Q: We occasionally have to work with dry ice for shipping product. How should we handle and store it?
D.B., Hollywood, Fla.
A: Dry ice sublimates from a solid to a gas over time when not stored properly. The temperature of dry ice is extremely cold at -109.3°F (-78.5°C); therefore it needs to be stored accordingly. A word of caution: Always handle dry ice with care and wear a protective cloth or leather gloves when touching it. If touched briefly, it is harmless, but prolonged contact with the skin will freeze cells and cause injury similar to a burn. To dispose, unwrap and leave it at room temperature in a well-ventilated area.
Q: What is the difference between a banneton and a couche?
J.V., Chomedy, Quebec
A: A banneton or proofing basket is a type of basket used to provide structure for sourdough breads during proofing. Proofing baskets are distinct from loaf pans in that the bread is normally removed from these baskets before baking. Traditionally, these baskets are made out of wicker but many modern proofing baskets are made out of silicone or plastic. Frequently, a banneton will have a cloth liner to prevent dough from sticking to the sides of the basket. These baskets are used both to provide the loaf with shape and to wick moisture from the crust. Alternatively, a couche or proofing cloth is generally made of linen or other coarse material that the dough will not stick to and is left unwashed so as to let yeast and flour collect in it, aiding the proofing process. A banneton is used for round loaves, called boules, and a couche is typically used for longer loaves, such as baguettes.
Q: Our pâte à choux always turns out tough. How do we achieve the light, crispy texture it should have?
Kimberly, via email
A: When making pâte à choux, after cooking the batter, add all of the eggs at one time. Adding the eggs gradually often leads to over mixing of the batter, which can make the end product tough. When over mixed, the water particles become too finely distributed throughout the dough and are not able to be easily released during baking. It is the release of water that causes the pâte à choux to puff. When not released as readily, the resulting pastry will be tough rather than light and crisp.
Q: Can we substitute granulated sugar with brown sugar in a one-to-one ratio?
M.H., Urbana, Ill.
A: You can at a one-to-one ratio, but you must also decrease the total amount of liquid in the formula by 1 percent as the brown sugar contains molasses.
Q: Can you share a butter crunch filling that we can cover with chocolate and nuts?
Charles, via email
A: This formula has worked well for me.
Butter crunch filling
Ingredients Lbs. Ozs. Metric
Butter, 3 3.25 1 kg
unsalted and melted
Sugar, granulated 3 3.25 1 kg
Water 7 200 ml
Salt, table 0.33 10 g
Vanilla extract 1 28 ml
Total appr. wt. 6 14.83 2.238 kg
Method: Combine the butter, sugar, water and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook over moderate heat to 298°F (146°C) while stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and add the vanilla, blending well. Pour the mixture onto a silicone baking mat. Spread quickly to the edges before the toffee sets. Allow to cool completely. Blot the edges with a paper towel to remove any excess oil from the surface. Coat both sides with your favorite tempered chocolate and sprinkle with nuts.
Q: We bake our custards in a water bath, but the ramekins slide on the sheet pan. Are there any tricks to prevent this?
S.W., El Paso, Texas
A: Line the sheet pan with a towel or silicone baking mat before adding cold water. This provides an even layer underneath the ramekins to prevent them from sliding and helps ensure an even bake.
Q: Is there an easy way to peel nuts like almonds or filberts?
J.H., Meza, Ariz.
A: To peel hazelnuts or almonds, boil them in water with a small amount of baking soda for 1 minute. Baking soda breaks down cellulose, which is what the skin of the nuts is made of. Shock the nuts in cold water. Peel them and roast in the oven to prevent molding.
Q: What adjustments are needed to make a chocolate cake using a white cake formula?
