Sunday, December 7, 2008

Adjusting Recipes in The Cake Bible for High Altitude

I did respond to Amalia's comment (see comment on 1-2-3-4 cake) shortly after it was posted via e-mail, but I totally forgot to post it here for posterity reasons. Here's my educational input for the day...

When modifying any of Rose's butter cake recipes for high altitude, you will need to adjust a few things. Note that the sponge cake recipes in the book are a whole different animal from the butter cakes and will need to be treated differently. I will attempt to address the sponge cake in future postings.

Certainly, leavening agents need to be paired down. I usually nix any baking soda in the recipe, unless it's the sole leavener and the batter has a lot of acidic ingredients (such as a combination of mayo and natural cocoa powder). Whether you're using baking soda or baking powder, these will need to be decreased in 1/4 tsp. intervals until you find the right amount to use--and the only way you can do this is by trial and error.

I never touch the sugar amounts in Rose's recipes, as she very clearly explains in TCB that the sugar levels are at bare minimums in her recipes and decreasing the sugar will negatively affect the taste and the texture of the cake, so leave the sugar alone!

I do usually add more flour, starting with a tablespoon the first time around and going from there, and unless the recipe has a high amount of liquid ingredients, a tablespoon of flour usually works.

You will also need to add 1- 2 oz of extra egg. This can be either: 1 whole egg, 1 or 2 egg yolks, or 1 or 2 egg whites, depending if the recipe calls for whole eggs, yolks, or whites.

Lastly, you may need to add a couple tablespoons of extra liquid. One to two tablespoons usually works, but if the cake still seems a bit dry, you can add a bit more.

One note about liquids: if you experience problems with the cake setting up quickly before it falls, consider using a acidified liquid. You can do this by replacing a few tablespoons of the milk with lemon juice or vinegar, or replacing the milk altogether with buttermilk (with a full fat buttermilk if you can find it). If you have no buttermilk, you can try using a full fat plain youghurt thinned with a bit of milk or full fat sour cream, also thinned--add a bit of vinegar to either the yoghurt or sour cream to help it acidify. Allow time for the youghurt/sour cream/milk mixture to acidify fully (about 10 minutes). If you do use buttermilk, youghurt, or sour cream, keep in mind that flavor profile won't be the same, but it may be necessary if you really want to use the recipe.

About chocolate and cocoa powder:

If you are using melted chocolate in a recipe, usually no adjustments are needed in the amounts, as melted chocolate is slighty acidic and works well in high altitude cakes.

If you are adjusting a chocolate cake recipe and it calls for Dutch processed cocoa, you may need to replace either a portion or all of the Dutched cocoa with natural cocoa. The reason is that Dutched cocoa is alkalized (meaning its acidity is neuralized to bring out more chocolate flavor and make it less biting), but this also lowers the PH level of the batter, and at high altitudes, can prevent the cake from setting up before it collaspes in the oven. I would probably try using buttermilk in the recipe first, before swapping out the Dutched cocoa.

So there you have it: a list of useful pointers when you are attempting to adapt butter cake recipes (especially Rose's!) for high altitude.

Remember, a successful high altitude cake is only accomplished through trial and error!

I will have future postings on some of the cakes in The Cake Bible and what I did to modify them for my altitude.

Long drought may soon be over!

If there's even the slightest chance that someone is reading this, don't worry, this blog will soon be coming back to life (within the next week).

For the past several months, I've had (we'll just call them issues) and not much time on my hands. Now that my work schedule has finely gotten onto some sort of normal routine, I can finely get back to my dubious baking adventures.

I'm waiting on a new digital camera to arrive, but I'm not sure it'll get here in time to take pictures of my Fruitcake making process, which I will be doing tomorrow. I'll be sure to take pictures of the finished cakes (which are delicious and so much better than any store bought fruitcake!). I'm hoping at the end of the week to make a Black Forest Cake for Capital Tea (complete with my own brandied cherries). Also in the works is a Hazelnut Shortbread, made from a basic all purpose shortbread recipe that can be flavored and garnished with just about anything, but I really like nut varieties for this. So stay tuned!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The 5,000 foot 1-2-3-4 Cake

One of the most difficult baked goods to bake at this altitude is cake.

Sea level recipes will typically fall into a gooey mess that never really completely sets up. If it does manage to rise and set before it falls, the cake is often coarse in texture, dry, and dense. What's the secret for successful cake baking at this altitude?

One big clue is the PH of the batter. In high altitude situations, cake batters need to set up faster to avoid falling in the oven. It just so happens that an acidic batter will set-up faster in the oven, preventing an extended baking time which can dry out a cake. Also, the faster a cake sets up after it has risen, the less chance it has of falling into an unsightly mess. Increasing the acidity of a batter can be as simple as swapping out the milk in a recipe for low-fat buttermilk, or using sour cream, or plain yougurt in a batter.

