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Chef Stacy believes that cooking from scratch and using the best ingredients are the secrets to preparing delicious and memorable meals. She has created dozens of classes for the home chef and teaches students how to master culinary techniques and recipes in just one session. Read on to see what she's dishing up for The Oakland Press today....

Sunday, March 28, 2010

An Ounce of Prevention

I often hear people say, “Baking is a science”, and I can’t necessarily disagree, not in totality, anyway. Baking is somewhat different than the other culinary arts because of the temperamental nature of ingredients, how they all come together, and the environment you’re using to create your latest masterpiece. Unfortunately, a lot of times, people let the specifics of baking intimidate them, instead of using them to their advantage.

Like any other cooking technique, taking on a baking project isn’t as hard as most people think. Good ingredients, utilizing the right tools, organization and careful execution are all you need to be able to create some of your most favorite desserts.

In a previous post, ‘A Recipe is Only a Guideline’, I explained that there are only 5 basic cooking techniques, all which will be discussed in greater length in posts to come. Baking is similar; there are a handful of basic baking techniques that once understood and conquered yield very delicious results. However, when baking, you do need to rely on a recipe more than you would when making a batch of soup, since most baking recipes are really formulas.

Even a 6 year old could make a batch of cookie dough, with some assistance of course. What many people don’t realize is that a simple batch of cookie dough is an example of one of the most common applications of one of the basics – the creaming method. You’ve done it countless times, “cream the butter and sugar together…..”

The creaming method, though seemingly elementary, is not elementary at all. A lot of really important things on a molecular level happen when employing this tactic for a simple batch of chocolate chip cookies, a cheesecake, or pound cake.
See below for the steps of the creaming method.

Combine fat, sugar, salt in a mixing bowl with the paddle attachment
Blend to a smooth paste.
Stop the mixer, take it apart, and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and the paddle attachment. Reassemble.
Add eggs, vanilla (if using) gradually and blend in thoroughly.
Scrape between EACH ADDITION.
Add dry ingredients gradually
Scrape between EACH ADDITION.
Continue to mix, but do not over-mix
Shape into cookies or fill pans with batter
Bake according to the recipe’s time and temperature suggestion

Though it seems very straightforward, most people make three very common but serious mistakes when employing the creaming method:
1). The ingredients are not at room temperature – butter and other dairy products should be at room temperature to achieve optimal results. If your ingredients are too cold, the butter and sugar will not cream together easily, and you will have to use too much speed and mix for too long of a time in order to get them to come together. Both of these tactics will affect the texture of the final product.

Another very practical reason to ensure that ingredients are at room temperature is for appearance and taste. When making cheesecake, if your cream cheese and eggs are not at the right temperature, you will see visible lumps in your cheesecake because the temperature inhibits the combining of ingredients.

2). Cooks seldom cream the butter and sugar correctly – Most people stop the creaming process too early. When determining the correct point at which to stop creaming butter and sugar together, you should look for the color and the texture of the sugar. If the color isn’t very light, and the granules of sugar are still visible and large, the mixture is not creamed enough.

3). Cooks often do not scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, or the paddle attachment of the mixer – This is the most common and serious error that many make when using the creaming method. It is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL that every time you introduce another ingredient to the mixture, you MUST stop the mixer, take it apart, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the attachment. Then, put it back together and continue. YOU MUST DO THIS AFTER EACH ADDITION, NO EXCEPTIONS!

Electing to disregard this laborious and critical step leads to terrible results. Since the bowl wasn’t properly scraped, the ingredients never have a chance to come together completely. I’ve taught more than one class where I emphatically and passionately expressed the need to follow the scraping guidelines, and have been met with raised eyebrows and doubt.

Without fail, those neglecting the additional effort to follow this procedure are met with the best teacher of all – experience (a recipe gone wrong). Dough that looked promising and “normal” emerges from the oven as cookies that are misshapen and, the last four or six cookies are always FLAT and CRISPY. Since the dough wasn’t properly mixed, the cookies on the bottom of the bowl are always different than the ones from the middle and the top.

To make the creaming method a little easier, consider purchasing a Beater Blade. This unique and helpful tool is designed with silicone scrapers which scrape the bowl as the mixer is running. While stopping and scraping the bowl is still necessary, the Beater Blade makes the process easier, and reduces the number of times you have to stop the machine.

To buy a Beater Blade, come to Holiday Market and one of their friendly and helpful associates will get one for you. Just tell them you read about it in the Mirepoix Cooking School blog.

To receive recipes from the Mirepoix Cooking School, including the pound cake that was featured on WXYZ Channel 7 in our cooking segment this morning, become a fan of Mirepoix on Facebook.

For more information about our classes and to register for a class, visit

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