Saturday, May 03, 2008

Things Worth Knowing About

To beat egg whites satisfactorily, both the beaters and bowl have to be really clean and dry. A tiny bit of egg yolk in the egg white, moisture in/on the bowl or beaters, or a greasy surface to the bowl etc, and the whites just won't beat up, try as you might.
Metal bowls are best for beating egg whites as they are easiest to get clean, also it is recommended to wipe around the bowl with the cut side of a lemon to remove any grease that might still be lingering )even a fingerprint). A pinch of salt or cream of tartar also helps to make egg whites beat up more thickly. Always begin beating slowly, then - when the egg white is frothy - the speed can be increased.

When washing bowls, beaters, spoons, pans etc that have been used for proteins such as eggs, milk, cream, etc., (even flour and bread dough, cake batters etc), ALWAYS rinse off the protein with cold water before washing in hot suds. Placing a bowl of cold water on the table is always useful to dunk the beaters and spoons in after using. Plunging them directly into hot water sets the protein and makes it far more difficult to remove.

To speed up the time it takes to beat cream, always chill the bowl, beaters and cream before starting.

To prevent eggs curdling when making cakes, always use the eggs and other ingredients at room temperature. But even if curdling occurs, a teaspoon of flour beaten in should make the mixture smooth. As to why eggs curdle, haven't yet found out. The flour just acts as an emulsifying agent, smoothly blending the eggs and fats together.

Whole eggs will double in volume when beaten.
Egg yolks, when beaten with almost double in volume.
Egg whites, when beaten should treble in volume.

When using cornflour to thicken sauces, first slake with a little water before adding to the rest of the liquid in the pan, and then stir continuously until beginning to thicken. As soon as the sauce begins to boil, STOP STIRRING, but continue simmering for a few minutes more to remove the starchy taste. If you continue to stir this breaks open the swollen starch cells and this will decrease the thickness.
A sauce thickened with cornflour will also break down once frozen, making the water separate out from the gel.
Rice starch (rice flour or ground rice) and potato flour (pomme fecules) are recommended by Elizabeth David as best for binding and stabilising soups

Time-wasting chores such as greasing and flouring/lining cake tins can often be a nuisance when the urge for baking comes upon us, and we are pressed for time. So a good tip is to grease and flour, or grease and line tins as you would normally do, then put them away in a cupboard (in plastic bags if you wish - these can be reused). The tins are then ready to be used immediately. Another tip is to cut (again in advance) strips and circles of baking parchment to fit said tins. These can also be bought ready-cut, in various sizes.

When rolling out pastry, aim to roll from the centre to the sides, then let it rest before lining tins. Rolled out pastry, being stretched, tends to want to shrink back a bit after rolling, so using it immediately to line a tin means it will shrink when being cooked. If at all possible, after lining a tin, chill the pastry before filling.

Metal (stainless steel) bowls are best to use when making bread dough as they absorb heat well while the dough is rising. Sour dough should not be left to ferment in a plastic bowl.

When putting bread to rise, the ideal temperature is 80 - 85F. Bakers recommend doing the first rising in an oven that is just heated by its pilot light alone, and also putting a pan of boiling water on the shelf below the dough (dough likes a steamy atmosphere). Once the dough has risen, the oven can be switched to the correct temperature for baking (the water could be left in), the dough then being knocked back, put into tins and left to rise again in another warm place.
After the first rising, the dough should have doubled in bulk. To find out if it is ready, press the dough with the tips of the fingers. If the dough springs back it is not ready, if the dents stay put then it is ready.

When wishing to cut thin slices from a home-made or bought un-sliced loaf, first freeze it, then cut it whilst still frozen. This way it will cut into very, very, VERY thin slices indeed, an economical tip as it can make a loaf go much further. Once the slices have been cut, they can be re-frozen.

To prevent a Swiss roll from cracking (although those made without flour always crack), turn out the cake onto a towel while the cake is still hot. Then roll up both the cake and the towel together, leave until cool. Then unroll, leaving the cake on the towel, and spread the chosen filling over the cake. Re-roll the cake, this time without the towel of course.

When baking biscuits, those high in fat and sugar can, after cooking, be transferred directly to a cake airer, as leaving them on the baking tin the sugar might caramelise. Biscuits that need time to firm up should be left to cool on the tin for 15 minutes before leaving to get cold on the airer.

Often a great red wine, served with the main course, can taste horrible when drunk with cheese when served before the dessert in the French way. Far better to switch to a different red wine. Rioja reserve would work well.
Red wines clash horribly when served with a strong blue cheese or something smelly like Brie.
Mature cheeses can overwhelm a medium red wine, so with this serve a milder cheese, such as goat's cheese, Cheddar or other regional English cheese. Sometimes cheese is graded for strength, and for drinking with wine, go for strength 4.
The creamier blue cheeses such as Blackstocks, St.Augur, and Dovedale can be served with wine. Stronger blues such as Stilton are best served with port, either the tawny or the red. For a lighter option, serve the blue cheeses with a Sauterne.

