Q: Egg yolks seem 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 protein in the eggs, partially “cooking” them so they won’t curdle as easily when heated.
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 %
Flour, pastry 14 400 g 100
Cornstarch 6 170 g 42.5
Egg whites 1 10.5 750 ml 187.5
Sugar, granulated 1 1 480 g 120
Egg yolks 1 12.25 800 ml 200
Vanilla extract 0.18 (1 tsp) 5 ml 1.25
Lemon extract 0.18 (1 tsp) 5 ml 1.25
Total appr. wt. 5 12 2.61 kg 652.5
Method: Sift flour and cornstarch together. Whip half the granulated sugar and egg yolks to ribbon stage. Beat egg whites with the other half of the granulated sugar to medium soft peak. Fold egg whites into egg yolks followed by the flour/cornstarch and the extracts. 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.
Q: Do we have to take 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 will 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 depends on 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 a 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 a 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 cracking on top of pumpkin pies?
A.J., Springfield, Ill.
A: To eliminate cracking on the surface of pumpkin pies, slightly cut back on the amount of egg whites used and replace it with egg yolks. Egg whites toughen the filling whereas yolks act as a tenderizer.
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 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 dried 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 sounds as though 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 feed a starter regularly 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 like to dust a cake with confectioners’ sugar, but also want to intensify the already existing coffee flavor in the cake. How can we add coffee flavor to confectioners’ sugar?
L.T., Azusa, Calif.
A: Place confectioners’ sugar and instant coffee in a food processor and grind to a fine powder. Use a sieve to liberally dust the top of the cake. I use 15 percent instant coffee to make a great dusting powder. Easy conversion amounts are 2 lbs. (1 kg) confectioners’ sugar and 4 ozs. (150 g) instant coffee.
Q: How can we preserve ripe raspberries for later use?
A: When trying to preserve berries, make sure that they are not blemished or bruised. Arrange the berries, ensuring they do not touch each other, on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Freeze until solid. Remove the berries from the sheet pan and store in a zip-top freezer bag for later use.
Q: How much alcohol can we add to sorbets without compromising the consistency when frozen?
L.J., Sparks, Nev.
A: Alcohol can be added to any sorbet as long as it does not exceed 3 percent. The freezing point of sorbet that contains alcohol depends on the proof of the liquor. Water freezes at 32°F (0°C), and the freezing point of ethanol alcohol is -173.2°F (-114°C). Sorbet bases with alcohol are a mixture of both alcohol and water (with sugars and other additives in some versions), so the freezing point of sorbets with alcohol will be somewhere in between.
Q: How do we prevent meringues from shrinking while baking?
J.W., Sudbury, Mass.
A: When meringues bake, the tightening of the egg white proteins causes them to shrink and makes them difficult to cut smoothly. The solution is to add a small amount of cornstarch paste, which prevents the egg white bonds from tightening. To add cornstarch paste to a meringue, dissolve 3 tbsp. of cornstarch in 8 ozs. water and heat until a thick paste forms. After the sugar is added and the meringue is firm, keep the mixer running and add the cornstarch paste, one teaspoon at a time.
Dr. Klaus Tenbergen has been certified as Master Baker in Germany, South Africa and the United States. He currently is the Culinology® Program Director & Assistant Professor at California State University in Fresno, CA. For more information about Culinology® or to submit questions contact Dr. Tenbergen at firstname.lastname@example.org