5 Basic Tips for Baking Cookies

Baking cookies is one of life’s sweet pleasures. So why don’t more people bake them?

Maybe you don’t think you have the time… maybe you’ve tried before with less-than-stellar results… maybe you think it’s a hassle… or maybe you simply don’t know how.

You can get delicious results simply and easily when you follow these tips for baking cookies.

Tip #1: Read the Cookie Recipe

Before you get started, read the cookie recipe from start to finish to find out how much time you need and steps you need to take while you bake. You may need to set out butter to soften or bring eggs to room temperature before you begin mixing.

The recipe also tells you what items you need – both ingredients and equipment. No one wants to make an emergency run to the grocery store in the middle of making cookies. And you need to retrieve the 13 x 9 pan you lent to Aunt Myrtle before you get started.

Tip #2: Measure Accurately

Mis-measurement is the easiest-to-fix mistake when baking cookies. Use liquid measuring cups (which are clear) to measure water, milk, and oil, setting the cup on a flat surface and checking the measurement at eye level. Use dry measuring cups and measuring spoons for dry ingredients (such as flour, sugar, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and baking soda), always leveling off ingredients with a straight-edge utensil before adding them to the dough.

Tip #3: Handle Dough Well

Add ingredients in the order specified by the recipe… and as you do, avoid the number one no-no in making cookie dough: overbeating. Over beating cookie dough, whether when creaming together butter and sugar (which adds air pockets) or when adding flour (which activates gluten, also building air and volume), can cause cookies to fall and flatten – or be too tough.

Tip #4: Monitor the Oven

Preheat the oven as you prepare cookies. Setting cookie dough in a cold oven alters the baking time and outcome. Use an oven thermometer to check your oven’s temperature before baking cookies.

But don’t pop the batch in the oven and forget them. Most cookie recipes designate a baking time window (“Bake for 10-12 minutes”). Watch your cookies as they recommended amount of time so they are not over baked.

Tip #5: Store Wisely

Keep homemade cookies fresh by allowing them to cool completely after baking. Otherwise, condensation from cooling will collect and cookies will become soggy.

Follow the recipe’s directions as to whether to store cookies at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Store them in an airtight container. Don’t combine different kinds of cookies in one container. Flavors will bleed from one type of cookie to another. Different types of cookies stored together changes their texture, too. Moisture from chewier cookies transfers to crisper cookies – and vice versa.

Baking cookies is easy and fun. Plus, you can share the end results – cookies – with family, friends, and colleagues. That is assuming you haven’t eaten them all as soon as they come out of the oven.

Fancy Yourself As a Food Critic

A food critic is a pretty sweet gig if you can get it. But there are literally legions of wannabe food critics out there all tweeting and posting their experiences to their social media followers. So how do you separate yourself from all the noise?

Here are a few important tips:

Any serious food critic worth their salt will first and foremost visit the establishment to experience the food on offer and only then write about his or her experience for the benefit of prospective readers rather than going out with the intention of reviewing the place unless you are getting paid to do this. In that respect the food critic should be highly knowledgeable about the food in question and be able to understand the process that went into producing the food, the ingredients and whether they are locally sourced or fresh.

Get up close and personal with the particular industry you are interested in writing about and study every aspect of it in detail from the history of the particular style of food right through to its production and the ingredients that go into it. Visit as many food establishments as possible and write about them even if the review is only going to be published on your Facebook profile or tweeted about. Eventually people will take notice of you and start following you on social media if you consistently write in-depth and valuable reviews.

It helps if you have a background in writing although it is not necessary to have a degree in journalism or in English or any other language although it helps greatly if you have a strong grasp of language. What is more important is to have an intimate understanding of the industry in question and a passion for what you are writing about. Although you will be expected to stay on top of trends and to be familiar with new food concepts and industry speak.

Get as much writing experience as you can by submitting articles to newspapers, writing articles for websites, guest blogging and generally getting your name out there as much as possible. Any reviews you write not only add to your experience but can be presented to a prospective employers further down the track.

