Dear Barbara: I usually bake all my cookies from scratch. It is actually more economical. I don’t know what I am doing wrong, but lately my cookies taste a little “tough.” Nothing is different, that I am aware of, so what do you think might be happening? — Laurie from Victor
Dear Laurie: There are a couple of possibilities.
If you don’t sift your flour, it may be “settling” in the container. This could cause you to actually use too much flour, even though you are measuring it. Try stirring the flour with a whisk before you measure it.
Another reason could be that you are developing the gluten too much. You want to stir the dough just until it is mixed and no longer. The more you handle the dough, the tougher it will become.
Dear Barbara: I use Brummel & Brown spread on most everything. Can I use it in baking? It has a great buttery taste but is low in calories and has no cholesterol. — Kaitlyn from Lodi
Dear Kaitlyn: Since most low-fat butter-like spreads contain a great deal of water and very little oil, they are not suitable for baking.
I went to the Brummel & Brown website just to be sure and, lo and behold, there were recipes for cakes, cookies, muffins, etc.! They even mentioned on the website that it is not recommended for baking and cooking. How could this be?
So I called them. I was told that the recipes that are on the website were put there before they lowered the fat content of the product.
They know their product better than I, but I had a little trouble accepting that. By the time they whip in the water, which is listed as the first ingredient (meaning water is the main ingredient) and the air, it wouldn’t work anyway. It is a good product when used the way it is intended: as a spread.
Dear Barbara: If a recipe calls for baking chocolate and I don’t have any, can I use unsweetened cocoa powder? Is there a conversion table for that? — Cathy from Lodi
Dear Cathy: As long as the recipe called for unsweetened chocolate and you are using unsweetened cocoa powder, you can substitute 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder plus 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil for one square (one ounce) of baking chocolate.
Dear Barbara: I have a recipe that calls for a bundt pan. I got rid of my bundt pan years ago. Can I bake it in a loaf pan? I don’t see why it would make any difference. — Janis from Lodi
Dear Janis: It actually does make a difference in the amount of time that you bake it.
There is more surface for the batter to touch the pan in a bundt or tube pan. Heavier cakes particularly need this type of pan so the cake bakes more evenly. If you use a loaf pan, it will most likely overcook on the outside before it cooks in the center.
It is the same theory as to why doughnuts have holes in the middle. If they didn’t, the outside would cook quicker than the inside and the inside would not be done.
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.