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Ingredients for American Baking in Paris

cupcakes

Although we can’t expect things to be like ‘back home’, many of us do miss certain things and for us bakers, it’s often a challenge to adapt to new ingredients or ones that behave differently than what we’re used to. Here’s a list of commonly used baking ingredients and where you can find them, or what you can use in their place.

americanbaking paris

Buttermilk, Heavy Cream, and Sour Cream

Many grocery stores and cheese shops sell lait ribot, fermented milk from Brittany. Arabic markets also sell fermented milk (lait fermenté) as well. In many recipes you can substitute plain whole milk yogurt or you can milk 1 tablespoon of white or cider vinegar, or lemon juice, with 1 cup (250 ml) of whole milk and let it stand ten minutes.

For sour cream, full-fat (20%) fromage blanc is the closest substitute for baking. Crème fraîche, which is usually at least 30% fat, can be used as well, but is richer. I also use Bridélice, a low-fat dairy product (called crème légère, or “light cream”), whose 15% fat content is similar to American-style sour cream.

(A reader mentioned that smetana, a type of sour cream, is available in Eastern European shops.)

Heavy cream is called crème liquide, crème fluide, or crème entière in French. Both are liquid pouring creams. They are available in supermarkets. (Be aware that entière is full-fat and légère is low-fat, which containers thickeners and will not whip.) The fat percentage of crème entière is usually around 30% whereas American cream is about 36%, although it behaves the same in most applications. (For whipping, get the cream with the highest percentage possible.) Fresh cream is available in supermarkets in the dairy case; be aware that sterlized UHT cream is common in France, which can be challenging to whip, and is refrigerated or unrefrigerated. Some fromageries sell heavy cream, although most offer UHT cream. Beillevaire fromageries carry fresh, raw heavy cream.

Monoprix carries their own brand of heavy cream in small plastic bottles, and Elle & Vire is one brand that sells UHT cream in paper cartons, as well as crème entière épaisse, which comes in a pouch and is quite thick, but works well in most applications that call for heavy cream.

sucre vergeoise

Brown Sugar

To replace the sticky brown sugar used in American recipes, there are two options. One is sucre vergeoise, which is beet sugar sprayed with caramel-coating (to resemble brown sugar) and sucre cassonade, which is unrefined cane sugar. Both are available in dark and light variations: light (cuivrée) or dark (ambrée), for cassonade.

Sucre vergeoise is more available, found in supermarkets, although I prefer cassonade, which can be found in supermarkets (most often under the Daddy brand, which they sell online at La Boutique Daddy and you can find other brands at natural food stores, like Naturalia and Biocoop.

Coarse crystal, free-flowing cassonade is available in most grocery stores as the French use it for coffee and baking, and can be substituted in some recipes, although I prefer the sticky varieties when a recipe calls for light or dark brown sugar.

You can read more detailed information in my post: French sugars.

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Flour

Flour varies from country-to-country. French ‘all-purpose’ flour (type 45 and type 55) is closer to American cake flour: it’s milled very finely and has less-protein and gluten (strength). In most cases, you can’t just substitute French all-purpose flour in American recipes like cookies and cakes. I know too many Americans who opened the oven door and found all their carefully rolled-out chocolate chip cookies, melded into one, giant blob.

If you’re interested in the precise composition of both flours, you can read about them American vs French flours and French flours. Chow published a French & American flour equivalent chart.

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In spite of the listing, I found that organic type 65 flour is the closest, which you can find in natural food stores like Naturalia. You can also buy type 65 organic flour at Monoprix and other supermarkets. It will say on the side of the package.

Regular whole wheat flour can be found in most groceries stores, as well as in natural food stores. Type 110 is equivalent to regular whole wheat flour, and Type 80 bise is a lighter flour, similar to whole wheat pastry flour.

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Molasses

You can buy mélasse at natural food stores, but it’s sulphured, unrefined, and very strongly-flavored. When using it in recipes, I cut it with some mild-flavored honey. Otherwise it can overwhelm all other flavors in whatever you’re baking. Unless you like that strong, molasses flavor…then go for it. American-brands of mild, unsulphured molasses, as we know it, is available in stores that cater to the expat community.

Treacle, available in British stores and markets that carry British foods, is a close substitute, but is similar to blackstrap molasses and quite strong. In a pinch, cut it 50:50 with mild honey, unless you like the strong molasses taste.

