Adventures in ratio baking: Chocolate cake with whipped cream frosting

Adventures in Ratio Baking: Chocolate Cake With Whipped Cream Frosting

Adventures in ratio baking: Chocolate cake with whipped cream frosting

I like to think I’ve finally mastered ratio baking a chocolate cake. A high ratio chocolate cake, that is. At least, one that I enjoy because my husband won’t eat chocolate cake, my son only likes to decorate, and my daughter is partial to the whipped cream. And my cat should absolutely keep her distance. Oh, well. More cake for me.

Anyways, I thought that perhaps the pinnacle of my chocolate cake journey should be a recipe. So I set out to convert my ratios into measurements. Twice. The first time was a disaster, and even I didn’t want to eat it. The second time, thankfully, was a success. But it is a bit of a headache to do, and does produce twice as much cake that shouldn’t be healthy for anyone to eat in one week, so, after this one, I’ll be sticking to what I like to call ratio recipes, a hybrid of ratios and recipes. Oh, you’ll see what I mean in the upcoming weeks.

This is my high ratio chocolate cake with stabilized whipped cream frosting. Keep in mind I did use 8 inch pans instead of the standard 9 inch ones, so if you’re using the 9 inch, the cakes will be a bit thinner and the baking time might be a bit different. I prefer 8 inch because it’s an inch smaller, and I’m basically the only cake eater in my family, so it’s not as intimidating to stare at.

The Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • a little less than 1/2 cup of milk

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until it’s fluffy, a light yellow, and well-combined, meaning there are no chunks of butter.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each, and the vanilla extract.
  4. Sift the flour and the cocoa powder, and the baking powder if you’re so inclined, into a bowl. If you’re not inclined, just add it to the sifted flour and cocoa powder, as I always do.
  5. Add the dry ingredients and milk alternately. I like to do this in thirds.
  6. Now, the best thing to do is line the baking pans with parchment paper, but, if you don’t have any, do grease liberally and coat the bottom with 2-3 heaping spoonfuls of cocoa powder. Just dump it in over whatever you used to grease the pans with and shake until the bottom is covered in cocoa powder. And then pray because this isn’t a perfect method.
  7. Divide the batter into the two pans. Or just one if you want a taller cake. Just vary the baking time accordingly. I haven’t done it this way in awhile, but my memory says somewhere around 25 minutes is good.
  8. Bake for approximately 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  9. Cool for 10-15 minutes in pans and then turn out onto cooling racks to cool completely.
  10. Optional: Sometimes I make a simple syrup of equal measurements of water and granulated sugar to brush on top of the cakes, but that’s just me being fancy.

The Whipped Cream Frosting

Whipped cream will not hold up for long. If you’re not eating the whole cake right away, do make sure you stabilize it.

Ingredients

  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tsps water
  • 1 tsp gelatin

Method

  1. Chill mixing bowl and whipping implement in the fridge, about 5-10 minutes. I do this for about 2 hours, just because I really like it cold.
  2. Prepare the gelatin by adding water to a microwave safe bowl and then the gelatin. Mix. Microwave for 10 seconds, until the gelatin has dissolved. Set aside.
  3. Pour heavy cream into mixing bowl.
  4. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract.
  5. Whip until soft peaks form. These are the ones with peaks that lean over.
  6. Add the gelatin in a steady stream while continuing to whip, just at a bit of a lower speed. Then kick up the pace.
  7. If you’re going to color it, do it now. Then whip until stiff peaks form. These are the ones with peaks that don’t move.

Assembly

I am a baker, not a decorator. These steps will help you put the cake together, but it likely will not look pretty. Just like my picture of the finished product. I repeat: baker, most definitely not a decorator.

  1. Place the bottom layer on a flat surface, preferably one you can move around. Tuck 4 pieces of something like foil, parchment paper, or just napkins under the cake, but don’t put them in too deep because you’ll need to pull them out without taking cake with you. Or don’t use it you have a better method of decorating the cake and not whatever it’s on.
  2. If you made simple syrup, liberally brush it on both layers.
  3. Spread a quarter or a third of the whipped cream on the bottom layer. This is the filling, so make it as thick as you like, though not too thick because that might invite the top layer to slide off, and we wouldn’t want that. Right? Or is it just me?
  4. Put the second layer squarely on top of the bottom. Don’t press. Unless you want the filling to ooze out.
  5. Use most of the rest of the whipped cream to cover the top and sides. There will likely be a couple of cups left over that can make for some decorations, but I just save it for later baked cakes. Because I never seem to stop making cakes. Someone help me.
  6. Decorate. Sorry, I can’t help you here. My method of decorating involves calling my kids over and letting them put edible stuff on top.