Another baking trick is strengthening the cake structure. This is usually done by decreasing the sugar a bit, adding a bit more flour, and usually adding an extra egg. Also, for cake recipes that call for dutch processed cocoa, natural cocoa is always preferred in high altitude cake baking. The extra acidity from the natural cocoa helps to strengthen the cake batter.

High altitude cakes also typically need their leavening agents decreased from anywhere from 1/4 tsp. to 1/2 tsp (this depends on the elevation and the individual make-up of the recipe). Leavening agents (here, we are talking about baking powder and baking soda) simply work better at high altitudes because of lower air pressure. Simply speaking, there is less weight (air pressure) pressing down on the surface of the cake, so it takes less work from the leavening agents to make a cake rise. Too much leavening will cause a cake to either bubble over in the oven or cause the cake to rise too fast before the structure is finished setting--causing the cake to eventually collapse.

The last adjustment for a high altitude cake is increasing the moisture to prevent a dry cake. This is typically done by increasing the liquid (often buttermilk) by a couple of tablespoons.

For a more detailed look at high altitude cake baking and for some really great recipes that work at a variety of altitudes, I highly recommend the book Pie in the Sky: High Altitude Baking. This amazing book is written by Susan Purdy, who meticulously tested and retested a wide variety of baking recipes at several different altitudes--including 10,000 feet. It's an invaluable resource that I use constantly.

This cake, Basic 1-2-3-4 Cake, is an old American standby. It's been around since the introduction of baking powder and baking soda (baking powder is a combination of soda and cream of tartar--a by-product of an acidic mold naturally found on grape skins). By the beginning of the 20th century, every housewife and hired household cook knew this recipe by heart. With the advent of the electric hand mixer in the early 40's, this cake was a standard addition to every dessert and coffee table in America.

Not only is this cake easy and fast to whip up, it is extremely versatile, lending itself to any combination of flavor additions and frostings.

This 5,000ft version swaps out the traditional milk for buttermilk (for acidity), and the cake is strengthened by decreasing the sugar and leavening, and increasing the flour and the egg. Also, the buttermilk is slightly increased to keep it moist.

The standard flavoring is usually vanilla, but you can use any combination of extracts up to 3 tsp. My favorite is 1.5 tsp vanilla and 1.5 tsp lemon extract.

Basic 1-2-3-4 Cake for 5,000 feet

Pan Preparation
: 2, 9 inch round cake pans or 3, 9 inch round cake pans, sprayed with flour spray (or greased and floured) and the bottoms lined with parchment rounds. If using 2, 9 inch cake pans, the layers may need to be split if you want to make a 3-4 layer cake.

Alternately, a 9x13 inch cake pan can be used, prepped as above. This recipe will also make about 15-18 standard cupcakes. Line the cupcake pan with appropriate liners and scoop batter about 2/3 full.

Oven Time & Temp: Preheat oven to 375 for standard electric oven or 350 for convection oven. Place oven rack in the center of the oven. Bake the cake layers for 25-30 minutes for standard electric oven and 20-25 minutes for convection oven. A toothpick should come out clean.

**A 9x13 inch cake will take about 30-35 minutes to bake
**Cake pans may need to be rotated about 22-26 minutes into the bake cycle, when the cake is fully risen and almost completely set and is just lightly browned on the edges.

3 c. + 3 TBS bleached, all-purpose flour, sifted first and then measured**
2 tsp. baking powder
.5 tsp. table salt

8 oz. unsalted butter, softened
2 cups minus 2 TBS sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract (or any combination of extracts or flavorings, up to 3 tsp. total)

5 Large, whole eggs, room temperature

1 c. + 3 TBS. low-fat buttermilk, slightly room temp (should not be chilled, let it sit at room temp for 15 minutes or so)

**flour must be bleached, unbleached flour will not hold the high amount of fat suspended in the cake batter. The result of using unbleached flour will be a dense, greasy cake.

1. Combine the sifted flour together with the baking powder and salt, whisk to combine and set aside.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until well combined and fluffy. Scrape the bowl and beater and add the extract(s).

3. Add the eggs 2 at a time, and beat well. Scrape the bowl and beater between additions. The mixture will look curdled, but it will come together when all the flour is added.

4. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture and buttermilk in alternate additions, starting with the flour. Scrape the bowl and beater at least once.

5. After all the flour and buttermilk have been added, scrape the bowl and beater one last time. Then mix on medium speed for about 30 seconds. The batter should be thick and creamy.