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Yeast

You can ask your local boulanger if they’ll sell you some yeast, or it’s available in supermarkets (not in the refrigerated section, like in America) in packets like the one shown above. You can also buy it in small tins in Arab markets, under the SAF brand.

Since yeast is a living organism, the yeast in Europe behaves a bit different than American yeast, but I’ve had few problems. You can test yeast by adding a teaspoon to half a cup slightly-warm water; it should start bubbling within a few minutes if it’s still good. You can find a yeast substitution guide at the Red Star yeast website for swapping fresh yeast for dry yeast. Fast-acting yeast in France is available in the baking aisle of some supermarkets called levure rapide or “action express.”

chocolate & butterscotch chips

Chocolate Chips

Finding chocolate chips is regular supermarkets is nearly impossible. In Paris, G. Detou carries them at a reasonable price (although they contain the sugar substitute, maltitol) and expat stores carry them, as well as Le Grand Epicerie. You can simply chop up a bar of chocolate, or buy Callebaut pistoles (as shown in the photo) available at professional baking supply shops, such as G. Detou and Metro.

Butterscotch, and similar-flavored chips, may be available in shops that cater to the expat community.

corn syrup

Corn Syrup

American corn syrup is expensive, and sold at stores that cater to the expat community. But Asian markets often carry corn syrup cheaply, as it’s used in Korean cooking. Stores in Paris are Ace Mart and Kmart (both are on the rue St. Anne) and Tang Frères (in the 13th.)

Professional baking supply shops, such as G. Detou in Paris, also sell glucose, which is essentially the same thing. If you need dark corn syrup, add a generous spoonful of molasses to the corn syrup. For more information about corn syrup: When To Use (and Not Use) Corn Syrup, which lists other substitutions.

yellow cornmeal

Cornmeal

Various grades of cornmeal can be found in ethnic markets, mostly catering to the Arabic community. Polenta and cornmeal, such as those that are used for cornbread, can be found in those stores as well as in natural foods stores, labeled farine de maïs which is fine corn flour, or coarser, often called semoule de maïs. In Paris, many of those are clustered around Belleville and near the marche d’Aligre. Natural foods stores sell it as well. The best advice is to go and look because the nomenclature can vary.

Corn starch is available in supermarkets under the name Maizena. It’s available in natural food stores under the name fécule de maïs or amidon. Potato starch is commonly used in France and works the same as corn starch in most applications. It’s available in Kosher stores.

French peanut butter

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is available in France and now many supermarkets carry it. American brands, like Skippy, can be expensive. But “natural-style” peanut butter can be found in ethnic stores, especially those that cater to the Indian community. (In Paris, many of those are clustered around La Chapelle, behind the gare du Nord.)

The peanut butter you find is generally 98% peanuts, with a small amount of vegetable fat added. You can also make your own by roasting raw peanuts in the oven and whizzing them in a food processor, while warm, until smooth. Natural food stores also carry “American-style” peanut butter, which is similar to our natural peanut butter, but not the same as brands like Jif or Skippy, and won’t behave the same way in recipes.

cocoa in pan

Cocoa Powder

Virtually all the cocoa powder in France is Dutch-processed, which means the cocoa powder has been acid-neutralized and is generally darker. It often will not say so on the front label, but may list the alkalizing agent (often potassium carbonate or bromate) as an ingredient.

Although one should, theoretically, used what the recipe calls for, you can usually do just find swapping out one for the other.

More information can be found at my post; Cocoa Powder FAQs.

chocolate

Chocolate

When a recipe calls for bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, you can use any of the dark chocolate baking bars found in supermarkets. If you live in Paris, G. Detou sells chocolate in bulk, in bars and pistoles. The membership only Metro stores also carry chocolate (and other supplies) in bulk.

G. Detou also carries unsweetened (sometimes called ‘bitter’) chocolate in bulk, which in France is called 100% cacao, or 100% pâte de cacao. Some gourmet stores carry it but in general, you won’t find it in supermarkets as the French don’t bake with it like Americans do.

You can learn more about chocolate varieties and uses at Chocolate FAQs.

baking soda

Baking Soda

Some supermarkets carry baking soda (bicarbonate de soudre) and Indian markets usually carry it as well. It can also be found in pharmacies; you’ll have to ask since they don’t normally keep it on the shelf.

evaporated milk/lait concentré

Evaporated Milk and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Evaporated milk is lait concentré non sucrée (concentrated, unsweetened milk), and is available in most supermarkets. Sweetened condensed milk is well; it’s known as lait concentré sucré, which is sold in cans as well as tubes, like toothpaste.

