When we try a new recipe, we often make a smaller version of the original recipe. For cookies, that's as simple as cutting the ingredients in half and making a smaller quantity. But for cakes, it gets quite a bit more complicated. And - horrors - requires some math!
In this post, we explain how to adjust your recipes for the pans you have on hand or when you want to make a smaller cake or cheesecake because you're not feeding a large group. Thanks to Alice Medrich from Food 52 for these calculations!
common pan sizes
(with the numbers rounded up to the nearest inch):
AREA OF RECTANGULAR PANS
AREA OF ROUND PANS
HOW TO USE THESE NUMBERS:
Once you know the area of any pan, you can compare it to the area of another pan to see how much bigger or smaller it is. You can divide the area of a large pan by the area of a small pan to figure out how many times to multiply a recipe to fill the larger pan with the same depth of batter. In our case, we usually are dividing a larger recipe. So, for example, if we want to divide a recipe designed for a 9-inch round pan (64) and make it in a 6-inch round pan (29), we multiple each of the ingredients by .45 or 45% (29/64). In this case, we'd round up to 50 percent for ease of conversion - as long as the pan can accommodate the small increase in total ingredients. For such as small increase, it's not likely that the baking time would need to be increased for most recipes.
how to do your own calculations
For squares and rectangles: The area of a square or rectangular pan is calculated by multiplying one side times the other side. The area of an 8-inch square is 64 square inches because 8 x 8 = 64; the area of a 9 x 13-inch pan is 117 square inches because 9 x 13 = 117. Easy.
For rounds: The area of a circle equals π times the radius squared. In case you don’t remember, π = 3.14; the radius of a circle is half of its diameter; and squaring means multiplying a number by itself. Ready? To calculate the area of an 8-inch round pan, multiply 3.14 (π) by 4 (because it’s half of 8) times 4. Thus, the area of an 8-inch circle is 3.14 x 4 x 4, approximately 50 square inches. Not so hard!
Do you wonder how and when you should sift your ingredients? Is sifting really necessary?
For most recipes where you use a stand mixer - like cakes, cookies, cheesecakes - it's fine to combine your dry ingredients with a whisk. Whisking breaks up most lumps, including when you're incorporating cocoa powder (which can be clumpy).
When should you sift? When the recipe calls for it! Sifting is called for when you are folding dry ingredients gently into delicate, wet batter like angel food cake or our recent madeleines.
Do you need a sifter? We don't use one. We use a fine-mesh sieve over a piece of parchment paper or a bowl. A sieve can be used in many other ways and justifies its place in our kitchen.
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Consider this an ode to my favorite cocoa powder, Saco brand, a combination of natural and Dutch process (or "dutched") cocoa. I'm sad to say I can no longer find it at any local grocer, so must now order it in bulk online. But to me, it's totally worth it. There's a huge difference in flavor between it and it's more common cousin, natural cocoa (like Hershey's). While natural cocoa has a more bitter, thinner chocolate flavor, dutched cocoa is bolder, darker and earthier.
I went online to discover why this is, and found some great articles, which I have links to in this post. I've summarized the facts below, but these articles have much more science and one shows baked goods comparisons.
We have no relationship with Saco, by the way. We're just fans!
what is natural cocoa powder?
Most cocoa powders begin life in the same way. Cacao beans are fermented, dried, and roasted. The beans are cracked into nibs, which are then ground into a paste made of cocoa solids suspended in near-flavorless cocoa butter. They extract the butter, are left with crumbly solids, which are ground into a fine powder. Seems like one too many steps, but I'm no expert! The end result is pure chocolate flavor, without any added fat, sugar or milk. This process creates "natural" cocoa powder, the ones you normally find in your supermarket, like Hershey's, Nestle, Ghirardelli and others.
Natural cocoa is acidic, and has a slightly bitter, almost citrus, flavor. Recipes that use it typically call for baking soda as a raising agent. Natural cocoa also achieves a higher rise than dutched cocoa, as the chemical reaction creates a lot of carbon dioxide bubbles.
what is dutching?
