The weather is just starting to warm up a bit, and our collective sap is starting to rise. If you feel like taking on a few little projects in the kitchen, it's a good time to start baking. Chef Jerry Pellegrino has some timely tips for our listeners.
1. Cooking is an art, baking is a science. Follow the directions exactly. One little slip can change things dramatically. Stick to the recipe and don't monkey around with it.
2. Measuring matters. Get a proper measuring cup and spoons and pour your ingredients into the cup, never scoop since that packs the ingredient and throws off the measurement. Always level a cup or spoon with a knife.
3. Go for high quality ingredients, especially your flour, sugar and yeast.
4. Pay attention to temperature. Cold butter is different from room temperature butter and soft butter and melted butter. Especially true when making pie crust (very cold butter).
5. Use unsalted butter for baking, since this gives you total control over your salt intake.
6. A good high quality mixer is worth its weight in gold. The standing variety
gives you a superbly uniform mix.
7. In the oven, rotate your pans for an even bake.
8. Take your cookies out of the oven when their centers look slightly under-cooked. They will firm up while cooling.
9. Calibrate your oven with an oven thermometer. Find out where the hot spots and cold spots are.
10. If you have a convection button on your oven, use it. It will give you a better baking result.
And some of our favorite recipes:
Paté Brisée (Short Crust)-a basic crust recipe for almost any savory and some sweet fruit tarts.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons ice water
- Combine flour, butter and salt in a food processor. Process using the pulse button for four or five short pulses.
- Turn the processor on and pour the ice water into the dough just until it begins to form. Stop processing immediately.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and work it together into a ball with your hands.
- Place the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and from it into a flat disc.
- Cover the dough completely and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour, or up to two or three days.
1 10.5 inch Paté Brisée shell, unbaked
2 lbs young, slim leeks
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large eggs
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup fresh goat cheese whipped at room temperature
Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Dice the leeks and soak them briefly in water to remove any sand or dirt.
- Drain well.
- Combine the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Stir in the leeks, cover the pan and cook over low heat stirring occasionally, until leeks are just tender but not browned.
- Uncover, sprinkle in the flour and stir well to blend.
- In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, heavy cream and goat cheese until smooth.
- Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Add the leeks and mix well. Pour the filling into the prepared pastry shell.
- Bake in the center of the oven for 35 minutes, or until the top of the tart is puffed and lightly golden brown.
- Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
1 cup (2 sticks or 230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 and 1/3 cup (267g) granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups (375g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
2 teaspoons cream of tartar*
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats (always recommended for cookies). Set aside.
Make the topping: toss 1/4 cup granulated sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
Make the cookies: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the softened butter for about 1 minute on medium speed. Get it nice and smooth, then add the sugar on medium speed until fluffy and light in color. Mix in egg and vanilla. Scrape down the sides as needed. Set aside.
In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in 3 different parts. The dough is quite thick and you may have to stir the rest by hand.
Take 1.5 - 2 Tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball. Roll the dough balls into the reserved cinnamon-sugar topping. Sprinkle extra cinnamon-sugar on top if desired. Bake cookies for 11-12 minutes. The cookies will be very puffy and soft. When they are still very warm, lightly press down on them with the back of a spoon or fork to help flatten them out. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies remain soft & fresh for 7 days in an airtight container at room temperature.
Make ahead tip: There are a few options here! First, you can prepare the cookie dough and chill it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Make sure that you let it come to room temperature before rolling and baking the cookies. You can also freeze the cookie dough balls. Roll the dough into balls then freeze the balls for up to 2-3 months. You can freeze the cookie dough balls with the cinnamon sugar coating or without, your call. When ready to make, bake the frozen cookie dough balls 1-2 minutes longer than what the recipe states. You can also freeze the baked cookies for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving.
Irish Soda Bread
4 cups + ¾ cup all-purpose flour, divided
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into squares
1 ¾ cup buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (from 1 medium orange)
1 cup raisins – hydrated in ¼ Irish Whiskey + ¾ cup water for 30 minutes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with a silicone mat or a piece of parchment paper, or coat with non-stick spray.
In a large bowl, mix together the four cups flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
Add the butter and with a pastry blender or your fingers, squeeze and mix the butter in with the flour mixture until the butter is about the size of peas.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and orange zest. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon just until the dough starts to come together. Strain any remaining liquid from the cranberries and add them to the dough. Fold in the cranberries until just combined. The dough will be wet and sticky.
Spread some of the remaining flour onto a flat surface and turn the dough out onto it. Sprinkle a bit more flour over the bread and begin kneading, adding more flour as you go, until the dough is smooth and uniform. Do not over mix!!! Form dough into a round loaf and place on the baking sheet. With a sharp knife, cut an "X" into the top.
Bake for 45 - 55 minutes, or until golden brown and the bread sounds a little hollow when you knock on it. You can also try using a cake tester just to be sure - when it comes out clean, it's done. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, then slice, butter, and serve. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap; keeps at room temperature for up to 3 days.