Baking Tips

When it comes to Baking, we've been there, done that, now serving 10 tips in 6 categories ranging from Appetizers to Trends.

What are some quick and delicious healthy appetizers I can make for a crowd?

Healthy and Delicious Skewers Make Excellent Appetizers

One of the easiest ways to create an impressive spread for friends and family while entertaining is to offer easy-to-make appetizers. Providing healthy options that are still tasty ensure guests will gobble them up without feeling guilty later. Utilizing skewers makes for an attractive visual appeal and easy cleanup, plus they are inexpensive and can be made for a small group or a large party quickly.

There are two basic ways to create an exceptional and healthy skewer. The first is to have a single food type on each lance, and the second is to vary complementary flavors for interest. The latter style is more aesthetically pleasing, but both are good choices. Below are listed two popular combinations that are guaranteed to wow at any party.

Caprese Salad: The classic Italian combo. The key to this recipe is purchasing the highest quality ingredients on the market.

-Cherry Tomatoes
-Fresh Basil
-Burrata Mozzarella

Simply slide each ingredient onto the pick in succession, repeat until the skewer is nearly full. Dribble on a fruity and fragrant olive oil and dust lightly with salt. Serve cold.

A Taste of Spain: For something with more of a punch of flavor, try this meaty, salty and fruity mix. This recipe has more calories than the last, but the small portions keep it relatively healthy and manageable.

-Spanish Chorizo Sausage
-Manchego Cheese
-Cantaloupe Balls

Cut chorizo and cheese into bite size pieces, then as with the Caprese Salad, slide each component onto the skewer in ascending order, serve cold.

What ingredients can I change for healthier baking?

Lose the Fat and Keep the Taste

When it comes to dieting, dessert is the biggest indulgence. Create healthier versions of your favorite baked goods while keeping their flavor and texture by getting rid of the fat.

Eliminate the butter or oil in your recipe and replace it with equal amounts of applesauce, plain or flavored yogurt or baby food.

If you're making a carrot cake, use mashed banana instead of butter for a smooth flavor.

In any recipe, replace each egg with 1/4 cup of liquid egg substitute or with two egg whites. You'll ditch the cholesterol while keeping the flavor and leavening from the eggs.

Finish your cake or cupcakes with a dollop of whipped cream instead of frosting. Pile it high and add sliced fruit or perfect berries for an indulgent final touch.


Devils-food versus Fudge

If you have concerns about saturated fat content, try baking a devils-food cake instead of a fudge or chocolate cake.

The difference between the two is that chocolate cake contains baking chocolate and butter (and sometimes sour cream), whereas devils-food contains cocoa powder and vegetable oil.

The crumb of devils-food cake isn't as fine, but devils-food is even moister and tastes just as good. Some people--including my daughter and my husband--even prefer it!


Perfectly simple buttercream without the grit!

When making frosting for your next layer cake, beat together the confectioners sugar and butter with a pinch of salt, then beat HOT whipping cream or half and half into the mixture.

Just pour half a cup or so of cream into a microwave-safe bowl, and zap it until it scalds (just bubbles up--keep an eye on it!).

Then gradually add the hot cream to your sugar/butter mixture until it's of spreading/piping consistancy and add vanilla or other extract.

The hot cream helps dissolve the sugar crystals, and because of the increased fat content, your frosting won't separate.

Sure, it's more fattening, but who ever dug into a perfect birthday cake in order to lose weight?!


Keep it moist and light!

If your cakes are tougher and drier than you'd like, you're probably beating the batter after you've added the dry ingredients.

Absolutely beat the heck out of sugar and butter (eggs, too, unless using beaten whites); but if you beat the flour--particularly all-purpose flour--you'll develop the gluten, leading to a tough, dry result.

Cake flour doesn't contain as much gluten to begin with, but unless a recipe specifically calls for a lot of beating once you've incorporated the dry ingredients (usually only thin batters require it), try folding them into the creamed liquid ingredients. Your cakes will have a finer crumb and a moister texture.


Small but Sweet

While sharing tapas with friends the other night, I pointed out that small plates and miniature foods have gained in popularity. This is especially true of desserts. Cupcakes (and mini-muffins) have never been hotter, but tiny pastries and flans are equally popular in upscale restaurants.

One small, rich bite ends a meal as beautifully as a slab of layer cake or a wedge of pie a-la-mode. Our bodies (and psyches) know the meal is over as soon as the sweet treat is swallowed. So the next time you're thinking about making an apple pie, dust off your muffin tins and make apple tarts instead. Make mini-cheesecakes in mini-muffin tins--or try serving up creme brulee in kiddy-sized custard cups. Downsize your cookies and, of course, don't forget about the cupcakes. Your guests will thank you, your waistline will thank you, and you'll be the trendiest baker in town.

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Jerry Mayo