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Leavening for Gluten-Free Baking

Ialina asks: I am gluten intolerant and wish to bake bread using only baking soda and vinegar as leavening.   How much of each should be used per cup of flour?

Baking S.O.S. says: This is a tricky question, and one I cannot answer from my own experience.

What I do know is that traditional bread (such as “sandwich” breads–white, wheat, rye, etc.) is leavened (rises) with yeast, and quick breads (such as biscuits, scones, muffins, fruit breads, etc.) are leavened with chemical leaveners like baking soda and baking powder. So if you want to make bread with baking soda and vinegar, you will end up with a quick bread, rather than a traditional bread.

There are standard amounts of baking soda that should be used to leaven regular all-purpose flour, but I do not know whether it works the same with gluten-free flours.  It could depend on the types of flours you mix together to create a gluten-free flour.

I have some gluten-free All Purpose Baking Flour from Bob’s Red Mill.  The package includes directions on how to use the gluten-free all purpose baking flour in place of traditional all-purpose flour. It recommends adding various amounts of xanthax gum, depending on the type of baked good you make. It also says that yeast-raised breads are a little trickier to make using gluten-free flour, but it does not give specific amounts of ingredient substitutes.  It sounds as though making substitutions for gluten-free baking may take some experimenting and practice to achieve the desired results you want.

So I will defer back to the standard advice I always give when baking (regardless of what you want to bake):

Baking is a science. It requires that you follow the recipe exactly in order to achieve the intended results of the recipe.

My standard advice is this: The first time you make any baked good, you should follow the recipe exactly as it is written in order to understand how the recipe is supposed to turn out.  Then, once you have a base point for reference, you can start making adjustments as desired to try to produce the results you are looking for.

In the case of gluten-free baking, I highly recommend that you start by following recipes that have been written and tested by other gluten-free bakers.  Once you gain experience with how gluten-free breads turn out, then you can start making adjustments to use only the ingredients you want to use.  Or better yet, simply find recipes that only use baking soda and vinegar to start with.

To get you started, I would suggest exploring some gluten-free bread recipes such as these on the Bob’s Red Mill website or these on the Gluten-free Goddess blog. Good luck!

Can I Put a Dessert Back in the Oven to Finish Baking if it is Under-done?

Jennifer says: I bake all the time and love doing it!  I always follow a recipe to the “T”, but today I decided to combine 3 different parts of 3 recipes into one!  I made blueberry crumble bars in a 9×13 Pyrex pan, and after they cooled completely, I cut into them–only to find that the bottom crust was undercooked and still soft, even though the top crumble crust and sides (up the sides of the pan part way up from the bottom crust) were beautifully browned and crisp like they should be.

 Question…Can I pop the whole pan back in the oven to bake some more to crisp up the bottom crust?  Any advice would be greatly appreciated as I’ve never been in this situation before!

Baking S.O.S. says: I have had the same problem with other types of baked goods.  It is always a challenge to try to put something back into the oven to finish baking it after it has cooled completely.

The problem becomes that the baked good needs to heat all the way back up to the proper baking temperature all the way throughout before it can continue baking–the underdone parts–further.

So in essence what happens is all the other parts that are baked perfectly will then over-bake and dry out before the under-baked part finally bakes all the way through.

It is possible to do this, but the results will be less than desirable.  And it will take much longer to bake the dessert all the way through than you would expect it to–again, this is because the entire dessert has to come back up to full baking temperature internally.  (Essentially, you will have a “twice-baked” dessert!)

From your description, it sounds like this dessert has a bottom crust that is separate from the filling and the crumble topping.  Is that correct?  If so, this is what I would suggest the next time you attempt this recipe:

Partially bake the bottom crust layer on it’s own before adding the filling and the topping.  Many recipes that call for a bottom crust layer will give instructions to par-bake the bottom layer for about 10 minutes before adding the other toppings.  This will help ensure that the bottom crust is completely done when the top layers are done, as well.

I hope that helps.  Good luck!

Baking in a New Oven

Daksha says: I was quite impressed by your site & decided to seek your advice.

I have been baking in an old Belling electric oven (my mother’s) for the past 30+ years and have a couple of standard cake recipes that always turn out great. However last month I bought a microwave + convection oven. My problem is that my cake in the new oven is dense and slightly undercooked though I am cooking it for longer.

In the old oven I used to bake at 350 deg F for approx 30 mins and the result was fantastic. In this oven, 180 deg C for 40+ mins is not giving me a good cake. I am baking on ordinary + convection setting, (not microwave.) The batter is butter & sugar creamed and eggs and flour folded in afterwards one by one.

I thought that buying this oven would make my life simpler and I could replace the old oven! Do let me know if you have any ideas that could help.

