The science of cocoa powder

Not all cocoa powders are made the same. You might be familiar with the terms Dutch-process and natural, but beyond those two main characteristics lies another world of nuance. There are different "dutching" processes, as well as differences between the cacao bean varieties used to create the cocoa. Throw in divergent fat percentages and your head can spin trying to… read more

What’s the shelf life of spices?

If you are like me, your spice cabinet/drawer overfloweth, the natural result of a large cookbook collection and an insatiable appetite to try new and different cuisines. You may have purchased a jar of spice for a particular recipe and the rest sits unused, patiently waiting until you find another recipe that calls for it. In this instance, patience is… read more

The path to better fried foods

A few years ago when I wrote a post about the secrets to better frying, I briefly thought about titling the post 'Fear of frying' but thought the title was too esoteric, as not that many people would get the reference I was making. A couple of days ago, I received an email from The Bittman Project where Mark Bittman… read more

Chefs share their family kitchen secrets

Ayubi Family at Parwana (photo by Alicia Taylor)
Many, if not most, of the world's chefs started out their culinary career in their home kitchens, learning the ins and outs of their regional cuisine from their parents or grandparents (most often women). Just like the rest of us, they still keep their family kitchen tips close, sometimes even bringing them into their restaurants. Gourmet Traveller recently polled nine… read more

How to keep bread baking consistent through the seasons

As spring moves toward summer here in the northern hemisphere, atmospheric changes can wreak havoc on your baked goods, especially those involving yeasted dough. The smooth, supple bread dough you made in January may suddenly become shaggy and sticky in June, even though you made no other changes. The change in humidity levels is likely the culprit, says PJ Hamel… read more

Getting to know gluten

We all know that gluten formation is needed to make bread, but how much do we understand about its formation or what conditions are needed for it to thrive? While having a rudimentary grasp of gluten allows us to bake acceptable cakes and breads, a deeper understanding of it will greatly improve our baking, says Annelies Zijderveld. Knowing the conditions… read more

When it’s okay to be in hot water

The phrase "you're in hot water" usually implies a negative circumstance, but there are occasions when hot water is just the ticket. We are not talking spas and hot tubs, either: water just off the boil comes in handy in many cooking and baking applications, as The NYT's Rachel Wharton explains. Topping the list is hot water pastry, essential for… read more

Save time and hassle with this nut-toasting technique

I used to cringe whenever I saw a recipe that called for toasted nuts, having flashbacks to all of the blackened-beyond-hope nuts I had to throw in the trash. Too many times I forgot about the nuts in the oven or I turned my back on a hot skillet, and in both scenarios I ended up with scorched almonds, pecans,… read more

Small cakes make a big impression

I'm known as the office baker, and pre-pandemic I would bring in a cake, cookies, and other treats on a weekly basis. Having dozens of eager recipients helped me maintain my waistline while still indulging in my favorite hobby. For the past year, however, visits to the office have been few and far between as we have been fortunate enough… read more

Why is 350 degrees such a common oven temperature?

Arguably the most common oven temperature for baked goods like cookies, cakes, and enriched breads is 350°F (~180°C). For most of us, it's the default setting on our oven's control panel. How did bakers land on this as the 'magic number' for so many items? Speaking with Vox, award-wining Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis provides the answers. The key criteria for… read more

All in the (allium) family

Popping out to the grocery store to pick up a single item you needed for a recipe seems like such a luxury these days. Most of us make do with what we have, even if it means finding another dish to make instead. Thankfully there are substitutes for many ingredients, and when it comes to onions, shallots, and leeks, you… read more

The last two weeks: Brussels sprouts, gift guides, cookbook giveaways and EYBD Previews

Your eyes are not deceiving you. I am going to write about Brussels sprouts - the one vegetable that my 16-year-old son and I fight over at the table. We fight over who gets the last sprout. Every time I make them, my son and I half-heartedly attempt to get my husband (his father) to try them. We want Jim… read more

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – cookie time!

