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Summer Baking Specialties
Summer is a great time of year for baking and cooking because there are many possible activities available. Barbecues, family reunions, block parties, pool parties, and summer weddings are all possible summer activities where you can bring your own baked foods. What better time is there to show off your baking skills with some light summertime recipes that are the perfect ending for any festive celebration from a backyard cookout to a beach blowout?
Of course, summertime baking calls for a lighter hand with the sugars and fats, and if you are planning a day outside, food safety considerations are an absolute must. Here are some of the things that you should consider when baking in the summertime.
1. Keep it simple.
Summer is not the time for elaborate cakes and recipes. Heat and humidity are the enemy for most kinds of frosting and glazes, and can make ruin most baked goods. Keep summertime baking on the light side too, sponge cakes and meringues are great summer dessert bases.
2. Avoid dairy-based fillings and toppings that will spoil in the heat.
Whipped cream frostings and custard fillings are usually a poor idea for any outdoor event in the summertime. If you are unable to keep éclairs and cream puffs on ice for the duration of the event, save them for another time of year.
3. Reduce sugar.
Instead of sweetening fruits with sugar, try adding spices and flavor enhancers like vanilla, cinnamon or lemon zest.
4. Take advantage of summer’s bounty.
Fresh peaches, berries and melons are perfect desserts all by themselves, but if you want to go a little fancier, here are some tips for using fresh fruits in your summer baking.
- Riper fruits are juicier and sweeter, so you use less sugar to get the sweetness you want.
- Instead of sprinkling berries with sugar to ‘bring out the juice’, try macerating them in orange juice or a few tablespoons of liqueur.
- Mix berries or sliced peaches with a little bit of lemon juice, add water and cornstarch and boil until the fruit is soft and pulpy. Strain off the liquid to use as glaze in fruit desserts, and puree the fruit to use in place of fat and sugar in cake recipes.
- Top meringue cakes or sponge cakes with fresh fruit and a spoonful of freshly whipped cream for the perfect summer dessert.
5. Lighten up cake, bars, cookies and cupcake recipes with sweeteners.
There are a number of sugar substitutes on the market that have versions made expressly for baking, such as Splenda Sugar Blend, a natural sugar substitute. Any of these can be substituted for sugar in recipes on a one for one basis.
Summertime Specialty Recipes
What would the 4th of July be without strawberry shortcake? This delicious item is a perfect dessert after a big meal of chicken, hot dogs and hamburgers. Can you imagine the family reunion without your family’s famous refrigerator cake? Some desserts are so associated with summer that it is hard to imagine having to give them up. Guess what? You don’t have to! These light summer recipes are reduced sugar versions of some favorite summertime classics.
Just Like Strawberry Shortcake
Sponge Cake is a perfect substitute for shortcake in strawberry or peach shortcake. The texture is light and airy, and the open grain lets it soak up juices and syrups.
1/3 cup granulated sugar substitute
2 tablespoons of corn starch
4 tablespoons flour
8 inch round pan OR 8x12 inch jelly roll pan, greased and floured
Beat eggs in a small narrow bowl on high speed with electric mixer until they are thick and creamy. The color should be nearly white. A spoon drawn through the eggs should leave a mark which does not disappear.
Add sweetener one tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition.
Sift half the dry ingredients into the bowl on top of the egg and sugar mixture. Fold into batter. Sift the rest of the dry ingredients into the bowl, and fold into batter.
Pour and spread mixture evenly into the pan.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes (round pan) or 7-10 minutes (jelly roll pan). The sponge cake is cooked when your finger leaves a slight mark that disappears almost immediately.
1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced
¼ cup orange juice
Pour orange juice over strawberries and set it in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
1 pint fresh heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup sweetener
In a narrow bowl, whisk or beat the ingredients and then cream with sweetener and vanilla until stiff peaks form.
To assemble, place a slice of sponge cake on plate. Ladle a half a cup of berries over the cake. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and drizzle with ‘syrup’ from strawberries.
Tips For Baking At Home
Eat healthy. Avoid sweets and processed foods. Cut back on fats. Watch your carbs. Once upon a time, those words of advice were only given to dieters looking to take off some added pounds. These days, though, all the major health organizations are telling us that following these rules can make us much healthier.
Unfortunately, for those of us with a sweet tooth and those of us who love to bake, those bits of advice also seem to sound the death knell for decadent desserts. With just a little adjustment of your recipes, you can bake low sugar snacks that taste just as good as the traditional high fat, high calorie and unhealthy treats. Here are some tips for baking at home with less sugar.