Natural cocoa powder is washed with a solution that neutralizes its acidity to 7, which is the same as water. This process gives the cocoa a darker color and makes the flavor more mellow and earthy. Black cocoa is heavily dutched, and more alkaline. It's flavor is the one you might associate with Oreos.
Dutch process cocoa isn't acidic, so it doesn't react to alkaline leaveners like baking soda to create carbon dioxide (so no lift). You'll need to use baking powder in recipes using 100 percent dutched cocoa.
A combination - we like this best!
We prefer the flavor of dutched cocoa, but appreciate the ability of natural cocoa to provide lift and a lovely open structure. So we like cocoas that include a combination of natural and dutched cocoas. We've used Saco brand for many years and have never had any issues using it in a variety of recipes. There are other brands of combination cocoas on the market, and I'm sure they also work well and are extremely versatile, too.
want to know more?
The price of natural vanilla extra is climbing, and with higher demand and lower production, it's likely this trend will continue for many years. If you want to know why the prices are increasing, click on our previous post here.
We went looking for other options to see how bakers who use a lot of vanilla can get creative to save money. Here are our ideas and reviews of these options.
1. Buy at warehouse clubs. This is not earth-shatteringly creative, but it's actually the best and most practical option that we found if you must use real vanilla in your recipes. We found the best price per ounce from our local Costco, but Sam's Club also has a good price.
2. Use artificial vanilla in baked recipes. According to experts and our own tests, almost nobody can tell the difference between real and artificial vanilla in baked goods, especially when the vanilla is not the predominant flavor in the dessert - like chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies, recipes featuring cinnamon, molasses, ginger, lemon, almond and orange.
3. Save real vanilla for non-cooked recipes, like frosting and ice cream. You may also want to use real vanilla for baked goods where vanilla is the star flavor.
4. Skip the vanilla in recipes where you don't really taste it. Again, just leave it out of recipes for chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies, and recipes featuring cinnamon, molasses, ginger, lemon, almond and orange. Vanilla extract is typically 35 percent alcohol, which evaporates, so the amount of liquid you will be eliminating from recipes should not effect the baked results.
5. Don't bother with vanilla powder. We tried the powder made from dried and ground vanilla beans, and found that their flavor was not very strong. It looks pretty, especially in something like ice cream, but it was not a cost-effective way to add vanilla flavor to baked goods.
6. Make your own extract from vanilla beans. We are making our own extract right now and the recipe is below. It is definitely cheaper to make your own, but that doesn't figure in the time element. It takes about 6 months to achieve the same vanilla flavor using the conservative recipe below. You can get extract sooner, but you'll need to double the number of beans. Don't believe people who post that they had great extract in 6 weeks!
MAKE YOUR OWN VANILLA COSTS
$18.....750ml (approx 25 ounce) bottle of cheap vodka
$24.....10 Grade B vanilla beans (prices vary)
$42 for 25 ounces = $1.68 per ounce
Costco's 16-ounce bottle costs about $33, which is $2.06 per ounce. If you want faster results and/or plan to dilute your vodka to achieve an industry-standard vanilla extract alcohol level*, your will need to add more beans, thus adding to your total cost.
7. Make your own vanilla using "used" Grade A vanilla beans. This is the most cost effective way to make your own extract. If you use vanilla beans in a recipe, throw your discarded bean pods into some vodka and let them soak. You'll need patience for this option, as it, too takes many months for the extract to be ready. But the real cost to you is just the cost of the vodka, as you were planning to use the beans anyway.
8. Make vanilla sugar using spent vanilla pods. This is one of the easiest ways to add some vanilla essence to your desserts. It's best for when vanilla is the star of the dessert, but can be used in any recipe. Simply store your spent, dried vanilla pods in a tightly sealed container of granulated sugar. Your sugar will take on the vanilla scent and flavor.
RECIPE FOR inexpensive HOMEMADE VANILLA
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