1. Choose Your Recipe Wisely
Not just any cake or cookie recipe will cook properly in the Precision Cooker. Because the precision cooking method retains food's moisture, it isn't the most effective for cooking a super light and fluffy cake, like a sponge cake or angel food. Instead, consider cooking rich, moist cakes and quick breads. We are big fans of this moist chocolate cake and these cute Funfetti cupcakes. Zucchini bread (and its relatives banana bread and carrot cake) is also a great choice. Our recipes use a little more flour and leaveners than their oven-baked counterparts — these additions make sure the cakes rise properly and keep their structure.
Cookies and brownies are slightly different. Both of these desserts typically contain a higher ratio of butter and eggs to flour than cakes. This high fat content translates to a dense, greasy sous vide dessert if you're not careful. Our brownie recipe takes advantage of this richness for a super chocolate-y fudge-like treat. A little extra flour keeps the structure intact. Cookies need an even bigger boost of flour and baking soda — without those, the resulting dessert is more akin to tepid cookie dough than a delicious cookie. We also gave the butter, sugar, and eggs some extra time in the mixer to add lightness to the dough.
2. Use Sturdy Canning Jars with 2-Part Lids
While custards and fruit desserts will do just fine cooked in a vacuum sealed or zipper lock bag, cakes and other baked goods need a vessel with some more structure. Half-pint canning jars to the rescue! These jars can stand up to the heat of the water bath, and their 2-part lids keep the hot water out of your precious cakes and cookies. Here are a few tricks to help you get the best results when using canning jars:
- Get friendly with non-stick spray. In order to get your desserts out of the jars once they're cooked, you'll need a lot of grease. We think that non-stick oil spray is the easiest way to get into all the corners of the jar, but you can use butter if you'd prefer.
- Don't fill the jars all the way. Remember: all of these desserts contain some kind of leavening agent, which means they'll expand as they cook. You definitely don't want to blow the lid (or break the jar) while the desserts are submerged in the water bath. A good rule of thumb is to fill the jars no more than halfway.
- Screw the lids on "fingertip tight." Just like when you're using canning jars for, well, canning, you will need to allow for some air to escape while the desserts are cooking. Screw the bands on just until you start to feel resistance. This is tight enough to prevent water from seeping into the jars and will allow for air to escape.
- You can re-use the jars, lids, and bands — to a point. The glass jars are good for infinite re-use. The lids and bands, however, will need to be replaced after a few uses. We've noticed that they can get a little bent out of shape after a few rounds in the water bath.
3. Get the Water Hot — and Keep an Eye on It
One of the secrets to good baking is to take advantage of what is known as "oven spring." Many baked goods rely on a sudden blast of extreme heat to rise. The Precision Cooker doesn't get quite this hot, but we do recommend bringing the water temperature all the way up to 195ºF (90.6ºC) for all of our baked goods recipes. Because the water is so hot, it will evaporate fairly quickly. Keep an eye on the levels and refill as needed. We like to heat any additional water on the stove to keep the temperature from dropping too much when it is added to the water bath.
4. Don't Worry About Submerging Jars
If you've sealed the jars correctly, you won't need to worry about keeping the jar tops above the water line. When we first started baking cakes, we were concerned about preventing water from making its way into the jar. We tried lining the pot with a rack and kitchen towels to prop up the jars, but eventually gave up. It's much easier just to place the jars carefully into the water bath and let them float or sink as they please. They'll be just fine.
5. Get Creative with PlatingThere's no denying it — the results from sous vide baking look different than you may expect. But they're still delicious! Have fun with it and get creative with plating. Here are some of our favorite ways to serve our sous vide desserts:
- Slice into rounds: This is your best option for cookies and brownies. To get round, even slices, we recommend first cooling the cake or cookie to room temperature while still in the jar. Carefully run a knife around the edges of the jar and tap on the bottom to release. You can slice the cake or cookie now, but we find them easiest to slice when cold. Transfer to the refrigerator for at least an hour before slicing with a super sharp knife. You can also use this technique to slice cakes into individual cupcakes, like we have done in our Funfetti cupcake recipe.
- Straight out of the jar: Here's your easiest option. Serve cakes and cookies warm while still in their jars. Top with whipped cream or ice cream for an even more decadent treat.
- Tear into abstract shapes: Channel your inner pastry chef and plate your cake like a four-star restaurant. Let the cakes cool to room temperature in the jars and carefully remove them as above. Next, get in their with your hands and pull the cake into rough boulder-shaped pieces. Plate with a sauce, fresh fruit, or simply sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Follow these tips and tricks and before long you'll be baking — er, precision cooking— up a storm! You can get all of these *sweet* recipes on our recipe web app and in the Anova app for iOS and Android.