Sunday, February 21, 2010

Your Basic Ingredients, soon to be followed by basic recipes

This post is mostly a reference manual for those of you who would like to know more about different ingredients and the most common ingredients. Leave your opinions at the end.

Keep eating sweetly! :)
Very, Very, Very Basic Ingredients, a.k.a. items you should have on hand pretty much all the time

Eggs- eggs are usually obtained from chickens, but other types of eggs are used as well such as quail eggs. The eggshell (usually white, but also can be brown) is a protective shell around the most edible part of the egg. The inside consists of the egg white and yolk, both of which will count as separate ingredients for our own purposes. Most recipes call for the whole egg (generally minus the eggshell, even though it would add more calcium to your dessert, but it would make it a bit crunchy which I’m sure you wouldn’t want in something such as a cake? I didn’t think so.)
Eggs are very delicate ingredients. The eggs you should have on hand should be ones you trust to eat. Also, some recipes will call for a raw egg. I can imagine you now telling yourself how salmonella will develop and you will get sick and you will never use recipes that call for raw eggs. First of all I will state this: yes there is a certain chance of getting salmonella, but you can take some precautions that will reduce those chances to a minimum. Here’s a list:

  • If a recipe calls for raw eggs, DO NOT LET THEM WARM TO ROOM TEMPERATURE. At room temperature, the bacteria can develop more easily. 
  • To ensure that the egg has not been around too long past its expiration date, always get and use fresh eggs for recipes that call for raw eggs. If you know someone who owns chickens ask if you can buy some eggs from them occasionally, or just go to the store to buy fresh eggs, which are generally restocked daily for the most part. 
  • If you have eggs that have aged past their limitations they might have already developed the salmonella bacteria. Do not worry. First, do not use these eggs for any recipes that call for raw eggs. But you can still use these eggs. They must be properly handled and cooked. So recipes that call for cooking the egg somehow whether it is baking it in the cake or cooking over the stovetop, use these eggs that have gone past their expiration date slightly. 
  • If you have eggs that are way past their expiration date, just don’t use them. That would be silly. 
  • If you feel uncomfortable using raw eggs at all in your recipes here is a link to a site that describes how to replace the raw eggs in a recipe with more cooked eggs. 
And Copy the following phrase:
What should I do about some of my favorite egg recipes that call for raw or lightly cooked eggs?
And press ctrl (or command for Mac users)+f and then paste the phrase into the search feature. That will bring you down to the paragraph that describes how to cook raw eggs for recipes that require raw eggs in detail.

So we conclude that we should always have eggs handy. Let delve deeper into the parts of the egg and how and when they can/are used.

Yolk- the yolk of the egg is the yellow part (easy way to remember: Yolk, Yellow). The Yolk is generally used in custards such as pudding and crème brûlée. It is generally just mixed into the recipe. Occasionally it is mixed with something that has been warmed like with warm milk in pudding. For those times if you are actually using raw egg (in pudding it gets cooked but has to be mixed in when raw first), pour the warm liquid in slowly as to not cook the egg before getting mixed into the liquid.

White- the whites are actually white. They are pretty clear, but turn to a whitish color when cooked. Egg whites are usually beaten with an electric mixer until peaks form. They are then folded into cake batters to raise the batter when it bakes and to make it light and fluffy. Otherwise the cake would just be very dense and heavy. The whites sometimes are also whipped and placed onto pies and baked until they start to lightly brown (not too much otherwise it is burned (they burn easily)). That is called meringue. Egg whites can also be used to make frostings. There are many types of frostings that use egg whites and these are usually also beaten into the whipped form, but it is typically mixed into the frosting and not folded.

To separate an egg white and yolk take the following steps slowly and carefully, because if you need the white you do not want to get any yolk in there at all. (A little bit of white is ok in the yolk though.)
  1. Lightly hit the egg against a sharp edge.
  2. Start to pull the shell apart holding the egg straight up and down so the crack is horizontal.
  3. Pull off the top of the shell and hold it in your hand. Allow any egg whites to fall into a cup or bowl depending on if you will be using them.
  4. Take the half that is with the yolk and white and transfer it to the other shell half trying to cut the white off with the shell edge while catching the yolk with the edge. Repeat as necessary until the yolk breaks. If the yolk break immediately throw it into the mixture in which it will be used or into a cup for later use.
  5. If you are just using the egg whites, you can easily use the yolks by mixing them with one more egg and making an omelet. The whites can make an egg white omelet, if you are feeling to have a little less cholesterol.

