Category Archives: baKING Tips

Advance Preparation for a Thanksgiving Meal

It has been said that  “the Thanksgiving meal takes an average of 18 hours to complete and 18 minutes to eat.”  I encourage you to start today prepping your meal, each day make or prep something for your dinner.  This way, you’ll be able to sit and enjoy your family and guests instead of spending the entire day in the kitchen.

Based on the following Thanksgiving Menu (yours may differ):
Roasted Turkey
Mashed Potatoes and/or Sweet Potatoes
Rolls and/or Cornbread
Dessert: Pies, Tarts and/or Cakes

Here is a list to get you kick-started:

If you have a frozen turkey, get it out of the freezer today!  Turkeys take a couple of days to thaw out.  Thaw your bird safely in the refrigerator.

Make pie dough:  Follow the pie dough recipe and instructions under the recipes index.  Roll your dough, place into pans, placing a piece of parchment or wax paper between the shells and wrap well with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate.  If you are going to make double crust pies, roll some dough out and freeze on a sheet pan separated by the parchment or wax paper. 
Tarts can be fully baked now and frozen.  I have some wonderful tart recipes you’ll find in the index – all of which are easy and delicious!  Bake them today, cool and freeze until  Thanksgiving day.  (They thaw within a 1/2 hour or so)  I would not bake today and keep until Thursday, not that the tart will be bad, but not as fresh.  If you want to skip the freezing step, bake your tarts or pies on Wednesday.
This is a great day to wash, cut and prep all your vegetables.  I always bag my chopped onions and celery for stuffing, and prep out all of my other vegetables, bagging them too.
Cornbread can be baked to be used for stuffing or cut bread slices into cubes for stuffing.
Make Turkey Stock – Remove the giblet packet and neck from the turkey cavity.  Place in a saucepan and brown on all sides.  Add to browned turkey, celery, an onion (or two), pepper, salt, sage and 2 quarts of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours on low heat.  Cool and refrigerate.  This will be the stock you can use for stuffing and gravy tomorrow. (instead of canned broth or water).
Mashed Potatoes –  You can either peel, wash, cut and place in a pan with water and refrigerate for tomorrow OR go ahead and boil today until tender, mash, add cream cheese and/or sour cream, butter, salt and pepper and place in a casserole dish to be warmed through tomorrow.
Sweet Potatoes – Peel, wash and roast or boil.  When the potatoes are tender, drain and cut into cubes or mash, whichever you prefer.  Stir in the ingredients you use and place in a casserole dish to be warmed up tomorrow.  (I use butter, honey, toasted pecans and a dash of cinnamon)
Stuffing/Dressing – Onions and Celery – as many as you like I usually make a couple of cups.  Saute until translucent, cool and then refrigerate (I put mine in a bag to be added to the stuffing tomorrow)
If you are using bread, cut into cubes and then place cubes back in the bread bag for tomorrow.
Dessert – Make your pies/tarts today if you haven’t done so previously in the week.  Most tarts and pies do not need refrigeration.  Creamy pies NEED REFRIGERATION.  Follow recipe instructions. 
Thanksgiving Day:
Turkey – Pat dry your turkey, and season as desired.  (I make a compound butter with sage, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper and rub under and over the skin of the turkey.  I also place celery and sage leaves, onions and salt and pepper in the cavity of the bird to flavor from the inside.)  Place your bird on a rack in a roasting pan.  Roast covered in a 325 degree oven for approximately: (I usually uncover to brown mine during the last hour.)
4 to 8 pounds (breast) — 1½ to 3¼ hours
8 to 12 pounds — 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds — 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds — 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds — 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds — 4½ to 5 hours
Test with meat thermometer in thickest portion of the bird, which is the thigh.  Temp. should be 180 degrees.
Stuffing/Dressing – Add the sauteed celery and onions to the bread cubes or cornbread – add 2 eggs and Poultry Seasoning and enough turkey stock to make it moist but not soaking wet.  Mix lightly with your hands and place in a greased foil bag or casserole dish (It is not recommended to stuff the bird).  Bake in 350 degree oven for approx. 1-1-1/2 hours.
1 hour before your bird is done – place the casserole dishes of potatoes in the oven or begin to boil potatoes.
1/2 hour before the bird is done – begin to prepare rolls and vegetables.
Gravy –  When your bird reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees, lift the rack and remove the bird to a cutting board.  Cover loosely with tin foil and allow to rest approx. 15-20 minutes.  Meanwhile, place the roasting pan on the stove top on medium heat.  Whisk up all the bits from bottom of the pan.  Add any remaining turkey stock to the pan juices.  In a small bowl, whisk together 3 Tabl. Flour and 1/4 cup cold water.  Whisk the flour mixture into the turkey juices.  The flour will thicken as it heats.  Bring to a boil and thicken more if needed, or add a bit of stock or water if it is too thick).  Keep the gravy warm while carving the bird.

