Archive for September, 2014

Happy New Year Apple Cake

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown tonight. Many celebrants will eat Jewish Apple Cake, one of the traditional holiday desserts.

Chunks of apples are mixed throughout this cake.

There’s a minor controversy about what constitutes Jewish Apple Cake. The Washington Post states, “It might be labeled Jewish because there is oil rather than butter or lard in the batter.” Wikipedia, our worldwide fortress of information, has a different view. “Jewish apple cake is a kind of dense cake made with apples and sold mostly in Pennsylvania in the United States.” Readers are then directed to Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine.

Sliced apples are pressed into the top of this cake.

Since there is no standard of identity for many products, including Jewish Apple Cake, I feel that I’m allowed to call my recipe Jewish Apple Cake because my mother was Jewish. Bless her soul.

Several years ago when I worked as a pastry chef for an upscale residence hotel chain, I used many of my own recipes:

Jewish Foods
I sometimes made my mom’s apple cake for dessert. There were many Jewish residents at the hotel, so I wanted to call it Jewish Apple Cake. Chef Nico refused to do it and looked at me with suspicion.

“There’s no such thing as Jewish Apple Cake,” he insisted. “As an executive chef I am very familiar with Jewish foods and dietary laws.”

So on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, his dinner menu posted in the lobby listed split pea and ham soup with Apple Cake for dessert. I saw the menu when I arrived at work. I could have told Chef that ham for a festive Jewish holiday meal was not the best choice, but I didn’t say anything.

When the residents saw the printed menu, they stormed the office. Chef added Carrot & Apple Tzimmes as the vegetable, saved the soup for another day, and changed the dessert name by adding “Jewish.” Chef ate three pieces of that cake even though he was on a diet.

From The (Faux) Pastry Chef: How I Found My Baking Fix page 99

Home-Based Baking at its Best!

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Coffeecake Drops Out of Science Class

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

There were many responses to my previous post about cookie science. Apparently I’m not the only person who finds this brand of pop science somewhat irritating. In today’s post I ran my own little “science” test.

Blueberry Crumb Coffeecake

I have several sour cream coffeecake recipes, some that are quite similar to each other. I focused on those and compared the recipes. They all have the same ingredients – butter, sugar, eggs, flour, etc. – but the amounts are different; sometimes slightly different and sometimes very different. Although the batter yields are all the same, some start with a pound of butter while some use only one-quarter pound. Leaveners are different, sugar is different, etc. The one constant is that the results are all tender with the texture I expect to find in a coffeecake. Is there anything I can learn without running a real scientific test?

Cake A (round cakes in front). Cake B (9x13 cake in back).

I started with my favorite recipe, below, and baked the recipe twice for a side by side test. Cake A was baked exactly as written. Cake B had several changes and substitutions such as part sour cream and part yogurt. While Cake A had exact flour, I was sloppy with the flour measurement for Cake B and that batter came out too thick. I then poured in amaretto without measuring. Also with Cake B, I stirred in the salt after everything was mixed. (Sorry, accidental part of the planned experiment.)

Cake A

Cake B

What can I conclude from this test? Both cakes came out great and I have written results. But I didn’t learn anything useful that I could state as a fact, since any conclusions would be based on a one-time test. Maybe if I ran it exactly the same way multiple times (using the same brand ingredients, same mix times, bake times, and process, etc.) I would have results to compare and conclusions could be reached. But without real controls it’s impossible to come up with a reliable evaluation.

Unofficial conclusions
Conclusion #1: It’s hard to screw up sour cream coffeecake.
Conclusion #2: If you are a scientist and understand how to conduct legitimate scientific experiments, great. But if you’re a foodie, enjoy your fabulous coffeecake and leave science to professionals.

Sour Cream Coffeecake
Filling, optional

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon


  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons liquor
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour (18 oz.)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fresh chopped fruit or berries, optional

1. Heat oven to 350º F. Grease 9×13 pan, or (2) 9” pans, or any variation of smaller pans.
2. If using filling, in small bowl, mix all filling ingredients and set aside.
3. In large bowl, beat butter and sugar, then beat in eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and any liquor. Mix in flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in fruit, if using.
4. For a fruited coffeecake, spread batter in pans. If you prefer using filling, spread ⅓ of plain batter (about 2 cups) in pan; sprinkle with ⅓ of the filling. Repeat until batter is used.
6. Bake 45-60 minutes (depending upon size of pans) or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool and sprinkle cakes with confectioners’ sugar.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! This recipe works well with fresh, seasonal fruit.