And that is all we need to cover about eggs. So remember to keep eggs in your fridge, and try to keep them as fresh as possible.
Milk- according to Wikipedia: milk is an opaque white liquid produced by the mammary gland of mammals. Of course that is not necessary to know, but thought it would be kind of interesting. So, milk that is usually bottled and sold either is cow milk or goat milk (at least these are the only two that I know of). Recipes will call for cow’s milk, so keep it handy. Milk is commonly used in puddings, cakes, cookies (and for the consumption of cookies), etc. Keep it in that fridge right next to those eggs, and if you run out, stock up.
Flour- flour is a very useful tool for many bakers. Its uses include, but are not limited to, breads, cakes, cupcakes, piecrusts, and cookies. There are also many different types of flour. There is cake flour (guess what that’s used for). Also, there is bread flour (now this one is tough, I’m sure). Also there is all-purpose flour (bleached or unbleached) (most commonly used, hence the name all-purpose). There is whole-wheat flour (for all you healthy eaters out there). There is pastry flour/cookie flour/cracker flour, all have slightly higher gluten content than cake flour but less then all-purpose (according to Wikipedia). And there is self-rising flour, which has baking soda already added to it.

Also other countries have different types of flours as well. The country I am from originally (the Czech Republic) has three types: course, semi-course, and fine. I am guessing you already know what this is referencing but if not here’s a quick explanation. The flour is evaluated and separated by how large the grains are, course means largest, semi-course is in the middle, and fine is like all-purpose flour used in America. In America the most commonly found flour is fine and so the other two types are difficult to obtain except in specialty stores such as Russian supermarkets or other popular European supermarkets. (I’m sure you must have some kind of European specialty store, I didn’t think I had one in my town, but there are actually several.) The semi-course flour can actually very easy be 1 part course and 1 part fine.

