Food Safety Guidelines

danger zone


You probably have heard me say this from time to time especially in preparations with very egg and dairy rich dishes that are being cooked to a fragile temperature such as Pastry Cream and Lemon Curd

Let me explain this for those of you who do not know what Food Danger Zone is.
Basically the bottom line is to Keep Hot Food HOT and Cold Food COLD.

I am sure most of you have encountered a spoiled food product at least once in your life, and if the funny color of it did not warn you to keep your lips off of it, then the strange smell it was emitting probably did!

But there are times that we simply cannot see or smell food that has been spoiled, and this type of spoilage is the most dangerous form.
Salmonella and E.Coli can contaminate food without giving any signs that it is present. There are ways that WE as food preparers and food servers are REQUIRED to process and handle food.

Please check with your local Board Of Health for a deeper look at the laws and rules for food service handlers, and you can even get in on a free class if you check with them to see when they are having their next sessions.

For starters, it is good knowledge to understand that bacteria won’t multiply in temperatures colder than 45 degrees or at a temperatures hotter than 141°F. Where they thrive is between 45°F and 139°F, a region known as the “Food Temperature Danger Zone.”
The key in food preparation is to cool your hot foods to below the danger zone in less than 2 hours, but faster is even better.

(When I was in school the time frame was 2 hours, but it seems in my latest research they are stressing a 1 hour window to compensate for many lackadiasical attitudes there).

So bottom line: Get those hot prep items that are to be turned into cold prep bases for pastry applications cooled fast and stored cold, and if you are serving foods that require a hot serving temperature you must be sure that the food does not drop below 140 degrees F for more than 1 hour, any longer than that the food should be recooked or thrown away.
This is where bacteria growth will rapidly begin to occur. One strange coincidence is that our bodies temperatures are at the premium temperature for bacteria to grow and thrive and multiply. Which is why when food that has even minimal traces of bacteria on it enters our systems we can be inflicted with sever food poisoning almost immediately.

Quick Table for Reference:

165°F and higher:
Most bacteria die within several seconds

139°F to 164°F:
Holding hot foods and sauces. Bacteria aren’t killed, but they don’t multiply, either.

45°F to 139°F:
Food Temperature Danger Zone
Bacteria thrive and multiply. Limit exposure of perishable foods to one hour or less.

33°F to 39°F:
Refrigerated food storage. Bacteria aren’t killed. They multiply, but relatively slowly. Food is safe here for a limited time.

32°F and lower:
Frozen food storage: Bacteria aren’t killed, but they don’t multiply, either.

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Ice Water Bath



Many of my more advanced recipes such as custards and curds will call for an ice water bath to be set up before the start of your recipe preparations.
An ice water bath is necessary for when you must cool down liquids quickly.

In the case of custards, even after you take it off the heat, carryover cooking can cause the temperature to continue to rise.

The ice bath will immediately stop the cooking process , since that residual heat that can so quickly turn your perfect custard into a bowl of scrambled eggs.

To make your ice water bath, place a good amount of ice and a moderate amount of water in a very large bowl, then nestle a smaller metal bowl into the ice water.

You will then pour whatever recipe you are cooling, (usually through a strainer) and into the smaller bowl. Quick cooling will ensure there will be no curdling AND more importantly NO DANGER of bacteria forming as it could if you let that custard cool at its own leisurely pace!

Note: It is best to use a metal bowl. Since metal is a good conductor, it will actually conduct the heat of the custard into the surrounding ice.

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Double Boiler

double boiler 2


“Help! I do not have a double boiler!”


But wait,  I want to be clear about Why we use a double boiler in the first place.

