Baking: The Staples of an Ancient Art

 

In a lot of ways, I think I took after my great aunt. She was the absolute stereotype of the large, kind-hearted, elderly woman. Our love of the kitchen was something that we held in common. There was only one problem.

We didn’t speak the same language.

I remember those days running home from school to see her messing around with the oven. I’d do my work at the table, always keeping watch from the corner of my eye. When I was finished, I’d sit there and point at various ingredients. She’d say a word and I’d repeat, or motion to a pot or bowl that it was soon going to fall into. That was how I spent my summer: learning the culinary language.

Nowadays we’re back on our respective sides of the ocean, but in the years that have gone by we’ve fine-tuned our prowess in the kitchen. Her lessons still live on in every pie, custard, sauce, and fillet I make.

Here are a few ingredients she taught me about that many people take for granted, but have an incredible use in any baking endeavour.

 

Butter

When a person hears the word “baking”, the first thing that often comes to mind is a sweet confectionery, not always a casserole,

lasagne, fish, or other hearty meal. Essentially, anything can be baked, and one of the most common staples of baked goods is the butter that goes into them. The key to moist meat? Butter under the skin and in the cavity. The key to a glossy surface? Butter brushed where the shine is desired. The key to a non-stick mess? Butter in the pan. It’s paramount to use the unsalted variety, or else you’d think you’re having something that was marinated in the Dead Sea. For me, that lesson was learned the hard way.

 

Flour

Ahh, flour, the best friend of patisserie everywhere! A lot of people, when putting oil in a pan, can’t tell when it’s hot enough to start cooking in. The solution? Sprinkle a few granules of flour, and if the oil starts popping, it’s good to go (water isn’t recommended because of how volatile it can be). When it comes to making dough, and rolling it into balls, flour on the pin, the board, and your hands will keep them stick-free, and also easier to maintain the shape of whatever it is you’re handling. To thicken sauce, like the brown sugar mixture that’s poured into apple pie before baking, add flour to the desired consistency. A spoonful of it goes a long way.

 

 

Brown Sugar and the Sugar Family

I’ve heard this question asked more times than I’d care to admit: what’s the difference between brown sugar and regular processed white sugar? Beyond the fact that the colors are different, brown sugar maintains more of its original molasses-like taste. It’s also healthier than its white cousin, which had to go through a different processing technique to give it the texture and flavour it’s known for. Brown sugar can bring out the sweetness in foods much easier than white sugar as well. If having something liquid-based, such as tea with a sugary snack, I’d recommend forgoing the sugar entirely, and use a teaspoon of honey instead. Stores such as Teavana also have German rock-sugar available in large glass containers, a personal favourite, which is great for sweetening anything from muffins to drinks. Keep in mind that when using brown sugar, you have to pack it into a nestled cup, or whatever measuring device you’re using, or else it will be much less than what the directions on a recipe calls for. Plenty of people have also taken to using artificial sweeteners, and while labels on the bag may say “all natural” –or something to that effect, my call on that is to just not use them. Even popular brands have Aspartame, or a similar compound that could turn into it when mixed with other ingredients or used for a prolonged period of time. It’s a chemical compound that’s harmful to the human body. Some brands may genuinely be free of such ingredients, but whatever the case, if you’d like to try it anyway then please consult your physician first.

 

Eggs

I’m sure most people have heard of this one: What came first, the chicken or the egg? Honestly, I’d leave that one up to a coin toss, but all I can say for sure is that eggs are a lifesaver. Eggs added into dough are great for thickening it, but be warned, the temperature on the oven may have to be adjusted accordingly: the more eggs in the mixture, the harder it will get when done. Sometimes recipes, such as that for angel food cake, will call for egg whites. The best solution there is to crack the egg down the middle, and roll the yolk between the two ends of the shell while letting the whites fall into a separate container. If you have an excess of yolks, rather than throw them away, it’d be a great idea to incorporate them into another recipe, such as eggnog. Eggs are also great for breading items. It’s a time saver to mix spices into whisked egg and then dip both sides of whatever you’d like to bread into it, and then do the same with the breading. This ensures an even and solid coat of crumbs every time. Just like sugar, egg has a substitute trying to steal its thunder: the egg beater. In the health-conscious late 1990s and early 2000s, people everywhere were swapping the egg for the beater over uproar on how much cholesterol it contains. There is a difference between good and bad cholesterol. The egg is a veritable superfood in its own right, and I’d rather have an omelet than Cheerios any day of the week. Its protein also makes it a staple of any weight-conscious or athletic individual, since protein is the key component to muscle growth and maintenance. The maths behind that is simple: more muscle equals more fat burning. How egg-tradorinary is that?

 

That being said, these four items, so commonly overlooked, deserve a lot more praise than they’re being given on a regular basis. How often can a person bake without them? And I’m not talking about instant meals. That’s right, Betty Crocker, I’m calling you out.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply