Baking with Nuts and Fruit!

Cici asks: When adding nuts or fruit (e.g., dried cherries, raisins) or even chocolate morsels to a recipe that doesn’t originally call for it, are there any adjustments that need to be made to account for their additional moisture/oil content?

My short answer is: nope! Add away! Chocolate chips, nuts and dried fruits won’t change the moisture content of your baked goods, so go for it! Just be sure to start out with a small amount, as it’s easy to add more to taste, but difficult to take out if you decide you may have thrown in too much.

Adding chopped fresh fruit on the other hand may change things a little, but I tend to add it without caution. Personally I would rather have desserts on the slightly under-baked and moisture-rich side than dry and/or over-baked. If you are worried about the moisture content of your baked goods, you can lightly coat any fresh fruit you are adding with flour. This is an especially great trick when making fruit pies, to keep the filling from getting too juicy.

When I am making something like a berry or banana cake, in which I want the flavor to be there, but not pieces of fruit necessarily, I will puree my fruit. Then, I will use my puree in place of about 1/2 to 3/4 of the liquid my cake or baked good calls for, which is usually water or some form of non-dairy milk*. Another little trick of the trade is that lemon actually makes berry flavors stand out, so if I’m making something with berries, I’ll be sure to add some lemon zest to the batter!

I hope that answers your question, Cici!

One of my favorite desserts to make is strawberry cake, covered in frosting, and smothered with ganache — I like to think of it as a baked chocolate covered strawberry! Because fresh fruit as a decoration tends to bleed all over frosting, my secret weapon is dehydrated strawberries as garnish! 

*If you want dessert that is a little less sweet, you can use fruit puree in place of sugar instead of the liquid. You can even add a bit of sugar or agave to the puree.


Baking with Coconut Oil!

Tyme asks: What, if any, adjustments are needed to sub coconut oil (either as a solid or liquid, as the recipe dictates) in recipes?

Excellent question, and thank you girl, for being the first to submit! My baking experience with coconut oil is limited, but I haven’t run into any problems with it. I always melt it down, using it as a substitute for Earth Balance (or butter) and vegetable/canola oil. I haven’t used it as a substitute for shortening yet, in something like biscuits or pie crust, though I’ve been meaning to for awhile.

I use it cup for cup — I don’t alter the measurements that the recipe calls for. Also, check the back of your jar of coconut oil, to see what temperature the oil can withstand before breaking down. The label on mine says it can withstand temperatures up to 360 degrees so I wouldn’t use it for a recipe that needs a higher bake temperature than that.

Now the reverse of this question, but I think proves my cup-for-cup theory is that at work, I use the Baby Cakes recipes for my gluten-free vanilla and chocolate cake. Her recipes call for coconut oil, but since my space at work is very limited and I have time constraints (so I don’t want to take the time to melt down coconut oil), it is easier for me to use the safflower oil we have available there. I don’t alter the amount of oil, at all. The cakes turn out great!

I always melt down my coconut oil. You can do this by submersing the jar in hot water or making a homemade bain-marie or double boiler*. Again, I’ve only used it in pie fillings, cakes and zucchini bread, not something like cookies, that call for butter at softened but solid state.

Photo courtesy of Tyme.

*I make my homemade double boiler with a saucepan and metal bowl. I bring water to a boil in the saucepan, then place my metal bowl containing whatever it is I want to melt down (ganache, coconut oil, Follow Your Heart soy mozzarella) on top of it, so it rests on the sauce pan, but not the water. I then turn done the flame to low, or  just off altogether, and let the steam gently melt down my food item.