When heating something in a pot, the portion that comes in contact with the very hot bottom of the pot will heat up more quickly than the rest of the food. This isn’t a problem for most foods, but it is a big problem for some things, such as chocolate and delicate sauces, and in the case of making Swiss Buttercream, the egg whites that coagulate very easily. The solution is to use a double boiler

A double boiler consists of a bowl placed on top of a pan of simmering water. The bowl does not touch the water, but creates a seal with the bottom pan to trap the steam produced by the simmering water. Inside the top bowl, you can melt chocolate without worrying that it will stick to the pot and burn.

You can buy a double boiler, but it’s easy to make one at home. All you need to make a double boiler is a mixing bowl (preferably glass/pyrex or metal) and a saucepan that the bowl will fit on top of.

I do it all the time when I make my swiss buttercream recipe, I simply place the work bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixer directly on the pot of steaming water.

The two should fit tightly together; you don’t want a gap between the bowl and the saucepan, nor do you want a bowl that is gigantic and cumbersome on top of tiny saucepan.
To use the double boiler, add water to the pan and bring it to a simmer, then place the bowl on top and fill it with whatever you intend to cook or melt.

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What is Cake?

Butter Cake Recipe

So What IS Cake? really?

Sure we all know what cake is as far as our favorite recipe or flavor we like best……

But as a baker, understanding what to type of cake to make and with what filling and icing will be best can be a difficult task.
You have probably heard them all, Butter Cake, Sponge Cake, Chiffon Cake, Genoise Cake, Pound Cake, Devils Food Cake, Coffee Cake! And probably more that I forgot to list!!

So what’s the difference?

Easiest way to think about it is like this:

The difference is in the Mix Method.
So there are basically 2 classes, and then of course variations of those classes.

Sponge Cake – Also known as foaming method cakes, which rely primarily on trapped air in the foamed eggs which are the base bulk structure of the entire recipe which also provides the leavening.
Sponge cakes are known to be lighter, airier and can also be known as “dry”.
Typically Sponge cakes are accompanied by a Simple Syrup which is brushed on the layers to add moisture and flavor to the cake.

Butter Cake– Also known as Pound Cake and some variations of the Devils Food Cake are mainly creamed butter cakes. Where the butter and sugar is creamed to create a fluffy matrix of air pockets trapping the sugars within the fat pockets which upon baking are melted and converted to steam, which in turn causes your batter to rise. Creamed cake batters have a closer, denser crumb than those recipes which require foaming.

Then there is a separate class of cakes that fall in a category with

Muffins and Quickbreads
This method typically  will ask for the oil and sugar and eggs to be combined together, and then the dry ingredients are added to this.  Like My Carrot Cake

Oil Based Cakes vs Butter Cakes?  

You have probably wondered why recipes are written the way they are, with one ingredients versus another.

You may have even wondered, “can I use this on place of that”?

Especially in regard to the question of Butter Vs Oil I do get this question a lot.
My first quick answer to this question is always, “How is the butter being incorporated into the recipe?” “What is the Mix Method?”
I ask this because our mix methods often classify the type of cake we are making, and determines how we can interchange ingredients inside that recipe.

For example: Are you creaming the butter and the sugar together to achieve a fluffy, voluminous batter upon which we rely on the leavening to take place due to this mix method and also to which the other ingredients will be suspended?

Or are you melting the butter in a quickbread sort of “muffin method” batter?

Your answer as to whether you can substitute will first be found in the mix method.

If it is creamed butter method, no way are you ever going to jab those sugar crystals throughout liquid oil and expect the resulting air bubbles to trap those fats causing steam to leaven your batter once it goes into the oven. The oil will simply dissolve the sugar and that’s the end of it.

If the recipe requires melted butter, sure go ahead and switch to oil, but not without some differences in your results.

I have done some experimenting with the “quickbread” or “muffin method” as I call those recipes which require oil as the base.
I have used melted butter in place of oil in recipes, because after all, isn’t butter the best way of making sure your next pair of pants are a size larger and have it all be worth the while??

I mean, Butter is food of the Gods right?