High ratio chocolate cake with stabilized whipped cream frosting!

Decorated high ratio chocolate cake

I am so not a decorator. Maybe I’ll pick that up next year. Or the year after. You know, I could probably use a new hobby in 20 years when my kids are grown. And maybe out of the house.

High ratio two layer chocolate cake

Unfortunately, my bottom layer had issues (remember when I said the grease and coat with cocoa powder is not a perfect method? Um, yeah) and I clearly could have used more whipped cream on the filling. But not bad for the last slice four days later!

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Adventures in Ratio Baking: Too Many Types of Cake

Adventures in Ratio Baking

I wish I were just talking about vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, marble, white cakes…. That’s already a lot of different types of cake to choose from.

No, the types of cake I’m talking about here are butter cakes, sponge cakes, high ratio cakes, genoise cakes, Angel food cakes, and more. Cakes are classified by what goes into them and how they’re mixed. Something I never knew about until I started ratio baking and had to know how to put the ingredients together.

I’m still at the beginning of my ratio baking journey. I’m still stuck on cakes. So I’ll just be talking about the pound cake, high ratio cake, and sponge cake.

Pound Cake

The pound cake is a type of butter cake simply because it contains butter. So why not talk about butter cakes? Mostly because I haven’t really done much to explore them. But really because the ratio for cakes is 1:1:1:1 (one part eggs to one part sugar to one part butter to one part flour).

When all the ingredients weigh the same, you essentially have a pound cake. I haven’t tried using a pound of everything yet, but it sounds like a lot of cake. If you use the basic 1:1:1:1 ratio, it’s really easy to measure everything, and the cake batter is ready within minutes.

Pound cake is dense, though. I imagine it must also be quite heavy if you use a pound for everything. The typical mixing method is creaming where the butter and sugar are creamed together first. I’m not sure if it actually does anything truly noticeable, but I prefer trying to lighten it up by using the foaming method of whisking the eggs and sugar first. At least, the first cake I made using the foaming method wasn’t quite as heavy as the one I made using the creaming method.

I enjoy a pound cake every once in awhile. They’re not too sweet, but neither are they bready. It’s a nice balance, as well as really easy to make.

Ratio baking: chocolate pound cake - the ratio and how to make it

High Ratio Cakes

If you make a cake using the standard ratio, you won’t get a cake like the ones in a bakery or grocery store. If you’re a little puzzled by that, don’t worry. I was, too.

Turns out there’s something called high ratio cakes, and these are the ones you’re more likely to find in a bakery. These are the sweeter, more tender cakes you’re probably looking for. After all, they’re called high ratio because they contain a higher ratio of sugar. That must be why sugar is usually the first listed ingredient.

High ratio cakes are a little more complicated and require a bit of math. There are three ratios to remember here, so forget about the 1:1:1:1.

The weight of the eggs must equal the weight of the butter (fat).

The weight of the sugar should equal the wight of the flour, but the sugar should ideally be a little more than the flour. As far as I can tell, the rule of thumb is within 20%. So, if I have 200g of sugar, I’ll usually measure out around 190g of flour.

The weight of the eggs plus liquid (I usually use milk) should equal the weight of the sugar.

Okay, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Though my mom’s expression when I told her all of this said otherwise. Sorry, Mom.

I start with the eggs and butter. I make sure they weight approximately the same. Then I take a calculator because I don’t trust myself with basic math and multiply the weight of the eggs by 2 to get the weight of the flour and sugar. The sugar should weight about twice as much as the eggs and the flour should be just a little less than the sugar. Now to measure out the liquid. It’s not complicated, I promise. The weight of the liquid plus the eggs equals the sugar, so the liquid should weigh about the same as the eggs!

One thing to remember is to use the exact same unit of measurement for everything, dry and wet ingredients. I prefer to use grams.

Still with me? I hope so. High ratio cakes are a little more complicated and require some math to get the ratios right, but they’re definitely sweeter and have been my preferred cake lately. For chocolate cakes, include the cocoa powder in with the flour. I always measure out the cocoa first (somewhere around 35g when using 2 eggs is what I like) and then add the flour on top of it.

I’ve found that creaming the butter and sugar, adding the eggs one yolk at a time, and adding the liquid and dry ingredients alternately yields a lighter, moister cake.