6. Divide immediately into pans and bake according to the directions at the top of the recipe.

7. Cool pans on wire racks about 10-15 minutes, then flip the cakes out to finish cooling completely

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chile + Chocolate = a very satisfying brownie

Quick! Raise your hand if you've ever seen the movie Chocolat?
Quick! Raise your hand if you're tired of the whole chiles and chocolate with sweet thing?

Has the trend of pairing chiles with chocolate in sweet baked goods faded into sweet oblivian?
Or did it kind of flicker on the horizon and then disappear just as quickly?
Or has it just barely fluttered its wings out of the nest of culinary trends?

Honestly, I have no idea. I just know that I love chiles; I love chocolate and putting the two together produces some very sweet things indeed. My favorite lovechild of this amorous couple is brownies (sweet and spicy hot chocolate is a close second).

A rich chocolate brownie that showcases the potential of chiles is tricky to pull off successfully. Honestly, I have never produced good results on my own, so when I found a recipe for Aztec Brownies from Barbara Fisher's blog Tigers & Strawberries, I was over-the-moon ecstatic.

Barbara's recipe looked promising and oh-so appealing. It was rich with chocolate, with a complexity of flavors that looked to be swoon worthy. Best of all, it featured a chile that I had never considered before--ground chipotle!

I was convinced I had to make this recipe--especially for a show 'n' tell to a potential employer/client (more about that later). I made a mental note to make a trip downtown to The Savory Spice Shop for my ground chipotle.

Three days later I readied myself in the kitchen to start baking. I was preparing my "mis en place" and was just about finished when I realized I had forgotten to get my ground chipotle!

I don't allow mess ups like this to set me back in my kitchen, so I dug around for a substitute: Urfa crushed red pepper paired with cayenne.

Urfa is a Turkish pepper that is sun dried during the day and then wrapped up tightly at night (called sweating). The sweating infuses the pepper with its own moisture produced during the day. The result is a very flavorful, complex, almost smoky tasting pepper that is dark purple at the end of processing. It is ground into flakes and often used as a condiment in Middle Eastern cuisines. While highly flavorful, it only has a moderate amount of heat--hence the pairing with cayenne pepper.

The result of my efforts was a wonderful and satisfying brownie that hits all the right notes for me--rich with chocolate; complex with the addition of espresso powder, Saigon cinnamon, and vanilla; and just the right amount of smoky spice that hits you in the back of the throat and then fills your entire mouth with wonderful warmth.

The only other change from Barbara's original recipe (besides the chile substitute) was that I bloomed the chile powders, cinnamon, and espresso in the warmed melted chocolate and butter mixture--instead of mixing them with the sugar. I thought this would allow even more flavor to develop, and I think this was right on the mark.

Also, for high-altitude purposes, I raised the oven temperature from 325 to 345. This change allows the brownie a quicker rise and a faster set, as the only leavening in this recipe is eggs. At this altitude, such a recipe needs higher heat in order to rise and set properly before it dries out in the oven.

Also, some high altitude bakers may need to add a little bit more salt to this recipe for the flavors to come out fully. I don't know what it is about high altitude, but often times recipes need more salt (but just a pinch or more--don't go overboard). I don't seem to have a problem with the salt in most of my baked goods, but if you make this, and you think the flavor is a bit muted, just add a bit more salt next time.

This recipe calls for 62% chocolate, and Barbara swears that if you use a higher percentage chocolate, the brownies will be too rich. I would take her word for that one.

One last thing before I present the recipe: I conclude with Barbara that this is a very fudgy brownie. Let it cool COMPLETELY before you even attempt to cut it into squares and serve it. In fact, I chilled mine for about an hour, then sliced them up (worked beautifully). Then I allowed them to come back to room temperature before serving. If you follow this guideline, you will have a prettier looking brownie.

Aztec Brownies
originally developed by Barbara Fisher, some changes made by me

4 oz. 62% bittersweet/semisweet chocolate
4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into large pieces

1 tsp. Vietnamese (Saigon) cinnamon
1 TBS. espresso powder
1.25 ground, dried chipotle pepper OR
1 tsp. Urfa crushed red pepper flakes, &
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1.25 cups sugar
.25 tsp. salt (table grind)

.75 cup all purpose, unbleached flour
2 TBS. Dutch processed cocoa

3 large eggs, room temperature

Preheat oven to 345 degrees F. Line an 8″ square glass baking pan with foil and spray with some sort of flour spray like Baker's Joy.

In a double boiler, melt butter and then add the chocolate, stir until the chocolate is completely melted.

Add the cinnamon, espresso powder, ground peppers, and vanilla to the hot chocolate mixture to bloom them. Set this aside to cool (although, if melted correctly, the chocolate mixture should just be barely warm anyway--just a bit warmer than body temp).