Baking S.O.S. says: I had a similar problem several years ago when I bought a new electric home convection oven, thinking that it would produce better results for baked goods. (Commercial convection ovens bake beautifully!)

But unfortunately, the home convection oven seemed to work almost the opposite of what you would expect: Instead of baking products faster and hotter, it seems to bake slower and longer. And instead of giving my baked goods a nice golden browned color (like commercial convection ovens do), the home convection oven did not give my baked goods any color at all.  It was completely maddening because I couldn’t understand why it didn’t work the way it was supposed to!

Even after reading through the owner’s manual thoroughly, I could not understand how the home convection oven was supposed to work……Did I need to adjust the baking temperature somehow since conventional and convection ovens bake at different rates? The owner’s manual gave no guidance.

I finally gave up using the convection setting all together and simply baked everything on a conventional setting.  Do you have that option with your new oven–to switch back and forth between convection and conventional baking? If so, I would recommend never using the convection setting.

I also finally gave up on that oven all together and finally replaced it with a gas conventional oven, and now my baked goods turn out just fine every time.

But aside from going out and purchasing yet another oven (as I finally did), I would suggest that you try to set your oven temperature a little higher to see if it will bake a little hotter and faster.  If your cake is not done all the way through and/or not rising enough, then the oven is probably not hot enough to bake the cake properly.

Good luck!

Daksha says: Thank you for the advice! Today I baked at 220 deg centigrade. The result was better. It actually felt like cake! It did take much longer than expected, approx 30 mins +. The texture was still a bit more close than I prefer.  But it browned perfectly.

The oven has only microwave, microwave + convection & ordinary + convection settings. The fan cannot be turned off for normal baking.

Because my 12×12 square pans won’t fit in the oven if they have to rotate, I removed the glass plate before placing the stand so that the cake wouldn’t turn.  This doesn’t seem to affect the cooking, it’s convection anyway.

Will experiment at 250 deg next time and update you. Thanks for your help, I was thinking of baking at a higher temperature but needed that push that I got from from you.

Baking S.O.S. says: Wow, I am surprised (and a little disappointed) that you do not have the option of turning the convection setting off. How frustrating!But I’m glad the cake baked better at a higher setting. Do keep experimenting with higher baking temperatures, and when you find the right temp that produces the results you are looking for, make a note of it. It may turn out that you will need to bake other items that much hotter, as well. (Whether it is 25 degrees hotter, 50 degrees, etc.)

7-Up Cake and the Creaming Method

Buffy asks: I want to bake a 7-up cake but it comes out dense and/or heavy, yuk! This recipe doesn’t call for baking power or baking soda!. So could I use 1 tsp baking powder ?

Baking S.O.S. says: Interesting challenge!

I have never baked a 7-Up cake before, so I wasn’t sure what ingredients it calls for. I did a quick Google search and landed on the squidoo website that contains a variety of 7-Up cake recipes. Only one recipe calls for baking powder. The rest of the recipes seem to be some variation on a pound cake, which does not contain any leavening.

So here is my recommendation: If you want to follow the pound cake-style recipes, you will need to use the “Creaming Method” of mixing to incorporate air into the cake batter. The air that you whip into the batter as you mix it will be the only thing that makes the cake rise. (As the batter heats up in the oven, the air bubbles expand, pushing the cake batter up.) Keep in mind that pound cakes are more dense and heavy than traditional cake batters, so it sounds like that is to be expected with this type of recipe.

To use the Creaming Method: Place room-temperature butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, use a hand-held electric mixer.) Beat on medium speed for 8-10 minutes. It sounds like a long time, but the longer the butter & sugar mix, the more air you incorporate. This will ultimately produce a better batter.

Good luck!

What Causes a Metallic Taste in Muffins?

Laurel asks: I have made two muffin recipes and both have left a metallic taste.  One recipe used 1 Tbls. baking soda and 1 1/2 cup flour and 3/4 cup buttermilk, and one used 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 cup flour and 1 1/3 cup buttermilk.   I’ve read that you should use 1/4 tsp. baking soda to each 1 cup flour. Could I be using too much baking soda?  Is it the buttermilk?  Why would a recipe use more baking soda than is really needed?  Should I try again and use the lower measurement of baking soda?  I appreciate any suggestions you might have.

Baking S.O.S. says: You are exactly right: too much chemical leavener–in this case, baking soda–can cause a bitter and metallic taste.

You also did your research well: you only need 1/4 tsp. baking soda for each 1 Cup of flour in a recipe, so it sounds like the proportions are way off in the recipes you have tried.