'Tis a bit early to start the holiday baking posts but I needed a wee break from the October new cookbook review. (I have no idea where the 'tis and wee came from, I blame it on Cookbooktober). As I was clearing my head in preparation for returning tonight to finish the epically long review, I glanced at the small… read more

Do you really need to rinse rice before cooking?

Whether you are a fan of Uncle Roger or not, there is no denying that for some people, washing rice is necessary while others view it as heresy. You might ask 'What does the science say?' and if that is your response, look no further than Nik Sharma's latest article appearing over at Food52, where he tackles this question head-on.… read more

Using up the bottle

As someone who has cookbooks that celebrate cuisines from all over the world, I frequently encounter recipes that call for an ingredient that I previously have not tried. I am game to take chances in my cooking, so I will often go ahead and find a bottle, jar, or can of the substance, but sometimes struggle to use up the… read more

Making do in a pinch

It has always been vexing to find out you are out of a critical ingredient just after you start making a dish, but with the pandemic throwing off shopping routines, it's even more disconcerting. That is why knowing what items you can substitute for others is more important than ever. We have occasionally covered this topic here, including a post… read more

The art and logic of ice cream cake

Ice cream cakes are not just the province of Dairy Queen. You can make your own showstopping dessert if you know the right tips and tricks, says food writer Tara O'Brady. She provides a handy primer that lays out the potential pitfalls and shows you how to make your own magnificent, cold, creamy ice cream cake that puts the store-bought… read more

All about eggplants

Some foods get an undeserved bad reputation because it is all too common to encounter them in badly prepared dishes. Eggplant (aka aubergine) is one such food, and its very mention can conjure images of a soggy, slimy, tasteless vegetable. Perhaps eggplant haters could be converted to lovers if they experienced it expertly made, and to that end, Becky Krystal… read more

How to clean up a floury mess

The coronavirus pandemic might have made bakers out of us all, but once the bread is in the oven, the hard part of baking begins: clean up. As Margaret Eby of Food and Wine explains, combining flour and water is necessary to make bread, but the other byproduct of combining the two is glue. She provides several tips on how… read more

Spice support: green garlic

Perhaps I'm stretching the definition of spice a bit by including garlic, but it is generally treated more like a spice than a huge part of the meal (chicken with 40 cloves of garlic notwithstanding). Anyway, this post is not about regular garlic cloves, but about green garlic, which is part of the garlic plant that may already be growing… read more

Flouting conventional fungi wisdom

Just when you think you can't be surprised by a new cooking technique, someone comes along to shake things up. The debate about whether to wash mushrooms before cooking has raged for decades, but how you should cook them was never in doubt - you saute them with butter or oil, right? Maybe not: according to Jim Fuller, co-founder of… read more

How seasonal differences can affect your baking

My kitchen has a large window with a southern exposure. During the winter months, I enjoy the sunlight that floods the space with light, but in July...not so much. The kitchen becomes stifling hot and humid to boot. Over the years I've discovered that with the transition from one season to the next, changes in temperature and humidity can result… read more

Spice support: capers

I'm stretching the definition of spice a bit to include capers, but since they add a flavor dimension similar to adding spice, I found it appropriate. To learn more about capers I turned to an interview of David Rosengarten by Sally Swift of The Splendid Table. Rosengarten visited the famous caper-growing island of Pantelleria, Italy - a place he calls… read more

Weighing the options, is this recipe egg worthy?

As we shared in our weekly roundup, many folks are looking to bake during this pandemic. In that article, we shared ideas for cultivating your own yeast, sourdough and other ideas for bread. I am fortunate and have a larder filled with flours, sugars, yeast and every baking ingredient known to man. I have been able to find eggs and… read more

Where there’s smoke…

Plenty of recipe writers will tell you to make sure you don't heat an oil past its smoke point, or dire consequences will occur. This raises the dual questions of what kind of consequences and how bad are they? The answers are complex, says Becky Krystal at The Washington Post. She explains the ins and outs of smoke points in… read more
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