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Cookie Science?

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


Last year, Tessa Arias, a food blogger, began a fun series about chocolate chip cookies. She wrote The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies, followed by several more posts. Arias is a culinary grad with a personable style. I enjoyed her viewpoint but was rather surprised to read in the Ultimate Cookie Troubleshooting Guide that, “The posts illustrated the science behind cookie baking.”


I am not a food scientist. I am a former bakery owner and have baked thousands of cookies, cakes, brownies, muffins, coffeecakes, breads, rolls, etc. I learned by reading and making the same recipes over and over and over. I write about food but my results are not science.

A basic principle in science: testing must be done numerous times and results must have the ability to be independently reproduced. Where’s the science behind the cookie testing results? While Arias’ posts are fun to read, they are not scientific. Calling a fluff piece “science” is misleading. It attempts to elevate recipe development to a higher status but only succeeds in devaluing the true nature of scientific testing.

I wouldn’t have addressed this issue, but then Anne Miller wrote, The Science Behind Baking the Most Delicious Cookie Ever and referred to food blogger “…Tessa Arias, who writes about cookie science on her site, Handle the Heat.”

Christa Savery Dunn, Baking Outside the Box, an avid writer and recipe developer wrote, “I need to do this experiment myself because I have had different results than some of the ones shown here. What do you think of the science behind this? … I have had brown sugar cookies come out flat and white sugar cookies come out fluffy, so I question that. Also, beating speed and time are not mentioned in this article, and I think that is a major omission.”

Dunn made some excellent observations. And I have more concerns. Does the author use weight or volume measure? If you’ve been hanging around the food/baking world for any length of time you no doubt have heard that weight is accurate and volume is inaccurate with inconsistent results. Volume measure is fine for home bakers, but frowned upon for commercial baking and absolutely unacceptable for scientific results. This blog series gave volume measure for flour, with the caveat, “if you’re interested in the weight…”


In Miller’s piece, a couple of things are right. But there’s a lot wrong, such as “Ooey-gooey: Add 2 cups more flour.” WRONG WRONG WRONG. Adding 2 more cups would be a disaster. Is there no proofreader on duty? Churning out these types of food articles is what happens when food becomes trendy.


We are blurring the lines between science and pseudoscience. But everyone does it so that makes it okay? Unfortunately, Miller’s well written but not-so-scientific article was reposted in Time and again in NPR.

I can certainly see why a food blogger would write about baking chocolate chip cookies. But I’m disappointed with how “science” has evolved. There are similar “science” pieces out there, some good and some not.  But really, please, stop already with this pseudoscience.


Our society worships everything food and everyone wants in. Media stars, marketing personnel, lawyers, English professors, home cooks – far too many people who have no business discussing and writing about food “science” have crossed the line. The food hobby has gone crazy. Enough already.

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Strudels, Sweet or Savory

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Seasonal Plum Strudel

Strudels! Take advantage of this time of year for using seasonal and local produce. For a boost to farmers’ market sales, purchase fresh produce from your local growers.

Strudels are similar to pies: both products are made with a dough and filling. For the crust, use any pie dough. For a sweet filling, use any fresh fruit. For a savory filling, try a mixture of seasoned, par-cooked vegetables.

Peach filling wrapped in oil-based pie dough.

For oil-based pie crust recipe or flaky pie dough recipe.

Savory fillings wrapped in dough and ready to bake or freeze.

Potato chive dinner strudel.

1. Do not use too much filling or it will leak during baking.
2. Place seam side down on parchment or foil-lined baking sheet.
3. Slit dough before baking. It allows steam to escape and makes pre-cut servings.
4. For Hors D’oeuvres, roll dough into thin logs.
5. If filling seems too wet, put strudel in a baking dish.

Home-Based Baking at its Best! If you’re new to strudel and nervous about how they will bake, use a disposable pan when you start making them for sale.

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