Ratio baking: high ratio chocolate cake - the ratio and how to make it

Sponge Cake

Did you know sponge cakes don’t have butter or any other kind of fat? They’re based completely on eggs, sugar, and flour, though some sponge cakes (like the genoise) do add a bit of butter. But sponge cakes typically don’t use butter. They also depend on the foaming mixing method as leavening like baking soda and baking powder are usually not used, which is why they’ll also sometimes be called foam cakes and sponge cakes will get lumped into being a butter cake if it has butter. Though what a sponge cake is varies across countries. Anyways, for sponge/foam cakes you want to make sure those eggs are sufficiently whipped.

We’re returning now to the 1:1:1:1 ratio, but it really should be 1:1:1 here. The eggs, sugar, and flour should weigh about the same.

It’s pretty easy to make. Whip the eggs until they’re light and fluffy and soft peaks form. Add in the sugar and whip well. Add the flour and whip until it’s all well mixed. That’s it!

So far, I’ve only made them into cupcakes, though making a cake is still on my agenda, at some point. They are sticky, but beautifully light and not too sweet.

They also remind me of the sponge cakes my grandma would get from Chinatown. They were always in an overly large cupcake form, so cupcake sponge cakes have a special place in my heart.

Ratio baking: sponge cake - the ratio and how to make it

Now I’d like to know: have I scared you out of trying ratio baking, or is it something you’d like to try? Honestly, once you get past the math and can remember the ratios, it’s a lot of fun and the sky is the limit. I just really like chocolate…

Adventures in Ratio Baking: Basic Ingredients for Cakes, Cookies, and Bread

basic ingredients: cake, cookies, bread

When I first started ratio baking at the beginning of the year, I worried about the ingredients I would need. Without a recipe with a handy list, it was hard to know exactly what to use. And, as I later found out, to remember to add it.

Fortunately, ratio baking has some basics. Since it’s based on ratios, it has to say what ratio to what is necessary. The cake ratio has a 1:1:1:1 ratio of fat to sugar to eggs to flour. The cookie ratio is a 3:2:1 ratio of flour to fat to sugar. Bread has a ratio of 5:3 of flour to water. Just from this, it’s clear flour, sugar, fat, eggs, and water to necessary to make any one of these.

Beyond that there’s little guidance. Though if you’ve spent some time following recipes, you’ll have a good idea of what else you need, like vanilla extract and baking powder. My first chocolate cake was a bit of a disaster. I added too much cocoa powder and completely forgot vanilla extract and baking powder.

Over time, it’s gotten easier to remember everything, and it helps to keep things simple. I haven’t experimented too much yet, which makes it easy to pull together a simple list of ingredients. Even better, they’re commonly stocked so, chances are, you could whip something up right now!

Basic Ingredients for Cake

There are a lot of different kinds of cake, from pound cakes to sponge cakes and red velvet cake. But, as far as I can tell, they all use the same basic ingredients.

  1. Flour. I’ve only used all-purpose and gluten-free flour, but haven’t had a problem, so I imagine most, if not all, flours should work fine.
  2. Sugar. I haven’t tried liquid sugars like honey, but, considering the amount high ratio cakes use, I’m going to stick with granulated sugar.
  3. Fat. This is your butter, margarine, shortening, oil, etc. I always have butter on hand, but, since the ratio just calls for fat, any kind should work. It’ll just influence how it tastes and the texture.
  4. Eggs. Eggs are binding ingredients. They help keep the batter together. I know there are substitutes like bananas, but, personally, I feel safer sticking to eggs. More yolks will yield a richer cake.
  5. Vanilla extract. For flavoring. Though if you’re going for a flavored cake like lemon, you could swap it out for the corresponding extract.
  6. Baking powder. This will help it rise and look fluffy. A teaspoon or two is usually all I need when I use three eggs.

Of course, that’s just to make a basic pound cake. High ratio cakes, which have twice as much sugar and flour as eggs (in weight), also require a liquid, like milk or water. Chocolate cakes replace some of the flour with cocoa powder. Funfetti cakes need sprinkles. But this is a basic list of ingredients for cakes.

Ratio baking: basic ingredients for baking a cake

Basic Ingredients for Cookies

I’ll be honest. I haven’t experimented with cookies as much. I’m finding them to be a little more complicated. Though, if you love shortbread cookies, stick to the 3:2:1 ratio and you’ll be happy. I keep trying for those gooey bakery style cookies and it’s just not working. But the basic list of ingredients doesn’t seem to change.