In answer to your question about the buttermilk, the buttermilk would not be the cause of the bitter and metallic taste.  The acid in the buttermilk is necessary to react with the base in the baking soda to activate the chemical reaction that makes the muffins rise.

I would suggest that you try a completely different recipe, rather than trying to modify or make adjustments to the recipes that aren’t working out for you.  Certainly there should be a good muffin recipe out there (for the variety of muffin you are trying to make) somewhere that has been tested and tried, that has turned out successfully so that you don’t have to “reinvent the wheel,” so-to-speak.

You could start with some of the muffin recipes that I provided at Baking S.O.S. in this blog post: Muffin Recipes for Healthful Alternatives to Cupcakes in School Parties. These are some of my all-time favorite muffin recipes, and I can guarantee that they have been tested and loved!

How Chemical Leaving Agents Work (the difference between baking soda and baking powder)

Ruby asks: I am working on a science project that determines if you add baking soda in a cupcake recipe that calls for baking powder, will it make a difference, and I cant remember which cupcakes I put baking soda/powder in!! Any suggestions to help me determine which is which? Please answer ASAP!!!!

Baking S.O.S. says: I hope I’m not too late to respond to your S.O.S. call for help!

It sounds like you are trying to determine which cupcake is which AFTER they have finished baking, is that right? If so, then you will probably have to go by color, taste, and how much the cupcakes rose (or didn’t, as the case may have been).

Visually and taste-wise, any baked good that contains too much baking powder will turn yellowish in color and taste bitter. But in your case, it sounds like your original recipe called for baking powder, so you would not experience this effect if you omitted the baking powder and substituted baking soda in its place.

So the next indicator will probably be how much the cupcakes rose. In order to detect which cupcake had baking soda and which had baking powder, you first need to know how each chemical leaving agent works.

Chemical leavening agents work by creating a chemical reaction between an acid ingredient and a base ingredient. When the two ingredients combine together, they create that chemical reaction that produces gases and air which cause baked goods to rise.

Baking powder contains both an acid and a base ingredient, so it contains everything necessary to make a baked good rise.

Baking soda, however, is only a base. It must be mixed with an acidic ingredient in the recipe (such as buttermilk, sour cream, cocoa powder, lemon juice, etc.) in order to activate the chemical leavening process.

So…..you should now have all the information you need to know–both to determine which cupcake is which, and ALSO to answer your science project question! (If you get a blue ribbon on your project, do I get some credit for answering it for you??!!) :)

[In case you didn’t figure it out on your own, the cupcake that didn’t rise as much should be the one where you substituted baking soda in place of the baking powder. If the recipe did not call for any other acidic ingredients to activate the baking soda, it would not rise as much as the cupcake with the baking powder. And the short answer to your science project is that baking soda and baking powder are NOT interchangeable. They each react differently in baking.]

Gluten-Free, Vegan Cornbread Recipe

Jim asks: I made some corn bread using gluten-free flour, soy milk and flax seed for eggs, but it came out heavy. Everything I try comes out the same. I am allergic to all three. Please help.

Baking S.O.S. says: It is a real challenge to make baked goods that taste good and have a good texture, too, when you need to avoid so many allergenic ingredients. I understand your frustration.

The good news is that I was presented with this exact same challenge just last week when I catered a luncheon for a group of people that needed gluten-free and vegan cornbread. Even though I am a “purist” when it comes to baking–I like to use white flour, eggs, butter, etc.–I feel like my vegan, gluten-free cornbread recipe turned out pretty tasty, so I will share it with you here! (Note: This recipe does not have a substitute for eggs, so I was skeptical that the cornbread would be too “loose” with nothing to bind it together, but it turned out just fine.)

Gluten-Free, Vegan Cornbread

Ingredients
•1 cup of gluten-free all-purpose baking flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Brand, found in the Natural Foods section of the grocery store)
•1 cup of ground cornmeal
•2 tsp baking powder
•½ tsp salt
•¼ cup corn or vegetable oil
•¼ cup pure maple syrup
•1 cup soymilk
•1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
•1 cup sweet corn kernels

Directions:
1) In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. 2) Add the vegetable oil, syrup, soymilk and vinegar; stir just until blended. Stir in corn kernels. 3) Pour batter into a greased 8×8 pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Yield: 9-16 servings

Why Does the Top Crust Separate from my Pound Cake?

Wanda asks: I have used a pound cake recipe, handed down from my grandmother, for years without any problems.  Lately the crust has separated and crumbled from the rest of the cake.  I use 6 egg whites that are whipped to soft peaks, then folded into the cake batter.  I initially thought that I was not completely folding in the whites and that was the cause.  But I folded them in more without any difference in the results.  The only other ingredients are sifted flour, sugar, egg yolks, baking soda and sour cream.  Please help and tell me what I could be doing wrong.

