Sifted: You ask, baking experts answer
Editors' note: Since November, we've been directing reader questions to some of The Food section's favorite cookbook authors and chefs. The questions and answers appear in an archive file on our homepage, in categories: bread, cake, cookies, equipment, muffins, pie, substitutions and techniques. Starting today and for the next month or so, we'll also publish them here each week for easy access.
If you'd like to submit a question, e-mail us with BAKING Q in the subject field. Be sure to include your name and town where you live.
I have two questions, both about cakes.
First, I have a wonderful chocolate fudge cake recipe from my grandmother that calls for a cup of boiling water to be added to the batter after all the other ingredients have been added. The cake always turns out moist (even if I over cook it) and perfect, and I have always assumed it is because of this water. Do you know of any other recipes that call for boiling water at the end; is this a technique that I can modify to use in other recipes?
Second, I find that many of the yellow cakes I try are dry and don't have a rich, buttery taste. Do you have any suggestions for how to make a rich, moist yellow cake?
-- Julie Jolles, Tel Aviv, Israel
Warren Brown: I've seen water added to chocolate cakes in more than a few chocolate cake recipes. Sometimes the water comes masked as coffee (flavored water), but I'm not sure I've seen it added at the end. Usually, it's stirred together with the cocoa powder.
I've made coconut macaroons with Eagle sweetened condensed milk for years. The recipe I've always used is in a cookbook from Eagle Brand, and the ingredients are: 14 ounces of coconut, a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk and vanilla and almond extracts. The mixture is scooped onto a cookie sheet and baked.
While not genuine macaroons, these are chewy and delicious. I drizzle them with dark chocolate and my family loves them. That was until this year, when they were a big disappointment. When I made them a few weeks ago, the milk ran out of the mounds
of coconut on the baking sheet and formed a puddle around each one. The puddle baked into a leathery sheet, and the coconut mounds were dry and not chewy. I used the regular milk, not reduced-fat.
I went to the Eagle Brand site (I e-mailed them this question, too; didn't get a response) and I see that the recipe there includes an egg white, which is a change from all the times I've seen it published before. What's going on?
-- Lucy Goszkowski, Annapolis
Nancy Baggett: I don't have any definite answers. Just some thoughts.
The recipe Eagle Brand is now circulating calls for a beaten egg white, so the old recipe has been replaced (for whatever reason). Many people have had success with the new recipe, but some have experienced the problems noted below: the milk part
separating from the coconut and being runny and sticking in the pan. I suspect that this might be a function of the dryness of the coconut used. When it's moist, the milk doesn't soak in; when it's rather dry, the milk is properly incorporated. The only suggestion I can think of is to toast the coconut (325 degrees; watch, stir often) until it is drier and tinged with brown. This would bring out a fuller coconut flavor and a crisper, not soft texture. Not having tried this, I can't say for a fact it will work. But it just might.
Can Lyle's Golden Syrup be substituted for light corn syrup in recipes such as pecan pie? What about other baking recipes?
-- Penny Anderson, Los Angeles
Rose Levy Beranbaum: Absolutely yes. The lilting butterscotch flavor tempers the sweetness of pecan pie and lends it a lovely flavor. i rarely use corn syrup these days -- the only time I do is when I need the recipe to be as white as possible such as fondant as golden syrup is . . . well . . . golden!
When is it okay to use yogurt as a substitute for sour cream? And if so, what kind of yogurt and what other changes might be necessary?
-- Sandra Fucigna, Bethesda
David Lebovitz: It's hard to say for sure without seeing a specific recipe. Ice cream, for example, needs the higher fat content of sour cream; yogurt could make it too icy for most people's preference. And in applications where it's going to be cooked, yogurt could break a sauce or custard because it's quite acidic. However, for most baked goods such as muffins or cakes, yogurt can be swapped out for the sour cream.
For best results, I recommend using whole milk yogurt or "Greek-style."
The Food Section
| January 4, 2011; 8:00 PM ET
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