  1. Flour. I use all purpose flour, but most other kinds of flour should work.
  2. Fat. Fat is important when it comes to spread. Using different kinds will yield cookies that either spread more or less. I’ve read those made with shortening spread well, but haven’t tried it yet.
  3. Sugar. I’m sticking to granulated and brown sugar, especially when it comes to chocolate chip cookies. I don’t know how any other kind of sugar will impact the cookie. Granulated sugar will give you crisper cookies while cookies made with brown sugar will be softer.
  4. Eggs. Again, these are the binding agent. I haven’t found any clear guidelines on how many to use, but using more whites will yield a crisper cookie and more yolks will give a softer cookie. I usually add two eggs, but, again, haven’t found anything that says how many eggs works best.
  5. Baking powder/baking soda. From what I’ve read, baking powder will make cookies puff and baking soda will help with the spread, but it needs to react with an acid. One way to use baking soda is to also had a bit of baking powder.
  6. Salt. Cookies can be quite sweet, so salt helps cut through the sweetness.
  7. Vanilla extract. For flavoring. It doesn’t have to be vanilla, though.

Like cakes, cookies are relatively easy to add to. My kids love chocolate chip cookies, so I’ve been adding a lot of chocolate chips. I’m still playing with ratios and ingredients, but this is a basic list.

Ratio baking: ingredients for baking cookies

Basic Ingredients for Bread

I’ve just recently started making bread. Surprisingly, this has gone the smoothest for me. My family won’t stop eating my bread. Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t been cooperating lately, so it’s been difficult to get my dough to rise properly. I’m (gasp) not a fan of sourdough. Fortunately, bread is insanely easy to make with the easiest list of ingredients.

  1. Flour. Since I’ve only just started baking bread, I’ve only used all-purpose, but I’m anxious to try using gluten-free flour one day.
  2. Water. The other main ingredient in bread. If you’re using yeast, it can be added to warm water with a bit of sugar.
  3. Sugar. This one isn’t necessary unless you want a bit of a sweeter bread, though packets of yeast will say to mix some sugar into the warm water and then add the yeast.
  4. Salt. From what I’ve read, 2% of the weight of the flour is needed, though I’ve found it too be a bit too salty for me. Or maybe I’m just doing my math wrong.
  5. Leavener. Yeast or baking powder. I’ve only used yeast so far, and done it on cold days, so my dough hasn’t risen much. But I don’t think it’s the yeast’s fault. I’ve found this article on lifehacker to be the most useful.

Easy, right? It’s even easier with a stand mixer and dough hook. I’ve heard that, with bread, the sky’s the limit with what you can do and add. My family isn’t adventurous, so I’ve just been working on brioche (which adds butter, eggs, and milk), but keep picking the coldest days to get it to rise. Seriously, it’s Southern California and should have hit the 80s in May, but it was chilly most of the month.

Ratio baking: basic ingredients for making bread

IMG_20190513_154401

Apparently my bread was good enough for my daughter to abandon her beloved pacifier for a slice.

 

So there you have it. A basic list of ingredients for cakes, cookies, and bread. The best thing is, even if you have just a small amount of one thing, it’s relatively easy to tweak the amounts to fit the ratios since ratios are based on weight.

Happy baking!

Adventures in Ratio Baking: The Downside

adventures in ratio baking: the downside

I love ratio baking. I find it much easier to whip up a cake this way than using a recipe. It’s also easier on my brain when it comes to having to chat with my kids while measuring all the ingredients. It hasn’t been the smoothest adventure, but what adventure should be?

But as much as I love ratio baking, it isn’t a perfect method.