Kiri

Cream Cheese

Cream cheese can be found in supermarkets under the St. Môret label, or store-brands, labeled pâte à tartiner, in the familiar rectangle shape. Ed discount markets has the best prices if you need a lot. Also cream cheese is available in Jewish grocers in the Marais, and some French people use Kiri squares as cream cheese for making le cheesecake.

Philadelphia-brand cream cheese has decided to become a bigger presence in France due to its popularity with the French and can now be found at many supermarkets in France at reasonable prices.



Shops Specializing in Anglo Products in Paris & France

Here’s a listing of the stores mentioned above, or shops that specialize in products for expats. I’ve noticed that the everyday supermarkets in Paris, such as Franprix and G20 often have sections that sell anglo products at decent prices, and those are worth checking out, too. There are a couple of places that do mail-order and although I haven’t ordered anything from them, if you really need something, they might be worth the extra expense.

For cake pans, muffin tins, bakeware, and paper cupcake liners (and more), I prowl around ethnic neighborhoods. A favorite is the rue de Belleville in Paris; there are lots of stores scattered along that street, that carry baking items at very low prices. For those who want more professional-quality equipment, check out The cookware shops of Paris. It’s a good idea to measure your oven and baking equipment, especially if you’ve brought items to France from other countries as items like silicone baking mats are sized differently and may not fit.

Thanksgiving (Paris)

G. Detou (Paris)

Naturalia (France)

My American Market (France & Europe)

The English Shop

Biocoop (France and Europe)

Izraël

American Market (Switzerland)

English Shop (Germany)

Mr. 10% (France)

British Superstore (England)

The Real McCoy (Paris)

Monoprix

La Grand Epicerie

Auchan

E. Leclerc

Carrefour

How to Find Foods and Other Items Mentioned on the Site



More Paris links:

Paris Restaurant Archives

Gluten-Free Eating in Paris

Paris Cooking Classes & Wine Tasting Programs

10 Delicious Things Not to Miss in Paris

Tipping in Paris

Romantic restaurants in Paris

Accessible Travel in Paris

Where is the best duck confit in Paris?

Paris Dining Guides

Hungry for Paris Guide

Some Favorite Paris Restaurants

Vegetarian Dining Tips for Paris and a list of Vegetarian Restaurants

Where to Find a Great Hamburger in Paris (Kid-friendly)

Pâtisseries in Paris Guide

Sunday Dining in Paris

What is White Chocolate?

Some people love it, and others leave it.

It’s White Chocolate, that controversial melange of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk (more on that later). Often there’s vanilla, or vanillin (a synthetic vanilla-like substance) added as well.

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Many people will say they don’t like white chocolate, citing a preference for the dark side.
“It’s not chocolate!”, you’ll hear.

Well, no, it’s not. It’s different. A different kind of chocolate.

Dark, or bittersweet chocolate, contains cacao mass (the ground beans), sugar, cocoa butter, and sometimes vanilla and lecithin.
White chocolate has none of the cacao mass, hence the delicate, ivory-like color, which it gets from the cocoa butter. Instead it’s rich with cocoa butter, which gives it that suave, subtle taste, that I find compliments dark chocolate desserts and bolder flavors. I make White Chocolate Crème Anglaise and pour the cool custard alongside a dark chocolate cake. Or I steep fragrant fresh mint leaves when making White Chocolate Ice Cream.

Cocoa butter is derived from the chocolate-making process, or more specifically, when cocoa powder is made. To make cocoa powder, roastedcacao beans are ground into a paste, known as chocolate liquor, then the paste is pressed through a powerful hydraulic press, which separates the cocoa mass from the cocoa butter. The cocoa mass comes out as a solid block, which is grated into cocoa powder (which is why cocoa powder is always unsweetened and relatively low-fat) and the soft, rich cocoa butter is extracted. I’ve been to factories and watched the process, and the smell of warm, fat-rich cocoa butter is intoxicating.

