Kitchen Shrink: What’s your baking I.Q.?



Baking, unlike cooking, is a sublime culinary therapy for the mind, body and soul with a magical chemistry lesson thrown in for amazement. Readers are constantly asking me for baking tips and tricks to concoct foolproof creations. Here’s a quiz to help you safely navigate through the art and science of baking. Check out the answers to the questions below at

Multiple Choice

1. This white powdery substance needs to combine with an acid like lemon juice, milk or vinegar to activate its leavening properties (producing bubbles of carbon dioxide so the dough will rise):

a) baking soda

b) brewer’s yeast

c) baking powder

d) kosher salt

2. Although this lactose-free fat that originated from India has a high smoke point and doesn’t burn easily, it’s not recommended for baking because of low moisture content tending to make crusts crispy and dry:

a) coconut oil

b) red palm oil

c) Ghee (clarified) butter

d) cardamom pods

3. Rather, this is a pastry chef’s best friend for flaky crusts and moist and luscious cakes:

a) sweet cream butter

b) unsalted butter

c) European-style cultured butter

d) all of the above

4. This baking aid prevents cookies from burning and spreading, allows dough to bake evenly, and makes clean up a snap:

a) wax paper

b) aluminum foil

c) silicon baking sheets

d) parchment paper

5. The best method for determining the doneness of a cake is by:

a) sticking the center with a long toothpick to see if it comes clean

b) taking its temperature, which should reach 210 degrees Fahrenheit

c) pressing the center with a fingertip to see if it bounces back

d) eyeballing it for golden color, and edges that should separate from the pan

e) all of the above

6. For best baking results :

a) preheat the oven

b) clean the oven

c) preheat baking pans

d) freeze yeast or other leavening agents

e) a) and d)

7. To soften brown sugar, add to the bag overnight:

a) a piece of moist bread

b) a baked potato

c) a marshmallow

d) an apple slice

e) a), c) and d)

8. Do-it-yourself buttermilk can be made by adding this to whole milk until it curdles:

a) orange juice

b) balsamic vinegar

c) lemon juice

d) blue cheese


1. Rainy days are bad baking days as the high humidity tinkers with dough’s ability to rise.

2. Baking with dark-colored pans will prevent cookies from burning.

3. If not specified in the recipe, baking ingredients like butter and eggs should be used at room temperature (70 degrees F).

4. Brush an egg wash (egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water) on a pie crust or pastry to prevent it from burning.

5. Pour, don’t scoop, wet and dry ingredients into measuring cups for accuracy.

6. When baking cookies, use cool baking sheets for each fresh batch.

7. One stick of butter is equivalent to ½ cup or ¼ pound.

8. One tablespoon is equivalent to 4 teaspoons.

9. Nut flours with high oil content (like pulverized almonds or walnuts) must be refrigerated to prevent spoilage.

10. To zest an orange or lemon vigorously squeeze juice from the pulp.

Check out the answers to the questions above at


Recipe: Date Stuffed Oatmeal Cookies

For the cookie: 3 cups rolled oats; 2 1/2 cups unbleached flour; 3 teaspoons baking powder; 1/4 teaspoon sea salt; 1 cup dark brown sugar (firmly packed); 1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil; 1/2 cup grapeseed, walnut or other nut oil; 1/2 cup almond or coconut milk; 5 drops vanilla extract; 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice.

For the filling: 1 pound dates, pitted (Deglet Noor or Medjool); juice from half lemon or orange.

Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add melted butter, oil, milk, extract and juice to form dough. Take one-third of the mixture at a time and roll into a thin layer (about 1/4 inch) on floured board. Cut cookie shapes with rim of a floured juice glass. Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheet for about 10 minutes or until golden. Let cool. For the filling: In a saucepan, cook dates along with one cup of spring water and juice of choice on low heat. Stir until melted and smooth. Spread filling on one cookie and top with another making a sandwich.

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: