Q: How can you preserve ripe bananas and prevent them from ripening more?
L.K., Helena, Mont.
A: To stop the ripening process of already ripe bananas, roast the bananas in the oven at 350°F for 30 to 40 minutes until the skins are completely black and soft to the touch. Allow them to cool, then snip off the blossom and squeeze the fruit out. These bananas can be stored tightly wrapped for several days without discoloring or becoming over ripe. They also freeze well. Roasting concentrates the banana flavor, which makes them perfect for sauces, breads and ice creams.
Q: Our cakes have a tough, crumbly texture. What are we doing wrong?
A: Check your formula to make sure you aren’t using too much flour, sugar or shortening. Also, do not overmix the batter, and use the manufacturer’s recommended mixing times if you are using a mix.
Q: Recently we installed a new oven and now the tops of our cupcakes are cracking. How can we eliminate the problem?
E.P., Red Bank, N.J.
A: The cupcakes crack because the top crust is baked before the center. The batter is still rising inside, pushing against the baked top and creating cracks. This is a typical cupcake baking problem. To eliminate this, calibrate your new oven by placing a thermometer inside the oven, and compare the inside and outside temperature to ensure accuracy. Additionally, lower the oven temperature and don’t use the upper racks of the oven if the oven is not fully filled.
Q: How much salt is needed in a typical bread dough formula? We compared our formulas and the salt levels vary greatly.
H.M., Kew Gardens, N.J.
A: Most formulas use salt between 1.8 percent and 2.2 percent salt (baker’s percentage) based on the flour used, so check that your formulas’ salt content falls within this range. Since salt controls gluten development and yeast activity, it is important to stay within these recommended percentages.
Q: We are using baking ammonia in our cream puff formula as well as in some of our holiday specialties. However, once baked, the products still have a strong ammonia smell. Should we be worried?
C.F., Madison, Wis.
A: Ammonium carbonate turns into three gases when heated during baking: ammonia, carbon dioxide and water vapor. No residue remains in the product after baking. However, not all gases escape during baking, which results in the trace odor of ammonia because ammonia is extremely soluble in water. The remaining gases will evaporate as the product cools.
Q: Some of our baked products have started sporting dark marks on the bottom after baking and cooling. What is causing the discoloration?
I.D., Stillwater, Okla.
A: The dark spots are likely caused by some kind of chemical reaction between the dough and the sheet pans. Do not use sheet pans that are damaged, scratched or showing signs of rust as the dough, slightly acidic at pH 5.5, reacts with these metals. This reaction should be eliminated by using aluminum sheet pans.
Q: What is the average scaling weight for foam-style cakes?
Alessia, via email
A: The scaling weight may vary slightly, depending on the desired outcome. Here are some guidelines:
Q: The crust of my breads consistently separates from the crumb. How do I avoid this?
Yelena, via email
A: This “flying crust” is a tunnel that forms between the crust and the crumb. The reason may be that the bread was proofed at too low of a humidity. During proofing, dough rises and forms a “dry crust” that is then separated from the dough. When the loaf is baked, the inside doesn’t rise to meet the crust, and a flying crust starts to form.
Dr. Klaus Tenbergen is certified as a Master Baker in Germany, South Africa and the United States. He is currently an assistant professor at California State University in Fresno, directing the Culinology® program, which blends culinary arts and the science of food. For more information about Culinology®, or to submit a question, contact Dr. Tenbergen at firstname.lastname@example.org.