...to all of the loyal visitors who were forwarded here from HowTheCookieCrumbles.com, Baking Banter, or HomemadeGourmetMarshmallows.com, and to all new visitors.
I'm consolidating all of my sites into one place for your convenience. Click on any of the links in the navigation bar above to view the pages for Marshmallows, Travel, Links, and Recipes. It will take a little time for me to finish constructing all of the pages, and I appreciate your patience in the meantime.
You'll already find all of the recipes you've loved from the original sites, and I've included all of the popular Helpful Baking Hints(see USEFUL INFORMATION on the right) from my original web sites.
Those of you who've been on my mailing lists know that my recipes are for real food - nothing made from a mix - using no artificial ingredients. All of the recipes are made with wholesome ingredients - including butter in my dessert recipes. I never use shortening, as I feel it is unhealthy and tasteless, and leaves an unpleasant coating in your mouth. (So please don't post a comment telling me how much better a recipe would be if it was made with shortening!)
You'll also find blogs about food travels, food literature, cookbooks, and recipes for savory dishes.
I hope you enjoy your visit here. Please feel welcome to post your comments or questions.
Unlike muffins, cupcakes aren't usually made in jumbo sizes. When you buy cupcake pans for most recipes, look for basic cupcake pans with 12 wells, unless the recipe tells you to use larger ones. Avoid buying any pans that say “"jumbo"” if you are going to use them to make cupcakes from standard recipes. Cupcake pans can be found in most grocery stores and at discount stores.
Using Cupcake Liners
You can decide to use paper cupcake liners or not to use them. Unless seeing the bottom of the cupcake is important in the presentation of the dessert, I suggest that you use cupcake liners, even if you are using non-stick cupcake pans. While you can certainly butter and flour each of the wells in the pan, the little cakes might still sometimes stick. It's also just plain easier to use the liners. And they also help to keep the cupcakes fresh. They aren't expensive, and you can find them in the baking aisle of any grocery store.
Filling Cupcake Pans
It's really tempting to fill the cupcake wells almost up to the top, hoping to have high-rising cupcakes, but all you will get is a nasty mess of batter that overflows the wells and produces really ugly cupcakes. Don't confuse cupcakes with muffins; cupcakes should be just slightly rounded on the tops, while muffins have a more pronounced dome. So, unless a recipe tells you to fill the cupcake wells higher, fill the wells 1/2 to 2/3 full. The easiest way to gauge how much batter is needed for each cupcake is to use a standard size cupcake pan (unless the recipe specifies otherwise) and make exactly the number of cupcakes that the recipe tells you it should make.
Dipping Cupcakes in Ganache
One of the easiest and, to my palate, tastiest ways to frost a cupcake is to dip it in warm Chocolate Ganache. The Ganache forms a smooth, glossy coating over the surface of the cupcake. It’s lovely. And you can decorate the Ganache coating with sprinkles, coconut, or many other things, to make it look fun and festive.
To coat a cupcake with Ganache, turn the cupcake upside down and dip it into a bowl of warm Ganache. (The Ganache can be freshly made, or it can be made ahead and warmed so it is thin enough to coat the cupcake top.) Note that the Ganache will thicken as it cools, so if the coating is too thin for your tastes, just let the Ganache cool slightly and then try dipping another cupcake. Once they are dipped, turn the cupcakes upright and let them sit uncovered, at room temperature, until the Ganache firms up. Try not to eat all of the cupcakes as you coat them – it will be hard not to!
Coating Upside-Down Cupcakes with Ganache
The shiny, deep, dark chocolate coating that you see on some fancy cupcakes in upscale bakeries is actually very easy to accomplish in a home kitchen. Bake a batch of cupcakes without using cupcake liners: spray the cupcake wells generously with a non-stick spray and flour them, turning the pans upside down and tapping out any excess flour. Bake the cupcakes as directed in the recipe, setting the pans on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes after baking. Then loosen the cupcakes gently with a kitchen knife or small spatula, and turn the pans over, so the cupcakes fall out. Set the cupcakes upright on the wire racks and cool them thoroughly before proceeding.