A: To make a chocolate cake from a white cake base, you need to replace some of the flour with cocoa and increase the fluids. Also, I suggest using alkalized cocoa. Alkalized cocoa absorbs more water than non-alkalized cocoa. Due to its high fiber and starch content, cocoa powder absorbs moisture. The alkalization process neutralizes the acid in cocoa and removes some of its harshness. Alkalized cocoa also has a deeper color and more intense flavor, which allows you to use less cocoa. You will need to adjust your leavening as well. When using non-alkalized cocoa, increase the amount of baking soda and decrease acids to account for cocoa’s low pH. When using alkalized cocoa, decrease the amount of baking soda and increase acids to obtain the correct pH.
Q: We use soapy water to clean our sheet pans, but it leaves a greasy film. How should we be washing sheet pans?
S.H., Kennesaw, Ga.
A: Do not run water over greasy pans, instead put soap on your sponge and coat the pan with it before adding water. Washing liquid is designed to cut through grease and it works better when applied directly to the problem areas.
Q: Can peach pits be used to enhance the flavor of desserts?
N.H., Newark, N.J.
A: When making a cake with a peach mousse filling that requires soaking syrup for the cake base, add the peach pits to the water and sugar. Peach pits impart tremendous flavor and aroma. This also is good for poaching peaches.
Q: What is the recommended temperature to properly store ice cream and sorbets?
Joe, via email
A: Ice cream and sorbets should be stored below 0°F (-18°C) to prevent the formation of large ice crystals. However, I recommend tempering ice cream and sorbet for 24 hours before serving to about 12°F (-10°C) so it softens a bit.
Q: What tool can we use to get nice, “clean” scores?
B.S., Swedesboro, N.J.
A: I have found a homemade tool works best to score loaves of bread cleanly and efficiently. Tape two bamboo skewers securely to the sides of a double-edged razor and use to score the tops of unbaked loaves. It is sharper than Exacto blades and offers more control than using a razor blade alone, which also is dangerous.
Q: Egg yolks seam to “cook” when we mix the sugar and yolks to make pastry cream. How do we prevent this?
Paula, via email
A: When combining egg yolks and sugar, make sure that you mix swiftly. Do not let the two sit without mixing. The sugar will burn the yolks, leaving you with hard bits that will affect any product where you are looking for a uniformly smooth consistency, i.e. crème anglaise, pastry cream, lemon curd, etc.
Q: Why does our lemon curd coagulate?
S.H., Phoenix, Ariz.
A: To make a successful curd, the eggs need to thicken the liquid. Heat and the addition of acidic ingredients cause the eggs to bond and coagulate. You want to add ingredients that will act as a barrier between the protein molecules of the eggs and dilute the eggs, which will raise the temperature at which coagulation begins. Either adding sugar or fats early in the process will coat the protein molecules and help prevent coagulation. Using a mixer also helps. The vigorous beating denatures the proteins in the eggs, partially “cooking” them so that they won’t curdle as easily when heated.
Q: Do we have to take the water quality into consideration when making yeast breads or is tap water sufficient?
Kelly, via email
A: Water’s mineral content or relative hardness/softness will affect your dough. For ideal dough condition, use water with a mineral content of 50 to 100 ppm. If the water is too hard (more than 100 ppm), the dough will be tough and you need to increase your yeast level. If the water is too soft (less than 50 ppm), your dough will be too soft requiring you to use less water or to add minerals by using mineral yeast food or calcium phosphorus nitrate. The ideal water pH for dough is between 6.5 (slightly acidic) and 8.0 (slightly alkaline). Since the pH level of your local water supply can be affected by the amount of chlorine (which may vary throughout the year and location) it is a good idea to obtain a water analysis of your particular source.
Q: I have tried many formulas for lemon pie filling, but all of them have rusty aftertaste that becomes more pronounced. How do I remove the aftertaste?
Nora, via email
A: Rust is the name of iron oxides that form as the consequence of the corrosion process of steel (iron). Corrosion is the destructive attack of a metal through interaction with its environment. The “aftertaste” is caused by the acidity of the lemons or limes coming into contact with a copper or stainless steel bowl. I recommend using a non-reactive bowl (glass or plastic) to make the curd and when whipping the meringue.
