Web Cooking Classes with Chef Todd MohrWeb Cooking Classes with Chef Todd Mohr

By Chef Todd

Mixing is More Important Than Baking in Christmas Cake Recipes

Have you ever taken the results of your family’s Christmas cake recipe out of the oven and been disappointed? How can the same recipe created year after year always come out differently? “Why didn’t my cake BAKE correctly?”

Have you ever taken the results of your family’s Christmas cake recipe out of the oven and been disappointed? How can the same recipe created year after year always come out differently? “Why didn’t my cake BAKE correctly?”


I’m here to tell you that the problem with most home baking mistakes isn’t in the BAKING, it’s in the MIXING of your cakes that most mistakes are made.

There are three goals in cake mixing, whether it’s a Christmas cake recipe, or any other baked good at any time of the year.

The first goal in cake mixing is to combine all the ingredients into a uniform batter. This may seem obvious, but when you don’t scrape the mixing bowl during the process you can have streaks of dry flour in your batter. If you haven’t incorporated eggs in the precise way to get the best emulsification, then how you BAKE the item really won’t matter.

The second goal is to trap as much air as possible. This is most often overlooked by the home cake baker. When creaming fat and sugar together, or whipping egg whites, the idea is to gather as much trapped air to give the cake a light texture and even crumb. This is accomplished through concerted MIXING, not BAKING.

Lastly, ingredients for your birthday cake or Christmas cake recipe are mixed properly to develop the structure of the cake. How wet and dry ingredients are added during mixing are the building blocks of a cake that is either sunken or bursting from the pan.

With those universal cake mixing goals in mind, now you can have ultimate power over any written cake instructions. However, while all mixing methods have the same goal, they have different procedures depending on the ratio of ingredients. This yields five basic types of cake.

All cakes are defined by their mixing methods, and broken into two categories; high-fat cakes and low-fat cakes.

High fat cakes are almost always mixed using the “creaming method”. The best cookies made from scratch are also made with a creaming method. This is the procedure where butter and sugar are creamed together to incorporate air. Remember? Trap Air? Here’s where it happens, and why it’s important to use room-temperature ingredients.

A “Two-Stage Method” cake uses egg whites that have been whipped to soft peaks. If you notice how the volume of egg whites increases dramatically when you whip them, you’re witnessing the incorporation of AIR into your batter. A batter of egg yolks, oil, water, and seasonings are added to the whites, along with two stages of alternating flour and liquid, thus the two-stage method.

Low-Fat cakes most often use an egg foam for structure and texture of the cakes. The first type of low-fat cake mixing method is a Sponge Cake. Whipped yolks and whites give solid structure and flavor to a sponge cake, again proving that the mixing methods are most important if you want your Christmas cake recipe to be the best it can be.

Angel food cakes are absolutely fat-free because they’re made entirely of egg whites, sugar, flour, and flavorings. But again, HOW you whip the egg whites for an angel food method will mean the difference between a dense, chewy cake, or light, fluffy Angel Food cake.

Chiffon Cakes are lower fat cakes that use the same method as angel food, but also include some egg yolks to give better structure, and use chemical leavening agents like baking powder or baking soda for extra rise.

Grandma’s Christmas cake recipe might make a comeback this year when you apply the basic mixing methods outlined here. Once you identify HOW Grandma was mixing her cakes, you can assure that you’re meeting the general goals of cake mixing; combine ingredients, trap air, and develop structure.

Stop blaming your oven for those cakes not BAKING correctly. You have no control over what happens to the cake once you shut the oven door. However, you have a tremendous amount of control over the MIXING of your cakes, and it is the most important skill to have when creating your own Christmas cake recipe.

Do you have a family baking tradition for the holidays? Please leave your comment below:

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By Chef Todd

Spritz Cookies – It’s All In The Bagging!

Spritz cookies are my favorite cookie at the holidays. I don’t make them any other time of the year, just as I don’t watch “A Christmas Carol” or “The Grinch” in July. These cookies bring back strong childhood memories for me, mostly of my Mom’s frustration with her antique cookie press.

If I had only known how to use a pastry bag when I was 5, I would have helped ease some of that maternal angst. The correct use of a pastry bag is an easier way to make spritz cookies, and it allows you to make many different shapes with one bag.

