Helpful Hints

May 29, 2017

How To Freeze Yeast

How Do You Freeze YeastYeast has a short shelf life and once any package of yeast has been opened, it should be kept in the freezer. I always use the small packets and I find that using a butterfly clip, the kind you can get at an office supply store, is a good way to seal up the packet for freezing. A paper clip would also work. I snip off the corner of the packet, measure what I need, fold the open corner over twice and seal it with the clip. Then I pop it in the freezer. – Jenny Jones

Aug 3, 2016

Easy Granola Bars

Homemade Granola Bars RecipeIf you’ve ever wondered which one of my recipes I make the most, it’s granola bars. I make them almost every week. Granola bars were never my favorite thing to eat but I would occasionally buy one when I was away from home and getting hungry because it’s a healthy choice but the ones from the store never left me wanting more. These days I crave granola bars because homemade bars are infinitely better… and easy to make.

I make sure we always have these delicious bars at home and as soon as we run out, I make more. They are full of protein and fiber and they are incredibly easy to make. Everything mixes in one bowl and you bake it.

How To Line a Pan for Granola Bars (with Parchment Paper).

The hardest part is lining the pan with parchment paper because it won’t always stay in place, but I found an easier way to do it… with binder clips. You can get them at a stationery store and since they’re metal, they can go right in the oven.

Cut two parchment paper pieces a little bit wider than your 9-inch pan and lay them in, criss-crossing each other, clipping the ends down as you go. It will keep the paper in place, like this…

Parchment1000_1685Now that you know how  easy it is to make your own granola bars, try them and see if you don’t wind up like me, making them every week.  Every time I go out the door, I take one with me. You will too. Click here for the recipe. – Jenny Jones

Apr 21, 2015

Tortilla Tips

If your tortillas are not soft there can be several reasons:

  1. You did not use all purpose flour.
  2. You did not use a cast iron pan.
  3. Your pan was not hot enough.
  4. You did not roll them thin enough.
  5. They are not stored properly.
  6. I store mine by placing them, while they are still warm, in a zip top plastic bag – air tight –  with all the air removed. They are always soft.
Apr 21, 2015

Flour Basics

Flour1200_2077 copy 2“Which flour do I use for bread, or muffins, or cookies?” “Can I substitute one flour for another?” “Why is my flour mixture so dry?” I hope this helps clarify any questions you have about flour. By the way, with all baking the amount of protein in flour matters. The lower the protein, the softer the baked goods. So here is my simple guideline to baking with flour:

How to Measure (& Aerate) Flour
Flour must be aerated before measuring because it often settles in the bag or container making it heavy  and compact, resulting in too much flour being measured. Aerating basically means fluffing it up and is not the same as sifting. Flour should not be sifted before measuring unless the recipe states to do so. Otherwise sifting will result in too little flour being measured.

If you dip into flour without aerating, you will be getting too much flour and your dough will be too dry. To aerate flour you simply stir it around with a spoon before measuring. To measure, be sure to use a flat-topped dry measuring cup like in my photo. You can see how I aerate flour in my Easy One Bowl Chocolate Cake video: http://www.jennycancook.com/recipes/easy-one-bowl-chocolate-cake/

After aerating, there are two ways to measure the flour: 1) Scoop & Level – Gently scoop the flour up with a spoon and sprinkle it into your measuring cup until it’s mounded above the rim. Do not tap the cup or the container of flour. Finally, level off the excess flour with the back of a knife. 2) Dip & Level – Gently dip your measuring cup into the flour until it’s mounded above the rim and level off the excess flour with the back of a knife. A properly measured cup of flour weighs 4 1/4 ounces.

The Difference Between Flours

Whole wheat flour (about 14% protein/gluten)
Whole wheat flour is not the same as whole wheat pastry flour and should not be substituted for whole wheat pastry flour. Whole wheat flour is milled from hard winter wheat and is best used only for yeast breads. A loaf made entirely with whole wheat flour will be a dense and somewhat heavy loaf. For a softer loaf, it is often combined with some all-purpose or bread flour. Whole wheat flour is not suitable for other baking like cookies and cakes. *Since it contains the germ of the wheat which contains oil, once opened, this flour should be kept refrigerated in a tightly sealed container.

Whole wheat pastry flour (about 10% protein/gluten)
Also called whole grain pastry flour, this flour is good for most recipes that use all-purpose flour when you want to add fiber. Whole wheat pastry flour is milled from a soft summer wheat and is best for baking cookies, brownies, pancakes, waffles, quick breads, and some cakes. Results will not be as light and soft as using all-purpose flour but you can also mix part whole wheat pastry flour and part all-purpose flour for soft baked goods with added fiber. (I use this flour the most in cookies, brownies, even pancakes & waffles for extra fiber) This flour is not a good substitute for whole wheat flour and is not suitable for baking yeast breads. Don’t have whole wheat pastry flour? Regular whole wheat flour is not a good substitute – your baked goods will be dense and heavy. Look for whole wheat pastry flour at health food stores or you can order it online. Once opened, it should be kept refrigerated in a tightly-sealed container.

