I love the science of baking. It’s fun to observe and measure outcomes when using different ingredients, equipment, and techniques. Sometimes, I’ll prepare something I’ve made dozens of times and get an unexpected result because of a very slight modification. On these occasions, I often do some testing on a single dessert. I’ll try variations and document the process. Hopefully this will get me to the perfect lemon bar someday!

  1. Testing . . . Lemon Bars

    June 12, 2014 by alex

    lemon-bars

    I used the same lemon bar recipe for these lemon bar but I substituted 1/2 cup granulated sugar for 1/2 dark brown sugar. It gave the bars a molasses-like flavor. Hope you enjoy!

    For the second batch of lemon bars, I put 1/2 a lemon’s zest, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. In the filling, I added 1/2 a extra lemon’s zest, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. I also beat the four eggs until they were light and pale yellow. This increases the volume of the filling. The filling ended up being very light and meringue-like. For the glaze, I added some lemon zest. I hope you enjoy!

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  2. Testing . . . Caramels

    April 9, 2014 by alex

    The winner last week was chocolate caramels with sea salt. I tried one batch of the chocolate caramels with sea salt and my results weren’t too pretty; a thin layer of butter on top of the batch and a slightly grainy texture. That was most likely due to the sugar not fully dissolving. I decided to go back to the drawing board and looked for new recipes and tips on making the perfect caramels. My dad introduced me to David Lebovitz’s baking blog. This man has traveled the world and perfected his craft. He had a recipe and tips for “making the perfect caramels”. The recipe was completely different to the prior one so I decided to try it. I’ve made caramel sauces before and making caramels is a little bit more complicated. You need to make sure that you don’t overstir the sugar so that it won’t crystallize. The temperature that the burner is at is crucial to making caramels. Don’t turn the knob up just because you think it will take less time; you’re actually burning the sugar and overcooking it. I made two batches today. I added some ginger to the first batch and cooked the caramel to 260F. The second batch is just the basic recipe without any additions cooked to 255F. The second batch came out just the way I like it, on the lighter side. The recipe will be posted soon. Enjoy and let me know what you think. These are pretty hard caramels and I’ll be trying some softer caramels with chocolate soon. I used a Polder candy thermometer while cooking.

    Check out this video of the bubbling caramel.

    (adapted from davidlebovitz.com)

    The Caramel:

    3/4 cup heavy cream
    4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    1/2 teaspoon sea salt
    1/2 light corn syrup
    1 cup sugar
    (1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger, for the first batch)

    Directions:

    Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil and then spray the foil with canola oil spray.
    Bring two tablespoons of butter, heavy cream, and vanilla to a boil in a small saucepan.
    When it comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and put a plate onto of the pot to keep the mixture warm.
    In a medium sauce pan, preferably one with a heavy bottom, combine the sugar and corn syrup.
    Place a candy thermometer on the side of the pan.
    Turn the heat to medium-low and stir the mixture until it’s smooth.
    Once the sugar is dissolved, stop mixing.
    Don’t overmix the sugar because then it will crystallize.
    Cook the caramel until it reaches 310F.
    Take the caramel off the heat and stir in the heavy cream mixture.
    Put it back on the heat and cook the caramel until it reaches 260F.
    Take the caramel off the heat and stir in the last two tablespoons of butter.
    Pour the caramel mixture into the pan lined with aluminum foil.
    Wait about ten minutes until you can sprinkle the top of the caramel with salt.
    Let the caramel cool and then peal away the foil.
    Slicing the caramel is the hard part.
    Heat your knife over a burner and then cut the caramel into the shapes that you want.