Just like the other cookies we’ve been talking about this week, the key to making cookies from scratch is in the mixing method. The Creaming Method is most often used for cookies, and these holiday cookies are no different.

The creaming method means creaming together fat and sugar, adding eggs, then liquid, dry ingredients, and any nuts, spices, or seasonings at the end. The first stage of this procedure is most important, adding air to the fat and sugar mixture for a light and crunchy cookie.

When butter and sugar are creamed together correctly, it should look like ice cream on the mixer paddle. If the mixture is granular, sparkles, or crunches when you taste it, return to the mixture and continue to incorporate air until it’s very light and fluffy.

Spritz cookie dough does not rest in the refrigerator like the cookies for Santa we made with sugar cookie dough. Sugar cookie dough needs to be very firm to be rolled out and cut into shapes. With bagged cookies, the dough needs to be soft enough to push through the pastry bag opening.

The correct way to hold a pastry bag is by pushing all the dough toward the tip and twisting the top of the bag to force the contents outward. I’m right-handed, so I place the twisted end of the pastry bag between my thumb and fore-finger of my right hand.

Squeezing with my right hand is what pushes the dough toward the tip. The mistake most people make is exerting too much pressure with their other hand, thus pushing the dough upward. My left hand is used only as a guide, and doesn’t do any squeezing at all.

With even pressure from my right hand and a gentle guide from my left, I create a small spiral of dough about 1 inch in diameter. Coiling the spiral on top of itself, a final push downward then quickly upward will leave an attractive first portion of spritz cookies.

I can decorate with colored sugar, candy pearls, or ice cream sprinkles and bake them for beautiful cookies that ARE the definition of holiday baking for me and so many others.

What’s your favorite holiday cookie? Leave your comment crumbs below:

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By Chef Todd

Roll Out Cookies For Santa The Right Way!

I’d be worried if I made cookies for Santa and he didn’t eat them. What would that mean? Was I too naughty this year for him to even take a bite? Or, is Santa expecting more from me than stale cookies from the store?

Santa expects cookies from scratch and I’ve let him down in past years. That would probably explain the amount of coal I’ve been receiving.

I now know that cookies for Santa should be sugar cookies, and sugar cookies are rolled cookies. Rolled cookies are great because you use a rolling pin to create a flat dough that you can cut into Christmas trees, hearts or any other shape. Once you decorate with sprinkles, chocolate chips or colored sugar, you have an attractive holiday cookie.

I’m going to impress Santa this year and try to change his opinion of the crummy cookie offerings I’ve made in the past. I’ll make some fantastic sugar cookies with a basic dough formula that will rest in the refrigerator for a few hours.

However, the challenge in rolling sugar cookie dough is that you can get inconsistent thickness of the dough. This means you’ll have cookies of different sizes and some will burn while others are under-cooked.

Cookies for Santa should never be burned or under-cooked, so I’ve developed a great trick to assure the consistent thickness of the cookies I create.

By using wooden dowels or the metal hanging file folder rods, I can give my rolling pin a guide and maximum thickness for the dough automatically. When I place my thickness guides on either side of the dough, the rolling pin will never fall to a width below that of the guides.

With a uniform thickness of the dough, now I can impress Santa with the many different shapes I can cut them into, the myriad ways to decorate them, but most importantly, the great way they’ll bake because of my cooking rolling trick.

This year, my cookies for Santa are going to move me from the “naughty” to the “nice” category and hopefully score me some of the kitchen tools I’ve been asking for.

Do you have a holiday cookie trick that Santa would appreciate? Please leave a nice comment below:

Discover a simple 5 step plan to save time, save money, explode your confidence and conquer the holiday kitchen this year with my FREE Holiday Cooking Success Class.

 

Turn Holiday Cooking Stress into Holiday Cooking Success this year.

 

By Chef Todd

The Number 1 Method for Great Cookies From Scratch

The idea of great cookies from scratch is what brings people back to their kitchens this time of year. Even people that don’t bake for the other eleven months of the year, somehow find themselves back in the kitchen for holiday cookie time.

Whether you have fond childhood memories of baking with Mom or Grandma, want to be sure of the ingredients that go into your cookies, or share time with your children, making cookies from scratch is a great way to accomplish all these things.

You’ll have more pride making your own cookies than simply slicing the grocery cookie dough log. Creating your own cookie dough is quite simple, but it’s not the right recipe that takes your cookies from fair to fantastic, it’s the mixing method that does that.