Make a batch of Chocolate Ganache, stirring until it is perfectly smooth. Set one large or two smaller wire cooling racks on a piece of wax paper or parchment. Brush any crumbs from the bottom and sides and place each of the completely cooled cupcakes upside-down on the wire racks, trimming a bit off them if necessary so the cupcakes sit flat. Slowly pour the slightly warm ganache over a cupcake, using a small spatula to guide it so it completely covers the bottom (which is now the top) and sides of the cupcake. Allow any extra to drip onto the parchment so it can be reused. Repeat with all of the cupcakes, and let them sit, at room temperature, until the ganache is firm to the touch. Then place them in an airtight container and keep them in a cool place until you serve them.
You can make cupcakes in advance and freeze them frosted or unfrosted, although I prefer to frost them after they thaw. Either way, place them in a single layer in a plastic container just large enough to hold them, making sure the tops of the cupcakes don’t touch the top of the container, seal the container so it is airtight, and place it in your freezer. The day they are to be eaten, remove the container from the freezer and leave it, uncovered, at room temperature for 30 minutes. Frost them once they have defrosted. You can freeze cupcakes for up to two months.
Flavoring Cake Batter
It's effortless to change the flavor of basic cake batter. You can add a teaspoon or so of your favorite spice, or a combination of spices; a teaspoon or two of lemon zest with the juice of half a lemon; the zest of one orange and 1/4 teaspoon of pure orange flavoring; a half cupful of ground nuts; a few tablespoonfuls of grated chocolate, which will leave lovely flecks of chocolate throughout the batter; crushed malted milk balls; or finely chopped dried fruits. Add the spices, or zests and juice or flavoring with the butter. Any solid ingredients should be tossed with the flour before adding it to the batter.
Many recipes direct you to “rotate the pans halfway through the baking time.” This step is necessary to help things bake evenly. Most ovens produce uneven heat, so when you rotate the pans you help to compensate for that. When rotating one pan, just turn it around 180 degrees so the part of the pan that was in the back is now in the front. If using two pans in the oven at the same time, remove the one on the top and place it briefly on the oven door, turning it around 180 degrees as you do so. Then move the pan that is on the bottom up to the top, turning it around 180 degrees. Try to do this as quickly as possible so you don’t lose too much oven heat.
Leveling a Cake
Sometimes we need the top of a cake to be perfectly flat – in order to stack layers, so the cake looks very smooth and flat when it’s frosted. When that is the case, gently place your hand flat on the top of the cake, use a long serrated knife and, with a gentle sawing motion, cut across the top of the cake to remove the part that mounded when the cake was baked. The part you cut off can be broken up over ice cream, or baked with a little custard mixture to make a pudding cake.
How to Frost a Cake
When frosting a cake, trim the rounded tops off with a knife so the cake layers are level. (See the photo above.) Then place the bottom layer so the cut side is facing up. Spread the filling using an icing knife evenly on the cut surface, and then place the top layer onto the filling with the cut surface facing down. Frost the sides of the cake first. It is really helpful if you have a small lazy Susan that you can place the cake on, so it will turn easily while you frost it. Use an offset spatula and grab a heaping amount of frosting on it. Hold it next to the side of the cake and spread it firmly against the cake while moving the spatula along the side. Keep the spatula parallel to the side of the cake while you do this. Frost part of the side of the cake, turn the cake, and frost some more, continuing in this manner until all of the sides are frosted. Spoon frosting on the top of the cake in the center, and spread it out to the sides with smooth, even strokes. This will help to keep the crumbs out of the frosting.
One of the questions I'm asked most often is this: "How do I start my own high quality baking business?"
First of all, I would say that it's not easy. If you are making a quality product, many people will be comparing your prices with items that are made in other local shops, and that are made from mixes, or bought frozen and "baked off." These products, while inferior, are also cheap to produce. Those shops work on a high profit margin. So you have to make sure you can price your products profitably, which will be higher than that type of competition, and that you will have a customer base that will be willing to pay the higher price. Second, opening a business that will be successful (and profitable) requires a certain amount of preparatory work (more on this below.)
