liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
[personal profile] liv
So a few months ago I made a post asking for easy baking recipes. And in spite of making a public commitment that I was going to start baking before Passover, life and procrastination got in the way. Then when I was asking for topics for Three Weeks for Dreamwidth, an anony person asked if there have been any results from the baking experiments you mentioned a while back... I was embarrassed to have to say I hadn't got started, and that motivated me to pick up the project again.

Last week when I did my major store-cupboard restock I made sure I had most of the ingredients mentioned in the recipes people had suggested to me. And this weekend [personal profile] jack was here to provide moral support and help with QA, so I decided to take the plunge.

I picked [personal profile] forestofglory's butterscotch brownies, because it looked reasonably technically simple and didn't involve creaming. I'm going to write up my experience in detail just because I'm so new to this, so I want to document things to help me improve at this.

Recipe calls for an 8'' x 8'' pan. I'm judging that it probably needs a fairly shallow, tray type of deal, rather than a deep cake tin. The nearest I have is a 10'' round flan dish. I calculate its area and figure it's about 1.5x the suggested dish, so I determine to multiply up the recipe by 50%. The pan has to be greased (good thing I have the scientist's habit of reading through the protocol before I start, or I might have got to that stage with hot mixture and not had a greased pan ready). OK, I know how to grease pans, that's something I've seen my mother doing, you get a butter paper and rub the remnants of the butter all over the base and sides of the dish.

Next problem: [personal profile] forestofglory is American, so she measures ingredients by volume, not by weight. (Converting between Imperial and metric units is no problem, but converting between volume and weight is harder!) British butter doesn't come in "sticks", and I don't fancy trying to squish the butter into tablespoons, especially not twelve tablespoons, in order to measure its volume! So I ask the internet to convert from sticks to ounces. 1 stick of butter is 4 oz, so I weigh out 6 oz of butter. I do however have a measuring jug marked in US cups so I can do the dry measures by volume. I hesitate a bit; if I've converted the butter into weight, but I do the rest of the ingredients by volume, will the proportions work out? I decide to take the risk anyway, rather than faffing about trying to figure out the weight equivalents for all the suggested measurements.

I start the butter melting on a low heat. I assume that stirring it with a wooden spoon from time to time probably can't hurt, so I do that. Then I attempt to measure out 1½ cups of very dark brown sugar. Since [personal profile] forestofglory had mentioned molasses, I assumed that something sold as molasses sugar was the nearest equivalent. Though maybe that was too rich, I should have mixed ordinary brown sugar (Demerara? Muscovado?) with a little molasses sugar? Anyway, molasses sugar is quite clumpy and sticky. I kind of crumbled it with my fingers into the measuring jug, pressing it down a bit to fit it into the volume. But I don't know if that was the right thing to do, maybe I was supposed to measure 1½ cups of loose, clumpy sugar? Or maybe I was supposed to tamp it right down so it was tightly packed? This is why measuring by weight seems easier to me! Anyway, by the time I'd done this, the butter was all melted and was starting to bubble, so I added a big thermal mass of room temperature sugar to keep it from boiling or burning, and stirred it a bit.

The next stage takes place when it is nicely melted and there are no lumps. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to actually dissolve the sugar in the melted butter (is that even possible?) or just make a smooth suspension. I also wasn't sure if I was supposed to mix up the eggs before adding them either. So I took a guess and mixed two eggs, and when that was done the sugar was still grainy and somewhat distinct from the melted butter, and didn't seem inclined to actually "melt" or dissolve, so I decided to just add the eggs anyway. But then I forgot I was supposed to be doing only 1½ eggs, and added the whole 2 eggs by mistake. I hoped that was going to be ok! My experience of cooking savoury sauces with eggs told me that I probably ought to stir the mix to incorporate the egg without turning it into scrambled eggs, so I did that. When I had a homogeneous mixture I added the 1½ cups plain flour. I stirred that in to the mix as well, and at that point realized (based on my vague general concepts of baking) that I probably ought to have sifted it first, because it was a bit lumpy in the mix and I couldn't make the lumps go away by stirring. I tried for a while, and decided I wasn't getting anywhere, but that I had a texture not completely unlike my experience of raw cake batter , so I reckoned cooking it was doable.

The mix went into the tin ok, it was kind of sticky but just about liquid enough to reshape itself to fit the container. 350 °F is approximately 180 °C. And I have a nice fan-assisted gas oven so I reckoned it would likely run fairly hot. Lots of people in the thread had advised me to get an oven thermometer and not trust the temperature on the dial, but I have generally found my oven to be reasonably good at cooking savoury dishes evenly and at the temperature given in the recipe, so I decided to risk it and not wait until I get round to getting specialist equipment. After about 16 or 18 minutes the cake starts to smell cakey, so I decided to take it out at exactly 20 minutes, no longer than that.

