Top quality ingredients make all the difference in a baked product. These are the products I have chosen that have proven over the years to give the best results.
Products from Product Lines I Recommend
Organic Valley: organic dairy products
Kraft: Philadelphia cream cheese
Stonyfield: organic cream
King Arthur: Baker's Special Dry Milk
Heavy cream, also referred to as “heavy whipping cream,” contains 56.6 percent water and 36 to 40 percent butterfat (averaging 36 percent). “Whipping cream” has only 30 percent fat. The higher the butterfat and the colder the cream, the easier it is to whip and the more stable the whipped cream. To determine the fat content, look at the total fat in the nutritional information on the side of the container: 1 tablespoon of 40 percent cream will contain 6 grams total fat. Organic Valley and Stonyfield are two brands that contain 40 percent butterfat.
Heavy cream will not whip when it has been frozen and thawed, but frozen heavy cream can be used for making ganache.
Philadelphia Cream Cheese gives my desserts the texture and flavor I am look for.
Dry Milk Powder
Adding dry milk powder when making bread results in a tender texture. My preference is King Arthur Baker’s Special Dry Milk because it results in the most tender texture and also the highest rise. Unlike other dry milk, it is heated to a high enough temperature to deactivate the enzyme protease, which otherwise impairs yeast production and—what is most critical—gluten formation and structure. The high heat produces an exceptionally fine powder that disperses uniformly through the dry ingredients. This fine powder packs down when measuring by volume so if replacing Baker's Special Dry Milk with “instant” dry milk, you will need to double the volume to arrive at the same weight.
General Mills: Better for Bread
bleached and unbleached all-purpose
whole wheat & Wondra
King Arthur: bread
Soft-as-Silk bleached cake flour
Swans Down: bleached cake flour
for Sugar & Sweet Syrup
India Tree: Muscavado light and dark brown sugar
C & H: superfine sugar
Sugar in the Raw: turbinado sugar
Lyle's: golden syrup
Valrhona: all chocolates
Guittard: all chocolates
Agostoni / Green & Black's: cocoa
for Baking Powder & Cornstarch
Rumford / Clabber Girl:
aluminum free baking powder
for Vanilla, Oils, Essences, Purées, and Concentrates
Nielsen Massey: pure vanilla extract &
Boyajian: oils & extracts
Perfect Purée: purées & concentrates
for Baking & Cooking Sprays
Baker's Joy: baking spray with flour
PAM: nonstick cooking spray
Except when making flourless cakes and meringues, flour is the primary ingredient in baking. The type of flour used, particularly its protein content and whether it is bleached or unbleached, affects both texture and flavor. The types of flour used in this book are:
Bleached cake flour and bleached all-purpose flour for cakes
Bleached all-purpose flour and unbleached pastry flour for pie and pastry dough
Bleached all-purpose flour for cookie dough
Unbleached all-purpose flour and unbleached bread flour for bread dough
Wondra flour ideal for dusting pie, pastry, and cookie dough, because it is precooked and its rough granularity means that less will be needed to keep the dough from sticking.
Baking Spray with Flour
This is a combination of flour and oil, and is sprayed on baking pans to ensure a clean release. It is faster, neater, and more effective than greasing and flouring. Baker’s Joy is odor free and releases the best. Alternatively, to grease and flour a pan, coat the inside of the pan with solid vegetable shortening; add flour and rotate the pan so that it coats completely. Then invert the pan and tap out the excess flour.
Nonstick Cooking Spray
This useful product contains a minute amount of soybean oil and lecithin (a natural emulsifying agent derived from soybeans), and is ideal for keeping baked goods from sticking to the wire cooling rack. Pam is odor free.
Baking powders are mixtures of dry acid or acid salts and baking soda, with starch or flour added to standardize and help stabilize the mixtures. When they react—or liberate carbon dioxide—the carbon dioxide gas causes baked goods to rise. Double-acting baking powders react partially from moisture during mixing and partially when exposed to heat during baking.
Choose the variety that is an all-phosphate product containing calcium acid phosphate, not one containing sodium aluminum sulfate or SAS. I recommend Rumford baking powder. It is found in most supermarkets and health food stores. It lacks the bitter aftertaste associated with SAS baking powders from the aluminum in the sodium aluminum sulfate.
