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valrhona cacoa

Tips and Essentials For A Busy Baking Season

Valentine’s Day is only a few short weeks away, and if you’re a baker/crafter like me, you’ve probably taken to Pinterest with a vengeance to find out the latest and greatest in V-day treats. There’s clearly no shortage of great ideas, but there’s nothing worse than embarking on the ultimate baking project only to find you’re missing some key ingredients. So, the key to face this busy baking season is to do like the Boy Scouts, and “be prepared”, and below I tell you how.

The Basics

chocolate chipsThere are certain items that every baker should have handy, as they’re the basis of most recipes. In the pantry: all-purpose flour, dark and white sugar, baking powder and baking soda, yeast (for bread and rolls), vanilla extract, and chocolate chips are absolutely essential. In the fridge: milk, salted and unsalted butter, eggs, oranges and lemons (for flavoring). Keep in mind this is just a very basic list, there are many recipes that get much more intricate and will have your running to a specialty store. Most, but not ALL of these things can be found in any supermarket, but there are some items where you shouldn’t be scrimping on.

The Splurge

An ingredient where quality really matters is baking chocolate. Invest in a great quality, gourmet bittersweet chocolate with high cacao content. No offence to the local supermarket, but chances are high you probably won’t find this on grocery store aisles, but you can shop at gourmet stores online and have it delivered. My favorite is from Valrhona, a French chocolatier that specializes in high quality chocolate for baking. Valrhona designs their chocolate for baking specifically. This distinction is super important, because it means they’ve chosen their cacao beans and developed their chocolate to perform the best when heat is applied. I’m talking about truly decadent, mouth-melting cacao, with a nice bouquet of aromas and a full-bodied flavor profile. Their chocolate selection reads like a fine wine list, with unique and exotic gourmet chocolates to choose from. This is where you should splurge!

The Décor

Cake DecoratingOnce you have your pastries baked, you’re going to want to decorate them, so you should also have some pastry decorating items handy for that. Powdered sugar is a must, of course. For cake and cupcake decorating, a super simple option is marzipan shapes. Keep some pre-made marzipan in your pantry, along with some basic food coloring for tinting. Marzipan is really versatile; you can mold it into basically any shape you want, just like if you were using play-doh (really delicious, sugary play doh!), and you can color it with any food coloring. It’s just a great, creative way to give your pastries a fun, colorful touch. Separate it in small batches, use some food coloring to tint each batch, and then start playing! If you have cookie cutters you can use those, but they might be too big to use on smaller pastries like cupcakes or muffins, so see if you can find miniature cutters for those. One tip when working with marzipan: dust the surface with powdered sugar so the marzipan doesn’t stick.

Desperate Times, Delicious Measures

Pain au ChocolatFor super last minute baking, and other desperate times, I have a delicious dirty little secret, a “cheat” of sorts: pre-made frozen gourmet pastries from Bridor. For occasions when pastry-baking seems to exhausting, and going out to a bakery, impossible, I have a selection of Bridor’s ready-to-bake gourmet pastries (the selection includes pain-au-chocolat, croissants, and Danishes)on hand. You’ll love: the pain au chocolat; it always bakes to flaky, buttery perfection, and the chocolate heart melts evenly every time. Pop in the oven for freshly baked pastries in minutes, enjoy, and save your strength for your next baking challenge!