Basics of Baking Lighter at Home
These are the big three rules when it comes to baking healthier at home.
- Reduce the amount of sugar used in your recipes. Unfortunately, that's sometimes easier said than done. Some recipes depend on sugar for more than just taste in a recipe. You may have to experiment with different sugar substitutes when baking until you get it right. In general, of all the sugar substitutes on the market, Splenda granulated, which is made for baking, is most easily substituted in a one to one measure for sugar in a recipe.
- Reduce the amount of fat used in recipes, but keep in mind that some recipes need a minimum amount of fat in order to succeed at all. The biggest trick to learn in reducing the fat content is to substitute another moist ingredient for part of the butter, oil or shortening called for in the recipe. Popular choices include fat-free sour cream, light cream cheese, orange juice or applesauce.
- Make smaller servings more satisfying by adding fiber to recipes. Instead of chocolate, add fruit, or use whole wheat flour for part of the flour. When you increase the nutritional value of the dessert, it's far easier to be satisfied with smaller portions - and fewer calories.
There are lots of other little tricks to enhance flavor and make low sugar baking fun.
- Use flavor enhancers like lemon zest in fruity dishes. The tang brings out the fruit flavor and heightens the flavors of whatever ingredients you use.
- Vanilla, butter and nut flavorings can add the taste of butter and nuts without adding the extra fats.
- Cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger and nutmeg intensify flavors and enhance sweetness in a dish.
- Experiment with spice combinations to create a fresh, new flavor.
- Substitute strong, cold coffee for part of the liquid in chocolate recipes to bring out the chocolate flavor.
- Top cakes and cupcakes with fruit or fruit spread, or substitute pureed fruit for frosting between layers in a cake.
- When baking cookies using a sugar substitute, flatten each cookie slightly before baking. This will help the cookies to spread enough while baking.
- Add a little extra vanilla when you reduce sugar in a recipe. It accentuates the sweetness.
- If using fruit juice as a sweetener, reduce the juice to a third of its original volume by boiling over high heat. It will concentrate the flavors and the sweetness.
- Use dried fruits in muffin and cake recipes to add a burst of sweetness in every bite. Chop the fruits into very small pieces to distribute the flavor more evenly through the batter.
- Mashed, overripe bananas are a great shortening substitute, as is applesauce. When buying fruits, buy them individually instead of in plastic bags. The flavors are more intense when the fruit hasn't been packaged in plastic.
- When baking pies, try this tip: sprinkle a small amount of sugar on the pie crust before filling it with unsweetened fruit. Spray the top crust with cooking spray, then sprinkle with a little sugar. No one will ever miss the extra sugar in the filling.
- When reducing fat and sugar in baked goods, try baby food bananas, pears, prunes, sweet potatoes or carrots. The typical addition is applesauce, but you'll get richer, sweeter flavor from other fruits.
Low fat and low sugar recipes may not brown properly. Sugar substitutes and other sweeteners do not darken with heat in quite the same way. Here are some ways to add color to your baking when using sweeteners and less sugar.
- A small amount of molasses provides color, as well as moisture and deep sweetness.
- Sprinkle cinnamon or nutmeg on top of a cake or cupcakes before baking.
- Use a small amount of dark brown sugar with fruits to add intense color.
- When baking with sugar substitutes and sweeteners, reduce the baking time. Get your cookies and brownies out of the oven before the look done. They'll continue cooking while they cool.
Baking with Less Sugar
Sugar substitutes such as: Splenda Sugar Blend are blends of a sugar substitute that incorporate some sugar for better baking. If you can't use sugar substitutes, here are some other suggestions for reducing the sugar in your recipes.
- Add dried fruit puree in soft chewy cookies to replace some of the sugar and some of the fat.
- You can reduce the sugar by up to a third in most drop cookie recipes without appreciably affecting the recipe.
- Use chopped dried fruits instead of candied fruit peels in holiday recipes.
Tips For Sugar-free Baking
There are so many good reasons to reduce the amount of sugar in the foods that we eat. Processed sugar, especially in the amounts that we eat it here in the United States, is a major contributor to obesity, and provides very little substantive nutrition for the number of calories that it delivers. While it is easy to reduce sugar in some aspects of your diet, there are some sticking points. If you love to bake, for instance, you’ll find that just cutting out the sugar in many recipes will result in a failed recipe. In many recipes, sugar is more than just a sweetener. It provides texture, contributes to browning and may serve to help other chemical processes happen.