Fine sea salt contains no additives and is easiest to measure accurately and consistently. My first choice is Baleine.
I recommend using instant yeast because of its reliability. It is fine to whisk the yeast into the flour before adding the water, but the yeast can also be soaked (hydrated) in warm water from the recipe (at least three times its volume) for 10 minutes. If yeast has been frozen, allow it to come to room temperature before adding water. Instant yeast is nationally available in supermarkets under brand names such as Fleischmann’s Bread Machine Yeast or RapidRise Yeast, Red Star Quick-Rise, SAF Instant, and SAF Gourmet Perfect Rise.
I use only organic cornstarch, preferably Rumford. It makes a big difference to ensure fine texture for génoise.
Dark chocolate is made up of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, referred to as chocolate liquor or “cacao.” The rest is sugar. The higher the percentage of cacao, the lower the percentage of sugar. Almost all the chocolate recipes that I develop use 60% to 62% cacao. A different percentage will affect both the flavor and the texture of the recipe. (Milk chocolate has a lower percentage of cacao, and also contains milk solids in addition to sugar.)
When purchasing dark or milk chocolate, choose your favorite brand. When purchasing white chocolate, be sure to choose brands that contain only cocoa butter and flavorings, not vegetable oil.
Two of my favorite chocolate companies are Valrhona and Guittard. I’m especially partial to Felchlin milk chocolates.
Unsweetened cocoa powder is pulverized pure chocolate liquor (the combined cacao solids and cocoa butter) with three-quarters of its cocoa butter removed. I prefer the flavor of Dutch processed, also known as alkalized cocoa. This refers to the process by which the cocoa powder has been treated with a mild alkali to mellow its flavor and neutralize its acidity; this also makes it easier to dissolve. Two of my favorite cocoas are Green & Black’s, which sometimes is sold under the name Agostino, and Van Houten.
Superfine sugar is specified in recipes such as some cookies (for a smoother dough) and meringue (because it dissolves more effectively in the egg white). Fine granulated sugar works well for most recipes. It is coarser than superfine, but can be processed in a food processor to simulate superfine if needed. The two most common brands of granulated and superfine sugar available are C&H and Domino. C&H’s superfine is slightly finer.
Brown Sugar and Muscovado Sugar
Brown sugar is refined sugar to which molasses has been added back after processing. Muscovado sugar contains some of the original molasses that has not been extracted. My preference is India Tree light or dark Muscovado for their delicious complexity of flavor. Light Muscovado is closest in molasses content to a combination of light and dark brown sugars. In recipes where more molasses would overwhelm other flavors, I list light brown sugar as a substitute. In recipes where more molasses would enhance the flavor, I list dark brown sugar as substitute.
Sugar in The Raw is my choice when I want to add just a slight touch of molasses along with sweetness.
Lyles Golden Syrup
This by-product of sugar refining has a delicious butterscotch flavor. It can be used interchangeably with light corn syrup. If it crystallizes on storage, set it in a pan of simmering water and stir it often until the crystals have dissolved.
Pure vanilla extract imparts a lovely flavor to baked goods and also serves as a flavor enhancer. High-quality brands are available in some supermarkets, in specialty food stores, and online. My favorites are Nielsen-Massey and The Vanilla Company.
Vanilla Bean Paste
This excellent product contains vanilla seeds combined with vanilla extract, natural gum thickeners, and a small amount of sugar, varying by manufacturer. Most can be used in equal volume to replace vanilla extract, but it is best to check the label for suggested amounts
Nielsen-Massy also carries an excellent pure almond extract and a coffee extract which offers the most rounded, pure coffee flavor possible. The coffee extract will keep in a cool, dark place for 1 year, and longer if refrigerated.
Mandy Aftel, of Aftelier, carries the most exquisite essences such as peach, pear, and lavender. Just a few drops make a dramatic enhancement of natural flavor. They keep indefinitely at room temperature.
Boyajian citrus oils, such as lemon and orange, are the oils extracted from the rind of the fresh fruit. They have a pure but intense flavor and are a world apart from citrus extracts. Citrus oils require refrigeration.
Fruit Concentrates and Mango Pulp Passion Fruit and blood orange concentrates from the Perfect Purée of Napa are available through mail order and also are carried by Kalustyan’s. Ratna brand Alphonso mango pulp is carried by Kalustyan’s.