Sweating, similar to sautéeing, is a French technique of cooking food (usually vegetables) in a little fat, over low heat, in a covered pan. Sweating causes the food to release its juices and cook without browning which in turn, concentrates the flavor of the food. This technique is often used in recipes where the vegeatables/aromatics are not the main ingredients of the dish but rather the background flavor base.
Crumbles, crisps, and buckles………Oh my!! There are so many different ways to bake fresh fruit into a delectable dessert that it can be confusing and overwhelming. So let’s break it down one dessert at a time!
Crumble – A crumble is a baked dessert consisting of fresh fruit that is topped with an oat based streusel.
Crisp – A crisp is very similar to a crumble except the streusel topping is made from flour, not oats.
Brown Betty – A brown betty is very similar to a crisp. In fact, some recipes call for only fresh fruit with a streusel topping just like in a crisp. However, a layer of streusel can also be layered on the bottom as well. Other recipes call for the fruit to be layered between stale, buttered cubes of bread.
Cobbler – A cobbler is topped with individual dropped biscuits that create the look of a cobblestone street, hence the name “cobbler“.
Buckle – A buckle has a cake like batter underneath the fruit and is topped with crumbs. As it bakes the cake rises up while the fruit and crumbs weigh it down which causes a buckling effect. The most common type of buckle is blueberry but it can be made with other types of fruit.
Grunt/Slump – A grunt or a slump is similar to a cobbler however, instead of being baked in the oven it is cooked in a covered pan on a stovetop or over a campfire. The biscuits are steamed rather than baked like in a cobbler.
The term “grunt” was coined because of the noise that the hot, bubbly fruit makes as it cooks. The term “slump” was coined because when the dessert is placed on a serving dish it doesn’t hold its form and it “slumps” on the dish.
Clafouti – A clafouti is topped with either cake or pudding.
Pandowdy – A pandowdy is a deep dish fruit dessert that is topped with brittle biscuits. As the pandowdy bakes, the biscuit topping is broken up and pounded into the fruit so that the juices from the fruit can rise up to the top.
Crostata/Galette – A crostata or galette is made with a rolled out piece of dough that’s piled with fruit. The edges of the dough are folded in to create a crust and then it gets an egg wash and a dusting of coarse sugar on top. This dessert is freeform in shape and it’s baked on a flat sheet.
These two desserts are identical except in name. A crostata is an Italian term and a galette is French but they can be used interchangeably as they are both referring to the same thing.
Studding means to decorate and/or flavor food by inserting seasonings into the surface of the food. Common ingredients used in studding are garlic, spices (such as cloves), or nuts. Whole hams are commonly studded with cloves, pork roasts are commonly studded with slivers of garlic and/or apple slices, and even breads can be studded with raisins or other dried fruits. Studding enhances the presentation of food and imparts another layer of flavor as well.
In baking, the term proofing actually has two applications. With regards to yeast, which is a living organism that can weaken over time, it’s a process that is used to determine if the yeast is still active and capable of leavening bread dough. Proofing is also the term that is used to describe the second (or final) rise of a shaped yeast dough.
To proof yeast – Mix the yeast with warm water (between 105ºF and 110ºF) and allow it to sit for a few minutes. If the yeast becomes creamy and foamy, it is still active. If the yeast does not foam and become creamy it is no longer active and should be thrown out as it will not work properly in the dough.
To proof shaped dough – For the final rise of a shaped yeast dough simply place the dough in a warm, dark, draft free area and allow it to rest undisturbed. Many ovens today come equipped with a PROOF function and it works exceptionally well. If you have an oven that has this feature, take advantage of it when proofing dough.
Butterflying is a cooking technique whereby food is cut all the way down the middle, almost all the way through, so that it can be opened up to lie relatively flat. Butterflying allows for fast, even cooking of food and it also makes it easy to stuff and roll up meat.
