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Mar 2, 2005 12:31 PM

Three baking-related questions

  • c

I rarely bake these days and have noticed a widening gap btwn. my cooking vs. baking competency. Last night I made a lemon polenta cake from my Food & Wine cookbook that turned out just ok (ie, original recipe probably not worth passing on). Three questions for you baking hounds:

1) When a baking recipe calls for salt, do you use iodized salt instead of kosher? Assume that I should use iodized for baking but kosher for cooking.

2) My oven is running way too hot. Baked at 325F, recipe estimated done in 50 min., but took it out of oven at 35 min., which was even a tad overbaked! Is there an easy and cheap way to calibrate my oven? Specific info on techniques and devices appreciated.

3) Anyone have an awesome lemon polenta cake recipe (preferably using olive oil instead of butter) that has a strong lemon flavor and is incredibly moist? If it makes any dif., I will be using Meyer lemons.

Thanks all!

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  1. 1. You can use any kind of salt for baking, but it should be fine grind, or there is a possibility that it would not mix well with other igredients.

    2. Just buy an oven thermometer (clip-on/hang-on kind) and keep it in the oven. Use that as an indicator when setting the temperature, instead of the one on your stove. Sometimes ovens overheat/underheat by a fixed number - i.e. hotter by 50 degrees at any temperature setting, but often they are hotter by 25 degrees at 300 and by 50 if you set if at 350, etc.

    3. You recipe may be moist enough - I would try it again without overbaking.

    13 Replies
    1. re: summertime

      Thanks for your helpful responses. Even if my cake had not been overbaked, I wasn't that crazy about the flavor. I added more lemon juice in the batter, and even improvised by making a lemon glaze after since the cake itself wasn't lemony or sweet enough for me. Could've also used more polenta and less flour for my taste. I'm sure I could experiment, but I don't want to have a bunch of mediocre cakes sitting around or waste my Meyer lemons.

      About the thermometer, is there a certain brand that you recommend? I really know nothing about these devices. Thanks.

      1. re: Carb Lover
        Jeremy Newel

        About the lemony-ness of your cake. Did the recipe call for lemons or Meyer lemons? If you substituted Meyers for regular, there will be markedly less lemon flavor to the finished product, because Meyers are not very lemony for baking purposes.

        1. re: Jeremy Newel

          Yeah, good point. The recipe merely called for lemons, and I figured that Meyers could be subbed in and would impart a nice flavor. I doubled the amt. of lemon juice and tasted the batter before it went in. Ugh--these are the very rigid parameters of baking that cause me to avoid it in the first place!

          Should find a recipe that calls for Meyers...maybe one of the Chez Panisse cookbooks will have something. Are Meyers usually just used in vinaigrettes and such and not featured in baking so much? Anyone w/ a good Meyer lemon recipe out there? Thanks.

          1. re: Carb Lover

            I make a really tasty martini using meyer lemons and spiced rum! (probably not what you're looking for!)

            1. re: Funwithfood

              Do tell! I'd love your recipe. Would you mind posting it?

              1. re: eel

                I took a picture of one when I served it last week. I'll post it with the recipe when my husband loads it, etc. (computer/digital etc is not my forte!)

            2. re: Carb Lover

              Well, if you subscribe to Sunset, you can find this recipe for a Meyer Lemon Custard Cream Pie on their Web site from the March 1997 issue.

              My Meyer lemon tree has been producing prodigiously, but I managed to use at least some of my lemons with this recipe!


              1. re: Carb Lover

                It didn't call for zest? I don't see how you could possibly get sufficient "lemonyness" with just the juice.

                1. re: danna

                  Along w/ juice, it did call for one tbsp. of zest.

                2. re: Carb Lover

                  I think part of the problem is that Meyer lemons just may not have the tartness you think of as being lemony. They just aren't as tart, and adding more juice doesn't really help. Their distinctive quality is that they're perfumey/floral, and they really need to be used differently.

                  If you're using Meyers because you have a tree, maybe you could trade with someone who has a tree of "regular" lemons. Or add some "regular" lemon juice to your Meyer lemons.

