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Keys to baking success: Time and quality ingredients

Keys to baking success: Time and quality ingredients

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I recently received an e-mail from Margaret Darby, who had questions about baking cakes. Margaret wants her cakes to be smooth, moist and velvety looking, not grainy and coarse. She wanted to know how long to cream butter and sugar before adding other ingredients to make batter and if it is wise to cream sugar, butter and eggs together or to follow specific recipe directions about when to add eggs.

Margaret's questions are major concerns for everyone who invests money, time and effort into baking. When you "cut out" the first slice, you want to see a wonderfully textured masterpiece. I gave Margaret some helpful advice, which I will now share with you wonderful readers. When you are setting out on a cake project, please remember these hints.

First, always use fresh large eggs. Set out the eggs for about 15 minutes to allow them to reach room temperature. Second, use fresh White Lily flour (if you use self-rising flour, you may omit the baking powder and salt from the recipe). Third, invest in name brand butter, sour cream, cream cheese, etc. Sometimes, I think generics are "weakened" or "diluted" just a bit. Otherwise, why would anyone actually prefer to spend more for a product? For instance, I only use Honey Maid Graham Crackers because I think the smell and taste is better than Keebler and certainly much better than any generic graham cracker. Compare a Nilla vanilla wafer to a generic vanilla wafer. Sometimes, generic items used in baking simply are not as good as the "real thing."

As for creaming the butter and sugar, be sure to set the butter out about 15 minutes or more before you start the project to let it reach room temperature. Don't try to cream cold butter and sugar. That is what causes horrible texture. If your butter is room temperature, just use a hand mixer and cream the ingredients for about three minutes. As for the eggs, follow the recipe. Some recipes call for eggs being beaten in with the sugar and butter (usually, one at a time is a good rule of thumb). Some recipes call for a different method. Because making a cake from scratch is expensive, don't take shortcuts or use old flour or eggs.

To make a top quality cake, take your time — don't get in a hurry. Also, always heat your oven for 10 to 15 minutes. That is essential! Too, use a clock or a timer when you put the cake into the oven. Don't keep opening the oven door to check the cake — that is a definite no-no. As for pan preparation, I rub my pans down with butter and lightly dust them with flour the old-fashioned way. I hope these hints will help you. Just remember to believe in yourself and take your time. Baking a cake should be enjoyable, not stressful!

To finish off this cake-technique column, I am rerunning (from 2001) a wonderfully different cake recipe from Louise Ott of Eutawville and a flavorful cake recipe from my Aunt Frances Metts. It is actually more like a cobbler than a cake. The recipe makes plenty of dessert for a crowd, and it is really easy to prepare and truly delicious.

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Come On Over Cake

40 Ritz crackers, crushed

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup pecans, chopped

4 egg whites

1-1/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 envelops Dream Whip

8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

20-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained

Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan. In a medium bowl, mix crushed crackers with baking powder and pecans; set aside. In a large bowl, beat egg whites until .jpgf. Add sugar gradually. Beat well and add vanilla, beating until .jpgf as for meringue. Fold the cracker mixture into the egg white mixture. Pour this mixture into the greased pan, and bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool completely.

In a large bowl, mix Dream Whip by directions on packages. Add softened cream cheese, powdered sugar and pineapple. Spread on the cake while it's still in the pan and refrigerate overnight.

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Easy Blueberry

Dump Cake

1 box yellow cake mix

1 large can crushed pineapple, not drained

2 cups blueberries, sprinkled with sugar

1 stick margarine

1/2 cup (or more) pecans or walnuts, chopped

In a 9x13-inch baking dish, pour the pineapple; then pour the sweetened blueberries. Sprinkle the entire dry cake mix on top of the blueberries. DO NOT STIR. Then, sprinkle the nuts on top of the cake mix. Melt the stick of margarine and drizzle it all over the top of the contents of the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour or until golden brown. Best when served warm. This is great topped with a dollop of cool whip or ice cream.

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Perhaps you have a recipe you'd like to share with readers of The Times and Democrat. Or, maybe you are searching for a special recipe. If so, please feel free to write to me at: Teresa M. Hatchell, 179 Cherry Lane, St. George, SC 29477.

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