Baking - General

Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

I don’t like spicy things very much, so most of the things I make are on the sweet side. My husband, on the other hand, loves spice. He is a big fan of pepper jellies, eating it not only as an appetizer on crackers with cheese, but also on his toast in the morning. (I could handle the crackers and cheese, but not on toast for breakfast). Anyway, I’ve been stock-piling quite a few jams and jellies with the various berries that are in season right now, and got to thinking that I should probably make something he would really enjoy too.

I found a recipe in my canning book for Easy Jalapeno Pepper Jelly. The title did not lie, it was super easy. I was a bit reluctant, because I know that cutting and handling hot peppers can be risky business, especially for someone who doesn’t like them. But all I had to do was cut off the tops, scoop out the seeds, and toss them in the blender. No chopping itty bitty pieces getting my fingers coated in hot pepper juice, this was my kind of recipe.

After they were blended with some cider vinegar, I cooked them up with more vinegar and sugar – standing back a bit to avoid the fumes – added in the pectin when it was time, and ladeled it into the jars. Easy peasy. The recipe suggested for a hotter jelly you could wrap some of the seeds in cheesecloth and let it infuse the cooking jelly, removing just before adding the pectin. I would have tried this, but didn’t have any cheesecloth on hand. Maybe next time.

I have to confess, I didn’t even taste test to make sure it was okay. But my husband has had it on his toast a few times now, so I guess it was a success!

Baking - General, Recipe

Zucchini Challenge, Take Two

The abundance of summer is back in our CSA boxes, with another season of zucchini upon us. You may remember the great zucchini challenge from last summer, where my husband and I went head to head to see who could make a better use of zucchini. Well, there was no competition this year (not yet, anyway), but I did make it a personal challenge to try and come up with more interesting ways to use our zucchini.

It’s been a few weeks since I made this recipe, so I can’t even remember what made me think to look for it, or how I searched for it, but I found a recipe for a quiche crust made with zucchini. The recipe also called for carrots; I didn’t have any carrots, but I did have beets, so I made the substitution – hence the bright pink in the photos.

This recipe used 2 whole cups of grated zucchini – fantastic! Now, you might ask, as I did initially, won’t that be a soggy crust? Zucchini is so full of moisture, it always makes the top of my pizza soupy unless I cook it first to release some of the moisture. Well, if you read the recipe at the link below you’ll see that you sprinkle the grated zucchini with salt and let it drain for awhile, and then squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can. It’s a bit of work, but well worth it, both for the meal and for using up the zucchini!

I highly recommend trying this recipe out. It also uses a minimal amount of flour, so those of you who are gluten free could probably substitute another flour for the wheat flour and still get great results. You can find the link for the recipe below the photos.

Click here for the recipe for zucchini crust.

Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

Cocoa Powder Revealed

Did you know that there are two common types of cocoa power on the market? Dutch-process and natural.

Natural cocoa powder.
Natural cocoa powder.

Natural cocoa, which is simply the cocoa beans that have been roasted and powdered, is naturally acidic. Dutch-process cocoa comes from a process of neutralizing the acid in the cocoa beans before they are roasted and powdered.

When I was thinking about this, a few questions came to mind. How do you tell the difference? What kind is my usual store brand? Can they be used interchangeably? Well, let’s find out. I went for some advice online and found a couple helpful sites. If you check out the sites I list at the end you will learn the following. Dutch-process cocoa has a bold, reddish colour to it, whereas natural cocoa is a lighter shade of brown; and dutch-process has a lighter flavour, while natural has a bitterness but gives a fuller chocolate flavour in the final product.

The kind you buy in tins at the grocery store is likely natural, unless it is specifically labeled ‘dutch-process,’ and therefore most common recipes you use will work well with natural cocoa. I did get some cocoa powder at a bulk store once and noticed it had a reddish colouring, but at the time didn’t realize that there might be a difference between that and a tin from the store. I can’t remember if it affected my recipes.