baKING Tip: Leftover…Cheesecake!

You might wonder “Who on earth has leftover Cheesecake?!”  I know that Cheesecake freezes beautifully, but just in case you might have some leftover, here are my professional tips (actual industry secrets) on what to do with it.

What to make with leftover…CHEESECAKE…use it for filling!  Bakeries and high-end restaurants do this all the time. Cheesecake, rather than plain cream cheese, makes the best filling.  (Remove any crust before using.)

1)  MUFFINS: Using your favorite type of muffin, fill muffin cups 1/2 way.  Insert a 1″ square (or spoon) of cheesecake (not crust).  Cover the cheesecake with the remaining muffin batter.  Bake muffin as called for in recipe directions.

2)  DANISH:  Roll out Puff Dough that has been thawed and cut to 4″X4″ squares.  Cut an “X” shape from each corner – not through the center.  In the center, place one Tabl. of your favorite jam – I like Strawberry.  Now place 1 Tabl. of Cheesecake (not crust) in the center.  Pull every other corner up to meet in the center to form a pinwheel.  Press center to seal.  Bake at 375 degrees 15-20 minutes until golden browned and puffed.  Glaze with a bit of thinned jam.

3)  CAKE: Place the cheesecake (not crust) in the bowl and use a spatula to press down and make smooth and creamy.  Use this to fill the layers of a cake.

baKING Tips for Healthier Baking

During February, I’ve shared some of the “tricks of the trade” for baking healthier snacks/desserts. My basic rule of thumb for successful substituting of healthier ingredients is “Replace don’t Remove”.  Too often, people decide to remove sugar or fat without understanding the functions of those ingredients.  Even if you could successfully remove the sugar or fat, you would be left with a dry, inedible product.

This list is not all-inclusive but following these tips, you could make your own delicious and healthy substitutions for your favorite recipe.


1)  Do NOT replace all of the fat.  Leaving some fat in, contributes to the flavor and the moisture.

2)  Do NOT remove all of the sugar called for in a recipe.  Remember that sugar has other functions than sweetening, such as adding moisture and providing structure.

3)  Do NOT replace all of the Whole Eggs with Egg Whites.  Always leave 1 whole Egg in the recipe and then substitute 2 Egg Whites for each egg called for in the recipe. (I suggest using Eggland’s Best Eggs because they are 25% lower in saturated fat and contain 10 times more Vitamin E and 2 times more Vitamin D)

4)  If substituting Whole Wheat Flour for AP Flour, be sure to use slightly less Whole Wheat Flour or increase moisture by a bit.

5)  Substitute sugar with Honey or Brown Sugar but use 1/3 less than called for. (ex. recipe says 1 cup sugar, use only 2/3 cup honey or brown sugar)

6)  Use Yogurt, Applesauce or Mashed Bananas to replace up to 2/3 of the fat called for in recipes.  Be aware of the taste each imparts to the finished product.

7)  Use 2% Milk to replace whole milk called for in a recipe.

8)  Liberally incorporate fresh, ripe fruits in recipes as they will help provide moisture and sweetness.

9)  Liberally use lemon/orange zest to add freshness and intensity of flavor.