Bread flour (about 14% protein/gluten)
This flour is designed for yeast baking. It helps create more gluten for a better rise in yeast doughs. Use it for yeast bread and pizza dough for a chewy texture and good structure. However, all-purpose flour works almost as well with yeast. From my experience, if you don’t have bread flour, all-purpose flour can be used as a substitute in yeast bread and pizza dough.

All-purpose flour (about 10% protein/gluten)
The name says it all. Use it for cookies, cakes, quick breads, yeast breads, pies, pancakes, etc.

Pastry flour (about 9% protein/gluten)
This flour falls between all-purpose flour and cake flour and can be used in pastries, cookies and cakes. This flour is not suitable for baking yeast breads.

Cake flour (about 8% protein/gluten)
This very fine grain flour is good in light and airy cakes like angel food cake. However, if a recipe does not call for cake flour and you decide to use it, you would use more (2 tablespoons more per each cup). Conversely, if a recipe calls for cake flour and you don’t have it, you can make your own: For one cup of cake flour, measure one cup of all-purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoons of flour and replace that with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. I do not use cake flour – I don’t find it necessary. This flour is not suitable for baking yeast breads.

Self-rising flour (about 8 % protein/gluten)
This soft flour is similar to pastry flour but has salt and baking powder added. Many southern recipes call for this flour in biscuits and pancakes but if the recipe calls for all-purpose flour and you substitute self-rising flour, you will need to adjust any added salt and baking powder. (one cup of self-rising flour contains 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder and ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt) This flour is not suitable for yeast breads.

I hope these simple flour basics are helpful. – Jenny Jones

Feb 11, 2015

The Difference Between Baking Powder & Baking Soda

Baking powder and baking soda are NOT THE SAME. They can not be substituted for one another. They are both leaveners but they are chemically different.

Baking Powder:Baking SodaBaking soda is used in recipes that contain acidic ingredients like buttermilk, brown sugar, yogurt, lemon juice, honey, vinegar, or chocolate (except Dutch process). The acid in the recipe reacts with the baking soda, allowing your baked goods to rise. Baking powder is generally used when there is no acidic ingredient in the recipe. Bottom line: baking soda needs an acid; baking powder does not. – Jenny Jones

Jan 10, 2015

Cake Strips to the Rescue

If you bake a lot of cakes there are two issues that need fixing. One is that they rise too much in the center and the other is that the edges get over-baked and dry. A cake strip will fix that. Here is my yellow cake baked with no cake strip. It’s domed in the middle and the edges are overdone and dry.

IMG_6051And here it is with a cake strip – perfectly flat and the edges are soft and evenly baked.

IMG_6091 copyA cake strip is easy to use. You just soak it in water for about 15 minutes, then press out the excess water and wrap it around the pan just before baking.

bcake_wrap

It protects the edge of the pan from getting too hot and the cake will bake evenly. If you can’t find one, you can fashion your own using fabric. I have never done that but you can find lots of how-to’s in the internet. They’re also called baking strips for cakes.

While working on this recipe I was surprised by something I learned about cake pans. It’s about the color. I always knew that a dark pan absorbs more heat so baked goods will brown more than in a light colored pan. But I baked two cakes, both with cake strips, in two different pans that I considered light colored. But look at the difference…

Cake Pans1200_6284The pan on the left is my more expensive Williams-Sonoma Gold Touch pan that I never thought of as dark. The pan on the right is a cheaper silver colored pan (with no brand name so I don’t even know where I got it) but the cake in the cheaper silver pan came out perfectly. The edges were velvety soft and the cake didn’t brown too much. The one on the left was okay but the edges pulled away a bit and it browned a little more. Bottom line: use a silver colored pan and a cake strip for a perfect, soft, yummy cake.

Speaking of cake, this simple yellow cake is one of my easy-to-make healthier cakes and it’s my go-to cake for all kinds of frosting and filling. It’s soft and not super sweet… and it’s made without butter. I’ll be posting the recipe soon, so get your cake strips ready! – Jenny Jones

Dec 27, 2014

How To Store Parsley

I’ve had this parsley for over a month! If you’re tired of throwing away wilted parsley, you will love this easy way to store fresh parsley. Just put it in a glass of water and cover it loosely with a plastic produce bag. I use the bag I brought it home in from the store.
IMG_0418Fresh parsley is great to use in cooking but I only use a little at a time. I used to keep it in the vegetable drawer in a plastic bag but I always had to throw it away before I could use it all up. There had to be a better way. So I tried putting it in a glass of water in the fridge and it kept a little longer but after a few days it was drying out.