So can they be used interchangeably? Apparently it can go one way, but not the other. Natural cocoa is acidic, so in recipes that call for baking soda it is a good fit, because you need an acid to make the soda work (as you may recall from an earlier blogpost). Dutch-process has had the acidity removed, so it needs baking powder in order to make a recipe work, since baking powder has an acid included. Since dutch-process does not have the acid, it will not work well in a recipe that calls for baking soda; however, natural cocoa can probably be used in a recipe that calls for baking powder, it will just have a bit more acidity to make it work. I haven’t done any experimenting, so I don’t know if it would affect the flavour, but that can be something for a future post.

For more detailed info on cocoa, you can go to the following links:

Baking - General, Education/Classes, Recipe

Baking Class Fundraiser

I recently led a baking class at my workplace as a fundraiser for a trip they are planning. I have never taught a baking class before, and felt a bit intimidated by it at first, but they were a pretty easy-going and eager crowd so it ended up being a great experience.

We had two hours and one oven, so when I started planning I knew that there would not be enough oven space for everyone to bake several things at the same time. But I also wanted to make it worth their while. I picked three recipes that were very easy, and titled the class “Easy Baking.” Two of the recipes required baking, so I opted to just demonstrate those ones, and one was a no-cook, no-bake recipe, which allowed for everyone to participate in actually making something, instead of just watching.

We started with a mandarin orange cake, which has just five ingredients that you quickly stir together, pour into a pan and bake for 40 minutes. While the cake baked, we made the no-cook recipe, everyone working in teams of two. They were three ingredient apricot coconut balls. Once the cake came out of the oven, we moved onto the last recipe, peanut butter cookies, which also only had three ingredients. And when all was said and done we had time to sample everything.

I’m really happy with how it all went, and although the recipes were simple, the results were delicious. You can find the recipes for the apricot coconut balls and peanut butter cookies below the photos.

No-Bake Apricot Coconut Balls

  • 1 1/2 cups dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 2 cups coconut, unsweetened,shredded
  • 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk (about half a can)
  • powdered sugar
  1. Mix apricots and coconut.
  2. Add condensed milk, combine thoroughly.
  3. Shape into 1 1/4 inch balls and roll in powdered sugar.
  4. Let stand until firm.

Super Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  1. Mix all ingredients together.
  2. Roll into balls and flatten with fork on ungreased baking sheet (dough rolls more easily if left to sit for a few minutes, otherwise it is quite sticky).
  3. Bake at 325F for 15 minutes; do not overbake.
Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

Homemade Seedless Raspberry Jam

I can’t get over how much I like making jam and jelly now. It always seemed like such a daunting task, but now I can get a whole batch done in no time. Well, that’s not entirely true, it depends on the kind I’m making. What I really like about most of the jams and jellies I’ve been making is that they are totally from scratch, with no added pectin, and consequently way less sugar. Quince, grape, apple-quince-grape, and now raspberry.

I love the taste of raspberries, but I really don’t like the seeds. So when I decided to try this latest batch of jam with our stock of frozen berries, I wanted to go seedless. I thawed the berries and squished them through a sieve, making sure to use about a cup more berries than the recipe called for to compensate for the bulk of the seeds that would be missing. After a long time of squishing and straining I ended up with about two cups of seedless raspberry pulp.

Then I needed to make the pectin. The recipe used apples and lemon, cutting them all up, keeping the cores and peels, and boiling for about 20 minutes until the fruit was mushy. That also got squished through the sieve, and made four cups of apple sauce. The recipe only called for two, so the rest has been frozen to use for another batch.

The recipe I used called for five cups of sugar for the four cups of fruit pulp, as opposed to another recipe in the book for straight raspberry jam, which calls for four cups of raspberries and six and a half cups of sugar with a package of liquid pectin. You might wonder if the flavour of the raspberries in my batch was muted by the use of apple, but it really wasn’t. As it cooked I only smelled raspberries, and you can hardly taste apple at all in the jam. You have to keep in mind that although there were only two cups of raspberry pulp, it took about five cups of raspberries to make it.