Place sugar and salt together in a mixer bowl and blend well.

Put flour and cocoa in another bowl and mix well.

Scrape chocolate mixture into the sugar mixture and beat on medium speed about 30 sec. to 1 min. or until the sugar becomes incorporated into the chocolate. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl and beat another 20 seconds or so.

Add eggs, beat to incorporate, scraping as needed.

Add ½ of flour mixture, and stir on low speed until mostly mixed in. Scrape bowl and add rest of flour, mixing until incorporated. Scrape bowl.

Beat on medium high speed for about 45 seconds, or until mixture lightens visibly. This is to incorporate air, which is the only leavening in the batter.

Scrape into prepared pan and bake at 345 for 25-35 minutes. A toothpick should come out just barely wet, but not liquid-like. The middle of the brownie should just be set when touched, but not firm. You want them to finish baking out of the oven so that they don't over bake and dry out.

Allow to cool in pan for fifteen minutes. Lift out foil and place on a wire rack and allow to cool COMPLETELY before cutting (they can be chilled until firm for easier slicing, and then allowed to come to room temp for serving).

Keep these tightly wrapped to prevent them from loosing their fudgy texture.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Re-embracing Banana Bread

No one thinks much of banana bread.

Banana bread seems to be the tired, old whore of the baking world. Every one's had a slice, and no one's impressed anymore.

Frankly, most versions of banana bread are dull. I find most to be dry with an insipid banana flavor that does not leave me craving another slice. For the past 5 years, I've been tinkering with a certain recipe for banana bread--one that I was introduced to during my days as a pastry flunky at the Inverness Hotel & Golf Club. The banana bread served at the hotel was actually moist, with a decent banana flavor, but it had no punch, and it relied too heavily on nuts for its climax.

Because I have so many friends, family, and customers that do not care for nuts or are allergic, I wanted a banana bread that spoke to them.

I wanted a banana bread that sang heavily of bananas but also played well with other notes, perhaps a hint of cinnamon, the heady scent of vanilla, a twinge of citrus, and maybe a little note of caramel.

To keep the bread moist, I used low-fat buttermilk and full fat sour cream as my dairy/liquid base. The slight tang also underlined the caramel note that I wanted to develop.

For the light caramel flavor, I used browned butter, and I replaced some of the white sugar in the original recipe with light brown sugar.

For a full banana flavor, I used bananas that were fully ripe, with a few that were over ripe. I don't advise using bananas that are so ripe that the skins are completely black; these tend to have a bitter flavor that is hard to counterbalance. Luckily, bananas freeze extremely well, so when they reach their fully ripe stage, but you don't have the time to use them for baking, you can just toss them into a freezer bag (with the skins on) and freeze until you are ready to use them. I also used more bananas than what most traditional recipes call for--6 medium sized bananas for 2 loaves of bread. This ensured a heavy distribution of bananas throughout each loaf.

I brought in a stiff shot of vanilla, a whiff of Vietnamese cinnamon, and the grated zest of one medium orange to backup the banana flavor and to make each bite of bread so interesting that you can't hold back to just one slice.

Banana Bliss Bread
(note: all measurements are for 5,000 ft)

1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar--packed
3 large eggs
6 medium sized, fully ripe to slightly overripe bananas--mashed until just chunky
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup full fat sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
Grated zest of one medium orange
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, browned and slightly cooled

3 cups all purpose flour (stir, dip, & sweep method)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1.25 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1.5 teaspoons Vietnamese cinnamon (Vietnamese cinnamon--also called Saigon cinnamon--is very potent stuff so a small amount goes a long way. If you need to use supermarket cinnamon, increase the amount to at least 2.25 teaspoons.)

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F.
Lightly grease 2, 8x6 inch loaf pans

To brown the butter:

Put the butter in a clear glass or stainless steal heavy-bottomed, 2-cup sauce pan (or a small skillet). Over medium heat, heat the butter until it stops foaming. Very quickly, the milk solids will fall to the bottom of the pan and will begin to brown. Once it reaches a deep brown (but not black, be careful not to burn it!) and begins to smell of toasted nuts, pull it off the heat and let it cool. I suggest transferring it to a heat-proof ramekin to stop the browning.

For the wet stuff:

All eggs and dairy should be at room temperature.
In a large bowl, combine the first nine ingredients and whisk thoroughly to combine them.

For the dry stuff:

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

Pour the dry stuff over the wet stuff and fold the two together using a large rubber spatula. It will be a somewhat thick batter, but you are looking for no large streaks of flour to remain (small lumps of flour are fine and will integrate into the batter as it bakes).

Evenly divide the batter between the 2 loaf pans. Bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick comes out clean--30-45 minutes (depending on your oven and your particular elevation).