So much complex flavor and richness, and we can always tell when a sub-par recipe has cheated its way and used that forsaken oil.
Let’s face it, recipes made with real butter are the most prized recipes of all time!

Well, not necessarily.
Here is what I found.

I use my vanilla sponge cake recipe as an example which requires the fat or “butter” be melted in the mix method.
Now some have complained that upon refrigerating this cake, it became hard and dry.

Well, let’s think about this for a moment. Butter when refrigerated is indeed hard.
Not silky and smooth and soft as it is when it is at room temperature.

So, I used oil on the next try.
By using oil in this cake, it definitely made it more moist, and kept it moist even upon refrigeration.
You see, butter contains milk solids, that when cold, become…well….solid.
Oil on the other hand is liquid whether it is cold or warm.

So, what to do?
This new knowledge now requires us to think through to the end in how we are using/serving our cakes.
The Vanilla Sponge Cake recipe is wonderful, and if you are planning to fill it with fillings that require refrigeration, if is fine to do so, I do it all the time. However I do advise my customers to bring their cake to room temperature (by leaving it out on the counter for about an hour) before serving. There is no harm to the filling inside in that short amount of time, and it allows the cake to get back to its intended state, which is soft and spongy.

I will practice this “bringing to room temperature” with all my cake recipes really. I just prefer to take the chill off of any cake before serving.

So if you choose a filling that requires refrigeration and a cake that has butter in it, it’s no problem really, just be sure to give it at least an hour out of the fridge to get to it’s perfect state!

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Cocoa Powder 101


Ok, let’s try to make some easy sense of what cocoa powder is, and what it does in your recipe.

I want to first make one note that for some reason people tend to think that Dutched Process Cocoa powder should be used in every single recipe calling for cocoa powder.

This is not really true; although Dutched Process Cocoa Powder may seem to have all of the qualities you have been searching for when it comes to deep, dark chocolate in a recipe.

Using this cocoa powder in a recipe that calls for Natural unprocessed cocoa can actually turn your tall dark & handsome into a dull, lifeless stranger!

Let’s first take a look at what makes one different from the other and why it is important to understand a little bit of science here when choosing which one is best for your recipe.

**Quick tip: Natural unprocessed Cocoa Powder works in ALL recipes, Dutched Process is not so forgiving!

If the recipe has baking SODA in it- you will use Natural Cocoa Powder. If the recipe has baking POWDER in it you will use Dutched Process (or of course- Natural)

How Cocoa Powder is Made:
There are two ways cocoa powder is processed after the initial pressing of the chocolate liquor which removes ¾ of it’s natural cocoa butter.

Cocoa Powder is unsweetened and tastes very bitter, but gives a deep chocolate flavor which makes it great for recipes like brownies, cookies and some chocolate cakes.

Dutch Process (or Alkalized)cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that have been washed with a potassium solution, it is treated with an alkali to neutralize its acids.

Because it is neutral it DOES NOT react with baking soda therefore it is necessary to use it in recipes calling for baking powder as the leavening agent.

And remember baking powder is a combination of baking soda and an acid which when a liquid is present it starts the reaction.

(Some recipes may still include baking soda in cocoa powder recipes, it just is not in the quantities relied upon for the main leavening)

Natural Cocoa Powder is made from cocoa beans that are simply roasted, then pulverized into a fine powder.

Because natural cocoa powder has not had its acidity tempered it is used in recipes calling for baking soda which will then cause a reaction in your recipe and create leavening of your baked goods.

(Again: natural cocoa can be used in recipes with baking powder as well- so basically NATURAL COCOA POWDER  CAN BE USED INTERCHANGEABLY IN RECIPES NO MATTER WHAT THE LEAVENER)

For Dutch Process Cocoa Powder Substitutions in a recipe that  calls for baking soda: 


 omit the baking soda and salt in the recipe


Dutch-Processed Cocoa:
1 cup = 92 grams

Natural or Nonalkalized Cocoa:

1 cup = 82 grams



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