That being said, in most areas, your margins may need to be smaller than your competitors who sell a poorer quality. So you have to be on top of your costs to ensure that you are profitable. If you are lucky, you will be in an area with clients that appreciate the difference in quality and are willing to pay for it.
When you locate a space for your shop, and before you sign a lease, call your local health department and ask if someone will look at the space with you and advise you about any problems the space has in meeting the health specifications for a bakery. You don't want any surprises that may end up costing you a small fortune before you even open your doors.
Measure the space and make a floor plan to be sure you can fit all of the equipment and display cases that you will need to make and sell your products.
Before you sign a lease, write up a business plan. Decide who your target customer will be and how you intend to get their attention. Include all of the costs of setting up shop, including small and large equipment, utensils, work tables, linen service, ingredient prices, utilities, rent, insurance, local business taxes and license fees, any improvements you need to make to the space before you open your shop (don't forget electrical and plumbing costs) and if you are going to have employees, what the payroll cost will be. (Local payroll taxes vary, so your best bet is to consult a bookkeeper or accountant for this information.)
There is an enormous amount of used baking and restaurant equipment out there, and it's a good way to keep your initial costs down. Make a list of what baked products you anticipate selling, and what kinds of equipment you'll need to make those products, and look for the equipment on the internet or find local restaurant equipment stores that sell what you are looking for. Get measurements for the equipment and draw them into the floor plan you have made to see if the space and the equipment will work.
Hire a good public relations person to make sure people know you are there. The money you spend on PR goes much farther than what you would spend on advertising, and PR personnel are treasure troves of ideas for promoting your business.
Most important, make a quality product, and make certain it is always the same quality. If you receive special orders, be sure you have them ready when promised.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that these two leaveners (something that makes a baked product rise) are interchangeable, but they aren’t.
Baking soda is the main leavener used in baking, and is an alkaline substance. It requires something else in the recipe to be acidic in order for it to work. When baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) is combined with an acid in a recipe, say lemon juice or buttermilk, a chemical reaction takes place that produces carbon dioxide, which forms pockets of air in the batter. While baking, these pockets of air expand, causing the baked product to rise. At the same time, the flour, sugar and eggs are forming a structure around the air pockets. If there isn’t enough baking soda or acid in the recipe, the baked product won’t rise properly. If there is too much baking soda and acid, there will be larger air pockets and the structure formed by the eggs, sugar and flour won’t be able to support it: the cake or cookie will fall.
Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and an acid, along with an inert substance that keeps the two from reacting in the container. Baking soda makes up only a small part of baking powder, so they cannot be substituted one for one. The main purpose of baking soda is to provide the acid for a recipe in the proper ratio for the reaction to take place.
If you change a recipe, it’s important that you replace acidic ingredients with other acids, and that you don’t use an acid in place of a non-acid ingredient, or you will throw off the balance of the recipe.
A mise en place (pronounced mee zon plahs) is a practice used by chefs that refers to having all of the ingredients ready and measured “in their place” (which is the literal translation) before you begin preparing the recipe.
Here is an easy way to set up a “mise”:
For the small ingredients, write the name of the ingredient (salt, baking soda, spices, etc.) on a piece of deli paper or parchment on your work surface, then measure those ingredients, placing them on the paper next to their names. Make a separate paper for each group of items that is added at the same time. You can also put each ingredient into a small separate dish. I generally put the ingredients from each group into a custard cup and re-use the deli paper.
Measure larger items into appropriate sized bowls. Set all of the measured ingredients on your work surface near the mixer or area where you will be mixing, in the order they will be added to the recipe.
Be sure to prep (chop, grind, toast, soak, etc.) each ingredient, as the recipe directs, when you set up your mise.
Setting up a mise is an essential habit to develop, and you'll feel totally organized and in control of your baking if you do it. This simple step takes only a few minutes, but will save you from adding something twice or not adding something at all. If you get interrupted while you are making the recipe, you will be able to tell just where you left off.