Category Archives: Question of the Week

Question of the Week: What’s the Difference between Unsweetened and Bittersweet Chocolate?

Chocolate is made from dried, ground cacao beans (actually a fruit!) which produce both a chocolate liquor & cocoa butter (fat).

Unsweetened Chocolate – Some refer to this as “bitter” chocolate, because it has no sugar added.  It is a direct result of the dried cacao beans being ground (conched).  In fact, unsweetened chocolate is not even considered edible  in this “raw” state.

Unsweetened chocolate is the base for bittersweet chocolates. Bakers often use this type of chocolate for recipes which contain higher amounts of sugar and demand a high intensity of chocolate, i.e. Fudge Brownies.

Bittersweet Chocolate –  Contains uunsweetened chocolate in varying percentages (at least 35%)  sugar, vanilla and Lecithin.  The higher the % of cacao, the lower the % of sugar.  

Think of the cacao percentages as referring to intensity:  I prefer unsweetened chocolate for intense brownies which have a high amount of sugar in them,  60% cacao for my chocolate flourless cake and 35% for chocolate chip cookies.


Question of the Week: Is there a Difference Between Self-Rising Flour and Bread Flour?

Deb from Ohio asks:  Is there a difference between Self-rising flour and Bread flour?

The resounding answer is YES! BIG DIFFERENCE!

What is Self-rising flour?   Self rising flour is regular All-purpose flour, which has lower amounts of the protein, gluten, than bread flour, and it has a small amount of salt added and leavening in it.  Leavening is a chemical which you add to your recipes to make the product rise: baking soda or baking powder.

Can I use Self-rising flour in recipes?  If you choose to use it in place of regular flour in your recipes, you must delete the salt and leavening that is called for.    Self-rising flour seems to be more popular in the south.

Bottom line:  Save the Self-rising flour for recipes such as biscuits, and follow recipes that call for Self-rising flour to avoid some guesswork.


What is Bread Flour?  This flour is a “strong” flour – containing more gluten, a protein which forms strands int he dough which help to give structure.  This protein is necessary to make breads.  It does not produce a delicate crumb that AP Flour does.  It has no leavening or salt added, so recipes should be followed exactly.

Question of the Week: What is Clarified Butter?

Some recipes, both sweet and savory, call for clarified butter.  You can find clarified butter on your grocers shelves, and if you do that’s great, because you would only be paying for what you need – not the watery components you will need to throw away if you make your own.  If you can’t find it in your grocery store, you can make it yourself with little time and effort.

What is it?  
Clarified butter is butter that has had the milk solids and water removed, leaving behind only the butterfat.  If you’ve ever had lobster at a nice restaurant, I’m sure it has been served with clarified butter (drawn butter).  
Why do recipes call for Clarified Butter?  
Clarified butter has a higher smoke point, which means it won’t burn as easily at higher temperatures.  It is great to use for some baked products such as crepes and recipes which call for phyllo dough because the water has been removed and it won’t make the end product soggy.  
There are several ways to make clarified butter, most of them require slow boiling and filtering.  If you aren’t that particular, please try my easy way to make it.
Make Clarified Butter:
–  Place the butter in a glass, microwavable measuring cup or vessel.  
–  In a microwave, melt the butter at 50% power, until completely melted.  
–  Remove butter from the microwave and allow it to sit on the counter for 15 minutes.  
(You will notice a separation into 3 layers: a thin layer on top of foamy whiter ‘stuff”, a large middle portion which is the pure butterfat and a bottom layer which is liquid and milky in appearance.)
–  With a spoon, skim off the foam that rises to the top.  
–  Place the remaining melted butter in the refrigerator.  
–  When the butter is completely chilled and “solid”, remove from the refrigerator.  
–  Carefully, use a knife to remove any other white foamy parts on top.  
–  Poke a hole through the butter and then pour off the watery portion which has settled on the bottom.  
What remains is clarified butter.  
How much to melt:
Expect to lose approx. 2 Tabl. of water/milk solids per 8 Tabl. melted.  If your recipe calls for 1 cup, you will need to melt 1-1/4 cups butter to allow for the loss of milk solids and water.

