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Baking Tips

 Orange chiffon cake on a white dish
Orange chiffon cake / Photo by Jennie Robinson Faber via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

After watching dozens of episodes of British baking shows, I've come to realize that I actually know next to nothing about baking. All that talk about sponges, and proofing and soggy bottoms leaves me baffled. So I'm glad that Chef Jerry Pellegrino is such a dab hand at bakery. Jerry has helped us out with a few great tips for better baking.

It’s important to treat baking like a science. Precise temperatures, in terms of ingredients and cooking, make a big difference in the outcome of what you bake.

  1. Always read the recipe from beginning to end, measure everything out ahead of time and have all the tools you’ll need ready. Some recipes need to move quickly, and you don’t want anything slowing you up.
  2. Since baking is a science, it requires chemicals to work correctly. These chemicals have shelf lives and therefore need to be used as fresh as possible. If you can’t remember when you bought you baking powder and baking soda, then it’s certainly time to buy new.
  3. Get an oven thermometer. Home ovens are rarely actually calibrated correctly. Just because you set the knob to 375°F, your oven may not actually be that temperature. Use the thermometer to adjust the knob accordingly. And don’t open the oven door once you’ve put your product in the oven! Use the interior light if you need to check on progress. Opening the door allows cold air in and can ruin your result.
  4. Pay attention to the temperature of ingredients…it matters! If the butter is supposed to be at room temperature, then you’ll need to take the time to let it warm up.
  5. Splurge when it comes to the tools you need to bake. A great cheesecake requires a great springform pan. Using subpar equipment will certainly produce subpar results.

And here's a clever little recipe Jerry worked up that should be fun to try.

Orange Glazed Olive Oil Cake


Unsalted butter, for the pan

2 navel oranges or thin-skinned juice oranges, such as Valencia

2 1/3 cup sugar

2 ½ cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

4 large eggs at room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ tsp. fleur de sel

For the orange glaze

½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

½ cup confectioner’s sugar


In a large pot, bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Slice the bottoms and the tops off the oranges (where the rind is the thickest) and quarter the oranges. Plunge the orange, rind and all, into the water, allow the water to return to a boil, remove, and drain. Repeat the process two more times. This blanching will remove the bitterness from the orange rind.

Place the oranges in a pot filled with 1-quart fresh water and 1 cup of the sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then let simmer until the rind is softened and can be easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. At this point, the oranges can be cooled and kept in a container, in the syrup, in the fridge for up to 3 weeks before you proceed with the recipe.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch round cake pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper and set aside.

Pull the prepared oranges from the syrup with a slotted spoon, and discard any remaining seeds in the cooked orange segments. Cut the oranges into chunks. Place them, rind and all, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment (discard the syrup), and pulse until the oranges form a puree. The puree will be slightly chunky and not perfectly smooth, and this is okay.

Add the eggs, the remaining 1 1/3 cups sugar, the flour mixture, and the vanilla extract to the food processor. Pulse until well blended.

Add the extra virgin olive oil last and pulse until thoroughly blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake on the center rack until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the top of the cake is golden brown, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then slide a thin knife or offset spatula around the sides of the pan and turn it over to unmold the cake onto a plate, then flip the cake onto a wire rack.

Let cool thoroughly on the rack, at least 30 to 40 minutes more, and pour orange glaze over the cake when cool. Sprinkle the fleur de sel over the cake at the last minute.

For The Orange Glaze

While the cake cools, combine the orange juice and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Using a skewer or long thin knife, prick deep holes all over the surface of the cake. Pour half the glaze over the cake, letting it seep into the holes. Let the cake cool for 20 minutes more. Pour the remaining glaze over the cake and let set for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.