10)  Use Dark Chocolate (60% Cacao or higher) because you can use less due to the intensity of flavor – and it’s healthier!

11)  Use Cinnamon, Ginger and other spices to “spike” the flavor.

Health Benefits of Baking Ingredients

Dark Chocolate (60% Cacao or higher) – Acts as an antioxidant – lowers High Blood Pressure.

Cinnamon – Only a small amount daily can lower Cholesterol , Diabetes, Yeast Infections and Arthritis.

Brown Sugar – Not necessarily “healthier” than  white sugar (it just has molasses added) but it does help boost flavor, so you can use less of it.

Honey – As a naturtal sweetener it provides energy, boosts immunity and you can use less of it.

Oatmeal – This grain is a great source for Nutrients, lowers Cholesterol, helps fight heart disease.

Yogurt – Loaded with Vitamins and Good Bacteria – Great replacement for fats.

Whole Wheat Flour – Excellent source of Fiber and Protein. Remember to use more moisture to compensate.

Low-fat Cornbread

Cornbread is the perfect option for breakfast or, as a side for soups and stews.  The “problem” with cornbread is that it is quite high in fat content.  In fact, my favorite recipe calls for butter and heavy cream (I know, shame on me!).  This recipe substitutes a great deal of the fat by using non-fat yogurt, egg whites and 2% milk.  We’ve used the ‘ol “keep some fat/flavor in” trick by keeping a small amount of butter and adding honey.  This recipe will make an 8″X8″ pan and if you don’t tell, no one will guess it’s reduced-fat!

In a large bowl combine:

1 cup AP Flour
3/4 cup Cornmeal
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt




In another bowl, whisk together:

1 cup Non-Fat Yogurt
1/4 cup Honey
1/4 cup 2% Milk
1 Egg and 2 Egg Whites, only
2 Tabl. Butter, melted

Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients.  Pour batter into a spray greased 8″X8″ pan.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

Reduced-fat Carrot Cake

Yes, its National Carrot Cake Day  (who knew!) but, we’re on a health “kick” this month.  No problem, there are ways that you can replace a portion of the fat without losing the flavor and texture.  In this recipe I use non-fat plain yogurt as a replacement for 2/3 of the fat.   Also, in order to add healthy fiber, I replace 1/2 of the flour called for with whole wheat pastry flour (NOT bread flour) and the remainder is cake flour.  The cake flour is low in protein so it balances the higher protein in whole wheat flours.  If you used all whole wheat pastry flour you’d have a drier, heavier result.

Because the original oil called for in the recipe would have added moisture and because the whole wheat pastry flour absorbs moisture more than regular flour, you must add the juice in the crushed pineapple to have a moist cake result.

I suggest dusting the finished cake with powdered sugar instead of icing it with a rich, sweet cream cheese icing, I bake it in a 9″X13″ pan.

Using the Whisk attachment, whip for 3 minutes:
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Non-Fat Plain Yogurt
1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
2 Eggs
1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

Sift onto a parchment paper (this makes adding dry ingredients to the bowl easier):
1-1/2 cups Cake Flour
1-1/2 cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour (NOT BREAD FLOUR)
1 Tabl. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Salt

Change the mixer attachment to a paddle and slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in the bowl.  Mix for 1 minute (mixture will be very thick).

Add to the above mixture:
1-20 oz. can Crushed Pineapple (juice and all)
2 cups Carrots, shredded
1/2 cup Nuts, optional
1/2 cup Golden Raisins, optional

Pour batter into a 9″X13″ pan that has been sprayed with oil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes or until tests done with a toothpick.  Allow to cool completely and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Wrap tightly with plastic wrap to keep fresh.

* Low-fat baked products do not stay moist as long as traditional products, so must be wrapped well.

February – Healthy Desserts

February is thought of as a “heart” month where one thinks of love, hearts and those whom they love and want to keep “heart-healthy”.  And as such, I thought I would take the time to blog some healthy desserts.          

