Tag Archives: foodie

Baking on the Cheap

19 Sep

I’ve got a new project.  Now that I’ve thoroughly tested my perfect brownie recipe, I want to find out if holds up under distressed conditions: House-brand cocoa; house-brand, bleached all-purpose flour ; and seriously cheap, house-brand instant coffee.  All I have left to buy is the generic–and yes, imitation–vanilla.  I’ll be using ingredients that are thought to be maybe a half-step better than that stuff that comes in no. 10 cans with a plain white label, which I’d use for this test if I could find it.

Now, I’m certain several tests will be necessary.  House-brand, bleached all-purpose flour has a protein content than can vary not only by the store, but even from batch to batch in the same store.  It will take some work, I suspect, to develop a general rule for baking with it.

Flavors will likely be an issue as well.  Like the flour, house-brand cocoas,vanillas, and instant coffees can vary in flavor and quality, and all within the same store.  It really just depends where the store sources its products from contract to contract. I plan to keep my methods constant, but I’ll develop all new proportions and adjustments with this variance in mind.

See, one of my goals here is to make baking as accessible as possible.  Not just the directions and the science, but the cost, too,  And while I already insist on using ingredients that are easy to find, it’s time to figure out how to bake great things with the ingredients that’ll make your typical food jag laugh at you behind your back.  Let’s show ’em that real skill and confidence–and taste–has nothing to do with name and price.

I can’t wait.


On Food Porn. I Mean, Food Photography

25 Aug

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have the time to learn how to shoot food in the way that food’s shot these days. You know, expensive camera aside, I don’t have time for retouching and selective focus and that perfectly perfect mess on the plate. Plus, I want to show that food can be made to look as good as it does in those retouched photos. So with me, you get the shots you get.

But according to this Wall Street Journal article, I’m either way ahead of my time, or so far behind it I’ll never have more than nine readers. As food stylist Alison Attenborough says in the article, “people are interested in small butchers, artisan producers, farmer’s markets—a more handmade look.”  See, I just don’t think that’s enough.  Think about it: You remember those shots from old issues of Gourmet? The Julia Child Menu Cookbook? Do you think Martha Stewart serves lopsided cake?  I mean, really.

I’ll give you an example of the problem.  I was in a local bakery recently to find pastries clearly made by someone who has the right touch for it. But the baker stopped short, and I don’t know why: She obviously handled the dough perfectly, but left it looking hamfisted, as though it was destined for a bake sale for the blind.  I understand that this is the trend, but why wouldn’t you want to do more?

So when you’re that close, people, don’t stop. Then you won’t have to touch up your food shots like a Playboy centerfold, and you can save all that Photoshop time for something more important: Making people happy with your bakery–and being the one who can do the very best.

Better Bakers Love Lard (and shortening, too)

15 Jul

So, when did the War Against Fat begin?  Was that the 80s?  The 70s?  I don’t know.  I was born in one decade and grew up in the next, and I do remember hearing about the evils of fat on, like, Phil Donahue or something like that until even I thought rice cakes might be good.  (Nasty!)  I never did hear about the Death Fat at home, where fat was used in cooking because good food calls for it.  The trick is, of course, that virtually none of the food I had as a kid was of the processed variety.  Lucky me, I know, so until the day I get my angioplasty, I will preach that fat in food is fine so long as it’s not processed food.

But fat in bakery?  It does give one pause, doesn’t it, because great bakery is based on the delicious but luckless triumvirate of flour, sugar, and fat.  Here’s the thing, though: The best bakery is not something you have everyday in large quantities.  It’s rich enough and filling enough that you can’t eat a lot of it.  And yes–it’s not processed, so you’re already ahead of the game.

This means that making great bakery, and great desserts in particular, is no time to starting thinking about nutrition content.  Portion sizes, maybe, but honestly, if you start making “healthy” substitutions, you’ll just end up with these foul little bricks of crap that will give Dean Ornish a heart attack anyway.  Also, your guests will laugh at you behind your back.  And you’ll deserve it.

If you’d prefer to avoid humiliation at the hand of some silly health claim, allow me, then, to offer you a short treatise on the true beauty and real utility of lard and shortening:

Lard.  This is an amazing addition to your bakery, people.  I can’t say this enough.  Cookies?  Cookies are my passion, and I swear to God, they are so much better with a little lard.  (To start, I usually substitute two tablespoons of lard for the same amount of butter.)  Any cookie I make with lard behaves beautifully in the oven and retains its character for longer than I could ever hope for.  What’s more, the flavors deepen over time while the cookie still tastes fresh.  And pie dough?  In combination with some butter, well, it’s so amazing, I can’t even say.  If you have a hard time finding it, check your ethnic grocers or, failing that, the closest butcher.

Shortening.  This stuff’s not only for greasing your pan.  Where I prefer to use lard, you may prefer to use shortening, although I hope it’s because you’re a vegetarian and not because you think shortening is healthier.  It is not.  It does an admirable job, however, keeping soft cookies soft long after they’re cool, and makes for some damn flaky pie crust.  Plus, it’s easier to find than lard.  (Personally, I can really taste butter-flavored shortening, even in small quantities.  But your people may love it, so give it a shot, if you like.  Some bakers do swear by it.  Otherwise, the plain white kind is great.)

But whether you choose shortening or lard when your recipe calls for it, it’s important that you think not of the fat, but of the flavor.  As I’ve insisted, the health claims against fat are rather dubious anyway.  Remember instead the very real fact that you just don’t eat this stuff every day.  So don’t fuck around, people.  Use fat.

Reasons Why Your Bakery Sucks #2: Your ingredients are not very good.

20 Jun

Your ingredients are crap.  Or are just wrong.  Baking isn’t like cooking, where you can substitute whatever you have handy, a pinch here and a splash there, until it works well enough.  You also won’t get good results if your ingredients are exceedingly cheap. Baking requires ingredients that will perform well, and well together.

That said, you don’t have to break the bank to make great bakery, and don’t let some Audi-driving food douche tell you otherwise.  Trust me: No matter what that asshole says, what everyone really loves is a Little Debbie cake, so for the love of good, do not spend on the ingredients Thomas Keller tells you to buy.  No one will notice.  Use this to your advantage, people, and accept that no one has the great good taste you do.