Question of the Week: Why do my Cookies look like…?

In a poll taken a few weeks ago, my readers said they would most often make cookies over pies and cakes – by a landslide!  I think this is because cookies are easier to make and much quicker.  If you’ve made cookies before, you have most likely experienced one of these issues that are brought up in today’s question of the week: “Why do my cookies look like” …


Flat Cookies – these cookies have that “melt-out” look, flat and crispy:

Did you over-cream the butter?  When you cream butter and sugar for cookies, you do not want to over mix. Mix them together just until they are incorporated.   TIP: Once your ingredients are all measured, mixing the dough should take on longer than 2-3 minutes from beginning to end.

If your cookies use butter (which I hope they do) did you chill the dough before baking?  Chilling will allow the butter to set up.

Make sure your cookie sheets are cool before you place the dough on them. If the cookie sheets are hot, the dough will immediately start to melt and spread out before it gets a chance to begin baking in the oven.

Did you use margarine?  Margarine has a high water content which will cause the “spread” in cookies (too much moisture). Never use whipped margarine that comes in a tub.


Dry, stiff cookies – these cookies often are too high, they don’t “spread” as they should:

Did you measure ingredients correctly?  Too much flour will make the dough and resulting cookie too dry.

Did you use the correct leavening (baking soda/power)? Most cookie recipes call for baking soda.  Using baking powder could cause cookies to “rise”.

Did you use shortening instead of butter?  Shortening has a much higher melting point than butter so it does not have the “spread” that cookies with butter will have.


Too Crispy and Hard:

Did you over-bake?  If you want soft cookies, they should test slightly underdone when removed from the oven.  Remember, the tray is hot and cookies will continue to have “carry-over” baking even after removing from the oven.

Did you bake at the right temperature?  Most cookies bake at 350 degrees.  If your oven is too hot, the cookies will over bake. TIP: You can purchase an oven thermometer just to make sure your ovens temperature is accurate.


Too Doughy:

Did you bake long enough?  Test for doneness by placing a fingertip in the center of the cookie. TIP: Your finger should not sink and you should be able to feel if it is still doughy and under-done.


Mis-shapen Drop Cookies:

Often people ask me “how come your cookies are so uniform?”  Easy answer: I roll the dough into balls of the same size.  Another easy way to get uniform cookies is to use a cookie scoop.  That way, all your cookies will look professional.



Question of the Week: What is a Red Velvet Cake?

Everywhere I go I see Red Velvet cakes – What is a Red Velvet Cake?   

It seems even amongst professional bakers this is open to interpretation.  One thing for sure: the reference to Red Velvet is a flavor and texture reference as well as a color. Some bakeries just make a traditional chocolate cake and add TONS of red food color to it.

Red Velvet is sort of indiscriminate: it is neither a Chocolate cake nor Vanilla. It is actually a soft, tender Buttermilk Cake (vanilla) with a small amount of cocoa powder and red food color.  There is not enough cocoa powder to make it truly “chocolate” and the addition of cocoa powder makes it not truly “vanilla”.  It is typically iced with a cream cheese icing.

Red Food Color often imparts a flavor to the cake – an “off” chemical flavor.  These days, you can purchase flavorless red food color.  My oldest daughter had an allergic  reaction to red and yellow food color when she was a child, so I’ve always been careful not to use it at home.  In the bakery, I used just a fraction of what is called for in a recipe – enough to get the color but not so intense.  Do you know that a Red Velvet Cake can have up to 1/4 cup of red food coloring in it?!!  Fortunately, some bakers prefer to use beet juice as a natural food color.

Food dye has recently been attributed to contributing to hyperactivity in children.  It has long been linked to food allergies and suspect for certain kinds of cancer.

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