Just by baking a snack or desert at home you have already made a healthier choice because you will not use dyes, preservatives or chemicals – not to mention you know exactly what ingredients you used.  These days, in addition to portion control, people are trying to cut back on their intake of sugars, fats, gluten, and cholesterol.  Often, in the quest to make a recipe healthier people just remove the “offensive” ingredient and then wonder why it doesn’t taste good.  The truth is, baking is a science. All baking ingredients serve different functions.  Understanding the functions of ingredients is really important before making substitutions without compromising flavor and quality.

Here is a very simplified description of the role baking ingredients play:

Provide Moisture
Provide Structure
Fats – Butter, Shortening, Oil
Whole Eggs, Egg Whites
Egg Yolks
Acids – Baking Soda, Lemon Juice, Vinegar

Let me give you an example based on this chart:  Let’s say I want to make cookies, but want to eliminate the sugar.  If I eliminate the sugar, aside from the sweetness,  I would lose the tenderizing, moisturizing function.  My cookies would be awful, really dry and crumbly.  But if I can substitute part of the sugar and then compensate with another product then I will have delicious, low-sugar cookies.   Likewise, if I was making a cake and eliminated the eggs because I am watching my cholesterol, I would be missing the structure that a cake requires and my cake would collapse.  The Key to Successful Ingredient Substituting is simply this: don’t replace all of the ingredient, but use other ingredients which will compensate for the function.

As we work our way through February and healthy desserts, you’ll learn how to make ingredient substitutions that you’ll then be able to apply to your own recipes.  I’ll give you tips along the way and ideas to inspire you to try your own experimenting.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

When television and radio ads do nothing but speak of dieting this time of year, you might find my January postings on breads a bit “challenging”.  It is quite possible to follow healthy eating patterns and still have bread.  One alternative to eating a 2 slice bread sandwich is to fill a Pita pocket with some healthy foods.  Pita Bread is made of basically the same ingredients as most other breads, however, the difference is in the baking.  When the oven is hot, you’ll throw the dough rounds directly on the rack in your oven or on a cast iron griddle.  The dough is rolled thin so it puffs up fast and is done within 4 minutes!  The kids will think its fun to watch them puff up.

In a small bowl mix together:
1-1/2 cups Bread Flour
1-1/2 cups Whole Wheat Flour

In the mixer bowl combine Sponge ingredients:
1 cup of the above mixed Flours
1 tsp. Sugar
1 Tabl. Yeast
1-1/4 cup Warm Water (NOT HOT)

Whisk together and cover with plastic wrap, place in a warm, draft-free place to rise for 1 hour.

After the sponge has risen for 1 hour, add:
Remaining Flour from above
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 tsp. Salt

Mix on low speed until the dough comes together.  Mix on medium speed for 10 minutes. (I place a dish towel under the mixer so it does not “walk” off the counter.)   Again, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in warm, draft-free place to rise again for 2 hours.

Punch down the dough and divide into 6 pieces.  Press each piece into a circle, allow to relax on the counter for 15 minutes.  Roll/Pat out each circle of dough into a 7″ circle.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes.

Place the oven rack on the lowest level in oven.  If you plan to use a cast iron griddle, place it in the oven now to heat. Pre-heat the oven at 450 degrees.

When dough has risen the last 15 minutes, place the dough directly on the oven rack (or dust the griddle with cornmeal and place the dough directly on).  Set the timer for 3 minutes.  (This is the fun part – watch it puff!) Using tongs, flip pita over and set the timer again for 1 minute.  After a total of 4 minutes, remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool.  When cool, cut each in 1/2, use a knife if necessary to separate the “pocket”.


I love the word “GUARANTEED”, don’t you?  I mean the word “potentially” doesn’t do much for me.  For instance, if someone tells me “potentially, you’ll get a good result”, well, I’m probably not going to try.  But, if someone tells me “this is guaranteed to work”, well count me in!  Do you know who else likes the guaranteed word ~ King Arthur Flour!  They have a baguette recipe that comes with the KAF guarantee to work!

