Food & Drink

Bonnie Aeschliman: When it gets cold, warm up the oven

One afternoon, when a light snow was falling, I headed to the supermarket to pick up a few items.

As I waited in the check-out lane, I was entertained by the couple in front of me who were chatting with the cashier about the wonderful spaghetti pie they planned to make when they went home. The cashier was intrigued with spaghetti pie so the customers gleefully shared the simple procedure. I believe the cashier made spaghetti pie as well that night for dinner. It sounded perfect for a frigid snowy evening.

I’ve noticed when the weather gets colder, ovens get turned on. And it was no surprise when I looked at my mailbox and had several baking questions.

Q. My friend makes great banana muffins that I love so she gave me her secret recipe. I think she changed the recipe as my muffins were not fit to eat — but she swears she did not and says I did something wrong. My batter was very thin, even though I put in 8 ounces of flour like the recipe said. I used a one-cup measuring cup and leveled it off just as I was taught, but I still think it needed more flour.

A. Eight ounces of flour is not the same as 1 cup of flour. That, no doubt, is the problem with the muffins. Measuring cups measure volume — not weight. One cup of properly measured all-purpose flour weights 4.5 ounces. So you only put 4.5 ounces of flour (not 8 ounces) in your recipe. You noticed the batter was very thin and thought it needed more flour. You were correct; you did need more flour — 3.5 ounces to be exact.

When baking, I often use a kitchen scale to weigh ingredients as it is quicker and more accurate than measuring by volume. There are many excellent kitchen scales available; my favorite one is small, folds up and is easily tucked into a drawer.

Q . Why do you sift flour? I never find anything in the sifter when I do sift it.

A. Sifting flour is not to remove foreign material but to lighten the flour. Flour becomes very compact as it settles and must be aerated by sifting or stirring before measuring. A cup of flour that has settled weighs 25 percent more than a cup of sifted or aerated flour. That amount makes a significant difference in baked goods, making them heavier and more dense. Most recipes for very light cakes such as angel food and chiffon require sifting; usually the stir-and-scoop technique of measuring works for most cookie and bread recipes.

Q. Since being laid off I have begun doing more yeast dough recipes. Why do yeast recipes require scalding of milk? And how hot is scalding?

A. Scalding temperature is 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Before pasteurization was common, scalding milk for yeast bread recipes was necessary because it killed harmful bacteria and destroyed enzymes that might affect the rising process. Most modern recipes omit this procedure, because harmful bacteria and enzymes are destroyed by pasteurization. But liquids are often heated because the warmth helps activate the yeast.

If you are adding warm liquid to a yeast dough, be sure to follow the recipe. Most often liquids are heated between 100 degrees and 110 degrees. If the liquid is too hot, it will kill the yeast, and the dough will not rise sufficiently.

I recommend using an instant-read thermometer to take the temperature of liquids when baking breads. You can also use it to test a loaf of bread when it has browned but you are not sure it has cooked internally. I find a good thermometer to be an essential kitchen gadget for baking as well cooking meat and other items.