Always ask the owner before you whip out a camera or iPhone and start taking photos. With the popularity of Instagram, Foodgawker, Pinterest, Yummly and other foodie photography sites and the profusion of wannabe food critics many places have put blanket bans on photography inside their premises. This is understandable so always make sure they are okay with it before you start snapping away.

If you really want to stand out from the crowd don’t just write about what an amazing experience YOU had at whatever place you just visited but really describe it in detail to your readers using descriptive (but not flowery) writing. No-one really cares about some unknown food critic who comes across with an air of arrogance or self entitlement. They want to know what is in it for them and what THEY should expected if they visit said establishment.

And lastly, don’t become a food bore! Keep yourself from slipping into self-indulgence by keeping your food reviews interesting and relevant and always writing with the reader in mind..

Do you have knowledge of the baking industry? Unique Bakes is currently seeking for people to review bakeries and patisseries and also looking for guest bloggers. Visit the site and start writing reviews or submit articles to us to be published on the blog.

Fruit Cakes – The Holiday Essential

Earlier, fruit cakes were considered just as Christmas treats. But, nowadays this trend is vanishing and people include this dish for many celebrations in their lives. Not only for celebrations, nowadays, they look for such an enthralling stuff to eat whenever they find free time and during weekends. This delicious treat has a very colorful and great history. Yes, this cake started its journey during the roman period itself and they used this as a symbol of joy to celebrate their harvest. The combination of fruits and nuts made the fruit cakes the best delicacy during festive seasons and during harvest periods.

While, it was considered by the Roman as the food that can bring special luck in the following harvest year, the exactly opposite thing happened around 1800s. Yes, people in some regions started to believe this delicacy to be sinful and they kept away. But, soon after this decline period, people again have started to include it in their celebrations and happy moments. It was once considered as a symbol of hope as well in some part of England. Even, people used to put a small piece of cake under their pillow with the hope that it will bring good dreams about the future loved one.

So, here comes the question what exactly are these eatables made up of. Even though, the ingredients used in the making might differ, they typically include fruits and nuts and even a little brandy or rum is used.

Nowadays, holidays are never getting fulfillment with sponge cakes or at least without plain cakes. Some are opting for the latter alternatives for their birthdays too, just because they can show their creativity in making attractive designs on their own. For instance, couples can get plain cakes for their wedding and can show their creativity in engraving their names together to mark the occasion. Some online stores selling these eatables are also selling decorating supplies

Some people love the spongy texture of sponge cakes and this is why regardless of the occasion, they choose this alternative as against many other alternatives. Nowadays, with the availability of online stores dealing with many different alternatives for the purchasers to choose from. People interested in preparing these eatables on their own home can get the bases required for preparation as well from reliable online store dealing with these supplies. There are base cakes and upon them, the purchasers can make their desired decorations for a party gathering to enthrall their friends.

Cakes are perfect choice for celebrating any occasions like wedding, birthday, Christmas etc. Nude Cakes provides plain cakes, fruit cakes with full of plump, juicy and sponge cakes with wonderful moist, silky, smooth and rich in taste.

Who Wants To Eat Chocolate For Health

You may be surprised to hear that eating chocolate is a great way to ensure an effective weight loss diet plan. Research conducted by YouGov has concluded that those who eliminate chocolate completely from their diet tend to put weight on rather than lose weight. Why? Usually as a result of compensating for missing out on this tasty treat by eating more of other types of foods.

The survey which was carried out discovered that 86% people who actually continued to eat chocolate were successful at losing weight.

I regularly write articles about eating a sensible realistic lifestyle diet or what I prefer to call a ‘eating plan’. This is because in order to lose weight and keep it off the eating plan needs to be a lifestyle approach to help stop the ‘yoyo’ diet effect.

Nutrition Scientist, Janet Aylott, commissioned the YouGov survey. The extensive research surrounding the survey found that “diet centred around food elimination are much more likely to fail”.

MEN – there is even more good news!

Eating chocolate may actually help you to live longer. This information comes from a Harvard University team which conducted a study over 65 years. It included 8000 men who ate chocolate up to three times per month. It found that these men lived almost a year longer as opposed to those who did not.

