understand this basic process, then you can get creative and try adding different ingredients to the ganache to change the flavor profile.

Chocolate Ganache

Chef’s note: This recipe will make a thicker ganache suitable for piping decorations on cakes. To make a thinner ganache suitable for a pourable glaze, use equal parts of cream and chocolate (16 ounces of cream + 16 ounces of chocolate chips).

12 ounces of heavy whipping cream (1 1/2 cups)
16 ounces of chocolate chips (2 2/3 cups)

1. Place the chocolate chips in a medium stainless steel bowl.
2. Scald the cream in a small saucepan – heat over medium heat, bringing it just below a boil.
3. Pour the scalded cream over the chocolate chips. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 5 minutes so the chocolate can soften and melt.
4. Stir the chocolate and cream with a wire whisk until completely blended. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for another 5 minutes.
5. Remove plastic wrap and give the ganache a final stir.

NOTES: If for some reason the chocolate does not completely melt or there are still little lumps left in the ganache, place the bowl over a double boiler and stir with the wire whisk until completely melted. And/or pour the ganache through a fine mesh strainer.

Pour the ganache into a shallow dish and cover the surface directly with plastic wrap to keep it from forming a tough film on the top.

Ganache can be stored at room temp for 2 days, in the frige for up to 5 days, and in the freezer for even longer storage (up to 6 months).

High Altitude Baking

Faye asks: I have used the same recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Bread for many years with no problems. The last couple of years when I’ve tried it, it has fallen. I got the recipe from a church cookbook in IN. I now live in the Denver area at about 5400′. I have never taken the seeds out, do not peel, and today, squeezed the zucchini in a very thin dish towel. All loaves fell before I took them out of the oven.

I made 5 mini loaves, 6 cupcakes (loaves & cupcakes in aluminum) and 1 9×5 loaf pan. I have a new double oven (2 mo old). I baked in upper oven on the lower of the 2 shelves. I only cooked them 30 min because of the smallness of the pans. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Baking S.O.S. says: It sounds like there are a number of factors that could be contributing to this problem, including a new oven that you are not yet completely familiar with. But the most likely cause is baking at a much higher altitude than the recipe was written for. (most recipes are written for baking at or near sea level)

When baking at high altitudes, you will need to make adjustments to the original recipe in order to achieve the same results. Here are a couple of helpful resources to guide you in making adjustments:
Epicurious: High Altitude Baking Recipes and Tips – this on-line guide explains the science behind baking at higher elevations–what happens to the baked goods and what adjustments need to be made to compensate for those effects.

Betty Crocker: Baking and Cooking at High Altitudes – this site includes a chart of potential causes and specific adjustments to try. Follow the suggestions for Quick Breads as the Chocolate Zucchini Bread falls into that category.

I hope some of those suggestions will help alleviate this problem of high altitude baking. Good luck!

How to Prevent Over-baking in a Convection Oven?

Wendy asks: When using a turbo convection oven to heat a frozen pie, how do you stop the pie crust from getting so hard?

Baking S.O.S. says: I don’t have experience with turbo convection ovens for home use, although we use industrial convection ovens in professional kitchens, so I am going to assume that the ovens work in a similar fashion.

Convection ovens bake hotter and faster than conventional ovens. When baking in a convection oven, the typical adjustment is to bake at a temperature that is 25 degrees less than the directions specify, and the baking time should also be shorter, though that varies depending on what you are baking.

So if the pie crust is getting too hard, it sounds like you should decrease the temperature of the oven, and also shorten the baking time from what the instructions say on the frozen pie.

A couple of other options: 1) Before putting the pie in the oven, brush the top with a little bit of milk. This will give the pie a glossy finish while keeping the crust a little softer, perhaps, 2) Try putting a loose aluminum foil “tent” over the top of the pie half-way through the baking process to protect it from over-baking.

I hope one of those options will help. Happy baking!

What Baking S.O.S. is making for Thanksgiving: Challah Apple Stuffing

Last year, I was invited to a very special Thanksgiving celebration with Jewish friends in our neighborhood: it was called Thanksgivukkuh because the first day of Hannukkah coincided with Thanksgiving for the first time in centuries (and it won’t happen again for another 70,000 years, so this was a once-in-a-lifetime celebration!).

Thanksgivukkah was observed by blending traditional Thanksgiving dishes with traditional Hannukkah dishes, such as: cranberry applesauce. sweet potato noodle kugel, Manizchewitz-brined turkey, and my favorite: challah apple stuffing.