That does not mean you have to give up on baking if you want to cut out sugar. There are a number of tips that can help you reduce sugar in your favorite cakes, cookies and other sweet baked goods and still enjoy them. These tips are helpful for cooking with sweeteners such as Splenda Granular.
In some recipes, sugar is important for the structure and texture. This is especially true in candies and confections like nougat, and in frostings and sweets. For best results, you really can’t replace the entire amount of sugar with a sugar substitute. You can generally replace about 25% of the sugar called for in the recipe. If you must cook completely sugar free, then try recipes that use other natural sweeteners for flavor and sweetness.
If your cakes, breads and muffins don’t rise as high when using a granulated sugar substitute, try adding ½ cup of nonfat dry milk powder and half a teaspoon of baking soda for every cup of sweetener that you use.
Bake your cakes and muffins in smaller pans. Instead of 9 inch round cake pans, use 8 inch pans with two inch high sides.
Cookies and cookie bars often need brown sugar for their texture. If you want to keep that chewy-crunchy bite, you’ll probably need to keep the brown sugar, and only replace the white sugar with a sweetener.
Experiment with your favorite recipes. You can get excellent results by replacing the sugar and much of the fat with applesauce or fruit purees. The best choice for fruit purees? All natural baby food, with no sugar, salt or preservatives added. Bananas, peaches, prunes, carrots and sweet potatoes are all great choices for dense cakes, cookie bars and muffins.
Cookies made with artificial sweeteners often don’t spread well when they bake. To help them bake better, use a fork sprayed with cooking spray to flatten each cookie slightly before placing them into the oven.
Jams and jellies often rely on sugar to help activate pectin in recipes. You may need to use some extra fruit pectin to help your fruits set up properly if you are using an artificial sweetener, or going au natural.
If your sugar free baked goods are coming out a bit too dry, try adding a bit of thinly sliced or grated zucchini to the recipe. The flavor is neutral, but it will add moisture to your breads, muffins and cakes.
Pick the Right Sweetener
Some sweeteners react badly to heat. Aspartame, for instance, loses most of its sweetness during baking, so sweeteners that use aspartame should be confined to recipes where you can add the sugar at the end of the cooking – puddings, frostings and the like.
Use flavor enhancers to emphasize sweetness in recipes. For instance, an extra teaspoon of vanilla per cup of sugar substitute will bring out the sweetness. Hone or molasses in quick breads and muffins will add a bit of a flavor boost. Other possibilities for enhancing flavors include lemon and orange zest, almond flavoring, and butter flavoring.
Sugar free baked goods often look pasty and uncooked because sugar caramelizes during baking to give everything a golden brown color. You can simulate the browning by spraying the surface of the batter or dough with a bit of cooking spray before putting it in the oven.
Other ways to simulate browning include adding cinnamon or nutmeg to the batter.
Most granular sweeteners do not appear to get as creamy and smooth, when mixed with butter, margarine and shortening and it may even separate when you add eggs. It won’t affect the final product; just continue on with the recipe.
Cooking with Yeast
Sugar substitutes won’t activate yeast, so if you’re making yeast breads with a sugar substitute, you’ll need to retain at least two teaspoons of sugar in the recipe, or replace the sugar with another natural sweetener like molasses or honey.
Adjust Bake Times
Baked goods cooked with granulated sweeteners may bake more quickly than the recipe dictates. Check cakes 7-10 minutes before the recipe’s bake time, and brownies, quick breads and cookies 3-5 minutes before the recipe says it will be done. Remember that sugar free recipes may not brown during baking and rely on other indicators.
Many Ways Of Cooking Grains
All grains, with the exception of rice, and the various grain meals, require prolonged cooking with gentle and continuous heat, in order to so disintegrate their tissues and change their starch into dextrine as to render them easy of digestion. Even the so-called "steam-cooked" grains, advertised to be ready for use in five or ten minutes, require a much longer cooking to properly fit them for digestion. These so-called quickly prepared grains are simply steamed before grinding, which has the effect to destroy any low organisms contained in the grain. They are then crushed and shredded. Bicarbonate of soda and lime is added to help dissolve the albuminoids, and sometimes diastase to aid the conversion of the starch into sugar; but there is nothing in this preparatory process that so alters the chemical nature of the grain as to make it possible to cook it ready for easy digestion in five or ten minutes. An insufficiently cooked grain, although it may be palatable, is not in a condition to be readily acted upon by the digestive fluids, and is in consequence left undigested to act as a mechanical irritant.
