How do I know it’s done?

One of the major changes during quarantine seems to be a huge increase in home cooking and baking. I had another call yesterday about an under-baked cake so this seems like a great time to review just how to know when your baked product is done.

Freshly baked loaves of bread.

When cooking meat or poultry, we always suggest purchasing an instant read thermometer to check for doneness. We know that it is difficult to look at meat and know if it is cooked thoroughly enough to be safe to eat. With baked products, it is mostly a quality issue if a food has been cooked long enough to be done.

Over the years, there have been various methods for checking to see if a cake or pie has been cooked long enough. I have done a bit of research to learn what temperatures indicate your product has cooked long enough.

I received an instant read thermometer for a Christmas gift. I had been baking bread weekly for a year and a half and I wanted to know the internal temperature of my loaves so I could bake a more consistent loaf. I know that a loaf of bread should sound a bit hollow if it is cooked but it was really a guessing game until I sliced into the loaf. I have learned that the degree of browning can not always be considered as bread recipes vary as do bakers preferences. Now that I have a thermometer, I check to see if the internal temperature of a loaf of bread is between 180-190 °F. If I make a crusty, rustic loaf, the temperature should be 200-201 °F.

The internal temperature for cakes varies quite a bit depending on the type of cake you choose to make. The old stand by of using a wooden toothpick is still a valid way to check for doneness. If you use wood, cake crumbs will stick to the toothpick and you can see that the cake is baked and not doughy. If you choose a metal or plastic toothpick, crumbs will not adhere making it difficult to know if the cake is ready to take out of the oven. You can also lightly press near the center of the cake with a fingertip to gauge doneness. If the cake springs back, it is done. If you wait for the cake to pull away form the side of the pan, it may be overcooked.

Cookies are another product that can be hard to know if they are done. Some cookies appear under-baked when they are actually done. Start peeking at cookies about 5 minutes before the recipe indicates they should be done. If you want a soft, chewy cookie, take them out a bit earlier than a cookie than a cookie you want to have crisp. You can tell a cookie is done if you gently press it with a finger and it leaves a slight imprint. A crispy cookie should be more firm and be lightly browned around the edges. Brownies, which I think land in the cookie category, should appear slightly underdone in the center. Test with a wooden toothpick; you should have a few gooey crumbs stuck to the toothpick.

Custard pies can be a challenge to know when they are done. We always advised inserting a knife half way between the edge and the center of the pie to detect doneness. The knife should come out mostly clean and the pie should still have a bit of “jiggle” when moved. Now I find advice to use the thermometer instead of the knife. The slit from the knife can cause a crack in the pie filling. Internal temperature for the custard pie should be 170-175°F. If you are baking a fruit pie, make sure that the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling throughout the pie. If you do not see the bubbling, then the pie likely will not thicken. Starchy thickeners like flour, cornstarch, or tapioca need to heat long enough to bubble or they will not thicken when the pie cools.

I do not have room to cover every baked product so I tried to cover the most common foods. Please call or email us at AnswerLine if you have questions when you are baking. We enjoy helping others with a hobby that we all love.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Jelly and Jam Time

Raspberry jam in a canning jar

May is often the beginning of jelly and jam making time for callers. We often get calls from first time jelly makers. This year there is a resurgence in both gardening and home food preservation. I have already had several calls from people making jam this spring.

Freezer jam or jelly is easier to make than cooked jam or jelly as freezer style does not need to be processed through the boiling water bath canner. You will often need pectin to make freezer jam but it can also be made with Jello. You should know that any jam made with Jello is considered freezer jam and can not be processed in a boiling water bath canner. But any jam that is not freezer jam MUST be processed through the boiling water bath canner unless it is stored in the refrigerator.

Jam and jelly recipes should be followed exactly as written. You should not experiment with these recipes, add extra ingredients, or double these recipes. Following the recipe as written is the only way to guarantee a safe product when you intend to process it in the boiling water bath canner.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has some recipes available in the Preserve the Taste of Summer publications and the National Center for Home Food Preservation also has safe, tested recipes.

