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

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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Kitchen Shortcuts

I feel we have all been doing a little more meal preparation due to our stay-at-home orders recently. At least I have. It has been good to use some of the kitchen shortcuts I have learned over the years.

Here are a few of my favorites and most used:

Ice cream is a favorite at our house so I use this shortcut on a regular basis but it is also very helpful if you are serving ice cream for a gathering. Pre-scoop ice cream and return it to the freezer so it will be ready to go when you need it. You can put the scoops on a cookie sheet or in individual muffin cups in muffin papers.

Use muffin cups to freeze stock or broth to use in soups at a later date. You can also use ice cube trays to freeze the stock. Once the stock has frozen, you can transfer the cups or cubes to a freezer bag to take up less room in your freezer.

Freeze fresh mozzarella cheese to make it easier to grate. In addition, to save yourself time and money, shred your own cheese from a block and store it in the freezer.

If you have a baking project you want to do right away and you don’t have time to allow the butter or eggs to come to room temperature you can soften the butter more quickly by cutting it up in small pieces or shredding it. To warm eggs up put them in a bowl of warm water for 5-10 minutes.

Chop herbs with a pizza wheel.

Use an ice cream scoop to portion out muffin batter. It is much faster than using two spoons and prevents you from having to add or subtract batter from cups already filled. Adding or subtracting batter causes overmixing which leads to tunnels in muffins.

If you have accidentally gotten a fragment of egg shell in with your bowl of unbeaten eggs, using half an egg shell to dig it out is very helpful. The fragment clings to the egg shell half.

An egg slicer works nicely to slice fruits like strawberries and bananas.

A melon baller works well to seed tomatoes. Seeding tomatoes makes your sauce thicker.

I know it is not quite sweet corn season yet but an easy way to cut corn off the cob is to use a bundt pan. Place the ear of corn on the raised center section and as you use a knife to cut the kernels off they fall directly into the pan and make for easy and neat retrieval.

To peel a ripe kiwi cut both ends off the fruit then insert a spoon between the skin and the flesh and turn the kiwi. The fruit will come out in one piece and be ready to slice.

I’m sure you all have favorite kitchen short cuts you like to use that you learned from a mother, grandmother, friend or favorite Family and Consumer Sciences teacher. Be sure to pass them along to others!

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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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

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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How to store bread

Many of us may have been finding time recently to do more baking. If you were fortunate enough to be able to find a supply of yeast, you may have been baking your own bread. It tastes delicious right out of the oven but can become stale very quickly. So where is the best place to store bread to keep it the freshest the longest?

If you want to keep your bread for more than a day or two, the freezer is your best option. Make sure your bread is completely cool before packaging it so moisture is not trapped which affects the texture and quality of the crust. Freezing greatly slows down the staling process and reheating the bread in an oven or toaster makes the bread springy and chewy again.

To freeze bread, wrap it in plastic then again in foil. Place it in a freezer bag or some other airtight packaging and use a straw to suck out extra air in the bag before sealing it. Bread stored in the freezer will remain safe indefinitely but for best quality you will want to use it within 6 months.

When you are ready to use your bread, defrost it at room temperature in it’s wrapping. If you unwrap the bread while it is still cold, condensation will form on the exterior compromising the texture. The bread will thaw at room temperature in about 3 hours. When the bread is fully defrosted you can unwrap it and reheat it at 300-350 degrees F for @10 minutes to crisp up the crust.

We have callers who want to store bread in their refrigerator to keep it fresh. Storing bread in the refrigerator is not a good idea however. The refrigerator draws moisture out of the bread causing it to go stale faster.

If your bread does happen to go stale before you were hoping – never fear! To revive it try flicking a little water on the crust, wrapping it in foil, and heating it in a 300 degree oven for 5-10 minutes. Or consider using the stale bread to make bread pudding, French toast, or croutons.

If you are not going to be able to use your whole loaf of bread at one time out of the freezer you may want to consider slicing it before freezing it so you are able to pull out smaller amounts. You can defrost individual slices in the toaster.

If you are interested in trying to make your own bread, Spend Smart Eat Smart has a recipe for No Knead Whole Wheat bread. It is easy, delicious, and less expensive than purchasing whole wheat bread at the store. Enjoy!

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Iowa Made Candies

Did you know there are several companies in Iowa that make candy? If you enjoy traveling around the State it is fun to stop and enjoy the homemade candies!

Here are a few of my favorites:

Monastary Candies: Their candy products are made by the contemplative nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque. The nuns support themselves through manual labor with the main means of support being the production and sale of their candy. They are probably best known for their Trappistine Creamy Caramels which they began cooking and selling in 1965. They come individually wrapped or coated in light or dark chocolate.