After I tasted the challah apple stuffing, I swore that I would never make any other stuffing recipe again. It was so incredibly delicious that I could have eaten nothing but stuffing for Thanksgiving!

So this year, even though we are celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving holiday instead of Thanksgivukkah, I will once again be making challah apple stuffing, courtesy of buzzfeed.com.

Wherever you are and whatever you are preparing for your holiday feast, I wish you and your loved ones a very happy Thanksgiving!

-Chef RB

Crumbly Chocolate Christmas Cake

Pat asks: I thought I would try something different and make a chocolate Christmas Cake I found in a novel I was reading… Cakes taste  good, but after a few weeks of aging  in the fridge and some soaking with Kalua it still crumbles when cut. What did I do wrong? Did it cook too long? Or did I use too much flour?  would like to be able to make again if I can fix this problem. Thank you for your time, and Merry Christmas.

Baking S.O.S. says: Well, this is an interesting question…I’m curious what kind of recipe one finds in a novel vs. a cookbook? Is it an old-fashioned recipe, by any chance? (depending on the setting and time period of the novel)

I ask because it is not customary (in this current day and age) to leave cakes in the refrigerator for a “few weeks of aging,” as you said in your message. I suspect the reason your cake is crumbly is not because you baked it too long or used too much flour. Rather, I think it crumbled because it was simply too old and dried out. The maximum amount of time you should keep cake in the frige is probably around 4 days. If you want to store it longer than that, you should store it in the freezer to keep it fresh. Interestingly enough, we might assume that storing cake in the refrigerator would keep it fresher longer, but in fact, the opposite is true: storing cake in the refrigerator actually draws the moisture out of it and makes it dry out faster.

So it sounds like the real problem is that you simply left the cake in the refrigerator too long. Next time, store only the amount of cake that you can eat in 3-4 days in the frige, and put the rest in the freezer to enjoy later.

Hope that helps!

Trouble-shooting Holiday Cookies

Terry says: Hi! I wrote to you last year and asked you about baking cookies and you gave me allot of information.  I decided to try making cookies again and I succeed in making  Snow Balls, Twice Baked Cookies and Thumb Prints.  The recipe that I have for Thumb Prints was baking them for 6 minutes, then taking them out and press my thumb into each one and then put the jelly.  Then bake them for 15 minutes.   That was hard to do because you have to work fast.  Do you have any suggestions?  I also made Horns, a recipe that my sister gave me 55yrs ago and she pass away when she was thirty years old.  I made the Horns but they didn’t come out right.   The dough was very sticky and I had to use a lot of flour.  I don’t know what I did wrong, I need your help.

My husband does not want me to bake because he said it was too much work and I shouldn’t be baking at my age.  I’m 84 years old and I’m enjoying baking all these different type of cookies as long as they taste good. Thank you!

Baking S.O.S. says: Thanks so much for your note! I’m glad to hear you are busy baking holiday cookies again this year. You know that saying, “You’re only as old as you feel”? Well, don’t let anyone tell you that you are too old to bake: as long as you are enjoying it, keep it up!

In answer to your questions about the Thumbprint and Horn cookies, I have to admit that I’m not sure I have ever made either of these types of cookies, so I don’t think I can answer your questions from my own experience.

But I looked up a number of recipes on-line for Thumbprint and Horn cookies, and I have some ideas that I think  might help.

For the Thumbprint cookies, I found several recipes that do not require the 2-step process that you described, where you bake the cookies partially before filling them and baking a second time. The recipes I found say to make the thumbprint impressions and fill them with jam before putting the cookies in the oven–while the dough is completely raw. Then you bake the cookies already filled with jam all the way through. I would suggest that you try this process to make it a little easier. That way, you don’t have to work so fast to try to make the thumbprint impressions while the cookies are partially baked and hot.

For the Horn cookies, this is a little bit trickier because there are a number of different ways to make them, so I’m not sure which process you are following. But I do have a few suggestions to keep them from getting too sticky:

First, you should chill the dough in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight before you try to work with it. This will help cut down on the stickiness of the dough.

Second, when you roll out the dough. place it between 2 pieces of waxed paper with just a small amount of flour to keep the dough from sticking. I find that rolling out dough between pieces of waxed paper really helps so that you don’t have to add too much flour to the dough.

I hope those suggestions will help. Keep up the baking, and keep the questions coming!

Gluten-Free and Vegan Baking: My 2 Cents

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!

Best Chocolate Cake Recipes

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!