The cake looked as far as I can judge like a cooked cake. It hadn't risen much, but it had a bit and the recipe didn't seem like the kind of thing that's supposed to rise. I prodded it in the centre with a knife and the knife came out clean, which is something I've vaguely read somewhere is a good sign. Slightly under an inch deep, and just starting to be a little crisp at the edges, but as best as I could tell reasonably cooked in the middle. I waited 20 minutes for the delicious-smelling cake to cool, and then attempted to get it out of the tin. My shallow flan dish doesn't have a removable base, so I thought this bit might be tricky. Actually it came away from the sides really nicely, and I was almost able to invert the whole thing onto a plate. Except that the middle was very slightly sticky, so part of it was left behind and the rest kind of cracked a bit.

So not really pretty enough to offer to people other than my nice patient husband, but not obviously disastrous either! We tasted some, and for a first attempt it was really pretty good. The texture was almost exactly perfect, cakey and rich but not too fudgey for most of it, and even the "sticky" bit in the middle was perfectly nice, just a teensy bit gooey. The lumpy flour wasn't too bad at all, but there were just a couple of pea-sized lumps in the mix. It tastes really nice; I think maybe I could have got away with a little more vanilla, but basically it does in fact taste of butterscotch!

That was encouraging enough to make me fairly ready to try again! Many thanks to [personal profile] forestofglory for the recipe and to [personal profile] hadassah for bequeathing me her cake tins when she left Sweden. And to all of you for encouraging me to believe that I might be able to learn baking if I put my mind to it. And of course to [personal profile] jack for helping me taste the finished product. I think I will probably make a separate journal for documenting future baking attempts, I'm going to need this level of detail for a while until I build up enough experience to feel confident experimenting and troubleshooting. Equipment I could have done with: sieve, proper cake tin for storing the finished product.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-19 08:04 pm (UTC)
angelofthenorth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] angelofthenorth
Yay you :)

Have you come across http://www.cookingforengineers.com - you may find it suits your technical mindset. The other books you might find useful are American (but feel free to borrow mine) which are by Alton Brown. He does a programme called Good Eats and has brought out 2 books which again are for the scientifically minded cook. (He studied food science later in life, having trained as a cinematographer - he makes good food programmes and I've found his methods bombproof)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-06-16 05:00 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
possibly also related https://www.coursera.org/course/scigast

(they've just emailed me to remind me about it)

mair

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-19 08:46 pm (UTC)
azurelunatic: A glittery black pin badge with a blue holographic star in the middle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] azurelunatic
Hooray!

Brown sugar measured by volume is meant to be packed into the measuring container, but if it was very rich, I can imagine that a slight underage wouldn't go too badly.

Sugar in baking is rarely meant to dissolve. Candy-making, on the other hand -- sugar and heat! Glorious fun.


Mama baked a lot when I was a kid, and the phrase "It's only a home cake" was uttered superstitiously when turning out cakes, despite the precaution of dusting the greased pan with cocoa powder.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-19 09:11 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
I should use this post as a kick to jumpstart my plan of trying to make teacakes: something I miss as none of the kosher bakeries around here make them. (Also something I'd like to introduce [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m to.)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-20 12:35 pm (UTC)
lethargic_man: (capel)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
[livejournal.com profile] aviva_m informs me that the quantity of dough she uses for two challos is too small to require challah being taken, so I would imagine the same would be the case for teacakes.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-20 08:38 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
The good thing about cake is that even when it's a little too gooey and doesn't come out of the pan quite right... it still tastes of delicious cake. mmmmm cake.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-20 11:53 am (UTC)
draigwen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] draigwen
and gooey brownie is the best!

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-20 11:53 am (UTC)
draigwen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] draigwen
2 tips from a none expert: measure out all ingredients first time - more washing up but easier when doing the cooking;and one cake tins with greaseproof paper to enable easy cake removal.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-20 12:58 pm (UTC)
draigwen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] draigwen
it's also y useful for greasing cake tins rather thanet butter wrapper (as you won't always have the butter wrapper handy)

(and sorry for short and too the point responses but baby and tablet make longer more thoughtful comments impossible!)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-23 06:47 pm (UTC)
draigwen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] draigwen
Yeah, the tablet that Marc naughtily got me for Christmas was the most useful present ever. Makes doing things with a baby so much easier, but particularly when combined with a swype style keyboard.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-20 07:35 pm (UTC)
tig_b: cartoon from nMC set (Default)
From: [personal profile] tig_b
A few points that I hope will be useful.