The great majority of cookies are made with a “creaming method”. When you master the simple steps of this method, ANY cookie recipe will turn out better.

Steps for the creaming method:

1) Measure all ingredients carefully – This is baking not cooking, and precise proportions are mandatory for arriving at consistently excellent results. Be aware of the difference between weight and volume measurements, and have all your ingredients ready before starting the next steps.

2) Cream the fat and sugar - This is why it’s called “the creaming method”. Mixing fat and sugar together will add air to your holiday cookies. Air will give you the lightest, crunchiest cookies from scratch.

3) Add eggs - The protein in egg yolks not only act as an emulsifier, binding the usually unmixable fat and liquid, but also give structure to cookies. This is the most important step in your cooking making process and the egg MUST be added very slowly to create the emulsification.

4) Add any liquid - Many cookie recipes don’t have any liquid in the formula, so you’ll usually be skipping this step. But, if the formula calls for milk or cream, it’s added after the eggs.

5) Sifted dry ingredients – Sifting flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, or seasonings together not only gives a consistent mixture, but also adds air, again giving you a lighter cookie.

6) Chips, nuts, raisins – These items are added last because they just need to be mixed in. You don’t want to break up all the pecans or chip your chocolate chips with over mixing

Even the best cookies from scratch can still be ruined if you follow the above procedure exactly. While mixing is the most important part of making cookies, portioning and baking can be the destruction of well mixed cookie dough.

Portioning cookies so that they are exactly the same size will allow them to cook consistently. This helps avoid the one cookie that’s burned while another is under-cooked on the same tray. Use an ice cream scoop or other portioning device that will accomplish exact duplicates of each cookie.

Making your own cookies from scratch is very simple, and you can gain power over all cookie formulas by having the underlying command of the creaming method.

Do you have a favorite holiday cookie? Leave a comment below.

Discover a simple 5 step plan to save time, save money, explode your confidence and conquer the holiday kitchen this year with my FREE Holiday Cooking Success Class.

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By Chef Todd

This Strawberry Pie Recipe Is a Great Method for Any Other Fresh Fruit Pie.

A strawberry pie recipe is really no different than a blueberry pie recipe, or a rhubarb pie recipe. Beside the obvious difference in ingredients, the methods behind making a fresh fruit pie are exactly the same.

Unlike canned fruit, fresh fruit does not come with extra liquid. However, we do need some liquid to use as a binder for our pie. If we just sliced strawberries, placed them on the right type of flaky pie crust, and baked them, this would be considered a tart.

But a true pie has a binding agent, something that brings all the fresh fruit ingredients together so you get an attractive triangle slice of pie without the filling spilling everywhere. Most internet recipe websites will tell you to mix some water with cornstarch as a thickener.

Water is the most flavorless item there is. Why would you water down the flavor of your beautiful pie with something that’s totally flavorless?

The key to a great strawberry pie recipe, or any other fresh fruit pie recipe, is to create some flavorful liquid to bind the filling. This is accomplished by pureeing about 20% of the fresh fruit until it is totally liquid.

Now, we can continue with a cornstarch slurry and a tablespoon of butter, confident that we’re keeping the flavor of our strawberry pie recipe and not adding flavorless water.

The puree of our fresh fruit, the butter and cornstarch are brought to a full boil on the stove to activate the gelatinization of starches necessary to thicken the liquid. Then, it’s poured over the fresh fruit filled in your pie crust and baked as normal.

When you have fresh strawberries, look for a strawberry pie recipe. When you have fresh blueberries, look for a fresh blueberry recipe. But no matter what recipe you choose, be sure you employ this pureed fruit pie procedure and you’ll have the most flavorful pies ever.

I love turning things to liquid in the food processor. Leave a comment below and tell me what type of fresh fruit pie you’d invent with this method.

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By Chef Todd

Flaky Pie Crust or Mealy Pie Crust? Avoid Soggy Bottom Pies With The Right Choice.

Choosing a flaky pie crust or a mealy pie crust for you pie can mean the difference between pie pride and pie purgatory. It’s not that you need different recipes for the two types of pie crust, you just need to employ two different methods.

Flaky pie crust will absorb more moisture than a mealy pie crust. Thus, they’re best used for a top crust or lattice design. The flaky variety is also great for cold pies when pre-baked and filled with mousse or cream fillings.

