Thursday, March 28, 2013

Baking Tips Part Two: Ingredients

Here is part two in my baking tips trilogy. In case you missed it, you can find part one here.  Stay tuned for part three.
A big part of success in baking is choosing the right ingredients and using them correctly. Here are some tips to help you choose the best ingredients:

Butter. No one uses margarine anymore. At least I hope not. If a recipe calls for butter, use butter, not margarine and not shortening.  You should also note whether the recipe calls for salted or unsalted butter.  Older recipes tend to just call for “butter” and in those cases I use salted butter. Newer recipes typically specify, so go with what the recipe says. Be careful when bringing butter to room temperature. The best way to do that is by leaving it out on the counter. You want it to be pliable enough to use but not melted, which is what usually happens when the microwave is involved.
Really good vanilla, usually.  I’m partial to Penzey’s double strength vanilla, you get double the flavor in the same volume of vanilla. I use it in shortbread, chocolate chip cookies or anytime that I want the vanilla flavor to shine through. For times when I don’t care as much, chocolate cake maybe, I just use Costco vanilla.  I have also been experimenting a bit with vanilla paste but don’t yet have an opinion on it.
Fine sea salt. I like good quality salt and I use kosher salt as my go-to everyday salt. However, kosher salt is a bit too coarse for baking so for that I use a finely ground sea salt such as La Baleine.
When you have a choice, go with the higher quality ingredient. If you have a choice between two versions of an ingredient, and one is a higher quality, go for the higher quality one. I notice this with cocoa powder especially.
Eggs.  Recipes are written for various sizes of eggs, some call for large eggs, others for extra large eggs. Pay attention and use the right size egg.


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