- Beef Filets – First, lay the meat flat on the cutting board. With a chef’s knife, make short, smooth strokes horizontally down the middle of the filet. Avoid cutting the meat so that one side is thicker than the other, both sides need to be about the same thickness so they cook evenly. Cut almost all the way through the meat, stopping right before the two halves are completely severed. Open up the two halves like a butterfly.
- Chicken Breasts – Lay the breast on the cutting board, smooth side down. First, remove the inner filet known as the chicken tender and set aside. Then, flip the breast over and cut the meat horizontally, just as you would with a beef filet, and follow the same procedure to butterfly. Save the chicken tenders to use for another recipe.
- Seafood – Shrimp is an easy piece of seafood to butterfly. Using a smaller knife slice shrimp down the curved part of the tail, open it up, and lie flat to butterfly.
A nonreactive pan is one that is made of or lined with a material that will not react with acidic ingredients such as tomatoes, citrus juice or vinegar. When using a pan that is not nonreactive it will result in an “off” flavor and an unappealing, but harmless, darker coloring of of the food. This is why a nonreactive pan is essential when cooking certain foods.
The most common nonreactive pans are made of anodized stainless steel but they can also be made from enamel or glass. On the flip side, reactive materials include nonanodized stainless steel, unlined copper or cast iron. Cast iron is the least problematic of the three as it can be used to prepare acidic foods only if the food is not left in the pan for an extended period of time.
Pricking holes in a short dough (pie crust, shortbread, etc) prior to baking is called docking. Using a fork or special docking tool, prick small holes all over the dough. Doing this helps to vent the steam during the baking process and it keeps the pastry dough from puffing up.
Roasting is when dry, indirect heat is used to cook foods. Although similar to baking, the term roasting is typically used when speaking about foods that already have structure prior to cooking, such as meats and vegetables. Food is placed in an open pan and baked uncovered in order to achieve even cooking and browning. When roasting, food is first cooked at a higher temperature in order to create the browned “crust” and then the temperature is lowered for the remainder of the cooking time.
To roast meat, begin by allowing it to come to room temperature before cooking. Place the meat on top of a rack set inside a wide, open roasting pan. This allows air to circulate around the meat encouraging even cooking. If you don’t have a rack, use sturdy vegetables such as leeks or carrots to raise the meat up from the bottom of the pan. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper and cook according to recipe instructions. When cooking is complete, allow the roasted meat to rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing.
To roast vegetables, coat generously with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread them out in one layer on a large, shallow baking sheet. Do not crowd the pan or the vegetables will steam rather than roast. Roast until the vegetables are fork tender and browned with some charred bits. Harder vegetables, such as potatoes, will take longer to roast than softer vegetables. Also, the smaller the dice, the faster they will roast.
A water bath is simply a pan of boiling water that is placed in the oven during baking. The dessert can be submerged directly into the water bath or it can be placed on the baking rack above the water bath. There are two reasons why a water bath is used in baking, to add moisture to the oven and to provide a more even, slower heat source. Desserts such as cheesecake benefit from a water bath as the moist heat will help to avoid the cheesecake from cracking during baking and cooling. It also helps desserts such as custards from becoming rubbery.
To make a water bath, simply place a pan of boiling water in the oven. If submerging a dessert directly into the water bath, wrap the pan in tin foil to avoid water from seeping in. This is especially important when using a springform pan which is more likely to leak.
The French term, mirepoix (pronounced “meer pwah”) is a group of aromatics that are used to season and flavor sauces, stocks, soups, and other foods. Mirepoix is also referred to as the “Holy Trinity” by many chefs around the world and it consists of finely diced carrots, onions, and celery that are sautéed in butter.
Typically the ratio for a mirepoix is 2 parts onion to 1 part celery and 1 part carrot according to weight. (Example: 1 pound of mirepoix would be 8 oz of onion, 4 oz of celery, and 4 oz of carrot) Since a mirepoix does not have to be exact down to the last ounce it can also be measured by volume to make it easier for the home cook. (Example: 2 cups onions, 1 cup celery, 1 cup carrot)
To make a mirepoix, brown the onions and carrots together over medium heat until nice and brown, then add in the celery and cook until soft.