When cheeses turn out to be stronger than expected, or the wine of a lesser strength, serve them both with nibbles such as a nutty bread, maybe with some fruit relishes (quince paste, cherry conserve), some figs, dates etc, all helping to build a bridge between the cheese and wine. Do not serve chutneys as they are too acidic.

With hard cheeses serve: mature, oak-aged Spanish reds such as Rioja, or strong reds such as Amarone.
With Creamier cheeses such as Brie and Camembert: well matured runny cheeses are too strong, so when serving with wine make sure the cheese is still young. Drink with soft, red fruity wine such as Pinot Noir and the inexpensive Merlot.
With Goat's Cheese: best drunk with white wine. The classic wine to drink is Sauvignon Blanc, but crisp English white wines and Loire reds also go well.

Back now to everyday life, where - if we are lucky to get any at all - the ends of wine are frozen to add to casseroles, brandy only used to slosh over cakes, and sherry to drizzle into trifles. Here now are today's recipes:
Devil's Food Cake:
2 oz (50g) cocoa
8 fl.oz (225ml) water
4 oz (100g) soft margarine
10 oz (275g) caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
plain flour
quarter tsp. baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Blend the cocoa in the water until smooth. Put the marg into a bowl with the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in the prepared eggs until well blended.
Sift the flour with the baking powder and bicarb. then alternately fold this into the creamed mixture with the cocoa mixture.
Divid the mixture between two 8" (20cm) greased and lined sandwich tins (grease the top of the lining paper as well). Level the surface and bake at 180C, 350C, gas 4 for about 30 - 35 minutes until well risen. It should be firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a cake airer.

Traditionally this cake is served topped with American frosting. Worth making if you have a sugar thermometer. The method is the same as making Italian meringue (as used in my soft-scoop ice-cream),
American Frosting:
1 lb (450g) caster sugar
a bare 5 fl.oz (135ml) water
2 egg whites
Put the sugar and water into a large heavybased saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and continue cooking until the syrup has reached 115C, 240F on a sugar thermometer.
While the sugar is heating, whisk the egg whites in a large deep bowl until stiff, then slowly pour the hot sugar solution on to the whites, whisking all the time until the meringue is very peaky and cooling down.
Sandwich the cakes together with some of this frosting, then spread the remainder over the top and sides, using a wide-bladed knife so that it can be lifted up now and again to form peaks all over. As the icing sets rapidly, work with speed. Leave to set in a cool place, but not in the fridge.

Chocolate garnishes are fun to make, and can be made well ahead of time if carefully stored in tins, layered between kitchen paper. Keep cool but preferably not in the fridge.
Marbling: melt dark and white chocolate in different bowls, then spoon blobs of these, mingled together onto a flat sheet of parchment paper. Spread out with a palette knife then, using a skewer, drag this through the soft chocolate to give a brown/white marbled effect. Leave to set then cut/mark into squares or triangles with a knife. Leave to set firmly. Marbled squares can be assembled to make boxes to fit around a mousse or square of cake or the above dessert). Triangles can be used as a garnish, the points stuck into rosettes of cream etc.

Chocolate leaves: Take perfect rose leaves (unsprayed), with a little bit of the stem attached, and paint the underside with a good layer of melted chocolatem going right to the edges, but making sure not to get the chocolate on the top of the leaf. Leave to set firmly, then holding the stem, peel the leaf away from the chocolate.

Chocolate Curls: Mix together 2 oz (50g) each quality chocolate and the cheaper cooking chocolate. Spread over a flat sheet of baking parchment and leave until just set. Drag a cheese slice or angled knife over the chocolate to form loose rolls and curls.

Chocolate Containers:
Make your own chocolate containers by taking removing several pleated fairy cake cases together from a stackcases (you need a few to make them easier to handle, but only the top one is used). Pour some melted chocolate into the top case, turning the stack round so the chocolate coats the base and side fairly thickly, then invert onto a flat surface (a cold plate is ideal). Leave to set firmly, then the paper can be peeled away to make a chocolate container that can be filled with anything you like. If you wish, store the 'cups' in a tin, still with the paper round them - this helps to prevnt them getting broken - and remove the paper when ready to fill.

When using plastic moulds for making filled chocs or Easter eggs, and using good quality chocolate, this can be removed more easily if the moulds are first polished inside with kitchen paper before pouring in the chocolate. Although we can harden the chocolate more rapidly by chilling it in the fridge, this can sometimes give a bit of a bloom to the chocolate. The best way is to leave the chocolate in the moulds, in a fairly cool place for 24 hours. The chocolate will then become very firm, shrink slightly and, after being filled, can then be easily tipped from the moulds. It will also be very shiny on the outside, so handle carefully or fingerprints will show.