From the recipe, I would assume that the butter should only be warm - just enough to melt it when stirred. Then the sugar will dissolve (or mostly dissolve).

NB If boiling large amounts of sugar in a smaller amount liquid, the sugar will crystallise instead if it hasn't fully dissolved before it boils.

Generally eggs are broken into a separate bowl and beaten, unless the recipe gives other instructions.

Never add flour to warm/hot liquid, it will always be lumpy, however, if the mix is cool enough not to cook the egg then it should be fine.


I am happy to supply details for making a basic cake - with very little creaming.

A note on units

Date: 2013-05-20 11:44 pm (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
American recipes use two kinds of ounces, and the ones used for butter are a neasure of weight, sixteen to the pound. If you're asked to add so many ounces of wine or milk they mean volume, 8 fluid ounces to a U.S. cup—did you know that the U.S. "customary" cup is smaller than the imperial cup?

That said, the differences for a lot of cooking ingredients are small enough to be ignored. I buy butter by the pound, and each quarter-pound stick is then divided into 8 tablespoons, two tablespoons to the ounce.

[All weights above in avoirdupois, but nobody bothers to label them as such in conversations: if you're weighing precious metals it goes in troy ounces, which are a different size (so there is a pedantic sense in which the answer to "which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?" is "feathers"), but even people who will talk about "troy ounces" or fluid ounces don't say "avoirdupois ounces." ]

Re: A note on units

Date: 2013-05-21 02:34 pm (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
Take a look at your measuring jug: if it has cups and pints, it probably also indicates fluid ounces.

I hadn't really thought about the different sized cup thing until I was talking about cooking with [livejournal.com profile] papersky and took a look at her measuring equipment. She had two measuring cups, each "one pint" and each marked in ounces and cups. One had 8 ounces to the cup, the other had 10, and this was the first time she had looked closely enough to notice this, because she was using them for cups and fractions of cups, not ounces.

This may have explained some of her difficulties with American recipes, because she was using the measuring cups interchangeably, so if she made a recipe twice she might increase or decrease the amount of an ingredient and not know it. (I am guessing that she bought one of those measuring cups in the U.S. and the other in Canada or Britain, but how closely do you track that sort of thing?)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-21 03:47 am (UTC)
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
From: [personal profile] forestofglory
I'm glad you tried these and liked the results. I have a couple of notes and answers to the things you where not sure about.

When baking in the UK I've used 250g butter = 1 stick as an approximation. Since butter is sold in 500g block over there I've found this the simplest conversion for home cooking. One can just cut a block in half. This is not very precise, but I'm generally not a precise baker, because it seems too much extra work for not much in the way of a better product.

When I've made this recipe in the UK I've used what is sold there as "dark brown sugar". This lot darker than what is sold in the US as "dark brown sugar," thus the molasses. As others have noted when brown sugar is measured by volume it is tightly packed.

The brown sugar butter mixture should be smooth and glossy. If there where any lumps in the brown sugar then should have melted into the mixture.

I generally just crack the egg directly into the butter and sugar mix. (If I am doing two eggs I do the 1st one and then mix, and then the second one and mix.)

I never shift the flour for this recipe. (Too lazy.)

I generally make these so that they are fairly gooey, but you may like them drier. I think with a round pan you will get more of texture difference between the middle and the edge than with a square pan.

Let me know if you have any other questions and happy baking!
Edited Date: 2013-05-21 03:48 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-21 03:20 pm (UTC)
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
From: [personal profile] forestofglory
Well, your sugar butter mixture seems to have worked out, so it was clearly a reasonable texture. I might go for bit smoother, but there is range that is ok. The lumps are only really a problem when you use brown sugar that has been stored for a bit. The sugar tends to clump, and it's ok just to but the clumps into the measuring cup as you are packing the sugar. However the clumps will then need a bit more time to melt into the butter.

Yes, I remembered about the eggs form the time we made challah. Even if you break them into separate bowl you don't have to mix the egg before adding it.

Honestly if you liked the texture, and it seems that you did, I'm not sure you should try to make it gooeir just because I like them that way.

Sorry I didn't include more details in the original recipe -- it is hard for me to remember what beginners don't know.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-21 06:08 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Sounds yummy :)

As someone with moderate experience of baking, I would say that out of creaming and converting American recipes, the latter is more difficult.

I find Delia Smith is good for explaining techniques and not assuming you know what they mean.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-05-21 06:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] woodpijn.livejournal.com
(sorry, that was me - Rachael)

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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