Monthly Archives: March 2014

Food for thought

We commonly use food metaphors without even thinking that we are talking about……food!

“You are the apple of my eye.”

You are the apple of my eye.

You are the apple of my eye.  I credit my daughter with this idea.  Great job Tink!

“A piece of cake.”

It's a piece of cake.

It’s a piece of cake….or a whole carrot cake.  Yum!


“Mind your P’s and Q’s.”

Mind your P's and Q's.

Mind your P’s and Q’s.  Preserve the harvest: take care of your pints and quarts. Thanks Nanny!

“That’s a real pickle.”

That's a pickle of a problem.

That’s a pickle of a problem.  “Oh, pickles!”

“Keep your eyes peeled.”

Keep your eyes peeled.

Keep your eyes peeled.  Potatoes have eyes…..are they watching you?


“That’s a recipe for disaster.”

A recipe for disaster.

A recipe for disaster.  Honestly, some of my test recipes ARE disasters!

“You are nuts!”

You are nuts!

You are nuts!  Thank you.  I love nuts!

“That’s as easy as pie.”

That's as easy as pie.

That’s as easy as pie.  Really, not so easy, but so worth the work!


What is the origin of these phrases?  Why do we use food as metaphors for what we really want to say?  Food has always been and will always be such an integral part of our lives.  Of course we depend on food for sustenance, but it has become so much more.  Around the globe, we celebrate with food, compete with food, and show love for each other with food.  Just in our country alone, we have  everything from pig-pickings to oyster roasts, fish fry’s to apple bobbing, watermelon seed spitting tournaments to blueberry festivals, and don’t forget the ever-present “Bake Sale.”  Those examples are just some of the tame food related activities we enjoy.  Of course, there are more food events everywhere, but now we have plenty of television shows to fulfill every inkling of food curiosity we may have.  Food is everywhere.  So it makes sense for us to use food in our spoken language as well.

What is your favorite food phrase?  Do you every want to eat your words?




Marshmallows……this homemade recipe is simple to make and so delicious!  They taste like “sweet little clouds.”

Check out my instructional video on these fun treats.

Homemade Marshmallow Recipe


3 (1/4 oz.) envelopes unflavored gelatin

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

MOP (Method of Preparation):

Pour 3/4 cup cold water into bowl of a stand mixer.  Sprinkle gelatin over water (bloom).  Attach bowl to mixer and fit with whisk attachment.

In a 3-quart saucepan, boil together granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt and 3/4 cup water over medium-high heat.  Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan, making sure that the  tip of the thermometer does not touch the bottom of the pan.  Without stirring the sugar mixture, allow it to reach 235*F.   With mixer on low-speed, pour hot sugar mixture into gelatin in a slow steady stream.

Add vanilla to sugar/gelatin mixture.  Carefully increase mixer speed to high and beat until mixture has thickened and cooled, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Line a 13 x 9″ pan with foil.  Sift  2 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar over bottom of pan.  Pour marshmallow mixture into prepared pan.  Dust top with more confectioners’ sugar. Let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours.

Lift mixture out of the pan, and turn out onto a cutting board.  Remove foil from underside of the marshmallow slab.  Cut marshmallow piece into 3/4″ slices, roll slices in confectioners’ sugar.  Cut strips into 3/4″ cubes.  Roll cubes in more confectioners’ sugar to coat, and separate them to prevent sticking. Shake marshmallows in a strainer to remove excess sugar.  Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Marshmallows, ingredients and equipment

Marshmallows, ingredients and equipment

Finished marshmallows, ready to eat!

Finished marshmallows, ready to eat!

Marshmallow recipe from Rebecca Rather in “Fine Cooking Cakes and Cupcakes” (Tauton Press, 2014)

Gelatin ……what is it?

This image comes from a blog called The Daily Postcard.  Check it out!

This image comes from a blog called The Daily Postcard. Check it out!

What is gelatin…..that ubiquitous substance that turns colored water and sugar into JELL-O!?!  Mixed with canned fruit, it serves as a staple on cafeteria buffets.  That may be the vision that most of us have, but unflavored gelatin is also used as a stabilizer in cream-based desserts (like mousse), a thickener in salad dressings and even the structure building agent in marshmallows!  (Look for a marshmallow “how-to” on my Learn page soon.)

