Sunday, April 3, 2011

Baking and Cake Decorating Questions: Answered!

Thanks to everyone who submitted a question for this week’s special Q&A week!  There were a lot of great questions!  Some people asked similar questions, so I condensed a few of them.

Without further ado, let’s get to your questions…..

Q: What does brown sugar provide to a recipe versus white sugar? Can they be interchanged?
A: Brown sugar and white sugar are both common ingredients in baking recipes, but they can’t necessarily be substituted for one another.  Brown sugar contains molasses, which gives it its characteristic brown color, rich caramel flavor, and moist texture.  The added moisture from the molasses helps to soften baked goods, so substituting white sugar for brown sugar often makes for a crisper finished product.   But, the reverse is also true….using brown sugar in place of white sugar will make a softer cookie or cake, with a more toffee-like flavor and light brown color.  One is not better than the other, but they do produce different results.  Using a combination of the two helps to balance flavor with texture and color.

When measuring brown sugar always remember to pack it into the measuring cup.  Since brown sugar has more moisture, it tends to stick together like wet sand, so you have to pack it into the cup to get an accurate measurement.  It should hold the shape of the cup when you dump it out…like a sand castle!

If you are out of brown sugar, you can substitute 1 cup white sugar plus 1 tablespoon molasses for each cup of brown sugar in the recipe.

On a side note…cake decorators frequently use a combination of white sugar and brown sugar to make edible sand for cakes…it looks almost real!

Q: What is the best type of frosting to put on a cake? Will you share your recipe?
A:  There are several different types of frostings: simple buttercream, decorator’s buttercream, and meringue buttercreams (Swiss, Italian, and French).

A simple buttercream usually just has butter, powdered sugar, milk/water, and vanilla.  This type of frosting is easy to make and tastes great on cakes and cupcakes.   For professional decorating purposes though, it doesn’t hold up well for transporting and in warm temperatures because the butter melts so easily.

My favorite is a decorator’s buttercream.  (And I’m happy to share my recipe….check back next week for step-by-step instructions to make my delicious chocolate buttercream!) 

Decorator’s buttercream usually includes butter, shortening, powdered sugar, meringue powder, water, and various flavorings.  It differs from a simple buttercream with the addition of the shortening and meringue power.   Since shortening doesn’t melt until very high temperatures, it helps to stabilize the buttercream in warm weather, so the frosting doesn’t just melt right off the cake.  The meringue powder also gives the buttercream a more consistent texture and helps to “set” the frosting so that piped designs will hold their shape.

Meringue buttercreams are made are completely different.  They have an impeccably smooth texture and are deliciously light and airy, though they must be eaten at room temperature.  Cold meringue buttercream tastes like eating butter.  There are three main types of meringue buttercreams – French, Italian, and Swiss – but they all use granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar and use fresh eggs instead of meringue powder.

The method for making each one various, but basically the sugar is heated enough to “cook” the eggs then they are whipped together until extremely fluffy.  Then softened butter is beaten in until the mixture becomes smooth and glossy.  This type of buttercream doesn’t hold up as well in warm weather either, so its best used for smaller cakes that don’t have to be on display at a wedding or event for several hours.

Q:   How do you get your fondant to stick to the cake?
A:  The easiest way to “attach” the fondant is to lightly spray the cake with water before laying on the fondant.  I keep a small spray bottle of water that I use just for cakes.  The water will help the fondant stick, just be careful not to get it too wet.

Q: I've always wondered what makes cake flour and bread flour different from regular flour?
There are three main “types” of flour you can find at the grocery store: all-purpose (hereafter referred to as AP), cake flour, and bread flour.  The different between all of these is the amount of protein and gluten.  The more protein, the chewier the finished product.  So, for things like sandwich bread, baguettes, and soft pretzels, a nice chewy texture is great.  But, for cakes, cupcakes, and biscuits, chewy is not the goal.  For baked goods like those, most people prefer a light, soft, delicate crumb. 

Bread flour contains the highest levels of protein and gluten.  Cake flour has the lowest.  AP flour falls somewhere between the two and can thus be used for almost everything.  It might not make the chewiest pretzel or the most delicate cupcake, but it works fairly well for all basic baking.  If you do a lot of special baking, try investing in some cake flour or bread flour and see if you like the results.  If you are an occasional baker, AP is all you need.

Q: Do you have any good crock pot ideas/recipes?
A:  My favorite crock pot recipe is enchilada casserole.  There are many recipes out there, but it basically seasoned taco meat layered with tortillas and cheese.  Cook on low for 4-6 hours. 

But if you want something unique, I have seen several recipes for crock-pot cheesecake, which sounds intriguing!  I am hoping to try in out sometime soon, and I’ll report back on the results!

Q:   What kind of food coloring should I use for fondant?
A:  I like to use gel colors.  You can find Wilton gel colors in the cake decorating section at most craft stores.  I buy mine online in larger quantities, but any brand will do.

You can’t use the little bottles of food coloring found in the baking aisle at the grocery store though.  They aren’t concentrated enough to color the fondant and the extra liquid will really mess up the texture of the fondant.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a question this week!  Check back next week for my recipe for buttercream....yum!

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