  1. Baking temperatures and times are a guessing game. The standard temperatures are 350 and 375, but which one should you choose? Honestly, I’m not sure, but I usually use 375 and only turn it down to 350 when the cake is browning too much, but isn’t fully baked. Then there’s the matter of the baking time. Recipes are handy in that they list about how long to bake for, but, when you’re ratio baking, there’s no recipe with a baking time. I’ve discovered, though, that cakes using 2 eggs bake for about 20-25 minutes. Otherwise, I test after 15 minutes and, depending on how raw it still is, check again after another 5-10 minutes.
  2. More to clean up. I use more dishes and silverware. Instead of using just measuring spoons and cups and adding directly to the mixing bowl(s), I have to measure each ingredient separately. That means I use a bowl for the eggs and a bowl for the flour and sugar (when I’m trying to cut down on the amount of dishes). Sometimes I end up using two bowls for the flour and sugar. And sometimes I’ll forget what I’m doing and will toss a spoon into the sink before I’m done measuring everything out. Using a recipe, I use a mixing bowl, the mixing paddle, a measuring cup, and one or two measuring spoons. With ratio baking, I use the mixing bowl, the paddle, at least two bowls or cups, several spoons and measuring cups, measuring spoons, a knife to cut the butter, and sometimes the a glass container if I’m using leftover egg yolks because I need to pour them into something else to get their weight.
  3. No ingredient list to use as a checklist. Sometimes I forget to add something. Sometimes I forget to measuring something out and have to pull my scale back out. Sometimes I stick the cake in the oven and then realize I left out the baking powder. A recipe has a handy list. Ratio baking does not unless you write them down. I tried to get around this by keeping what I need in a corner or in my spice rack. But even then I miss something. I’ve forgotten to measure the milk. I’ve forgotten to add baking powder. I’ve forgotten to add vanilla extract. Once I forgot I was making a chocolate cake and didn’t measure out the cocoa powder, so had to start over with measuring out the flour.
  4. The math. Ratio baking requires some math. Well, if you’re doing a pound cake and following the 1:1:1:1 ratio, all you have to do is make sure everything weighs about the same. But a high ratio cake (the sweeter cakes you’re more likely to find in a bakery) is more like 1:1:2:2, which means you need to multiply by 2. Really, it’s not hard, but when the eggs weigh 97g and the sugar needs to weigh twice that…well, I don’t trust myself with adding 97 and 97, so still have to pull out a calculator. And then there’s the pesky percentage because everything should be within 20% of where it should be. So, taking the eggs that weigh 97g, the sugar should weigh somewhere around 200g, but must be within 20% of whatever 97 plus 97 is.
  5. Remembering the ratio. Making the 1:1:1:1 pound cake is super easy. All you have to remember is the one. But making other kinds of cakes require slightly different ratios. Cookies call for a 3:2:1 ratio, and I still can’t remember which ingredients are the 3, 2, and 1. I need to write them down for easy reference, but haven’t gotten around to it. And I think bread is 5:3, and that many odd numbers makes me dizzy. I don’t like math.

Don’t get me wrong; I love ratio baking. It’s fun. I feel more creative. There’s more I can experiment with. I don’t feel constrained by a recipe. The sky is the limit. But sometimes it requires far more clean up than I want to do. Sometimes I have to use a calculator. Sometimes I have to guess. Sometimes I have to hope my memory is being agreeable that day. But it’s fun.

I love being able to walk into the kitchen, decide to bake something, and then just start. Sure, it has it’s downside, but so does everything. It all comes down to whether or not you can live with it. I can live with these. It gives me so much more freedom. Of course, I’ve only done cake and cookies, so I might be changing my tune when I work my way up to bread. But I hope not.

So, tell me, have I scared you away from ratio baking or would you still give it a try?

Adventures in Ratio Baking: The Best Part

adventures in ratio baking: the best part

I love ratio baking because it requires less brain power.

Yes, not using a recipe uses less thought on my part.

Well, once I started to figure out all the math, that is. Math is my weakest area, so it took me about a month to figure out the 3-2-1 cookie ratio. Which is why I started with the 1-1-1-1 cake ratio first.

But, honestly, baking without a recipe is easier on my brain than using one. It might seem weird because, with a recipe, everything is spelled out. There shouldn’t be much thought put into it.

Well, baking with a recipe, for me, involves:

  1. Figuring out what kind of cake I want. That’s really not too hard because I always side with chocolate.
  2. Finding a recipe. Do you have any idea how many grandmas made the world’s best chocolate cake?!
  3. Making sure I have all the ingredients. I guarantee you, I do not keep shortening, molasses, corn syrup, buttermilk, coffee, liqueurs, etc. stocked. And I’m back to step 2…
  4. Hunting down my measuring spoons and cups because my kids are enamored with them.
  5. Getting out two or more bowls because recipes call for adding wet and dry ingredients alternately into a third mixing bowl, sifting the flour into one bowl and adding it into the mixing bowl, and mixing the dry and wet ingredients separately. So, read the recipe carefully first.
  6. Precisely measuring out everything (which should be done by leveling off the measuring cups with the back of a knife) and keeping track of how much I’ve added so I don’t have to start over.
  7. Mixing, which can sometimes be confusing and require adding ingredients in specific orders and certain ways. I always end up reading this at least half a dozen times to make sure I do it right.
  8. Baking. Finally! Just have to double check the baking temperature and time…

And using ratio baking requires:

  1. Deciding to bake. I’m always up for it.
  2. Taking out my scale, three bowls (one for the eggs, one for the butter, one for the dry ingredients, though sometimes I use the same bowl for the latter two), a spoon, and a knife.
  3. Weighing the eggs. It’s easiest to do them first because everything else can easily be added or subtracted to get the right weight.
  4. Weighing the butter (I use the knife to cut it), sugar, and flour (plus cocoa powder for chocolate cakes) to match the eggs.
  5. Mix. There are different mixing methods, though the creaming one (cream butter and sugar first) is the easiest and more common one. I prefer the egg foaming method of whipping the eggs and gradually adding the sugar first.
  6. Bake! For 3 eggs, a temperature of 375 degrees for 25 minutes in an 8 inch round pan works great. No double checking necessary.