Palmer Candy: Their motto is “Making Life Sweeter Since 1878”. They are one of the oldest family owned and operated companies in the country. One of the candies they are best known for is the Twin Bing. They introduced them in 1923 and they are still produced by hand.

Drew’s Chocolates: Helen Drew began making chocolates in the basement of her home in 1927. That basement business is still there utilizing the original recipes and much of the original equipment. Drew’s continues to fork dip each truffle, toffee, and chocolate-covered caramel daily.

Betty Jane Candies: This candy maker has been  family owned and operated since 1938. They are probably best known for their Gremlins which are chocolate-covered nut clusters.

If you are interested in learning about more homemade candy shops in Iowa, traveliowa has put together a list for you. Enjoy!

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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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

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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2020 Food Trends and “Superfoods”

It is hard to believe we are already several weeks into 2020. I am just now taking the time to look into what some of the food trends were predicted to be for this year.

Some registered dietitians and nutritionists predicted popular food trends for 2020 would include coconut-based yogurts, puffed snacks, foods “stuffed” full of vegetables, and coffee “stuffed” with milk, cream and protein additions.

“Superfoods” predicted included beets, ancient grains, and avocados. “Clean eating” and the keto diet were also predicted to be popular.

So what is a “superfood”? The dictionary defines it as a food that is rich in compounds considered to be beneficial to a person’s health (i.e. antioxidants, fiber, fatty acids). Even though “Superfoods” are often nutritious it is important to not just focus on a few specific foods and forget about other equally nutritious options.

Grocery stores will be bringing in new trends for 2020. They are predicted to include fusing soda and beverage flavors, zero-waste cooking methods, speedy check-out, meat-plant blends, and more fresh produce from countries around the world.

Chefs will be looking to serve more healthy foods, whole grain breads made of ancient grains, and smoky flavors. Restaurants will be offering more vegetables including greens such as broccoli rabe, blue peas, and purple potatoes.

I think the bottom line is food trends will be dominated by better nutrition and food choices. It is interesting to see what the predictions are but also to remember variety in our diets gives us the benefit of getting a wide array of essential vitamins and minerals and helps prevent us from eating too much or too little of a particular nutrient.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Iowa Ingredient

One of my favorite TV shows to watch on Saturday morning is on Iowa PBS. It is called Iowa Ingredient. Each week they focus on a single Iowa ingredient and how it gets from farm to table. There are always guest chefs who prepare various dishes using the ingredient.

I have a few favorite chefs I like to watch on the show although one of the recent episodes I was watching introduced me to Iowa Girl Eats. Many of the recipes she includes in her blogs are gluten free as she was diagnosed with Celiac Disease a few years ago. I have several friends who are gluten-sensitive and just feel like they feel better if they limit the gluten in their diets and several friends who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. In addition to the gluten-free recipes she shares on her site she also has recipes for light-and-healthy and crock-pot.

If you are curious I hope you will take the time to search for Iowa Ingredient on Iowa PBS! I think you will find it very interesting!

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.

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Hasselback Technique

baked potato stuffed with cheese, bacon and sour cream. loaded hasselback potatoes

If you have not tried the Hasselback technique it is really a fun and fancy way to dress up many vegetables, fruits and even poultry! It is a cooking method that involves thinly slicing the food about three quarters of the way through, accordion style, and leaving the bottom intact, before cooking. This creates more surface area and the cuts you have created can be stuffed or topped with additional flavorings. It also adds additional texture to the food. 

The Hasselback technique is typically thought of as being used on baking potatoes. The technique was introduced as a Swedish side dish at a Stockholm restaurant, named the Hasselbacken, where it was first served. Although potatoes are the most typical many other foods lend themselves nicely to the technique: eggplant (leave the skin on), sweet potatoes, apples, butternut squash (peel and seed), zucchini, chicken and tomatoes (leave raw and add a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf in each cut before drizzling with balsamic vinegar and oil!).

You do not need a bunch of fancy kitchen tools when using the Hasselback technique. All you need are chopsticks or wooden spoons and a very sharp knife. Laying the chopsticks or wooden spoons on each side of the food really helps keep you from cutting all the way through and keeps the cuts a uniform depth. You may also want to lay a ruler beside the food so you can make evenly spaced cuts 1/8 to 1/4 inch apart. The thinner you make the cuts the faster it will cook.

Fat will be your friend with this technique especially if you try it on potatoes as it will help the edges crisp up nicely. If you are using zucchini however there won’t be as much crisping as the zucchini doesn’t contain as much starch. Using your favorite oil, or butter, will create a golden carmelized top on the food. Coat the entire top with the fat and use a pastry brush to add some in between layers. 

If you would like to try this technique the University of Tennessee has a great recipe using sweet potatoes . Hope you enjoy and experiment with other foods!




Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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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

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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