                  If you can get your hands on a copy of Annie Somerville's "Fields of Greens" there's a lemon pot de creme recipe that's fabulous (and I don't use that term lightly) with Meyer lemons.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Thanks for the recipe tip, Ruth. Love pot de recipe sounds perfect for me. Will check my public library for the book.

                    I actually have the best of both lemon in-laws in San Jose have a Meyer lemon tree that was planted ages ago and is producing like wild right now. MIL gives me a big bag of Meyers everytime I see her. My next door neighbor has a huge standard lemon tree (lemons w/ thick, slightly bumpy rind) that drapes over into our back patio area. No maintenance on my part, but all the pleasure...

                    1. re: Carb Lover
                      Caitlin McGrath

                      Good vehicles for highlighting Meyer lemons' flavor (and the color of their juice) include lemon mirengue pie, lemon bars, custards (like pots de creme), and sorbet. I usually use extra zest and unstrained juice to get the most out the flavor if I'm making something homey. Since the juice is so much sweeter than standard lemon juice, you may want to reduce the sugar in standard lemon recipes. It's not a good idea to use Meyers if you want that lemon "zip," as in savory dishes that include lemon juice as an acidic counterpoint, because they don't have it.

              2. re: Carb Lover

                I like KitchenAid oven thermometer (check amazon - they have one on the website). It seems more reliabel than the two other ones I tried (I checked them against three different remote wire digital "meat" thermometers and Kichen Aid won). I do not remember the name of the other two - they were somewhat cheaper from a specialty store.

                Meyer lemons have less pronounced lemon flavor than regular lemons in my opinion. I also find that greener (less ripe) lemons taste stronger, so I seek those in the supermarket bins. But this is unscientific - just my personal experience, I could be completely wrong.

            3. c

              My ovens have all been way off - no idea how to calibrate. An oven thermometer helps a lot, at least you can fiddle with the temp as needed.

              As for the salt: in older cookbooks, you could generally assume that salt meant plain old table salt. But a lot of newer cookbooks assume that you only use kosher salt. If so, this should be mentioned somewhere (probably an "ingredients" section at the beginning of the book.) If using a cookbook or recipe that doesn't specify, you can probably make the assumption that the author just intended regular salt. Confession: I only have kosher salt in the house, use it for everything and have no trouble. I don't increase the quantity because I'm pretty sensitive to salt and don't mind being a bit short. The difference is not enough to matter for most baked goods.

              2 Replies
              1. re: curiousbaker
                Caitlin McGrath

                I don't keep iodized salt around; I use fine sea salt for baking (and most cooking, but that's a different discussion).

                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                  me either...the last of my idodized got poured on garden slugs last summer!

              2. Ovens are not difficult to recalibrate. I just posted photos to Carb-Lover showing how it is done. If you need the pictures to understand e-mail me and I'll send them to you.

                First set your oven at for instance 350 F. Put an oven thermometer on the rack and measure the internal temperature (Taylor is a good brand). Okay, when you have found out how far off from the set temperature you are, pull off the temperature gague knob. In my oven, after pulling off the knob the adjustment is on the oven. In some models it is on the back of the knob. You will see a little bar or half moon with little notches in it. Above that on mine is a screw that has to be loosened and then you can move the dial along the notches to go up or down. Take the oven temperature again and adjust accordingly.

                1. For baking, when I am adding salt to a dry mixture (ie; flour), I use sea salt. If salt can be added to a liquid (ie; milk), I use Kosher.

                  My oven was way off when I first purchased it. It was re-calibrated by the manufacturer. You could probably get it calibrated by any appliance repair person (inquire re prices). Otherwise, a reliable thermometer will suffice.

                  1. w
                    Wayne Keyser

                    I think all this fuss about salt is a bit "precious." It's all just salt - a trace amount of iodine won't change a thing. Un-iodized is the same as kosher, just pulverized a little finer.

                    The oven: an oven thermometer will help - when the guy came and calibrated my oven, he warmed it to 350 and let it stay hot a few minutes, checked it with a thermometer, removed the dial, loosened a small screw and reset the dial's position to match the thermometer - presto! Recalibrated!