Mealy pie crusts are more resistant to absorbing moisture and are best used for cooked fruit or fresh fruit pies to avoid a soggy bottom. Where the home baker can experience disappointment is in using a flaky pie crust for a cooked fruit pie. The longer baking time allows the dough to absorb the liquid, resulting in a weepy pie.

What’s the difference between these two types of pie dough? Very simply, it’s the size of the fat. The first step in making a crust is cutting fat directly into flour. Your Grandmother did this with two forks or the potato masher, but I use an electric mixer.

The larger the pieces of fat, the larger the ‘holes’ left when fat melts during baking. The larger the ‘holes’ in your dough, the more air-space, and the flakier the resulting product. A flaky pie crust is made with pea-sized fat mixed into the flour.

Mealy pie crusts are made from a fat and flour mixture that more resembles coarse corn meal. The pieces of fat are very small, making a more dense dough, and resisting the urge to absorb moisture.

The easiest pie dough recipe in the world is this: “1, 2, 3”. One part water, two parts fat, three parts flour makes any crust you’d like and in any quantity.

If you’re trying to make a flaky pie crust or a mealy one, the recipe really doesn’t matter. What is of the greatest importance is the METHOD you use to create the dough. Pea sized pieces of fat in flour will give you a more flaky texture. Coarse sand texture in the mixture will give you a mealy crust for use in wetter fillings.

When you learn to cook, you have power over all recipes because you understand the basic methods behind them.

Do you have a soggy bottom pie story? Leave your comment below and give everyone a good laugh.

Discover a simple 5 step plan to save time, save money, explode your confidence and conquer the holiday kitchen this year with my FREE Holiday Cooking Success Class.

 

Turn Holiday Cooking Stress into Holiday Cooking Success this year.

 

By Chef Todd

My #1 Favorite Holiday Sweet

Right out with it - it’s chocolate soufflé. My favorite holiday sweet is chocolate soufflé. Usually when people do these “countdown” type blogs, they really stretch it out. It’s not a holiday cake, it’s not cookies for Christmas, it’s chocolate soufflé, my favorite sweet Christmas dish.

Over the past few days, I’ve brought to mind many holiday treats, some traditional, some that might be new to you, but all distinctly holiday dessert ideas like croquembouche, bouche noel, spritz cookies, and linzer tart cookies.

So why is chocolate soufflé my favorite holiday sweet
when it’s not directly associated as a Christmas dessert? It’s the texture, plain and simple. On a cold winter’s night, this warm, airy, dessert feels like holiday cake meets chocolate pudding, a mini hearth in a ramekin cup.

The soft, warm texture of a soufflé is unique
because of the two-part mixing method that incorporates a tremendous amount of air. The soufflé has no yeast, it has no baking powder. It is leavened by the steam created in the oven. Like a velvet balloon, it rises under heat, and falls delicately back down in the absence of it. I create a momentary snow flurry with powdered sugar, and then burst it with one stroke of the spoon, continuing until I’m desperately scraping the browned-on chocolate from the side of the dish.

Chocolate soufflé is another sweet Christmas dish that is much easier to prepare than its French name would have you think, and worthy of your consideration as a holiday dessert. It’s my number one favorite holiday sweet, next to Heather.

 




Turn Holiday Cooking Stress into Holiday Cooking Success this year.

 

By Chef Todd

Christmas Cookies - My #2 Holiday Sweet

The Holiday Sweet: My 5 favorite Sweet Christmas Dishes

I’m spending way too much time contemplating my favorite holiday sweet, especially when there are so many savory Christmas dishes to celebrate. I’ve totally disregarded the memories that can be brought back from recalling smell alone. An oven roast, coated with the warm floral aroma of thyme, rosemary, sage, with hints of garlic and sweet onions permeating your family home is Christmas cooking to many people who don’t care for holiday sweets.

I have many smell memories of holidays past. The poultry seasoning, the steaming turkey pan drippings just from the oven brings a family reunion smell to my mind, but holiday sweets bring back the strongest memories to me.

It seems we allow ourselves greater indulgences in holiday cooking.
Halloween to New Years, we deserve real butter on our bread, some real cream in the coffee, and a festive holiday sweet that brightens our mood, ends a family meal, or is an expression of creativity and gratitude.