Water is the liquid usually employed for cooking grains, but many of them are richer and finer flavored when milk is mixed with the water, one part to two of water. Especially is this true of rice, hominy, and farina. When water is used, soft water is preferable to hard. No salt is necessary, but if used at all, it is generally added to the water before stirring in the grain or meal.
The quantity of liquid required varies with the different grains, the manner in which they are milled, the method by which they are cooked, and the consistency desired for the cooked grain, more liquid being required for a porridge than for a mush.
All grains should be carefully looked over before being put to cook.
In the cooking of grains, the following points should be observed:
1. Measure both liquid and grain accurately with the same utensil, or with two of equal size.
2. Have the water boiling when the grain is introduced, but do not allow it to boil for a long time previous, until it is considerably evaporated, as that will change the proportion of water and grain sufficiently to alter the consistency of the mush when cooked. Introduce the grain slowly, so as not to stop the sinking to the bottom, and the whole becomes thickened.
3. Stir the grain continuously until it has set, but not at all afterward. Grains are much more appetizing if, while properly softened, they can still be made to retain their original form. Stirring renders the preparation pasty, and destroys its appearance.
In the preparation of all mushes with meal or flour, it is a good plan to make the material into a batter with a portion of the liquid retained from the quantity given, before introducing it into the boiling water. This prevents the tendency to cook in lumps, so frequent when dry meal is scattered into boiling liquid. Care must be taken, however, to add the moistened portion very slowly, stirring vigorously meantime, so that the boiling will not be checked. Use warm water for moistening. The other directions given for the whole or broken grains are applicable to the ground products.
Place the grain, when sufficiently cooked, in the refrigerator or in some place where it will cool quickly (as slow cooling might cause fermentation), to remain overnight.
Crock Pot Cooking For The Summer
When the weather outside warms up, the kitchen can be a terrible place to be. There are many things you can do however, when it comes to cooking a nice home made meal that doesn't require traditional stove top or oven cooking. Learn to utilize some of the lesser heat producing equipment in your kitchen, such as the crock pot, in order to truly beat the summer heat and keep your cool while preparing a nice hot meal for friends and family.
So, how does crock pot cooking really help beat the heat? Simply put, the crock pot in and of itself puts off far less heat when cooking than an oven or stove top. This is the first and possibly the best reason to utilize the crock pot in your summer meal planning. You should also consider the fact that by not heating the house by using your stove top or oven you are also preventing your air conditioning (or other cooling methods) from working overtime in order to compensate for the additional heat that other cooking methods introduce.
This makes crock pot cooking a win-win situation as the costs involved in operating a crock pot are far less than the costs involved in operating a stove or oven in general. Whether electric or gas, your stove and oven are often serious energy hogs. Add to that the fact that you are not raising the temperature in your home by traditional means of cooking and you are using even less electricity.
Unfortunately for most, the general consensus has been that crock pots were meant for comfort foods and hearty winter meals. The truth is that the crock pot should be one of your best loved and most often utilized cooking methods if you can manage it. When it comes to cooking with a crock pot, the options are almost limitless. Almost anything that can be baked can be made in the crock pot and many, many more wonderful and enticing meals and treats as well.
Benefits of Crock Pot Cooking
In addition to the cost benefits mentioned above when it comes to crock pot cooking there are many other benefits that are well worth mentioning. First of all, the bulk of the work involved in crock pot cooking takes place early in the day when you are refreshed rather than at the end of a hectic work or play day. This means that you are less likely to forget an ingredient or make other mistakes that often occur as we hurriedly prepare a dinner when we are exhausted from the activities of our day.
Second, many great crock pot recipes include the vegetables that insure we are getting the nutrients we need. So often, when preparing a meal at the last minute, vegetables and other side dishes are left out in favor of expedience. Crock pot cooking in many instances is a meal in one dish.
Another great reason to use a crock pot for your summertime cooking is the ease of clean up. Unlike pots and pans, most crock pot meals are made in one dish. This means that there will not be mountains of dishes to be either hand washed or loaded into the dishwasher (or if you are like me-both) afterwards. You can spend less time cleaning just as you spent less time slaving over a hot stove. Oh wait! Make that no time slaving over a hot stove. Once clean up is complete you can get back to enjoying the sun set, chasing the lightening bugs with your little ones, or waiting for the first star.
While there will never be a one size fits all best cooking method, crock pot cooking comes very close. If you have a crock pot collecting dust somewhere in the back of your pantry it is time to get it out, dust if off, and dig up some great summertime crock pot cooking recipes.
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