Chef Dez: Getting your bake on for the holidays

Tips on how to make the best of your holiday treats

Nothing compares to the aroma of baked Christmas goodies when coming in from the cold winter weather.

Our olfactory sensations (our sense of smell) contribute up to eighty percent to our sense of taste, and thus is a very important part of our ability to recognize and enjoy flavour. The art of holiday baking is a regular activity in many households this time of the year, and some baking tips may be helpful to you.

Flaky pie dough is a pastry that has a mixture of shortening and/or butter that is “cut in” so that there are small chunks still left in the finished product. This aids in creating steam pockets within the crust, which helps with the leavening process and thus creating the flaky texture. It is best to keep pie pastry as cold possible while mixing and rolling to prevent melting the butter and shortening pieces prematurely.

The best way of doing this is to first focus on your ingredients. Make sure you are using ice water (water from the fridge) instead of cold water, and frozen butter grated into the flour mixture is ideal. The frozen butter particles then are already the required size from the grater and will not suffer from the warm friction of too much mixing or “cutting” in. Secondly, try not to touch the dough with your hands too much, as the warmth from them will melt the butter. It is best to form the dough by folding it over consistently with a chilled metal dough cutter (or called a bench scraper). Once the dough is formed into a flat disk, wrap and place it in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled. Remove and proceed with rolling, ideally on a chilled marble surface.

One of the main things to remember when making pastry is to not overwork it. Overworking flour with liquid will create more gluten and thus a tougher more structured dough – save that process for bread doughs. Chilled vodka from the freezer is a good substitute for the chilled water in your pastry recipe because vodka is 40% alcohol and alcohol doesn’t create gluten formation in flour from overmixing – so it will give you a bit of a ‘safety net’. It’s also important to note that the alcohol will evaporate during the baking process so there’s no need to worry about anyone getting tipsy while eating your pies.

Cookies and quick breads are also very popular, and they both rely on baking soda and/or baking powder to rise. Baking soda and baking powder are considered chemical leaveners. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonateand it requires liquid and an acid to make a gaseous reaction. It is usually added to recipes that have a naturally occurring acid in the ingredients, such as buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, honey, molasses, and fruits.

Baking powder on the other hand is a complete leavener, as it only requires liquid for it to react in the same manner. The reason for this is that it contains a mixture of baking soda and the balanced amount of acid, along with starch to help prevent lumping. This is why you will see some recipes that call for baking powder and others with baking powder and/or baking soda. A good comparison of this would be a pancake recipe compared to a buttermilk pancake recipe.

Whatever desserts you choose to celebrate with, I wish you all the best of health and happiness this holiday season.

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