Unable to pass a guarantee up, especially with the promise of crunchy, tender bread, I followed their recipe to the tee and am here to tell you: it works!!! Perfect Baguettes graced my table this weekend, thanks to KAF.  This recipe is not for the faint of heart – it takes almost 24 hours to finish.  The good thing is, it is easy because most of the time is spent in allowing the dough to rise.  The slow rise is what develops the fantastic flavor, so be patient.  Let me break the recipe down for you and give you a couple of hints.  This recipe makes 3 loaves.

The night before you want fresh baguettes, combine in a bowl to make the starter:

Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest on the counter for 14 hours (SO PLAN AHEAD!)

After the 14 hours have passed, place in the mixer bowl:

Mix on medium speed for 5 minutes.  My Kitchenaid seemed to be having a little problem, because this is a stiff dough.  So, I opted to hand knead it on the counter for 3 of the 5 minutes.  Place this dough in a greased bowl, and allow to rest in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.  After 1 hour, punch it down, cover it back up and continue to rise for 2 more hours.   (I KNOW, this sounds like a long process…and it is, but it is so worth it!  So, hang in there!)

After a total of 3 hours, dump the dough out onto the counter and divide it into 3 pieces, shaped like ovals about 6″ wide and 10″ long.  Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes.  Now, working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the dough in half lengthwise, and seal the edges with the heel of your hand.  Flatten it slightly, and repeat the fold and seal again. With the seam-side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 15″ log. Place the logs seam-side down onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan or pans.

Cover them with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise till they’ve become very puffy, about 1-1/2 hours.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F.   Using a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three 8″ vertical slashes in each baguette. Spritz the baguettes heavily with warm water (I used a brush); this will help them develop a crackly-crisp crust.

Bake the baguettes until they’re a very deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack. Or, for the very crispiest baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2″, and allow the baguettes to cool in the oven.  (I tried both ways.)

The bottom of one of my loaves got too brown – no worries, just use the fine edge of a grater and grate off the overly browned/burned edge!

The Steps to Bread Making

If you’ve been following along, you know that we’re on a Bread Baking Journey this month.  Yesterday, I attempted to make the complicated science of baking bread into some easy to understand “Basics”.  If you haven’t done so already, be sure to read through yesterdays post to familiarize yourself.  Now that we understand the ingredients and the roles of each, let’s look at the actual steps to making our dough.

1)      MEASURING/WEIGHING OF INGREDIENTS – Accuracy is really important in baking.  The most accurate measurement is by weighing ingredients on a food scale (I use digital), but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll use standard measurements (cups not pounds/ounces) .  This usually takes about 5 minutes.
2)     MIXING/KNEADING – This step includes proofing the yeast, mixing all the ingredients together and working it into a single dough mass.  This usually takes about 15 minutes.
3)     FIRST PROOF OF DOUGH – This is the initial rise of the dough – it should double in size.  This usually takes about 2 hours.
4)     PUNCH DOWN OF DOUGH – To release the gasses and re-distribute the “food” for yeast.  This usually takes less than a minute!
5)     2ND PROOF OF DOUGH – (If called for in recipe) Allowing the dough to rise again.  This usually takes about 1-1/2 – 2 hours.
6)  DIVIDING THE DOUGH – If necessary, dividing into loaves or rolls.  This usually takes 5 minutes.
7)      SHAPE THE DOUGH – Shaping the dough into the desired form.  This usually takes less than 5 minutes.
8)  FINAL RISE OF THE DOUGH – Allowing the dough to rise one last time before baking.  This usually takes about 1 hour.
9)     BAKING!  This usually takes about 35-40 minutes.

It may seem silly to allow the dough to rise and then punch it down, but the purpose of doing this is to release the gasses that have been formed to allow them to begin again ~ that causes the flavor to develop even further.  Some recipes will call for a single rise, others a double.

Notice that I gave approximate times for each step.  That’s because everyone thinks bread takes forever to make.  The truth is, most of the time consumed in bread making is in it’s rising, and of course, you can do multiple things during that time (or nothing).  So, don’t be overwhelmed by the steps or the timing.

Tomorrow, we’ll begin baking bread and the challenge is to enjoy the process, not sweat the timing.

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