I’m very happy with how it came out. Although it is a lot more work to make the jams and jellies without added pectin it is totally worth it, for a couple reasons. 1) It’s cheaper. The five apples I used basically replaced the equivalent of two packs of liquid pectin, and used less sugar, both of which saved some money. And 2) because there is less sugar used, it makes the natural flavour of the fruit stronger, and makes the jam that much more delicious!

Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

When to use Baking Soda, Baking Powder or Both

I have noticed that some recipes use baking soda, some use baking powder, and some use a bit of each. I don’t know why I never looked into this before, but I got curious to find out why some recipes would call for both leaveners.

soda vs powderLet’s start by defining them. They are both chemical leaveners. Baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate. It will only work as a leavener if it is combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient (eg. lemon juice, chocolate, fruit, buttermilk, cream of tartar); this combination causes a chemical reaction that produces bubbles of carbon dioxide. As the batter is baked, the heat causes the air bubbles to expand, increasing the product’s volume and making it rise. It starts to react immediately, so any batter made with baking soda needs to be baked as soon as it is mixed to maximize its leavening power.

Baking powder is baking soda that has been premixed with a dry acidic ingredient (monocalcium phospate on my container), so just needs the moisture added to make it work. There are two types of baking powder. Single-acting baking powder has the same reaction as baking soda, where it needs to be baked immediately to maximize the leavening. Double-acting baking powder starts to react immediately, but needs heat in order to maximize its leavening power. Double-acting is what is most readily available in grocery stores now, and allows you to let a batter sit for a while (15-20 minutes) before it needs to go in the oven. Very convenient if you happen to forget to preheat your oven!

And now onto the question of why a recipe would call for both leaveners. I looked this up at the Joy of Baking, and here’s what they say: “When a recipe contains baking powder and baking soda, the baking powder does most of the leavening. The baking soda is added to neutralize the acids in the recipe plus to add tenderness and some leavening.” (Read more:┬á

So there we have it. If a recipe calls for both, it was probably tested and found to need something to ‘neutralize the acids’ and/or needed a bit of a boost in the rising department. Too much of either leavener on its own can also create an unpleasant taste, but in a balanced combination can make a recipe work beautifully.

Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

Freezer Jam Tainted by Carrageenan

This week’s post has gone through many revisions. Where do I begin? I wanted to make a batch of freezer jam with our surplus of strawberries that we’ve been getting from our CSA boxes over the winter. I chose freezer jam for a couple reasons. 1) because you don’t need to sterilize the jars; and 2) because one of the gelling agents I found for freezer jam required significantly less sugar than cooked or freezer jam made with traditional pectin. I made the batch, and everything was hunky dorey, including a glowing post about it. Then I looked into the gelling agent for this freezer jam: carrageenan.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that there is controversy around it, as there is with so many food additives.┬áCarrageenan is derived from an algae, similar to agar agar, so it is vegetarian and vegan, and is often used as an alternative to gelatin for gelling or thickening food products (eg. low fat yogurts). But studies have linked it to various gastro-intestinal problems, and even some cancers, (See Carrageenan on Wikipedia, or just search carrageenan in Google to find several articles about it), and most articles I read suggest avoiding food products that contain it.

I was going to publish my original post after this intro, but as I thought about it I couldn’t in good conscience publish something positive about something that made me feel so angry and disappointed. I felt like I had wasted all those delicious berries and turned them into something potentially┬áharmful; I had taken something beautiful and made it ugly.

'Feel Good' strawberry freezer jam made with pectin.
‘Feel Good’ strawberry freezer jam made with pectin.

Luckily I hadn’t used up all the berries. So a couple days later I took out my pectin and enough berries for a batch of the freezer jam listed on the package. It used a heck of a lot more sugar (which also has its drawbacks, I know), but I felt a lot better about making and eating this jam. And I still have some beautiful berries to spare!