Spritz cookies
are just this combination of sweet holiday bliss with artistic creativity that makes them beautiful enough to give as gifts. My second favorite holiday sweet is the melt-in-your-mouth butter cookies that are pressed into holiday cookie shapes and decorated in myriad ways.

The German Spritzgebäck cookie is the grandfather of our modern spritz cookie, they are four simple ingredients, butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and made into a dough that can be pressed or piped into shapes as a traditional holiday dessert.

Once you’ve created the wreaths, trees, bells, snowflakes, reindeer, santas, or stars from your spritz cookie dough and baked them until just barely beginning to brown, you’ll get the most childhood fun from decorating. Edible glitters, sprinkles, or dusting sugars make a Christmas cookie winter wonderland in a bakery box. That’s the reason spritz cookies are my second favorite holiday sweet.

 




Turn Holiday Cooking Stress into Holiday Cooking Success this year.

 

By Chef Todd

My #3 Favorite Holiday Dessert

The Holiday Sweet: My #3 Favorite Holiday Dessert

Everyone has a favorite holiday sweet, the trouble for me is deciding which of my favorite holiday sweets is number one. In previous discussions of Christmas desserts, I’ve ranked Linzer Tart Cookies, my favorite cookie for Christmas as number 5. Croquembouche became a contemporary favorite of my holiday sweets after culinary school, and I’ve ranked it number 4 on my list of sweet Christmas dishes.

When it comes to holiday cake, none beats Bouche Noel in my opinion. The Yule log holiday cake can be decorated in so many unique ways and really take your imagination further than a round, two-layer cake for the holidays.

Bouche Noel looks more difficult to prepare than it is.
It’s a jelly roll cake laid on its side and arranged to look like a fallen tree limb. I’ve demonstrated the French genoise sponge cake method in videos before. It’s a very thin, pliable cake that’s created using the sponge mixing method.

This holiday cake isn’t round and flat. It’s iced and rolled into a long tube. 45 degree cuts can be made in the roll and placed at an angle to resemble branches coming off the tree. Using a star-tip pastry bag, you can pipe your icing onto the cake so it looks like tree bark.

Here’s the most fun holiday cake garnishing tip I know
. Try to find interesting leaves outside. Wash and dry them, and paint them with tempered chocolate. When the chocolate re-sets, peel the leaf back and get all the natural texture from nature in a piece of chocolate garnish for a holiday cake.

Bouche Noel is a different type of holiday cake to consider this year.
It makes a fantastic visual appeal before and after it’s sliced. It’s my number three favorite holiday sweet.

 




Turn Holiday Cooking Stress into Holiday Cooking Success this year.

 

By Chef Todd

Holiday Dessert Ideas

The Holiday Sweet: My 5 favorite Sweet Christmas Dishes

Everyone has a favorite holiday sweet, the trouble for me is deciding which of my favorite holiday sweets is number one. So, I continue this tooth-ache down memory lane to call upon the best tasting and best memories when it comes to sweet Christmas dishes. It’s not a holiday cake, and it’s not cookies for Christmas, it’s something I couldn’t even pronounce until culinary school.

Croquembouche (“croak-am-bush”) is my fourth Favorite Holiday Sweet, not because of childhood memories, but as something I learned about as an adult in culinary school.

Croquembouche means “crunch the mouth” in French, a festive tower made of round puff pastries filled with cream, mousse, or other custards. The profiteroles are stuck together with caramelized sugar and stacked to resemble the cone shape of a Christmas tree. The ornate pastries are decorated with marzipan flowers, candied fruits, or sugared nuts, and presented at weddings, baptisms, and my house, as a Christmas dessert and display.

I was so taken with the combination of baking and pastry, engineering and architecture skills that it took to assemble this edible center piece, it became an instant holiday classic in my house.

The profiteroles are made from pate choux paste
, the same procedure we’ve used to make éclairs and beignets in my cooking videos. These little pastries are leavened by steam and egg protein, making them completely hollow when baked, and perfect for injecting custards or pastry cream into.

Just as joyous as assembling all your stored holiday decorations, and garnishing your tree with them, gathering the filled pastries into a Christmas tree made of this holiday sweet will bring a feeling of happiness to your home.

 

Turn Holiday Cooking Stress into Holiday Cooking Success this year.

 

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