So  really, where does gelatin come from?  The Pastry Chef’s Companion  defines gelatin as a substance derived from the bones and connective tissues of animals.  Ewwww! Really?  Yes, but don’t worry.  Gelatin is heated, filtered, purified and sterilized to make it nearly flavorless.

In the bakeshop, we use two different forms of gelatin:  powdered gelatin and sheet gelatin.  With either form, there are two crucial steps to working with gelatin:  bloom and dissolve.  First, gelatin must be bloomed in water to hydrate it.

Here are photos of the first step of working with gelatin powder and gelatin sheets: bloom.

Gelatin powder

Gelatin powder

Bloomed gelatin powder

/ Bloomed gelatin powder

For gelatin powder, add four to five times the amount of cold water to the amount of gelatin.  Let sit for about three minutes until the water is fully absorbed.

Gelatin sheets

Gelatin sheets

Bloomed gelatin sheets

Bloomed gelatin sheets

For gelatin sheets, submerge the sheets in cold water (no need to measure) for about three minutes until the sheets are very pliable.

For both types of gelatin, the next step would be to heat the bloomed gelatin to a working temperature of about 110*F.   Once the gelatin is melted (in the microwave, over a double boiler, or in a warm ingredient of your recipe), then it is ready to incorporate into your recipe.  Once mixed with the other ingredients and cooled, then the gelatin will create its web-like formation that gives the mixture the desired thickness or structure.

Of course, there are plenty more details about gelatin and working with this interesting substance.  Please refer to your recipe for specific instructions.

This reminds me of my childhood.

This reminds me of my childhood.

NOTE:  Jello-O contains color, flavor, sugar (or an artificial sweetener) and instant gelatin, a product that has been processed a bit differently, so it only needs boiling water to dissolve and activate its structure building properties.

For more information on gelatin, check out this site:

A good egg!

What eggs JWU student Rebecca Ramey

What eggs say….by JWU student Rebecca Ramey

For bakers, these are the four major food groups: flour, sugar, fat and eggs.  The  previous baking science blog posts have already given fun facts about flour, sugar and fat, so now it’s time for eggs!

Egg shell color, does it really matter?  Marketing today tells us that brown eggs are healthier than white eggs, and therefore the consumer is charged more.  Is that really necessary?  No.  White or brown, the contents are the same, and the nutrition value is the same.  The color of the shell depends on the breed of the chicken.

Brown eggs vs. white eggs

Brown eggs vs. white eggs

Egg parts:  Shell, membranes, air cell, egg white (albumen), egg yolk, chalazae.

Fun facts:                                                                                                                                          1. The older the egg = the larger the air cell.  When hard-boiling eggs, it is much easier to remove the shell from an older egg than from a very fresh egg.                                                      2.  The less prominent the chalazae (the twisted egg white cord that holds the yolk in place), the older the egg.                                                                                                                             3.  Worldwide, around 1.2 trillion eggs are produced for eating every year. The average person on Earth consumes 173 eggs a year. (

Parts of an egg

Egg composition:                                                                                                                            76% water                                                                                                                                     12% protein                                                                                                                                  10% fat                                                                                                                                             2% sugar

Functions of eggs:  structure, aeration, emulsification, flavor, color, nutritional value.                     Structure:  adding more eggs to a product will give it a firmer texture.  Example:  fudge-style brownies have relatively low egg content.  Cake-style brownies have a higher portion of eggs in the recipe.

Aeration:  whipping egg yolks or whites within the MOP of a recipe will incorporate more air into your product.  Some products are leavened solely with the whipping of eggs (example: chiffon cakes).

Emulsification:  the lecithin in egg yolks allows fat molecules and water molecules to combine more readily.

Flavor:  eggs enrich the flavor of products, giving them a more complete flavor profile.

Color:  egg yolks give an eye-appealing rich color to baked goods.  Also, the additional protein in eggs aid in the browning of the crust of breads, rolls or cookies.

Nutritional value:  eggs are jam-packed with protein, minerals and nutrients for their relatively small size.

How do we use eggs?  fried eggs, omelets, quiche, custards, meringues, soufflés, cakes, breads, cookies, muffins…..they are everywhere!

IMG_0773Fried eggs:  note the difference in the size of the yolks.  These were all graded as “large.”


Over-whipped meringue:  feels like styrofoam.