Baking S.O.S. says: It is always frustrating when a trusted recipe starts having problems when it was never a problem before.  It becomes a complete mystery to try to figure out what changed!

I noticed in your ingredient list that you did not mention butter.  Typically, a pound cake is supposed to call for a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, a pound of eggs, and a pound of butter–hence the name “pound cake.”

I know recipes for pound cake have changed a lot over the years, but all cake recipes typically call for some very basic ingredients, including some type of fat.  The only fat I see in your recipe is the sour cream.  Have you started using a different brand of sour cream? Or perhaps you switched to a low-fat or fat-free version of sour cream?  Perhaps there is not enough fat in your cake recipe to make it moist and hold it all together?

The only other suggestion I can think of might be your oven.  Have you tested the oven temperature to make sure it is baking properly?  Perhaps if the oven is too hot, that might cause the top crust to brown too quickly before the interior of the pound cake is done baking, thereby drying the top crust so much that it crumbles off.

To test the temperature of your oven, buy an inexpensive oven thermometer and place it in your oven as you preheat it.  Check the thermometer several times as the pound cake is baking to see if the oven temperature is fluctuating a lot.  If so, perhaps you need to have your oven calibrated to get it working properly again.

I hope one of these solutions might be helpful to you.  Good luck!

Techniques for Tender vs. Crisp Pizza Crust

Ron asks: I would like to make a pizza that when fully cooked has a brown, soft, non crispy bottom crust, and is fully foldable.   When you bite into the pizza, the crust just seems to blend in with the toppings.  The crust reminds me of a cross between  pastry and pizza dough.  I’ve tried to duplicate with no luck.   Any recipe I use ends up with a crisp bottom crust.   I bake on a pizza stone at 500 degrees.  I thank you for your time in reading this and any suggestions you may have.

Baking S.O.S. says: I had to smile to myself when I read your question because I have always experienced the exact OPPOSITE problem as you: I WANT to get a nice crisp bottom crust, not a soft, tender, chewy crust.

For a long time, I could not figure out the secret to getting a dark, crisp bottom crust on my homemade pizza dough.  I tried many solutions, and I finally found that if I baked the pizza directly on a pizza stone at a very high heat (450 degrees), then my pizza crust would get nice and crispy.  You are baking at an even higher temperature (500 degrees), so that explains why your pizza crust is turning out so crispy.

If you would like a softer, more tender crust, then you need to try all the other techniques I have used that DIDN’T produce a crisp crust for me!

I don’t have any advice for a recipe that is a “cross between pastry and pizza dough” ask you asked, though perhaps you might try to search the Internet for some recipes for calzone doughs to see if that might be closer to what you are looking for, rather than straight up pizza dough.

As for baking process to get a softer crust, try these techniques:

  • Bake at a lower oven temperature: 375 degrees – 400 degrees.  The dough will bake slower and not get as dark. (baking time will be longer as a result of the lower temp)
  • Instead of baking directly on the pizza stone, bake your pizza on a pizza pan or a metal sheet pan.  You can place the pan directly on the pizza stone or eliminate the stone all together.  When I used a metal pan to bake pizzas, the crust NEVER came out crisp.  It was always soft and chewy.
  • Do not pre-bake or par-bake the crust in any way.  Simply take the raw dough, place it in the pan, add sauce & toppings and bake.  I find that par-baking the pizza dough can help produce a crisper crust, so avoid that step all together if you want to keep the crust tender.

I hope those techniques will help you achieve the results you desire in your pizza crust.  Good luck!

How to be sure a Pound Cake bakes thoroughly

Toney asks: I have a question about baking a cake, a pound cake in this instance.  I have baked pound cake for the pass 30 years and have never had this problem before. My cakes will not bake all the way through.  I have had my stove checked and they found nothing wrong.  I have thrown away three cakes and a few pies.  Very frustrating. Hope you can help.

Baking S.O.S.: This sounds like a frustrating experience–especially since nothing seems to be wrong with your oven.

The only thing I can suggest is to simply bake your pound cake (or pies, since you mentioned that was a problem, too) longer and be sure to test for doneness before removing them from the oven.

If your pound cake looks like it is getting too done or too brown before it is fully baked through the center, then try turning the oven temperature down by 25 degrees until it finishes baking all the way through.

To test for doneness, I would suggest using a long wooden skewer–rather than a wooden toothpick–because pound cakes can be very deep and dense.  A toothpick will only be able to check the cake to a certain depth because it is short, but a wooden skewer can check all the way through.  Be sure the skewer comes out with no batter or only dry cake crumbs on it.  It is also a good idea to check the cake in several spots, just to be sure.

Good luck!