Q: How can we eliminate the cracking on top of pumpkin pies?
A.J., Springfield, Ill.
A: To eliminate cracking in pumpkin pies, slightly cut back on the amount of egg whites used. Egg whites toughen the filling whereas yolks act as a tenderizer. Remove some of the egg whites and replace it with egg yolks.
Q: What tricks can you offer to make consistent pâté de fruit?
R.B., Kennesaw, Ga.
A: Pâté de fruit or French fruit jelly, are jewel like confections bursting with intense fruit flavor. For more consistent and accurate results, use a refractometer instead of a thermometer when making pâté de fruit. A thermometer only gives you the temperature reading, which can vary a few degrees each time depending upon the residual heat within the mixture. A refractometer, which measures the speed at which light passes through a liquid, will give you the percentage of solids in the water mixture. By knowing this percentage, you will always be able to achieve the same consistency in your pâté de fruit.
Q: How can we enhance the flavor of naturally leavened bread?
Thomas, via email
A: To enhance the flavor of naturally leavened breads, try toasting seeds or onions before adding them to your starter. Add the toasted seeds or onions when you mix your starter and allow it to ferment overnight. Toasted cocoa nibs impart a nice texture and a pure strong chocolate flavor to chocolate bread when incorporated into the dough before baking. They also provide a pleasant background for added fruits like dry cherries or candied oranges.
Q: We use Isomalt to make pulled, blown and cast sugar, however the Isomalt always becomes very brittle. What are we doing wrong?
R.D., Loveland, Colo.
A: It is better to cook Isomalt quickly when using it for pulled, blown or cast sugar. The longer it cooks, the more water will evaporate and the more brittle the Isomalt will become. For the best results, cook the Isomalt to a temperature of 338°F (170°C) within 12 to 15 minutes.
Q: We make our breads with sourdough starters, but the bread becomes too dense with a too sour flavor. What can we do to solve this problem?
Manuel, via email
A: It is as if the starter is so weak from lack of flour refreshment that it has no strength to make the dough rise to its full potential or to fight off the bad flavors. As long as you give a starter regular feedings you should not have to worry about it becoming too sour or too weak. Think of bell curve graph, a starter is at its optimum strength and flavor 8 to 12 hours after it is fed and drops off considerably in quality beyond that range.
Q: Our nuts, especially the hazelnuts, tend to become rancid rather quickly. What is the proper way to store nuts to prolong their shelf life?
C.P., Springfield, Ill.
A: The best place to store shelled hazelnuts is in the freezer at 27°F (-3°C) or less. The nuts will last up to two years when stored in plastic bags or containers. The next best place to store them is in the refrigerator at 32°F (0°C). They last up to one year if packaged in airtight plastic bags or containers. Before using, let nuts return to room temperature in an unopened bag.
Q: We would like to make our own ladyfingers for a tiramisu cake. Can you share a formula?
Jimmy, via email
A: This formula has served me well in the past.
Ingredients Lbs. Ozs. Metric Bakers %
Egg yolks 1 12.25 800 ml 200
Sugar, granulated 0 8.5 240 g 60
Vanilla Extract 0 0.18 (1 tsp) 5 ml 1.25
Lemon Extract 0 0.18 (1 tsp) 5 ml 1.25
Egg whites 1 10.5 750 ml 187.5
Sugar, granulated 0 8.5 240 g 60
Flour, pastry 0 14 400 g 100
Starch, corn 0 6 170 g 42.5
Total appr. wt. 5 12 2.6 kg 652.5
Method: Sift flour and corn starch together. Whip granulated sugar and egg yolks to ribbon stage. Beat egg whites and granulated sugar to medium soft peak. Fold egg whites into egg yolks followed by the flour/cornstarch and vanilla/lemon extract. Pipe mixture onto parchment lined sheet pans and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Bake at 340°F (170°C) until golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.