Of course, starting out with ratio baking was slow. And it does take a little time to ensure equal weights, but, overall, ratio baking is faster and easier for me. There’s no making sure I have everything and double checking every number and step. There have been so many days when my daughter and I have literally walked through the door, I’ve said to her “let’s bake,” and we have cake within the hour.

My favorite part is that, by not having to reference a recipe, I’m better able to interact with my kids. I can talk to them without saying, “Hang on. I need to measure out the flour.” There’s also no more wondering if I counted the number of cups of flour right anymore, and having to start over. Instead, I spoon flour into a bowl, chat with my kids, and keep an eye on the weight. My kids even get to help dump everything in, when they’re not busy banging unused and lonely measuring cups on the counter or eating chocolate chips.

Baking with ratios is so much more relaxing. I do have to make sure I take what I need out so I don’t forget anything, but that takes mere moments. I love not second guessing myself and reading the same number 10 times. I love being able to calmly answer my oldest child’s numerous questions while scooping out flour. And, when mommy is relaxed, the only meltdowns they have involve who gets to sit on the counter next to the bowl.

So there you have it. It may not be true of everyone who ratio bakes, but I definitely find it’s easier on my brain, is more relaxing for me since I’m not anxiously quadruple checking everything, and baking with kids is a much calmer endeavor because I can offer more of myself to them.

Have you tried ratio baking? Would you?

Adventures in Ratio Baking: Chocolate Cake Attempts 1 & 2

adventures in ratio baking: chocolate cake

For years, I faithfully followed recipes whenever I baked. Cooking is a completely different story, but I always believed in following the recipe exactly when it came to baking. After all, baking is a science and I’m not great with science or math.

But I started feeling a little suffocated by recipes last year. I’ve been baking completely on my own for almost 20 years and finally had enough of following them to a T. It got boring. Spending time searching for new recipes became a chore. I felt stuck, and it sucked the fun out of baking. It was only interesting when my kids were enthusiastic and I kept busy repeatedly telling them they couldn’t play with the flour.

So, I started getting a little creative. I have a chocolate cake recipe that makes an excellent cake but extremely flat cupcakes, so I started tweaking it to get that nice little dome. Actually, I still need to finish those tweaks. Then I started experimenting with cake mixes and switching up ingredients for similar ones.

But what I really wanted to try was ratio baking. I lacked one important ingredient, though. The kitchen scale. I always faithfully followed the recipe, so never bothered to get one. I think my husband heard me talk about one enough that he surprised me with one for Christmas.

At first, I didn’t do anything with it. My mind was swirling with too many incomplete thoughts and ideas that I wouldn’t have been able to make anything remotely edible. Instead, I did a lot of reading on how to do ratio baking, especially since I’m terrible with numbers, and ratios and fractions scare the living daylights out of me.

So, I started with cakes. They’re one part flour, one part fat, one part sugar, and one part eggs. Easy enough. I just have to make sure everything weighs about the same. Of course, there are different methods of mixing them together, but I prefer the creaming method of creaming the butter and sugar together first. The easy part is measuring everything (just have to remember to measure the eggs first). The hard part is remembering to substitute cocoa powder in for some of the flour, add the vanilla extract, and add the baking powder.

I set up a baking corner, so everything I need is in one place. It’s convenient as I don’t have to wander around the kitchen to find everything, but inconvenient because my mind tells me everything is right there so I don’t have to take out everything I need. This screwed up my first attempt.

Oh, I did great at substituting in some cocoa powder. I even added some vanilla extract. I diligently weighed everything while my daughter stood on a chair and watched me. We creamed together the sugar and butter, added the eggs and extract, and added the flour and cocoa powder. I made sure the cover the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. The oven was ready. I set the timer.

It was only when the cake turned out to be almost as flat as a pancake that I realized 1) I probably could have doubled what I used or used a smaller pan, and 2) I forgot the baking powder/soda. Oh well. At least it was chocolatey and edible.

