Chat Leftovers: When it doesn’t pan out

Season’s greetings. The spotlight this week is on D.C. vs. New York, and though the Redskins did their part last Sunday, some of our local eateries didn’t fare as well in a city-to-city cheap eats smackdown engineered by Food reporter Tim Carman. Read all about it in today’s paper. Also today, David Hagedorn’s Sourced column visits a Virginia farmer who is rescuing a breed of heritage cattle from the brink of extinction. Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin indulges his inner Chrismas carol with an exercise in roasting chestnuts. And Spirits guru Jason Wilson gives you three options for stocking a versatile bar for easy party entertaining.

As for me, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, and by white I mean confectioners’ sugar. There’s still some baking time left before the holiday, and I keep returning to this year’s holiday cookie guide and picking new recipes to try.

Don’t forget: If you’ve got holiday cooking/baking questions, or if you just want to hang out with fellow food folks, tune in to today’s Free Range chat, starting at noon sharp. Here’s a leftover question from last week’s chat:

I’m a longtime bread baker starting to branch out into cake, pastry and cookies. A recipe I want to try, a Lisa Yockelson bar cookie, requires a 10-by-10-inch pan. I have a 9-by-9, a 9-inch round, a 9-by-13 and a lot of loaf pans. What do I do? Do I buy yet another special pan?

Here’s a teachable moment if I ever saw one. Dear baker, I hope you don’t mind if I put off addressing your question for a few minutes so I can make a point:

During our weekly chats, we often get questions that deal with specific recipes but don’t offer enough information to let us be helpful. It’s hard to answer questions about recipes we can’t see! In recent weeks, for example:

●Someone asked what could be used as a substitute for cream in their favorite squash casserole.

●Someone asked for an entree idea that would go well with a beet side dish they were planning to make.

●Someone asked us why their homemade biscuits always turned out flat and tough.

Did they give us any more information about the squash recipe, the beet recipe or the biscuit recipe? No, no and no! So it just wasn’t possible to come up with a helpful answer.

Now to the question at hand. I called Lisa Yockelson, and of course the first thing she asked me was, “Which bar cookie recipe is it?” And of course I didn’t know. So Lisa said she couldn’t answer the question except in generalities.

Her take: “Pan substitition can be tricky.” In baking, you should always try to use the pan size that the recipe calls for, because “a large part of the time, baking is pan-specific.” In the case of bar cookies, she says, a smaller pan could be a bad idea (and a loaf pan would be a really bad idea). You could try a larger pan, like your 9-by-13, but you’d be taking a risk: You’d have to cut back on the baking time, and even so, you might end up compromising the texture and moistness of the finished product.

Author Shirley O. Corriher, in her book “BakeWise,” cautions that for recipes that call for baking powder, changing the size of the pan will require fiddling with the baking powder amount. In a larger pan with a greater surface area, you’ll need less of the leavener; in a smaller pan, you’ll need to add more.

And the cooking bible on almost everyone’s shelf, “Joy of Cooking,” has a list of comparative pan sizes and says that in a pinch, you can select a pan with a similar square-inch area. It also shows how to make a too-large pan smaller by building a dam of aluminum foil. Taking 2 inches off the long end of a 9-by-13-inch pan would bring it pretty close to the 10-by-10 the cookie bar recipe calls for.

Lisa’s suggestion is to let us know the name of target recipe. (Send an e-mail to food@washpost.com with “Chat Question” in the subject field.) Then we’ll get in touch with her for a more specific answer. She’s been busy lately promoting her new book, but we’ll catch up with her.

Really, though, I think the best idea is to just suck it up and buy the 10-by-10. Someone who’s planning to branch out into baking in a bigger way can certainly use a full range of baking pans. They’ll come in handy, I promise.

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