IMG_0596Perfectly whipped soft-peak meringue.

Meringue topped tartlets

Meringue topped tartlets

Egg custard

Egg custard

Check out these sites:                                                                                                                    The American Egg Board                                                                                         The Canadian Egg Council

For a more in-depth look at eggs or just about any ingredient, explore the contents of this great book by Harold McGee.

On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee

On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee

“Love and eggs are best when fresh.”  Russian proverb

Does this make me look FAT?

Another baking science lesson…….all fats are not created equal!  In the bakeshop, we use several different types of fat based on the final desired outcome of the product.  In general, we can define a fat as a lipid that is solid at room temperature, whereas an oil is a lipid that is liquid at room temperature.  Certain methods of preparation (MOP’s) require specific types of fat.  Example:  the creaming method for mixing most cookies requires a solid fat like butter (or shortening).  The blending method for making muffins requires an oil.  The rubbing method for making pie crusts needs a solid fat like lard (or butter, shortening or a combination).

Let’s look at the characteristics of a few different types of fats and oils.  Although these photos are showing brand names, I am not endorsing any of these products. Personally, I prefer to use butter in nearly all of my baking recipes, but it is important to know what products are available and the differences between them.

Butter.  There are generally two different types of butter:  sweet cream and cultured.

Unsalted Sweet Cream Butter

Unsalted Sweet Cream Butter

European Style Butter

European Style Butter

Sweet cream butter, a mass-produced butter, is made from cream that has undergone little or no storage which results in a very mild flavor.   It is available in both salted and unsalted varieties.  European style butter is made more slowly with cream that has developed a deeper flavor and often has bacterial cultures added to it to  enhance the flavor. While sweet cream butter has an 80% fat content, European style butter has an 82 – 86% fat content.  The remaining percentages are made up with water, milk solids and minerals.



Margarine, very similar to butter in fat content, is composed of hydrogenated vegetable oils, flavors,  and colors.  It boasts a lower saturated fat content and less cholesterol, but may also contain trans fats.  If choosing margarine for health reasons, please do your research as there are a variety of brands that are processed differently.



Butter vs. Margarine, by JWU student Rebecca Ramey

Butter vs. Margarine, by JWU student Rebecca Ramey

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 9.41.32 PM

Oil. There are many varieties of oil, including corn oil, canola oil, peanut oil, olive oil, and vegetable oil.  All of these oils are 100% fat and remain liquid at room temperature.  Flavor varies with the type of oil so when choosing a product to use in a baking recipe, I recommend one with a mild flavor.

Unsalted butter

All-purpose shortening

Shortening, a hydrogenated vegetable oil which makes it a solid at room temperature, has very little flavor and a waxy consistency.  All purpose shortening may be used for pie crusts, cookies, biscuits and for frying.  Shortening has an extremely long shelf life and has a higher melting point than butter. (The higher the melting point of the fat, the flakier the product will be.)

Lard, for a REALLY flaky piecrust!

Lard, for a REALLY flaky piecrust!

Lard, rendered and purified pork (usually) fat, has a relatively high melting point that makes it perfect for flaky pastry.  Remember the picture of my blueberry pie from my first post?  That pie crust was made with lard.  Depending on the quality of the lard, some brands may be more suitable for savory dishes as they have a bit of a meaty flavor.  (This particular brand is nearly flavorless.)

Functions of fats:  Fats in recipes provide moistness (muffins), tenderness (cakes), flakiness (croissants), flavor (shortbread cookies) and extend shelf life.  Choose your fat wisely!

The following photos are of some products that rely on fat for their characteristic flavors and textures.

Tender-crisp butter pecan shortbread cookies

Tender-crisp butter pecan shortbread cookies

Palmiers, Tarte Tatin and Bande de Fruit- all use butter puff pastry

Palmiers, Tarte Tatin, Bande de Fruit and Sacristains- all use butter puff pastry

Butter gives them their flaky layers!

Butter gives these croissants their flaky layers and amazing flavor!

What’s your favorite fat for baking?  What makes it your favorite: the flavor, the mouthfeel or how it functions in your product?

.Here’s another of my favorite books!  This edition, set up like a dictionary, gives a brief history, definition or description of everything from basic ingredients to classic recipes.  This book is “must have” for your culinary bookshelf. The Pastry Chef's Companion