If you need a little help when you get started making jelly or jam this year, call us at AnswerLine. We are always glad to help.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Sourdough bread with instant sourdough!

Yeast packet inside bread pan

A few weeks before all our lives changed and we went into quarantine, I saw this instant sourdough package while I was shopping. I was intrigued as I love sourdough bread but don’t want to have to manage a sourdough starter. It seemed like more work than it was worth. I also know that it can be dangerous to use a “natural starter” grown from naturally occurring yeasts. The main danger there is that we don’t know what bacteria might grow in the starter alongside the wild yeast.

I bought the starter but didn’t have time or motivation to make the bread until we began working from home and I had a bit more time on my hands. I found a recipe on-line that didn’t look too involved or too difficult.

brown sourdough starter in bowl on top of flour

I was glad that I had the recipe a few weeks before I wanted to bake the bread as that gave me plenty of time to read the recipe and plan for a day that I had time and space necessary.

dough ready to shape

The recipe is not complex or hard to understand. Mainly, it takes a lot of time. The directions are to mix the bread, cover and let rise for two hours, refrigerate for two more hours and then shape the dough and let raise for one more hour. This can easily fill an entire morning or afternoon. You do have the option to refrigerate overnight (instead of only two hours) and then continue the process the next day. The bread bakes for an additional 30 minutes at the end of the process.

It was hard to wait for the bread to be cool enough to slice, but when I did, I loved the loaf. I will buy some more Instant Sourdough yeast the next time I see some available at the store.

Fresh loaf of Instant Sourdough bread sliced on a platter

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Staying in touch

Happy Easter greeting

The AnswerLine staff has been working from home since March 17. At first, working from home was a nice change of pace, especially when the technology that allows us to work from home functions perfectly. As we enter the fifth week of staying home and practicing social distancing it is getting a bit old. I don’t miss the commute to and from Ames, but I really do miss seeing my co-workers. We keep in touch with texts and phone calls before we begin answering phone calls every day, but it is just not the same as seeing everyone in person.

I miss seeing my family too. We are all practicing staying home and staying safe. Last week, though, we tried something new. We used Facetime to call our son and family out in Boise. We both have the game Farkle and we spent an hour and a half playing the game and just visiting. It was so much nicer than a phone call, more like spending time in the same room. On a phone call, you need to keep visiting and thinking of something to say. While we played our game there was no pressure to keep up a conversation and we enjoyed the reactions of our grandsons in Boise when they rolled a great score.

Last Saturday night we had a Zoom call with all 5 of our children allowing us to have a family get-together. It was a great way to celebrate the holiday without endangering anyone. We saw most of the grandchildren, too. The younger, more active ones were only present for a few minutes before they dashed off to play.

I also have a few elderly friends that are in assisted living. Just like people living in nursing homes, they are restricted to their apartments and are not allowed to have visitors. I’ve been trying to call them every few days and plan to make some cards for them. Everyone likes to get mail; as long as it is not a bill.

Just keeping in touch with family and friends makes life seem more normal. I know I will feel better if I keep to a regular schedule of working, cooking, cleaning, exercise, and sleep. Anything that I can do to maintain my previous schedule will make life seem more normal.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Freezing Pies

Pumpkin pie ready to serve.

On Monday, I wrote about problems that you might experience when you are baking a pie. Freezing pies is another topic of interest to callers. We tell callers that they can either freeze the pie raw or cooked. A raw frozen pie baked just before serving it will taste fresher.

If you want to bake the pie first and then freeze it, the directions are pretty simple. Bake the pie, allow it to cool, wrap well and freeze. To serve this pie, thaw it in the refrigerator. If you want to warm the pie, set it inside a warm, not hot oven, for 5-10 minutes.

If you want to freeze a fruit or berry pie, make as usual but add an extra tablespoon of flour or tapioca or one-half tablespoon of corn starch to the filling. This will prevent those juicy fillings from running over in the oven. Do not cut a vent into the top crust at this time; wait until baking to cut the vent. Freeze the pie at this point and then wrap it tightly after freezing. To bake this pie, first cut the vent holes in the top crust. Bake it without thawing at 450° F. for 15-20 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 375° F for an additional 20-30 minutes or until the top crust is browned.

