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.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

why do my muffins taste metallic?

Once again, it is not you but your baking powder sabotaging your awesome kitchen prowess. That slightly bitter, kinda “tinny” flavor you often experience when biting into a muffin, biscuit or scone is the result of using a baking powder in high quantities — as is needed for these quick-rise treats — with aluminum in it. Fortunately, aluminum-free brands such as Rumford or Bob’s Red Mill are easy to find, and are no more expensive. Or, you can just go rogue and make your own.

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.

Monday, September 7, 2009

a whisk for the corners

Using a round whisk for a squared-off pot drives me crazy, especially when I find unmixed custard, pudding or sauce bits in a channel along the bottom edge. Whisks such as this or this or this or this are painless investments, and come in handy when you want a perfectly-mixed chocolate pudding, and you want it now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

make your own brown sugar

There are few baked goods and/or frostings not improved by the addition of brown sugar but if your kitchen is anything like mine — that is, woefully understocked most of the time — you’ve probably needed it before and not had it. Fortunately, you can make your own with a combination of molasses and regular sugar. To make one cup of light brown sugar, combine 1 cup granulated sugar with 1 1/2 tablespoons molasses; to make one cup of dark brown sugar, combine 1 cup granulated sugar with 1/4 cup molasses; the food processor works great for this, if you have one. Now bring on those brown sugar shorties!