“…baking IS science”

Editor’s Note: A strip from Danielle Corsetto’s Girls with Slingshots reminded us of Ben’s inaugural post here at The Finch & Pea. Excerpt from post originally published 30 August 2012.

Adapted from "Girls with Slingshots #1882" by Danielle Corsetto (All Rights Reserved - Adapted & Used with Permission)
Adapted from “Girls with Slingshots #1882” by Danielle Corsetto (All Rights Reserved – Adapted & Used with Permission)

Good food, sexy food is the result of passion and science. We talk a lot about passion in cooking, but passion alone can’t make a chocolate mousse cake. Passion can’t ensure efficient heat transfer, make proteins bind, crystallize molecules, or drive chemical reactions. There is science in your food, even if you don’t know how it got there.

I’m here to introduce you, the patrons of The Finch & Pea, to some delicious nosh, to stoke your passion for cooking, and to help you understand how cooking works.

Understanding the science behind a recipe – what the ingredients really are, how they interact with each other, how they change when you manipulate them – will make you a better cook, chef, and diner. When I go to write a cake recipe, knowing flour type composition, hydration ratios, chemical reactions of leavening agents, and methods for strengthen emulsions drastically affects the success of the recipe. Cooking isn’t just about passion. It’s about words you heard in chemistry and physics class. Words like heat conductivity, melting point, vaporization temperatures, phase transition, pressure effects on physical states, hygroscopic minerals, and density differentials all play an important role in almost every aspect of cooking.

Together we are going to explore the science behind everyday cooking. Why should you salt a steak an hour before cooking, but never right before? Why shouldn’t you use vanilla extract? How can baking soda ruin your cookies? How does granulated sugar “cook” your strawberries when poured over top?

The Devil’s in the Details of the Modern Cupcake

Finished cupcakes croppedI teamed up with Red Ridge Farms – an Oregon Vineyard, olive oil press, and garden nursery – for a wine dinner event. We served a five course meal inspired by street food using Red Ridge Farms’ locally grown and pressed olive oils with wine pairings from Red Ridge’s wine label, Durant Vineyards. I always enjoy developing a menu, especially a tasting menu and especially tasting menus paired with wine (or beer or cocktails).Copy of Notes

While I had fun writing all the recipes, my time as a pastry chef makes me particularly partial to desserts. Therefore, we are going to focus on our sweet selection, the Malted Devils Food Cupcakes with Passion Fruit Cream Filling and Olive Oil Buttercream – and some of the science behind its chocolatey decadence. Continue reading “The Devil’s in the Details of the Modern Cupcake”

Pumpkin Pie

For me, Autumn doesn’t start with the first chill in the air or the changing leaves or paper cut outs of pilgrims and turkeys covering grade school walls. It starts with pie – pumpkin pie. I can get behind apple pie as the all-American pie and will commit unspeakable acts for a well made cherry pie; but for seasonal deliciousness, you can’t beat pumpkin pie.

Click for printable recipe card (PDF – 11kb)

There are a few secrets to perfect pumpkin pie. Maple syrup and bourbon are the easy ones. Adding maple syrup and bourbon to anything is like adding a double dose of awesome. You should seriously question the baking qualifications of anyone who leaves out the maple syrup and bourbon (I’m looking at you Betty Crocker).

The other secret is pretty easy too – the crust.

The secret to good pumpkin pie – to good any pie, in fact – is the crust, flaky, golden, crisp, melt in your mouth crust. The ingredients – flour, salt, fat, and liquid – may be simple, but the science of pie crust is still pretty interesting. As we examine the science of the flaky pie crust, we are also going to answer the long-standing debate over the best fat for pie making. Let get baking. Continue reading “Pumpkin Pie”

Focaccia: Are You a Yeast Sniffer?

Ever been  called a yeast sniffer? What would your reaction be? Shakespearean indignation?

Blackguard! I challenge you to a duel.

Catholic guilt?

It was only once…in college…everyone else was doing it.

Sinful pride?

Damn straight. I’m growing some premo stuff right now.

For a distinct group of pastry chefs, sinful pride is the correct answer.

According to one of my culinary school instructors, there are two kinds of pastry chefs: plate jockeys and yeast sniffers. Plate jockeys are responsible for composed desserts at restaurants. Yeast sniffers fill bread baskets. There is very little crossover among professionals. I myself have primarily been a professional plate jockey; but I find few things more therapeutic than baking fresh bread. This one is for that little chef in all of us that likes to sniff a little yeast, if only recreationally. Continue reading “Focaccia: Are You a Yeast Sniffer?”