You may be surprised to know that you can freeze a pumpkin pie before baking it. Prepare both the crust and filling as usual. Chill the filling before pouring it into the crust. Freeze and then wrap this pie as you would the fruit or berry pie. When you are ready to bake it, bake without thawing at 400° F. for 10 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 325° F to finish baking. Test for doneness by inserting a knife half way between the center and edge of the pie. When the knife comes out clean, the pie is done.

This is a good time of year to do some experimenting with freezing pies. You may find that a frozen pie or two helps with that next big holiday meal.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Pie Problems

Pie problems are a common call at AnswerLine. I had a little time recently, so I thought I’d do a little research to help me answer callers questions. I used our Keys to Good Cooking book by Harold McGee and did a bit of reading.

Raw pie crust in the pie pan.

Probably our most common call is about soggy bottom crusts on a pie. The book had several solutions for this issue. I was surprised when I read the first tip for a crisp bottom pie crust. McGee suggests using a crust recipe that includes egg. He states that a flaky crust (baked without egg) more easily adsorbs liquid. That makes sense, if you think about it. His second tip was one we often suggest. Blind bake the crust–which is baking a pie crust without the filling inside. You can line the crust with parchment paper and use either dry beans or pie weights to prevent the crust from shrinking or puffing up while baking. McGee also suggests coating the pre-baked crust with an egg wash and returning the crust to the oven to dry the crust before filling and baking the crust fully.

Of course, you can come at this problem in a different direction. Instead of treating the pie crust, you can ensure that the filling is precooked and thickened before adding it to the pie crust. Fruit fillings often release a lot of liquid during the baking time and if you have not added enough thickener, you can have a really runny pie. If you thicken the filling before placing it in the crust, you can reduce the chance of a soggy bottom crust.

Another issue that bakers have is taking a custard pie out of the oven and having the custard become thin and watery. This happens if you don’t heat the custard filling hot enough to destroy an enzyme found in the egg yolk that can liquefy the custard. Bake the custard pie to 180°-190° F to destroy the enzyme.

Use these tips if you want to cure a soggy bottom.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Teaching kids to sew

Sewing pajamas

My favorite hobby is sewing; especially quilting. When I started having grandsons, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to share my love of sewing and quilting with grandchildren. After I thought about it a bit, I realized that I can share my love of sewing and quilting with boys as easily as with girls. We may be sewing different things with the grandsons than I would have with granddaughters but it is just as much fun. Every year, when we head out to Idaho to visit our grandsons I plan a sewing project.

The boys are finally old enough to work with patterns and follow the written directions. I like to choose the pattern before we leave Iowa as I can ensure the pattern will be easy to follow with a little guidance from me.

This year and last year, we opened the patterns and looked at the instructions before heading out to the fabric store. We circled the size we planned to make so that we were prepared when we selected fabric. They boys choose a fabric, take the bolt to the cutting counter, and tell the clerk how much fabric they need. The also read the pattern to select any thread or notions they might need to construct their garment. Of course, this is the fun, easy part of the process. They do love to shop at the fabric store.

I find it easiest to work with one child at a time. We preshrink fabric if needed and then cut out the pattern pieces. Pinning the pieces onto the fabric and explaining straight of grain makes this process take a bit of time. Explaining that careful cutting saves time later is often a difficult concept for them to understand.

Finished Ppajamas

I’ve taught them to pin the pieces together and I try to get them to sew slowly enough to follow the seam guide imprinted on the needle plate. Their skills have improved over the years, but it is still hard to sew a long seam or a curvy seam. This year, I set in the sleeves on a pajama top and I always take out mistakes for the boys when they make an error. I want sewing to be fun and challenging, not discouraging.

Choosing pajama or shorts patterns ensures that the finished garment will be useful. They are always proud to wear something they made themselves.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Oh no!

