Kitchen quandary? We’re here to help. We checked in with the chefs in our cooking class program‘s Test Kitchen for answers to recent cooking questions submitted by our readers. Take it away, Test Kitchen team!
Q: Whenever I bake cookies or cakes, they usually flatten after they have cooled. What am I doing wrong?
A: The problem can be one of many. For example, the baked good may be underdone, so check the baking times and use a cake tester, making sure the tester comes away clean when inserted in the center of your cake or cookie. Another problem is that there may be too much moisture in your batter, making the batter too heavy to lift. Too much sugar can also be the culprit. Sugar attracts moisture and releases it as it bakes, causing the batter to spread.
Another problem can be that your oven is either not hot enough or too hot. Using an oven thermometer helps give an accurate temperature to ensure proper baking. Also, make sure your leavening agents (e.g., baking soda or baking powder) are fresh; they lose their ability to rise if they are too old or have expired.
Q: I am looking for a cake pan that doesn’t stick. I make 7-Up cakes and have ruined them because I can’t get them out of the pan. I have tried everything—oil and flour and I have purchased several sprays from the store. Please recommend something that will work for this cake.
A: When baking cakes, always line the bottom of the pan with a piece with parchment paper — there is no better insurance policy for successfully removing a cake intact from its baking pan. Simply trace the pan bottom onto the parchment paper and then cut out the shape required. As for greasing and flouring, different cakes require different preparations, so follow the instructions accompanying each recipe.
In general, pans for butter cakes should be brushed with butter before parchment paper is placed on the bottom of the pan, to keep the paper in place when the batter is added. Melted butter applied with a pastry brush is the most effective way of coating the pan, though a light but even coat of flavorless cooking spray does the trick. Do make sure your cooking spray is fresh — rancid oil will lend its flavor to outside of cake.
Q: In dealing with spices, onion salt, garlic salt or any such condiment, [they] can turn very hard. Is there a rescue or a prevention?
With spices and items like garlic and onion salt, if the product is not sealed tightly it may be exposed to moisture which can cause caking or clumping. Make sure to tightly seal your jars or, if you’re using bulk product in loose bags, transfer them to spice jars with a tight-fitting lid.
Also, always make sure to measure out your spices into a spoon or bowl and not directly over steaming pans and pots, which can invite moisture into your container.
A good tip is to buy your spices in bulk and only buy what you need for two or three months. This will guarantee you’re using the freshest product and there won’t be enough time for your spices to become stale and hard.
Thanks, Test Kitchen team! If you have questions you want our in-house chefs to answer, just let us know in the comments.