  3. Testing … Sugar Cookies

    March 10, 2014 by alex

    I’m not crazy about sugar cookies, but I wanted to make them because they’re a staple dessert, one of the basics. Yesterday, I made a batch of Martha Stewart’s sugar cookies. I printed out the recipe about seven years ago and had never tried it. I wanted to give these cookies a try. I followed the instructions as is, except that the recipe wanted the cookies to be rolled out to an 1/8 of an inch and instead, I formed the dough into a log and decided to cut the dough into generous 1/2-inch cookies. Who doesn’t like slightly thick cookies? The dough looked great. It formed really well and I under-mixed it a little bit just to make sure they wouldn’t get too firm. The recipes says to bake them in a 325F oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. I thought that that was too low of a temperature and too long of a time span, but I decided to follow the directions anyway. They seemed to take too long to get golden brown. I ended up putting them in for about 19 minutes, which is a long time for my oven. I’ve learned that my oven bakes a little bit quicker than the recipe calls for, but the cookies still seemed like they were never going to turn golden brown. They were ok when they came out of the oven and were still hot, but a couple hours later they were hard as a rock. Today, I was determined to make up for yesterday’s failure. I made two types of sugar cookies; one that I found online that was made with Greek yogurt, and a recipe for ‘sugar drop cookies’, which is out of The Joy of Cooking. The first recipe mixed very well and looked great. The dough rolled very well and looked great. The batter tasted a little bit weird with Greek yogurt, but I decided to forge ahead. They looked nice when baked. I tried one and it tasted a little bit like a Portuguese sweet roll! I wasn’t very excited by them, but my dad tried them and was very happy (which was a good sign because he can be picky!). I added an orange glaze after they cooled. I love to add citrus to desserts and these cookies needed some added sugar.

    I think the second batch of cookies was a lot more successful. You can’t go wrong with The Joy of Cooking. Once again, the batter looked great and actually tasted great too. I decided to add some fresh and ground ginger into the cookies for my dad (he’s a ginger fanatic!). They baked for a longer period of time than the recipe called for because I used a cookie scoop instead of forming the dough into balls. The cookies look good and taste much better than yesterday’s batch. Note: when looking for a sugar cookie recipe, pay attention to the amount of butter, eggs, and flour. Different recipes have different ratios of these ingredients and in return lead to different cookie textures. Other factors include the amount of mixing, temperature of the ingredients, and of course every oven is different.

    Also today, I made an Italian almond tart or sbrisolona, it’s sort of a cross between a biscotti and a shortbread cookie. I had to make this for my Italian class and this seemed like a pretty good recipe. The tart is very easy to make and probably goes very well with a cup of tea or coffee. I hope you enjoy! Please let me know what you think.

    The Greek Yogurt Cookies:

    1 cup butter
    2 cups sugar
    16 ounces Greek yogurt
    2 large eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon ground ginger

    Directions:

    Cream butter and sugar together
    Add the eggs and vanilla
    Add the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda
    Mix until incorporated
    Bake in a 350F oven for about 10 minutes until the bottoms of the cookies are golden brown.

    The Sbrisolona:

    3/4 cup slivered, toasted almonds
    1 large egg yolk
    Zest of an orange
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    6 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    7 tablespoons cold, cubed butter
    1/3 cup sugar
    3 tablespoons dark brown sugar

    Directions:

    Butter a 9-inch springform pan
    Mix the egg yolk and orange zest in a bowl
    Mix the flour, salt, and cornmeal in a separate bowl
    Add in the butter to the flour mixture
    Work it in with your hands until the mixture resembles coarse meal
    Stir in the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and almonds
    Fold in the egg mixture
    Don’t overmix it
    Loosely press the dough into the pan
    Bake in a 350F oven for about 40 minutes until the tart in golden brown on the top
    Let cool and unmold

    The ‘Sugar Drop Cookies’:

    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    2/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger
    1 cup sugar
    3/4 cup vegetable oil
    2 large eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla

    Directions:

    Mix the vegetable oil and sugar together
    Add eggs and vanilla
    Sift in the flour, baking powder, and salt.
    Add the ground and fresh ginger
    Mix until incorporated
    Scoop the dough using a cookie scoop
    Roll the cookies in ginger sugar
    Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet about 1-inch apart
    Bake for about 10 minutes in a 375F oven until the bottoms of the cookies are golden brown

    The Butter Cookies:

    2 sticks butter, softened
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 egg yolks
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

    Directions:

    Cream the butter and sugar together
    Add the eggs yolks and vanilla
    Add the flour, salt, and cinnamon
    Mix until incorporated
    Roll the dough into a log and refrigerate for at least two hours
    Cut 1/4-inch cookies and place them on a parchment-lined cookies sheet
    Bake in a 350F oven for about 12 minutes until the bottoms of the cookies are golden brown.