Child cleaning crayon stain
Child cleaning up crayon stain

Just a glimpse into the life of an AnswerLine staff member. I got a phone call from my grandson last night. Not one of those good ones that says “Grammy, I lost my first tooth” or “Grammy, I got an A on my spelling test”. No, it was a call from a grandson required to call me to find out how to clean up a crayon stain from the families’ new sofa. He didn’t want to speak up at first, because he knew he had to admit he had done something wrong and now he was responsible for fixing the mess he had made.

I knew we had stain removal information on my work computer but I didn’t have access to it at that time of night. So, I got on my computer and searched. Often, the best way to find out stain removal information is to go to the source. The Crayola company has over 75 pages of information on how to remove stains from their products on just about any surface imaginable. It only took a few minutes of searching to find the solution. After I shared the information, I enjoyed hearing my grandson say “It works”.

Just in case you are interested, the method to remove the stain is to use regular dish washing detergent (not dishwasher detergent, rather the soap used on a sink-full of dishes) and rub gently in a circular motion.

This is a valuable thing to remember; when you have a stain late at night or over the weekend, search for the website of the company that made the product. Often they have stain removal tips in the FAQ section of the web-page. Remember, AnswerLine you can always call, email, or ask questions on our blog. We love to help.

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

Frostbite!

Frostbite

This winter started out so mild that it didn’t seem that we would need to even think about frostbite or take precautions to prevent it. Now that the weather has turned much colder, frostbite is something that everyone should consider. My daughter was outside for a long time shoveling snow in the driveway and noticed that her face was red and painful when she went inside the house.

Frostbite can damage both the surface of your skin and the structure underneath. If the frostbite is severe enough, it can even damage muscle and bones. This damage can be permanent. Exposed skin is the most vulnerable but even skin covered by clothing can be frostbitten.

A milder form of frostbite is called frostnip. I think that this might be what my daughter experienced. This form does not cause permanent damage. Actual frostbite does require medical treatment to prevent complications such as infection and possible nerve damage.

If you spend much time outside in the cold, pay attention if you feel a prickling sensation on your skin. This is the first sign of frostbite. After the prickling sensation, your skin can become numb. It can also change color; it may turn red, white or blue-gray. It can feel hard or look waxy. You may notice that your are moving slow or feeling clumsy. After the skin warms again, you may notice blisters if you have a severe case of frostbite. Seek medical attention. The most common places on the body for frostbite are your ears, fingers, toes, or face.

Take precautions to avoid frostbite when you are spending prolonged time outside this winter. Go inside and warm up if you begin to feel uncomfortable in the cold.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

Preparing your home

House in a snowstorm in Landenberg,Chester County, Pennsylvania with visible snowflakes

Now that the holidays are past, we see people leaving our cold Iowa and Minnesota winter weather for a warmer location. Depending on the length of time you plan to be gone, there are some steps you should take to prepare your home.

There are some things that we do every time we leave home for a vacation. Stopping the mail and newspaper delivery is common. Putting one or two lights in you home on a timer to give the appearance that someone is home. Asking your neighbor to park a car in your drive occasionally while you are gone. These efforts are pretty common. If you plan to be gone for an extended time, there are other things you might want to consider.

Lowering the thermostat can save you money; it isn’t necessary to keep an empty home toasty warm. Just be sure that the temperature inside your home is high enough to prevent frozen pipes during an extended period of really cold weather. Unplugging small appliances, think toaster or computer, can help conserve electricity and prevent fire. Shutting off the water, or draining the water heater can prevent problems if pipes do freeze.

There are a few steps you may not consider but are worth doing. Often credit card companies try to protect us if there are a number of charges not typical for your account. Notify your credit card company before you leave town. Check your smoke detectors; it could help stop a fire from getting out of control in your absence. Of course, you will want to leave contact information and a key with a trusted neighbor. You may want to arrange snow removal in your absence; some towns have fines if the sidewalks are not cleared within 24 hours of a snowstorm. Cleaning out the refrigerator and discarding food that will spoil in your absence will make life easier when you return. Remember to take out the trash. Cleaning out the garbage disposal with some lemon can also eliminate odor while you are gone.

Enjoy your travels, knowing that you have taken steps to ensure your home will be safe while you are gone.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

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