Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Into the Mix
Before we start, a quick word or two on ingredients.
1. Butter – Unfortunately, American butter sucks ass. Believe me. Go to France and you'll see what I mean. So, we'll have to make do with what we've got. Just make sure it's always, always unsalted. Land O' Lakes is what I use.
2. Milk – 100 percent whole milk is, of course, best. But most of us don't want to subject our arteries to that kind of abuse, no matter how yummy, and so therefore don't keep the stuff in the house. If you do – or want to purchase 'specially for your baking projects – hurrah. If you don't, no worries. I've been baking with 1 percent for years, no problem. Just add a tablespoon or two of cream and things will come out just fine.
3. Cream – Speaking of which . . . Unfortunately, American cream is über, über Pasturized, which sucks for us bakers. So again, use what you can get. Just make sure it's real cream (no half 'n' half) and is unsweetened (save sweetened cream for when you make whipped cream topping).
4. Eggs – Should be Grade A large. Brown or white, doesn't matter. But fresh does. Check the carton.
5. Sugar – If you don't keep regular granulated table sugar in the house as a matter of course, then go buy super refined baking sugar. But I've never really noticed the difference. We'll use powdered sugar a lot, too. Brand doesn't matter. The stuff's all the same, but you can't go wrong with Cane.
6. Flour – I prefer to use cake flour in almost all my cake recipes, including muffins and brownies. But the problem is, it's only sold in small boxes, which makes it a pain in the ass to measure out. So if you don't want to bother, regular ol' unbleached (and for goodness sake, not self-rising unless I tell you), white flour will do. Just makes sure you measure, sift, then measure again.
7. Baking Powder/Soda – Who really knows the difference between these two? All I know is, they're very, very important leavening agents – sometimes used together, sometimes not. They do lose their super-duper powers within a couple years though, so check expiration dates and replace as necessary.
8. Flavorings – Sure, real vanilla is expensive. Tough. Imitation is for pussies. Splurge, already. Also good to have on hand: liquid lemon, orange, and peppermint flavorings.
9. Lickker – I keep Kirsch, Kahlua, Amaretto, rum, and bourbon on hand at all times. Buy a small bottle of each as you need it and it will last for years. Unless, of course, in addition to being a baker, you're also a drunk.
10. Chocolate - Oh Lord, a subject in and of itself. Which I'll get to later, but for now, just know that there's a difference between unsweetened, bittersweet, and semi-sweetened and I won't leave you hanging as to which you'll need to use.
11. Cocoa – Some bakers insist on Dutch-processed only, but Hershey's baking has done Moi for years with no worries.
12. Nuts – Buy 'em chopped. Time is always of the essence, Party People.
13. Other Stuff – Polenta, oats, whole wheat flour, raisins, cranberries – we'll be using all this stuff and more but I'll cover any necessary info as we go along.
Unless otherwise noted, all ingredients, including butter, should be at room temperature before you start baking. That can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour, so plan accordingly.
Soon, we bake. I promise!