The solution to drying out had to be plastic so I tried putting a light weight plastic produce bag loosely over the parsley and glass and I could not believe how long it lasted. I put it away on November 23rd. That was five weeks ago! And look at it today…

IMG_0695I’ll be using this parsley until 2015! I’ll let you know when it finally runs its course – probably six or seven weeks. I just had to share!

Dec 8, 2014

How To Freeze Pecan Balls

Guess what? There is no difference between frozen and freshly made pecan balls. I tested them myself and asked two other people to do a blind taste test and no one could tell the difference. This is good news because anything you can make ahead for the holidays is helpful. I’m sure there is more than one way to freeze these delicate Christmas snowball cookies but here is how I did mine:

  1. Once they were completely cool and after the second roll in powdered sugar I gently placed them in a freezer bag so they were not touching.
  2. I removed as much air as possible from the bag and placed them gently in the freezer.
  3. To thaw I let them thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then brought them to room temperature.
  4. Then I gently rolled them in powdered sugar again to freshen them up.

So there it is. This is how you can freeze your homemade pecan balls and have extra time for…. making more! To make these super easy Christmas cookies, click here for the recipe.  – Jenny Jones

Nov 9, 2014

The Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes

Are you making candied yams this Thanksgiving? Guess what? Candied yams are not yams. They are sweet potatoes! Check this out:

1) This is a sweet potato…

Sweet-Potato-or-Yam

2) And this is a sweet potato…

Sweet-Potato-or-Yam-1

3) THIS  is a Yam…

 shutterstock_148491962-1

 

1) The yellow sweet potato, the one commonly called sweet potato, has a thicker skin and firm yellow flesh that’s a bit drier and starchier than the orange one.

2) The orange sweet potato, also called “red garnet” and “jewel,” has a softer skin and a deep orange flesh that when cooked, becomes very soft, almost like mashed potatoes. Plus they are sweeter than the yellow ones. These deeper colored sweet potatoes have more vitamin A than carrots.

3) Yams, which have a black bark-like skin, are native to Africa and Asia and I doubt if you could even find one here in the U.S.

There’s so much confusion about the difference between a yam and a sweet potato. That’s because the USDA labeled the orange ones “yams” to differentiate the two main varieties of sweet potatoes but the truth is, sweet potatoes and real yams are not even related. Most of us have never even eaten a yam.

So the bottom line is… unless the Supreme Court intervenes, we will continue to call the yellow ones sweet potatoes and the orange ones yams. It’s just simpler. The good news is they are interchangeable in most recipes, even candied yams. Besides vitamin A, these vegetables have lots of fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamin E so try to cook with them all year. I use the yellow ones for sweet potato fries and with my roasted vegetables and the orange ones for baking my sweet potato chocolate cake.

Well, this is good information but it doesn’t really change anything, does it? Happy Thanksgiving!

Aug 12, 2014

How To Measure Ingredients

Professional bakers generally weigh ingredients but I don’t consider that practical so I do what I think most of us do, which is use measuring cups and spoons. Measuring liquids is pretty simple and requires a glass or plastic cup with markings that should be viewed at eye level, but dry ingredients are where recipes are affected the most. The proper way to measure flour is to first stir the flour in its container in case it has settled too much and become compacted. Then you are supposed to spoon it into your dry (stackable) measuring cup. Since I bake so much I keep my flour in a covered container but I always stir it first before measuring. My method is “dip and level” meaning that after I stir the flour around in the container, I dip my measuring cup into the  flour, do not tap or shake the cup, and then I level off the top with a knife. I dip and level with sugar also but it does not tend to settle as much as flour. With small dry ingredients like spices, baking powder, etc. I just dip in the measuring spoon, scoop it up and then level off with a knife. I think most failures in baking happen by not stirring and aerating the flour first.

Here’s some advice I have based on some mistakes I have made:

1) Never measure liquid things like vanilla or oil in a measuring spoon over the bowl you’re working in – it can easily spill over into your bowl and there’s no way to fix it.

2) Never break an egg directly into a batter but always into a small bowl or cup first. You’d be surprised how often you’ll find a piece of egg shell.

3) When baking with cocoa powder sift it together with the other dry ingredients because it’s not always easy to incorporate it later.

I also found a couple of helpful links below…

http://allrecipes.com/video/30/how-to-measure-ingredients/detail.aspx

http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/measuring-101/

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