By: Kerry Bazany
I’ve been a full-time working mother for most of my life. Therefore, I can’t claim to be much of a baker. I simply can’t compete with many of my friends on the flour- and- sugar- and- all –things- yummy front. Sadly, and perhaps shamefully, my piece de resistance during the holiday season are my chocolate chip cookies, the recipe coming straight from the bag of chocolate chips. Maybe someday I can extend my repertoire to include sugar cookies…..
However, there are plenty of marvelous bakers out there amongst our readers that unequivocally garner my utmost respect. To that end, I’m here to describe how to safely create your baked masterpieces and so avoid any nasty, unexpected surprises courtesy of our nemesis: the dreaded foodborne pathogens.
Best Food Safety Practices for Baking
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling and preparing food. Also be sure to use this practice before eating.
- Store foods properly by refrigerating leftovers promptly. Bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature. The temperature in your fridge should be set minimally at 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember; keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- Use only pasteurized eggs when baking. Salmonella is a particularly virulent bacterium can live on the outside and inside of eggs.
- Do not eat raw dough or batter! Don’t eat or taste unpasteurized dough or batter of any kind as they can contain bacteria such as coli or Salmonella.
- Follow package directions for cooking flour-based products at their correct temperatures.
- Chill products containing raw dough.
The temptation can be great to let your children lick the batter spoons or play with dough that contains flour. We already know to avoid raw eggs in batter, but what’s the problem with flour? According to Leslie Smoot, Ph.D., a senior advisor in the FDA’s Office of Food Safety, “Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria, so if an animal heeds the call of nature in the field, bacteria from the animal waste could contaminate the grain, which is then harvested and milled into flour”. Boiling, roasting, microwaving and frying are steps used to kill bacteria in food preparation, but with raw dough, no measures are taken to kill potential bacteria.
Symptoms of Foodborne Illnesses Presented By Eating Raw Dough or Batter
Symptoms of E. coli include diarrhea, including bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and sometimes an accompanying fever. Symptoms of a Salmonella infection are similar: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Most people recover within one week. Definitely not something you wish to endure during the holidays.
Something to be Cheerful About!
Due diligence regarding keeping our readers proactive and therefore safe when it comes to food preparation is of utmost importance to us at Unsafe Foods. However, since it’s the holiday season, let’s turn to the “happy” side of food via a couple of recipes that I found that I’m sure will delight, especially if you have children.
Easy Gingerbread Houses
Kids love building and decorating gingerbread houses, but baking your own gingerbread and constructing the houses can sometimes be difficult and time-consuming. Save yourself some of the trouble with these easy “gingerbread” houses made from graham crackers and frosting.
- Seven double graham crackers (two rectangular crackers per piece)
- Two quadruple graham crackers (four rectangles per piece)
- A serrated knife
- A batch of royal icing
- A cake-decorator bag or a plastic sandwich bags with a small hole poked in one corner will work just fine
How to Make a Graham Cracker “Gingerbread” House
- Step 1: Fill your bag with royal icing.
- Step 2: Using the serrated knife, saw off the top left and right corners of one of the quadruple crackers to create what will be one of the house’s gables. Repeat with the other quadruple cracker.
- Step 3: Place one double cracker on the table and pipe icing along all four edges. Working quickly, place the house’s four walls (including the two with gables, which should stand across from each other) onto the icing and pipe more icing where the crackers touch vertically.
- Step 4: Pipe icing along the top edges of the house and rest the two remaining double crackers on top of it to form a roof. Allow time to dry and harden.
Decorating the Houses
Once it’s time to decorate, set out candy and give the kids some gingerbread house decorating ideas. Each child should also have his own plastic sandwich bag of royal icing that’s tied off and has a small hole poked in one corner, to use as a gluing tool for the adornments.
Some candy decorating items you may want to use include:
- Candy canes.
- Peppermint rounds.
- Skittles or M&M’s.
- Snow-caps candies.
- Sugar wafer cookies.
- Mini marshmallows.
Okay, I have to include a recipe here for the classic and traditional sugar cookie since whipping up a batch of these is on my priority list for holiday baking. (That, and I no longer want to be shamed by the fact that I only know how to bake one kind of cookie….)
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients. Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets.
- Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden. Let stand on cookie sheet two minutes before removing to cool on wire racks.
Happy Holidays and Happy Baking!