For attempt #2, I made a home in my spice rack for the baking powder. This time my son was home to help. Previously, I used only 2 eggs. This time, he wanted me to use 3. We weighed everything out. After weighing the flour and cocoa powder, I made sure to add about a teaspoon of baking powder this time.

It was great. Instead of a less than 1/2 inch cake, I had a little over an inch of cake. Success? Not quite. The batter was quite thick and I should have added milk or something to loosen it up, but I decided not to, just to see how what I had would turn out.

Well, it’s a much higher cake and just as chocolatey, but definitely a little dense.

Cake is cake. I’ll still eat it. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee, so I liberally partake in chocolate. I guarantee you chocolate cake lasts less than a week with me around.

And I’ll remember to add milk or something when it’s time for attempt #3. One of these days I’m bound to bake the perfect cake. I just might need more cocoa powder.

Ratio baking: chocolate cake

Attempt #2.

Ratio baking: have you tried it? Would you?

My Family’s Top 5 Go-to Dinners

I’m really bad at meal planning. I hate having to think about what’s for dinner. I’d rather be playing with my kids and trying to tell my son he doesn’t have to hide in the same spot every single time.

If I’m lucky, I remember and ask my husband what he’d like to eat a couple of days before we go to the market. If I’m really lucky, he tells me exactly what he wants. Most weeks, though, I ask him about 20 minutes before we head out the door and we stand around in the produce section wondering what to make. Our son gets impatient and becomes overly theatrical about it. Our daughter is happy standing in the back and making noises while bouncing on her feet.

Fortunately, we do have some family favorites that are relatively quick and easy. We keep most of the ingredients stocked, so it’s easy to say we’ll eat this or that. Unfortunately, for me, at least, it feels repetitive, but it does solve the problem.

“What’s for dinner?”

I’m suddenly sorry I asked my mom almost daily.

  1. Pasta. This is seriously our number one go-to, unless we had it last week. It’s easy and my husband happens to absolutely love the sauce, which is also incredibly easy to make. The best part is the pasta can be cooked ahead and frozen with a bit of olive oil drizzled and mixed in. The sauce can also be cooked ahead of time and frozen. My recipe makes enough sauce for at least 2 pounds of pasta, so, the next time we decided to have it, I don’t even have to cook it if I was smart and froze it into two sections. Head over here for my sauce recipe, which also works really well for the pizza my husband likes making.
  2. Pizza. My husband already devoted a post to this. He grew up in New York City, so pizza is near and dear to his heart. I couldn’t care less, but he’s very particular. He’s spent several weekends perfecting his dough recipe and trying out different sauces, only to go to my pasta sauce and proclaim it perfect. For pizza, the sauce ingredients can just go in the blender with more sugar than salt. I hate having to stretch out the dough, but his recipe makes 2, so we just pop one in the freezer, though it usually only stays in for a day or two. I did mention he loves pizza, right? Oh, and the dough is best when left in the fridge at least over night. For his recipe, pop over hereBake and then.....PIZZA!
  3. Spanish-style beef. A few years ago, I was flipping through some recipes my mom had saved, but never made. I came across one for Spanish-style beef and rice by Rachael Ray. My husband liked it, so I added it to my recipe book. And then I experimented a bit. I’ve used beef, chicken, and a mix of beef and sausage. It really is quick to make and so easy that I usually hold my daughter almost the whole time. It’s great with rice, but we also enjoy it with tortillas. For my version and one way we enjoy it, go hereIMG_0895
  4. Lemon chicken. This is something my mom started making when I was a kid. My parents planted a lemon tree one year and it’s been extremely bountiful. We’ve had so many lemons that my dad is in the habit of asking just about everyone if they want any lemons. One or two? Nope. Try a whole bag full of them. I’m not sure where my mom got the recipe, but I got mine for lemon chicken from her. For all I know, she made it up just to use up the lemons. It’s really simple. Slice a chicken breast in half so it’s neither too thick nor too thin (pound if too thick) and salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a pan with some oil and cook chicken. Remove chicken and add 3-4 tablespoons of butter and the juice of 2 lemons. Add chicken back to the pan and coat in the sauce. As far as I know, it goes with just about everything.
  5. Chicken and tortillas. This is something my mom made for us a lot when we were growing up. It’s fast and easy. And, okay, I prefer this one way more than my husband because it’s really fast and easy. Even if we don’t have tortillas, we can still put it with rice or Asian noodles. I like to slice the chicken on the thin side so I don’t have to marinate it as long and it cooks faster. A half hour before dinner time? Yup, this will be done on time! See why I prefer it? For the recipe for the marinade and the chicken and tortillas recipe, head on over here.

