Sweet Techniques

When a recipe calls for chocolate to be chopped and melted, a fine, smooth chef's knife's blade might easily slip on the chocolate's hard, slick surface. A serrated blade, with large, gripping teeth, is safer and altogether better for chopping chocolate. The teeth produce delicate, fairly uniform shards, which melt faster and more smoothly than unevenly chopped chunks.
Your method for measuring flour can make or break a recipe. We use a spoon to fluff the flour and transfer it to the measuring cup, then level it off by sweeping a knife across the top of the cup, making sure not to tap it or compact the contents. Using the measuring cup to scoop flour directly from its container will pack the flour in, increasing the weight by as much as an ounce or two, which can make for a dry, heavy cake.
To achieve marbling, pour a layer of yellow batter into a cake mold, follow it with a layer of chocolate batter, and top it with the remaining yellow batter. Insert a table knife through the layers and twist back and forth, rotating the cake mold as you go. On a second rotation, repeatedly pull the knife up through the batter like an oar through water, twisting near the top to create swirls.
Many recipes for old-world cakes, call for whisking egg yolks with sugar until a pale yellow foam forms. As the mixture is whisked, sugar dissolves in moisture present in the yolks, forming a syrup that traps air bubbles, which produce a light, spongelike texture in the cake. This is called ribboning because you can tell the foam is stable when it streams off the whisk in a long, unbroken ribbon.
When separating eggs, it's crucial not to allow any yolk to escape into the white (which would hinder the latter's ability to whip into meringue). Start with a cold egg; it will separate more easily than a warm one. Crack it with one hand and ease the contents into the other hand, allowing the white to slip through barely separated fingers into a bowl. This way is gentler and more sanitary than pouring the egg between cracked shells.
When whisking up a meringue from egg whites and sugar, aim for as much volume as possible; it will make for a better-aerated batter and a lighter cake. Whisking egg whites uncoils proteins, which then bond together to encase air bubbles in a foam. Sugar, added next, thickens and stabilizes the foam. To ensure that the sugar dissolves and that enough air is incorporated, continue whisking until stiff peaks adhere to the upturned whisk.
Before vanilla extract became a popular ingredient in cakes and confections, about a hundred years ago, pastry chefs like those at Demel employed the actual beans of the tropical vanilla orchid. The beans are infused into cream or milk for custards, like the pastry cream filling for Demel's russische punschtorte, giving them a dose of otherworldly floral flavor. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise from tip to tip with a paring knife. Pressing the tip of one bean half with your finger on a work surface, slowly scrape the back side of the knife blade along the pod to remove the tiny beans. Repeat with the other half.
When it comes to removing baked goods from their containers, buttering and flouring the pan-an instruction often found in baking recipes-is the most reliable route to take. Simply spread a thin film of room-temperature butter on the inside of a baking pan, and then add a few spoonfuls of flour. Rotate the pan around and back and forth until the flour has covered the entire surface; then knock the excess flour out with a forceful tap on the bottom of the overturned pan. Steam allows foods to release themselves from baking pans: the butter melts quickly in the oven, releasing steam from the water in it, and makes an air pocket around the baked goods. The layer of flour keeps the melted butter from integrating into the batter while the dish is baking. And because the butter and flour are never mixed together, they stay separate, even in their thin states. For intricate molds like the one for gugelhupf used in Demel's marmorgugelhupf, it's the only technique that will guarantee flawless results.

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