This research team concluded Cocoa contains antioxidants called polyphenols. This antioxidant is also found in red wine. Polyphenol helps prevent the oxidation of harmful cholesterol.

So go ahead and enjoy eating chocolate. It not only may help prolong your life but will help you achieve your weight loses goals for life!

Dust off the chocolate cookbooks, involve the kids and start making some tasty chocolate treats at home. This is a great way to teach children about sensible eating habits. There is a tonne of learning opportunities in cooking with children also. Gathering all the ingredients necessary to make it, measuring instruments such as jugs and measuring spoons etc.

Take the opportunity to talk to children. I often get great conversation out of kids when they are pre-occupied with something they love. Cooking is a great way to spend time with them and strengthen the parent bonds.

Portion control

This delightful treat is still calorie dense but is super healthy so keep serving sizes small and use as a mid-afternoon tasty treat to see you through to dinner. This great news is that the fudge is lower in calories and sugar than your typical fudge bought in a store.

Pork and Noodles With Hot and Sour Sauce

Udon noodles are Japanese wheat noodles resembling linguine in width, but shorter, about eight inches long. Treat them like pasta-boiled in salted water, not added directly to the stir-fry.

The sauce in this recipe is boldly flavored, but not heavy or “saucy”-it simply coats the pork and noodles with spicy, gingery flavor. This means you won’t see puddles of it in the wok or in your bowl, but a small amount equals big flavor.

Note: Ground fresh chile paste is often sold as “sambal oelek” in Asian food markets. Many supermarkets also carry it in the international aisle. If you can’t find sambal oelek, substitute a chile-garlic paste or other hot sauce.

Serves 5-6

Ingredients

For the Sauce

1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 Thai or habanero chile, stemmed and finely chopped

1/4 cup vegetable broth

3 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp ground fresh chile paste (sambal oelek)

1 tbsp cornstarch

2 tsp white sugar

For the Pork and Noodles

6 oz soba noodles

2 tbsp peanut oil, divided

1 lb ground pork

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

4 oz shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced

3 oz snow peas, sliced in half lengthwise

3 scallions, thinly sliced, white and dark green parts separated

chopped cilantro leaves (with small stems), for garnish

Preparation

For the Sauce

Whisk all ingredients in a medium bowl until the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Set aside. Re-whisk again just before using.

For the Pork and Noodles

Cook the noodles in a large pot of salted, boiling water 10 minutes. Drain.

Heat a wok (or large, deep skillet) over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of peanut oil. Add the pork and garlic and stir-fry until just cooked through, 5-6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon and wipe out any remaining liquid.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the wok. Add the mushrooms, snow peas, and white parts of the scallions and stir-fry until crisp-tender, 2 minutes.

Return the pork mixture to the wok and add the sauce. Cook, stirring to incorporate, until slightly thickened, 2-3 minutes.

Add the drained noodles to the wok and toss well to combine. Cook until hot throughout, 1-2 minutes.

To serve, divide the pork and noodles among 5-6 shallow bowls and scatter the green parts of the scallions and the cilantro on top.

What Is a Chocolate Truffle – A Short Primer

In today’s chocolate market there is a spectrum of confections that are referred to as “chocolate truffles”. While their quality can vary, this non-judgmental primer is meant to clarify what exactly is (and in some cases isn’t) a chocolate truffle and to highlight the important differences to chocolate lovers seeking specific experiences when enjoying their favorite treat.

A non-chocolate truffle is a fungus that grows beneath the ground, often roughly spherical and like many other types of edible fungus, soft when bitten. Chocolate truffles can be any shape (spherical or cube-like) and feature a center made of ganache.

Ganache is a mixture (technically an emulsion) of fat-based and water-based liquids. When made and set properly, well-made ganache maintains a firmness that is easily handled yet is smooth when bitten. The classic ganache formulation is chocolate and cream. There have been many innovative variants to this formulation to allow vegetarians and vegans to enjoy chocolate truffles free of dairy products.

In the realm of chocolate truffles, there are predominantly two main styles originating in Switzerland and Belgium. These approaches differ mainly on the method of enrobing. Enrobing is simply the chocolate coating applied to the center.

Belgian-style truffles feature a moulded method of enrobing. Chocolate is placed in fancifully-shaped moulds with multiple cavities (which may be made of silicone or polycarbonate) and allowed to drain out leaving chocolate to set in each cavity. This is done often at least a couple of times to form a coating strong enough to withstand the filling of the cavities with ganache or some other center. For chocolatiers, a mould allows for interesting decorative techniques to be used such as spray painting the moulds with edible inks or paints prior to filling. The mouth experience when bitten is usually a hard crunch followed by the soft center.

The Swiss approach is to directly enrobe the ganache center with chocolate. This may be done manually through hand dipping with special utensils or an enrobing machine where centers are placed on a conveyor belt and passed beneath a chocolate waterfall! The coating is often very thin and in the case of hand dipping, to achieve a delicacy to the enrobing is part of a chocolatier’s skill. A wide-range of decorative approaches may be applied often with a piping bag but may also include spray-painting after enrobing. The mouth experience when bitten is a delicate crunch followed by the smooth center.

There are many confections with the outward appearance of a truffle but if a confection doesn’t include ganache within it, it’s technically not a truffle. This includes those with nougat, praline or jelly centers. Confusion occurs when a Swiss enrobing style is used for truffles with a ganache formulated using Belgian chocolate!

There are many bonbons on the market that appear to be truffles but the center formulation is closer to candy. Again, this is non-judgemental. Candy is not a bad word! Despite working with some of the finest ingredients in the world I must confess a deep love of Peanut M&Ms! For me, no movie-going experience is complete without a bag to accompany me! But the difference between candy and truffles is an important one when shopping for chocolate gifts to treat yourself or someone special. There is an elegance to ganache that creative chocolatiers enhance through unique recipe formulations which lends itself more to an occasion.

A common bonbon often mistakenly referred to as a truffle are those with a liquid or syrupy center. The classic example here in Canada is Lowney’s Cherry Blossom and in the U.S., Christopher’s Big Cherry. Both of these products are technically cordials. A chocolate coating surrounds a liquid center and in the case of these old favorites, a maraschino cherry as well.

The Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony

Tea is a very integral part of Chinese culture and the ceremony surrounding its preparation and serving is an interesting event to witness. The wedding Tea Ceremony is the most auspicious tea ceremony of all as no Chinese wedding can be complete without it. This ceremony serves as an introduction of the bride to the groom’s family and is an intricate ritual filled with symbolism.

Preparation of the tea

There are many tea varieties in China. Usually the tea is prepared with red tea and infused with lotus tea and red dates placed directly in the tea pot. These additions are symbolic of fertility and the sweetness of the blushing bride and are believed to promote happiness between the two.

The arrangement

A small table is set up with the tea service including the tray with a tea pot and two tea cups. Sometimes a lotus flower and two cowrie shells are also placed on the table dignifying unity and prosperity for the couple.

The tea service

The ceremony usually takes place early in the morning as traditionally, the bride is received in her groom’s home before dawn. Women and men sit to the left and right respectively and the bride and groom kneel in front of them. With the assistance of the maid of honor, the couple serve tea in a delicate ceremony to the groom’s family. The order of service is parents, grandparents, great uncles and aunts, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and finally married cousins. The bride and groom take their tea last, served by younger siblings or any unmarried cousins.

The relatives when served tea present gift tokens on a platter in the form of red envelopes or jewellery. A token is also given to the best maid for her assistance. The tea set also forms part of the couple’s wedding gifts. Modern variations include a second tea ceremony held for the bride’s family when they visit their in-laws home or at the bride’s home. Also, for hygiene purposes, the tea cups may be rinsed after serving each guest.

This elaborate ceremony is an ancient tradition passed down through generations and is a good way of preserving culture in a rapidly evolving society. It helps reinforce family values and the hierarchy and role of each member of the family. It also serves as a good forum to welcome a new bride into the family, the elders’ blessings and approval a good foundation for the marriage.