Hmm. Maybe I do know what’s for dinner next week.

What are some of your go-to dinner recipes? If you have the recipe link, feel free to leave it in the comments!

Simple tips to help making baking with toddlers fun and more managable

Baking with Young Children Tip #5

In lieu of a daily question on Fridays this month, I’ll be giving a baking with young children tip. I’ve switched up Fridays this month to highlight dads, but I can’t bring myself to forego food entirely.

Baking tip #5: Have fun!

Doing anything in the kitchen with small children can be difficult. There are small people getting underfoot, small people demanding attention and to be picked up, small people screaming if they don’t get to help, small people littering toys that you must navigate like a minefield, small people who decide the time when you absolutely must get something out of the oven is the best time to have the largest poop ever, small people who want to try to touch the oven while it’s on and open.

It’s stressful. It’s difficult. It can be downright annoying. It’s not easy baking, or even cooking, with small children around.

I know. I’ve been there. It wasn’t bad with one child, but adding another suddenly made it twice as hard. Two little ones demanding two different things. Two little ones to keep away from the oven. Two little ones who want to play with everything and grab all the chocolate when I’m trying to make chocolate chip cookies for them.

But! I remember they’re small. They’re young. They’re exploring. They’re learning. And I want learning to be fun. So I try to have fun. I play keep away games when it’s time to open the oven, or hide and seek where I count really slowly. I give them measuring cups to play with. I let my older child choose something we can add in, like chocolate chips, nuts, candy pieces, coconut flakes, etc. I let him mix and teach him to mix in the flour slowly. I use the stand mixer and get to watch their eyes turn into saucers as they watch it go around and around. I take my time baking. If it takes an hour to get it into the oven, it takes an hour.

It’s so important to just have fun. My kids love baking. Not only do they get a treat out of it and it occupies us for a morning, but they enjoy helping me add the ingredients, mixing, and learning how to bake. Baking isn’t a chore to me and I hope to pass that on to them. Baking is fun.

So, have fun while baking!

Baking with Young Children Tips

 

Baking with Young Children Tip #4

In lieu of a daily question on Fridays this month, I’ll be giving a baking with young children tip. I’ve switched up Fridays this month to highlight dads, but I can’t bring myself to forego food entirely.

Baking tip #4: Utilize the measuring cups you aren’t using to entertain your little ones.

I don’t know what it is about those little measuring cups, but my kids are obsessed with them. I can’t open the drawer and take one out without having to give one to each of them. Of course, sometimes I have to negotiate with them so I also get to use the one I need. Which can get tricky, but the alternative is no measuring cup and that doesn’t usually go over well.

My toddler is easy. I put some chocolate chips into his measuring cup and he’s happy as a clam. We almost always bake after his morning snack and he doesn’t get any sweets as a rule before noon, so, on baking days, it’s like a little treat. He happily snacks on his chocolate and I get to stir in the flour without having to worry about a white cloud. He’s also always very enthusiastic when I say it’s time to bake…

My 1 year old is a little trickier. She always wants a measuring cup, too, and will whine until I give it to her. The easy part is she’ll take any of them. The hard part is putting her down with it. I’ve mastered baking while holding her, but sometimes it hurts when she decides she’d like to drum on me. Though, when I do get to put her down, she loves drumming on everything in the kitchen and then will wander away just in time for me to open the oven. And then I get to play hunt down the measuring cup. Oh well. At least she was entertained long enough.

I really don’t know why those cups are so popular with my kids, but it definitely helps make baking fun for them and they’re entertained long enough for me to do things like stir in the flour and open the oven.

Baking with Young Children Tip #3

In lieu of a daily question on Fridays this month, I’ll be giving a baking with young children tip. I’ve switched up Fridays this month to highlight dads, but I can’t bring myself to forego food entirely.

Baking tip #3: Crack those eggs into a bowl.

Seriously. If you’ve ever baked with young children, you know those round little ovals that roll everywhere are very tempting for little hands. And you’ve probably cleaned up a few broken eggs or more.

Since the eggs should be brought to room temperature and the butter should be softened before baking, I take them out while my kids are occupied, about an hour or so before we start baking. Instead of letting the eggs roll around, just crack them into a bowl! Then little hands can’t drop or knock them off the counter and they can even help add the eggs.

Hopefully this will save an egg or two out there. I know I’m tired of cleaning up eggy messes.