The valuable cocoa butter is often sold to the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry, since it has the perfect melting point for things like lipstick…and why chocolate melts and releases its complex flavors like nothing else when you pop a piece in your mouth. But it’s also that reason that true white chocolate tastes so good and is loved by many pastry chefs.

fauchonwhitechocolateparis.jpg

Here’s some tips and facts about white chocolate:

  • Both white and dark chocolates are emulsions. Adding small amounts of liquid, like water or milk, will cause the emulsion to break or seize. Therefore, any milk that’s added to white chocolate must be first either dried into a powder or cooked to a paste, removing the water, before it’s used. So you’ll often find the ingredient ‘milkfat’ on the label.
  • In the United States, white chocolate must contain a minimum of 20% cocoa fat.
  • Because white chocolate contains a dairy product, it’s highly perishable. Purchase it in small quantities as needed (unless you’re like me, and use so much you buy it in 5-pound blocks…as shown above.) I make sure to get white chocolate from a reliable source that rotates and checks their stock regularly. Store it in a cool, dark place, but not the refrigerator, since it’s high-fat content makes it a good medium for absorbing other odors…like the stinky camembert in my fridge.
  • White chocolate will keep for up to one year. If you’re unsure if it’s any good, taste it before using (which most of us do when baking with chocolate, right?)
  • Buy only ‘pure’ white chocolate and check to make sure the label reads only ‘cocoa butter’, and no other tropical fats, such as coconut or palm kernel oil.
  • Due to the higher fat and sugar content, white chocolate melts very easily and at a lower temperature than dark chocolate, but more care should be taken when using it. Avoid excessive or direct heat. I like to pour a hot liquid over it and use the heat from that to melt the white chocolate.
  • There’s only a few companies in America that make white chocolate: E. Guittard, Baker’s, and Askinoise. But most of the white chocolate you’ll find is European-made, perhaps since few American bake with white chocolate.
  • White chocolate should never be pure white. Since cocoa butter is ivory-colored, real white chocolate should be off-white as well. Products labeled as ‘white bar’ or ‘white coating’ are often not white chocolate and just tastes plain sugary and should not be used in recipes that call for white chocolate.

Continue Reading What is White Chocolate?…

How to Prevent Cookies From Spreading

Triple Chocolate Cookies

Here are some helpful tips to prevent cookies from spreading:

Don’t Overbeat the Batter

Far too many recipes advise bakers to simply “Cream butter and sugar until smooth”. So many people just turn on the mixer and go check their e-mail.

When you beat butter and sugar, those little crystals of sugar create air pockets between the butterfat. The more you beat, the more air you incorporate (those trapped air pockets steam open and expand in the oven). That’s great for a nice, light cake…but not for most cookies. So when the recipe says, ““Cream or beat butter and sugar”, just mix them for about 30 seconds, until well-combined.

nonspreadingcookies.jpg
Pecan-Brown Sugar Shortbreads from Ready For Dessert

Use Ungreased Baking Sheets

Unless the recipe says so, bake cookies on an ungreased or unbuttered baking sheet. You’re creating a slippery surface if you do, which causes cookies dough to slide. I use parchment paper, which has just enough friction for cookies to stay-put without sliding around, but they don’t stick.

Measure Ingredients Properly

I know this is a big duh!, but adding more liquid or less flour than a recipe indicates makes a big difference. When people tell me, “I can’t bake”, I never understand that. I mean, how difficult is “8 ounces of butter” or “3 large eggs”? It’s not like a piece of meat that you need to guess and adjust cooking times. Baking is a no-brainer.

Don’t change ingredients either. Using extra-large eggs in place of large eggs means you’ve added more liquid. Using anything other than all-purpose flour (or whatever is called for) can also be problematic.

Check Your Fat

Most butter is about 80% fat, meaning the rest is roughly 20% water. When used in a batter, that water liquefies, and voila!. You can use a ‘European-style’ butter, which has a higher percentage of fat and remains more stable when baked. Examples of this include Plugra.

Some recipes use vegetable shortening instead of butter, which is another alternative (although I don’t personally use vegetable shortening). Vegetable shortening is 100% percent fat, which means there’s little water so things stay in place better when baked (it’s why pie dough made with shortening is flakier…there’s little water to saturate and toughen the flour.)

If you choose to replace butter in your recipe with vegetable shortening, find one without trans-fats, which are now available.

Check Your Oven Temperature

Every oven is completely different. I had a someone call me at 11pm one night to tell me her Peanut Butter Cookies took 10 minutes to bake instead of 9 minutes, as indicated by the recipe. Buy an oven thermometer and check the accuracy of your oven.

If you put cookies in an oven that’s not hot enough, they’ll droop and spread before firming up.

You can find more tips at my post: Tips to Keep Cookies From Spreading



Related Links

Is sifting necessary?