I recommend having all-purpose flour on hand, keep it away from moisture and don’t drip liquids into it, it will clump together and have these hard clumps when you use it later that are difficult to break down even in a liquid-y batter. Also, sometimes useful could be bread flour and cake flour, but I don’t use either very much. (I don’t really bake breads, but am planning on it at some point, and most of my cake recipes require all-purpose flour.) I also don’t really use the course and semi-course flours, but would like to show you some Czech recipes, which do require one or the other, so maybe going to the specialty store and buying one small bag of each should be enough if you will make the item once to try it out. So remember, flour is important and very useful.
Vanilla- vanilla comes in several forms: vanilla pods and beans, vanilla extract, and vanilla sugar. Vanilla pods and beans are usually used in custard recipes such as crème brûlée because the flavor of the vanilla is extracted directly as opposed to pouring the extract directly from the bottle, which may sometimes give the custard a slightly bolder taste. Vanilla extract is used most commonly because vanilla beans and pods can get pricey. IMPORTANT NOTE: Use pure vanilla extract, never imitation. Imitation vanilla extract will give you desserts a funny taste and awful aftertaste, and you do not want your guests to have an awful taste in their mouth. Even in the slightest amount, imitation vanilla extract will overtake the taste of a dessert very easily. Vanilla sugar is less commonly found. I have seen recipes for crème brûlée that called for the use of vanilla sugar on top of the custard to be caramelized. Vanilla sugar is pretty much literally sugar and vanilla mixed together, but it does not look like someone took vanilla extract and poured in over the sugar. It is commonly used in some of my Czech recipes, so go to that specialty store and stock up on a few packets (it comes in packets that is only about a few teaspoons, but recipes that I will use will most likely just call for a packet or half a packet), they will come in handy.
Sugar- “You are as sweet as sugar,” ever hear that phrase? No, I didn’t think so, I just made it up. Sugar is an edible crystal. Obviously it is sweet, we should already know that. Sugar is your most important ingredient. It is used in pretty much every dessert. Sugar also has several types. There is regular granulated sugar, which is usually white. There is raw sugar, which can be bought at any supermarket and tends to be more brownish because there is a molasses content. There is brown sugar, which has two types, light brown and dark brown. This sugar is finer than regular sugar and is brown in color. It is also very “packable,” almost like wet sand, but edible. I usually use brown sugar on top of crème brûlée, mostly light brown. There is also powdered sugar, which is very, very fine. Regular sugar is used in mainly batters, dough, crusts, and other dessert items. Brown sugar is used for cookies like chocolate chip cookies. When brown sugar is to be used, use light brown. Powdered sugar has several uses. It can be used as a light powered finish on desserts for decoration or it can be used in frostings or recipes that need the powdered sugar so the frosting/batter is smooth and not as textured as the granulated sugar would cause. Keep lots of granulated sugar on hand, its very important, keep it away from too much moisture. But also have a box of brown sugar (keep it sealed well and away from too much air exposure, as it can and will harden and be difficult to deal with). Also keep a bag of powdered sugar on hand it will prove to be useful, also keep it away from moisture as it will clump together and it won’t be pretty.
Chocolate- chocolate is a yummy ingredient in many, many recipes. It is important to follow closely what a recipe calls when it comes to chocolate. If a recipe calls for semi-sweet, do not use unsweetened and just add more sugar, it doesn’t work that way. Your food with still in the end have a slightly bitter taste and that definitely is not what you want, take it from someone who has tried it before. Follow closely to the cocoa percentage. I read a recipe once where the author said that it is necessary to have chocolate between 60%-65% otherwise the batter is too bitter or too sweet. And so it is important to be as precise as possible. I like to have on stock some semi-sweet chocolate (I like to buy Baker’s® since it is made especially for bakers), also have on stock unsweetened (also Baker’s®). Chocolate chips can be pretty useful as well when you need more precise measurements or if you want to make chocolate chip cookies. Also have some inexpensive chocolate with different cocoa contents; somewhere in the 60%-65% range is probably best since those are most commonly used from what I know. Also if you just have plain cocoa (with no added sweetener) it can replace unsweetened chocolate, just measure out the same weight using some scales. A note about white chocolate: White chocolate is not actually chocolate. It does not contain any cocoa solids as milk and dark chocolate do. White chocolate is rarely used in baking since it can split from the cocoa butter and become an oily mess. Best way to deal with this is to re-emulsify the chocolate. This should actually be done when working with any type of chocolate, whether it is white, milk, or dark chocolate. Rose Levy Beranbaum describes in her book Rose’s Heavenly Cakes chocolate in detail and how to work with it. It is a book I recommend that you check out if you are interested in baking.
Oil- Oil is rarely used in baking but it can be used. I’ve used it in some cakes as well as oil drop cookies. I don’t have much to say about oil so I will keep this pretty short and simple. Vegetable oil will usually be your best bet. It is not too expensive and can be easily bought in bulk and will not go bad. If you want to spend a little more money for something slightly healthier (I say slightly only because it is oil and oil is just fat) then you can buy some sunflower oil which is actually better for you, but it is more expensive. So if you are willing to spend the money, be my guest, it works the same as any regular vegetable oil.
Butter- it is useful for greasing pans to keep batters from sticking to the pan and getting ruined. Also useful in many batters and dough since it is generally the base ingredient. Butter will always be useful, so stock up. It can easily be frozen, but before using make sure you let it thaw and it is at room temperature and soft enough to work with otherwise you will have a lot of trouble mixing it in and keeping the batter smooth.
Cream- Cream is generally used in the making of custards, truffles, and ice cream. It can also be beaten into whipped cream that is nice topping on desserts if you don’t want to make frosting, or want a light topping on the dessert. Whipped cream is made easily by following these steps:
  1. Pour some cream into a bowl that is safe to use an electric mixer in.
  2. Add some powdered sugar to your taste. Do not put too much as the sweetness will be overwhelming and it will take away from the lightless of the whipped cream.
  3. Use an electric mixer and beat the cream until peak form. If you continue beating the whipped cream after that, it will turn into a heavier product which we also call butter.
Note: A lighter fluffier version of whipped cream can be made using a standard handheld whisk.
Conclusion: Keep heavy whipping cream on hand. Light whipping cream actually is more difficult to whip into whipped cream because there isn’t enough fat content to whip it.
Salt- Salt is a simple condiment. It is composed of Sodium and Chlorine. It is actually a rock and the only rock that we consume. (What a fun fact!) Not used too much in baking except in moderation. A small amount of salt is generally used. Sometimes people add a little of salt to egg whites when whipping them to form stiffer peaks. Keep it on hand; a little pinch will always go a long way.
Cinnamon- A not so commonly used condiment, but useful in many things nonetheless. It is also healthy and just ½ a teaspoon a day can lower cholesterol. I have a yummy chocolate waffle recipe that has cinnamon in it, I usually put more than what the recipe calls for just because I like to have a slightly bolder taste of the cinnamon in the waffles. Cinnamon is used in flavoring things like pumpkin pies and sweet potato pies. It is good to have a bottle around if you ever need add a little more pizzazz.
Fresh Fruits- Lemons, oranges, apples, strawberries, blueberries*, raspberries, cherries, red and black currant and any other yummy fruits are meant to be included in this list. And by that I don’t mean go ahead and stock up on all these fruits at once, they will go bad and you probably will not finish them before they spoil. Also, when used in baking the fresher, the better. So yes it is good to have certain fruits around all the time and definitely have fruit in the house (you want to eat healthy and not just sweets don’t you?).

Citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons will always be useful because some recipes will use the zest in it to give it a little citrus flavor. (To get the zest, just take the whole citrus and grate the skin until you reach the white part. Note: Do not grate the white part, it is bitter and will make parts of your desserts also taste bitter.)

Red and black currant is difficult to obtain in regular supermarkets and if you can find it there, congratulations. Otherwise for those of us without special currant selling supermarkets, you can go to your local farmer’s market and currant will be sold there. Or buy some seeds and grow your own.

Cherries are rarely used in desserts, though you’ve probably either seems them as a topping, or in cherry pie. That’s the only time I feel like you will really need cherries.

Apples are good for strudel, apple pie, and other apple desserts. Keep apples around they are yummy and a use will always be found for them.

Bananas make good banana milkshakes. Also keep them around because you can eat them whenever and if they start to go bad just throw them in a milkshake.

Strawberries and raspberries are delicious red fruits. I do not use either too much but I like having them around because they are my 2 favorite fruits and they are delicious in smoothies. Also fruit dumplings are great with strawberries, blueberries, and plums.

*Blueberries are great fruits but I dislike American blueberries. Seeing as that I am used to the “blueberries” from the Czech Republic, American “blueberries” seem kind of odd and tasteless to me. In fact, American “blueberries” are what actually are considered blueberries. The “blueberries” that I am used to are actually called bilberries. I love bilberries because of how they stain your hands and have a nice sweet yet slightly sour taste. So good in a pound cake type cake with the bilberries on top and red currant. I’m not exactly sure if bilberries are obtainable in America, but you can always ask around in your local farmer’s market when you’re getting that red currant, otherwise for the cake you can use regular blueberries, or just the currant with some powdered sugar on top since the currant will make it sour.
Baking powder- Baking powder is an important ingredient when baking (hence the name baking powder). It is mostly used in cakes to help the cake rise while it is baking. Keep it around for all of your baking needs.
Cream Cheese- Cream cheese is used mostly for cheesecakes that happen to be my favorite food so I think you should keep it on hand since I will probably make cheesecakes as well.
Curds- curds are created when milk has been curdled. When milk curdles it creates two byproducts: curds and whey. Whey is a liquid and curds are most of a solid. Curd is used a lot in Czech cooking for things such as fruit dumplings. It can be soft or hard and those characteristics determine how and when it is used. Curds usually cannot be found in normal supermarkets either. You can try a specialty supermarket such as some sort of Eastern European market like a Russian market. I have found curds at my local Polish deli. You don’t have to keep it on hand necessarily, but it is useful to have when making fruit dumplings.
Honey- Honey is sometimes used to replace sugar. I’ve hardly ever used it in baking but it is possible to make cakes and cookies using honey. Honey gives the dessert a slightly different taste but it still gives it a sweet flavor. Honey can also be used to stick things together if you, for example, would like to make a tower of cream puffs (just saying). Keep it on hand. Its also good for those days where a throat lozenge won’t do, and just pour some honey in a warm cup of black tea and milk and drink it to soothe aching throats.
Yeast- Yeast is important in many types of baking. It causes rising in the pre-baking stage. Usually used in breads and bread-like doughs. Yeast comes in several types. You have you active dry yeast, which is like a powder which you have to pretty much activate yourself by placing it in warm (NOT boiling) water and sugar. Do not put it in milk, because the yeast doesn't like the fat content, and will not work properly. Then there is yeast in the form of a cube. It is slightly grayish and feels kind of wet to the touch. When putting it in a dough, make sure to break it up so it can mix into the dough easily. When waiting for dough to rise it takes at least an hour for the dough to rise, so be patient. Yeast is important for breads and keep it around, both types can be easily found in supermarkets.

1 comment:

  1. You need more info on your flour - it's one of the most essential and influential parts of baked goods. Not only is courseness a factor, but also the gluten content, the grain composition, flour additives, bleaching, etc. Flour categorization goes even farther: based on the location of where the grain was grown and milled, the milling process, heck - even the mill itself. There are certain mills that people would ONLY use for southern style biscuits, for example. Otherwise, people swear by certain flours from different regions. Flour is an amazing thing to do more research on.