Tricks Archive

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

la crème de la crème, literally

la creme de la creme, literally

Today, I was innocently going about making ice cream for a little project* and I noticed, as I often do, that the pull-seal under the round spout of the heavy cream container I was using had a film of thicker cream underneath it. I know that cream can sometimes separate a little but do you know what I’ve never done? I’ve never fully opened up the carton and looked within. Had I, I’d have discovered tablespoons of thick cream lining the carton at the top that gentle shaking hadn’t loosened, the kind of thing that in another time, one of our grandmothers might have spooned this off of the fresh milk delivered in glass bottles into their coffee (siiigh). A normal person might have said, “Huzzah! Look at all those calories I never ingested after all!” but not me; I was devastated. Think of how much richer our whipped and heavy cream confections could have been over the years if we knew this was lurking? La crème de la crème is a thing that literally exists, and most of us have been missing out on it.

So, for now on: When using heavy or whipping cream, open up the carton in full, and scrape any thicker cream that may have separated into whatever you were making. Not all brands** may have this, but if it’s there, as a rule, nothing used to describe “the best of the best” should ever be missed.

* A lie, by the way, ice cream is not innocent and the project isn’t tiny, so eat all the vegetables you can this week before I set it upon you, hopefully in a week’s time.

** I was using Organic Valley brand heavy cream.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

why did my cookies spread?

This is the most frequent cry of despair I get from the comment sections of cookie recipes on Smitten Kitchen and the truth is that there are many, many factors that can cause a cookie to spread. But the biggest one? Temperature. Dough that is too warm or soft will spread more than dough that is cooler, so if you’re working in a very warm kitchen, putting your dough in the fridge for 15 minutes or longer before using it will help prevent spread. Butter that is too warm or soft is also a major culprit. When a recipe calls for “softened” or “at room temperature” butter, you’re looking for butter that you can make an impression in by poking it with your finger, but that impression shouldn’t stay. (Source). A baking sheet that is still warm from the last batch will encourage cookies to spread before they even begin to bake.

There are factors beyond temperature too. A greased cookie sheet promotes spreading; one tip is to flour it after you grease it to hinder spread, or to use silicone paper or a Silpat mat instead. Because sugar liquefies as it is heated, a more sugary cookie (with less flour and/or fat in it) is more likely to spread than one with a lower proportion of sugar. When a recipe says to “cream” your butter and sugar together, just beat it long enough to combine the ingredients — about 30 seconds on an electric or stand mixer, says David Lebovitz — so you do not whip too much air into your cookies, causing too much expansion as the air bubbles steam in the oven. (With cakes, there’s no such limit on airiness.) Finally, at higher altitudes, cookies with baking soda in them tend to spread more.

Lastly, it is worth noting that butter, which melts at your body’s temperature and is nearly one-fifth water, spreads more than margarine, and both spread more than shortening. Now, all cookie recipes on Smitten Kitchen are all-butter (because I like butter’s melt-in-your-mouth feel and flavor above all else), so making sure that your butter, dough and baking sheets aren’t too warm is especially key.

Monday, November 9, 2009

checking your thermometer’s accuracy

I can’t tell you how many times I have burnt fried chicken or overcooked a caramel and not realized that my candy/deep fry thermometer was to blame. If only I had absorbed enough sixth grade science class to remember how ridiculously easy it is to check to see if had been accurate from the get-go! Simply place your candy/deep fry thermometer in a small pot of water and crank up the heat; the temperature should read 212°F (100°C) as it begins to boil. If yours does not, you can either take into account the few degrees it may run hot or cold when you cook, or return it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

how to retrieve broken egg shells

As someone who manages to drop an average of one to two egg shell pieces in each baked good batter, I’ve discovered a trick: The easiest way to fish them out is not with a cooking utensil or, heaven forbid, your finger but with another egg shell. I don’t know how or why it works better, so I just chalk it up to magic.