Chocolate FAQs

Cocoa powder FAQs

Why you should use aluminum-free baking powder (and how to make your own)

Recipes for using up leftover egg whites

American baking ingredients in Paris

French sugar

Tips to keep cooking from spreading

Chocolate Tempering: How To Temper Chocolate

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Homemade Rocky Road, from The Great Book of Chocolate, Enrobed in Tempered Chocolate

How do you temper chocolate, and why do you do it? The short answer is that chemically, chocolate is composed of lots of different little crystals (six to be exact) but the desirable ones are called beta crystals. The development and formation of these beta crystals are what makes well-tempered chocolate.

If the cocoa butter rises to the surface, some people commonly think their chocolate has gotten moldy and toss it out. If you’ve done that, you’ve tossed out perfectly good, but unattractive, chocolate.

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As you can see, there is a dull white sheen on the surface of this piece of chocolate. And that’s what happens to chocolate that’s not properly tempered: the cocoa fat rises to the surface and “blooms”, making it unappealing and unattractive. When you buy chocolate, like a candy bar or chocolate in bulk, the chocolate has been tempered and it should be nice and shiny and snap when you break it. Yet if you leave your candy bar in a warm car and later open it up, often it’ll become white and gray. The heat caused your chocolate to lose it’s temper. When you buy chocolate for baking, it should arrive well-tempered. (If buying pistoles in bulk, they may be dull from becoming scratched during transport, which is not to be confused with untempered.) But once you chop it up and melt it, the beta crystals change, the chocolate loses its temper, and you’ll need to re-temper it again if you plan to use it as a coating.

Pages and volumes of technical research have been written about tempering chocolate, but here are the main reasons for all you home cooks out there:


  • To avoid fat (and sugar) bloom, characterized by unappealing white streaks or blotches on the surface.
  • To raise the melting temperature of finished chocolate so it doesn’t melt on contact with your fingers.
  • To preserve the keeping quality of chocolate by stratifying the fat.
  • To cool chocolate quickly. Tempered chocolate cools fast, within 5 minutes.
  • Tempered chocolate will shrink slightly when cooled, which allows it to slip out of molds easily.
  • To give chocolate a glossy, shiny appearance, and a crisp, clean snap when you break it.

As I’ve said, you don’t need to temper chocolate if you’re going to bake a chocolate cake or make chocolate ice cream. The only time you need to temper chocolate is when you need an attractive, shiny coating for candies that will sit at room temperature. You can get around tempering by dipping chocolates in melted, untempered chocolate and storing them in the refrigerator. Just remove them from the refrigerator a few minutes prior to serving them. The coolness of the refrigerator will stratify the cocoa fat and it won’t bloom.

Theo Chocolates

There are many different methods for tempering chocolate. Some are a bit complicated, and some are really messy, especially for home cooks. I rely on a thermometer, which is foolproof. It’s best to use a dark chocolate that is no higher than 70% in cocoa solids. Higher percentage chocolates (and some artisan bean-to-bar chocolates) can be quite acidic, and may behave differently.

I developed a simple 3-step method that’s a snap for home cooks. All you need is an accurate chocolate thermometer, although a good digital thermometer will work.


Tempering Chocolate

1. The first step is to melt the dark chocolate in a clean, dry bowl set over simmering water, to about 115º-120º F (46º-49ºC.)

2. Remove from heat and let it cool to the low 80ºs F (27ºC.) Drop a good-sized chunk of solid (and tempered) chocolate in, which provides insurance by ‘seeding’ the melted chocolate with good beta crystals. While cooling, stir frequently. Motion equals good crystallization, aka, tempering.

3. The last step is the most important: It’s bringing the chocolate up to the perfect temperature, where it’s chock-full of those great beta crystals. This occurs in most dark chocolates between 88° and 91° F (31º-32ºC.)

(Milk chocolate tempers at 86º-88ºF, 30º-31ºC. Please note that chocolates can vary, so check with manufacturer if unsure about your particular chocolate.)

4. Remove what’s left of the chunk of ‘seed’ chocolate, and your chocolate is dip-worthy: you can dip all the chocolates you want and all will be perfectly tempered. Don’t let it get above 91° F (32ºC) or you’ll have to begin the process all over again. If it drops below the temperatures, rewarm it gently to bring it back up.

For more chocolate tips, recipes, and information, check out The Great Book of Chocolate

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Related Posts and Links

Chocolate FAQs

Chocolate Thermometers

Agave-Sweetened Chocolate Ice Cream (Recipe)

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch (Recipe)

Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramel Cups(Recipe)

The Easiest Chocolate Ice Cream Ever! (Recipe)

How to Make Homemade Chocolate Bars