Wintertime baking

February 28, 2012, Tuesday/ 17:05:00

On cold winter days, I usually bake more than usual. I bake mostly a lot of quick breads and cookies and cakes.

However, when I first got here, I found that there were some differences that I had to account for before I could bake as usual. For most items I have found a substitute. In fact, the only thing I have not found here that I cannot do without is an oven thermometer.

Vanilla

I have not found vanilla extract other than the vanilla syrups found in Eminönü or the vanilla extract that is processed with something besides alcohol and leaves a funny aftertaste in the final product. Every time I go to the States I stock up on it. When friends come to visit, I always ask them to bring some. But I have learned to compensate when I don’t have it. Go to Eminönü and buy vanilla beans. You have to store them correctly or they will shrivel up and become useless in a matter of months. Cut both ends off, slit it down the middle and scrape the beany gunk from the pod. A half-pod of vanilla is equal to two teaspoons of vanilla extract. However, I like the flavor of vanilla, so I use one pod per teaspoon of vanilla. You can also use vanilla sugar -- two packages are equivalent to one teaspoon.

Powdered sugar

The powdered sugar here is very grainy compared to the States. I was told by a pastry chef that it is generally cut with corn starch. Therefore, my frostings come out a little too grainy for my taste. I tried to grind it more in the coffee grinder to no avail. There are a couple of alternatives for frosting. You can get a package of “krem şanti” and add it to heavy cream. If you like a smooth frosting, you can make a meringue frosting (do a search on YouTube -- there are several easy-to-follow videos on meringue frosting).

Brown sugar

For years I didn’t make cookies because one of the main ingredients is brown sugar and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I discovered that you can make brown sugar. For every cup of firmly packed brown sugar, combine one cup of white sugar with 2 tablespoons of carob molasses, called “keçiboynuzu harnup pekmez.” Although this combination doesn’t turn out exactly like the brown sugar we are used to at home, it does the trick.

When I bake, I give a large portion of my goodies away. Most folks are really surprised that my baked goods taste as good as or sometimes better than what comes from the bakery or Starbucks. Here are some tricks of the trade that can help get good results.

Temperature

Make sure that your oven is preheated to the exact temperature stated in the recipe. Too hot or too cold an oven can yield unwanted results -- this is chemistry after all. Also when baking, it’s a good idea to have all of the ingredients at room temperature.

Air

When making cakes and quick breads, you want to incorporate a lot of air. For the dry ingredients, you can use a sifter. I often sift my flour, baking powder, salt and spices two or three times before incorporating them into the wet ingredients. For the wet ingredients, you should beat eggs until there is lot of air. I sometimes set my blender to beat the eggs while sifting the other ingredients to add even more air. When the other wet ingredients are added, continue to beat them until you see air bubbles on the top.

Another technique for keeping air in whipped eggs is to fold ingredients gently into the batter. This technique is the one used to lighten cakes, puddings and soufflés. This technique also works well for all other baked goods, including breads and muffins.

Gentleness

When it’s time to incorporate the dry ingredients, do it slowly and gently, mixing just until they are wet. When you beat the wet and dry ingredients too much, you wake up the gluten in the flour and it can make for a dry result. Folding ingredients into one another also helps to decrease the gluten.

I have included some recipes below to get you started with winter treats.

Banana bread

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit /177 Celsius. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Ingredients:

3 medium-sized, ripe bananas, 1/2 cup melted butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 egg, beaten, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon (optional), 1/2 tsp ginger (optional), 1/4 tsp cloves (optional), 1 tsp baking soda, pinch of salt, 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of raisins (optional), 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)

Mash the bananas (the riper, the better). Add the butter and sugar and mix well. Add the egg and the vanilla and mix well. Sprinkle the baking soda evenly over the batter and add the cinnamon and salt. Mix well. Sift the flour onto the top of the batter. Combine until just mixed (do not over mix the flour or your bread will be tough and dry). Stir in the nuts and raisins if you’re using them. Pour batter into the loaf pan and bake for approximately an hour. Try chocolate chips for an extra treat! Bread is done when an inserted knife comes out clean.

Oatmeal-raisin cookies

Preheat your oven to 375 Fahrenheit /190 Celsius.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup butter, softened, 1 cup brown sugar, packed, 1/2 cup granulated sugar (this is what’s called for in the original recipe, but it makes for very sugary cookies -- consider reducing to 1/4 cup), 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 1/2  tsp ground cinnamon (optional), 1/4 tsp cloves (optional), 2 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 3/4 cups flour, 2 cups oats (yulaf ezmesi), 1 cup raisins.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar (if used), baking powder, baking soda and spices (if used). Beat until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Stir in the oats and the raisins. To make the dough easier to handle, I generally put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. You can also roll this dough into a log, freeze it and then slice the frozen dough onto your cookie sheet or silpat and put them directly into a hot oven. If using the chilled dough, drop the dough by rounded teaspoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet or silpat. Bake for eight to 10 minutes, until the edges are golden. Cool on the cookie sheet for one minute and then transfer to a wire rack to let them cool thoroughly.

With just a few minor adjustments, you can bake some delicious treats to share with your friends - - just the thing for those long winter days.