Bake like a pro: Top pastry chef makes it simple

Erik Van der Veken, who will represent Ireland at the World Chocolate Masters, answers baking queries

Should eggs be at room temperature for baking? This and other baking queries answered.

Should eggs be at room temperature for baking? This and other baking queries answered.

 

What is the easiest and safest way to melt chocolate for baking?
If it is to add to a batter or dough, just melt the chocolate in a microwave in short bursts of 20 seconds, to avoid burning. Make sure the chocolate reaches about 45 degrees Celsius to avoid it seizing up before you manage to get a nice homogenised mixture.

I keep my eggs in the fridge, should I let them come to room temperature before using them in baking?
Yes, if the eggs are cold they could make, for example, the butter in your recipe seize up before it had a chance to form an emulsion with the liquids and cause it to split, at this point you would have to add heat to bring the emulsion back.

I only have plain flour and recipe requires self-raising, what can I do?
By adding about 2-3% of baking powder to the flour (so 2-3g of baking powder on 100g of flour), you should get about the same result.

My egg whites won’t whip up properly, what could I have done wrong?
Any presence of fat will inhibit the whipping properties of egg whites. Usually, this comes from a little bit of egg yolk that found its way into the egg whites, or a bowl or whisk that was a bit greasy. A little tip to make your meringues more stable: add a little bit of cream of tartar to the mix about halfway through the whipping process. It will make the protein partially set while encapsulating the air bubbles, and so make the mix much more stable.

Does the cacao percentage give a good indication of the quality of chocolate?
No, not really. When I choose chocolate, I look at a number of criteria such as, does it contain any fat source other than cocoa butter, if so, it’s a no go. Then there are the questions of origin and flavour profile. A high percentage, good quality chocolate shouldn’t be very bitter, though I know many people assume it should. A good quality bean requires less roasting, to preserve the subtle aromas rather than to hide any faults behind a dark roast.

Should butter be cold or at room temperature for baking?
At room temperature, the butter will be in the optimal state to bind with other ingredients such as sugar and liquids. When making pastry, it should be fridge cold.

Can I use regular salted butter for baking or should I buy unsalted?
Here is a little secret few people know: I always use salted butter for all my creations. Pastries and chocolate also need to be seasoned to get the maximum flavour. While in the hot kitchen the go-to items are salt and pepper, in our world, it will usually be salt and lemon juice.

The recipe calls for brown sugar, but there are so many types from Demerara to golden caster, what are the different brown sugars used for?
In essence, all sugar or to be more specific, sucrose, can be swapped out with each other as they are made up from the same base molecule, so in a broad sense they behave the same and enact the same chemical reactions in the preparations. Darker brown sugars tend to absorb more humidity from the atmosphere, so for items that need to stay crispy for longer that might not be the best choice, but ultimately it comes down to personal taste.

Which cocoa powder is best to use for baking?
There are many different varieties. In general, the darker the colour, the more it has been alkalized (a chemical process). More alkalized cocoa powders are more bitter, whereas the lighter versions are more mellow and chocolatey in flavour. Just like with chocolate, the flavour will differ depending on the origin of the cacao, the variety of the bean and the climate. The cocoa powders available in supermarkets usually all sit somewhere on the middle of the spectrum.

What is the difference between regular sugar and caster sugar?
Caster sugar is more finely ground, making it more suitable for pastry applications to avoid crystals remaining in the finished preparations.

Erik Van der Veken is a Belgian master chocolatier and chocolate and pastry consultant. He is the founder and owner of Arcane Chocolate. In October he will represent Ireland at the UK & Ireland regional round of the World Chocolate Masters.

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