Fats in the Kitchen: Tender Textures

In the last couple posts, we explored the chemical structure of fats, learned why fats repel water, and discussed how they melt. Moving forward, we’ll focus on how these properties affect our baked goods. As we’ll see, fats are crucial for the texture, flavor, and sensory properties of our food. Let’s start with a closer look at the molecular interactions that create tender textures in our bakes.

Fats and Water Don’t Mix: An Introduction to Polarity

In the last post, we reviewed the basic chemical structure of fats and oils. They’re chains of carbon atoms called fatty acids bundled into triglycerides. Our ingredients contain unique ratios of fatty acids with varying lengths and saturations, and as a result, they have different melting points, stabilities, and effects on our health. However, inContinue reading “Fats and Water Don’t Mix: An Introduction to Polarity”

Fats: An Introduction

Fats are one of the most important ingredients in our bakes. They make light and airy cakes, moist muffins, flaky puff pastry, and fluffy bread. In this series of posts, we’ll dive deep into the roles of fat, including texture, flavor, cookie spread, and aeration. But before we explore fats’ interactions with other ingredients, we should first understand fats themselves.

Poaching Time for Bagels

One of the defining features of a bagel is its chewy, shiny skin, which forms when the bagel is briefly boiled before it’s baked. In this post, we’re taking a closer look at the poaching step, its effect on the bagel’s crust, and how it gives a bagel its characteristic appearance and texture.

Water Temperature in Dumpling Wrappers

In the recent post about starch in flour, we discussed the effect of water temperature on doughs. In Chinese cooking, different ratios of hot and cold water are combined with flour to make dough for everything from noodles to chive pockets to dumplings, all of which differ in both texture and cooking method. To explore how water temperature adds so much versatility to dough, we made dumpling wrappers using a cold water dough and a hot water dough. We then boiled or steamed both types of dumplings and compared their textures.

Oil Temperature in Castella Chiffon Cake

Castella cake is a light, fluffy cake popular in East Asia, and there are two main methods to make it. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the Taiwanese version (古早味蛋糕, gǔzǎowèi dàngāo). A typical recipe starts with cake flour and cornstarch in hot oil, then adds milk, egg yolks, and an egg white meringue. In this post, we’ll focus on the ingredient that’s less common in cakes: the hot oil. We’ll bake two cakes, one with hot oil and one with oil at room temperature, and we’ll discuss the effects of the hot oil on the flour and cornstarch, the batter, and the final baked cake.

Tangzhong Method for Bread

Tangzhong (from the Chinese 湯種, tāngzhǒng) is a breadmaking method derived from the Japanese breadmaking method yukone or yudane. It’s recently gained popularity largely thanks to the Chinese cookbook 65°C Tangzhong Bread by Yvonne Chen. For the tangzhong method, a small portion of the flour and water are cooked together to 65°C (149°F), then added to the rest of the bread ingredients. Tangzhong is known to keep breads softer and moister for longer due to the gelatinized starch in the cooked flour. To taste the effects of tangzhong for ourselves, we made two sets of bread rolls with the same ingredients. Half the rolls were made with tangzhong, and half the rolls were made without.

Cooking Bread with Steam

Bread dough doesn’t have to be baked. In Chinese cooking, for example, it’s often steamed to make buns. Commercial western-style bakeries also use steam to bake larger loaves with shinier, crisper crusts, an effect home cooks replicate with Dutch ovens. In this post, we’ll compare three methods of cooking bread dough using 花卷 (huājuǎn, literally “flower roll”), a type of Chinese steamed bun speckled with scallions. We’ll compare the traditional steaming method to baking and to baking with steam.

Curious Kitchen renovations: Online classes, YouTube, and new logos!

I wanted to share a few pieces of exciting news today! First, I started teaching baking science classes with Level Up, a female–led learning platform that connects creatives with students. Classes are live online through Zoom, and I focus on the purpose behind the ingredients and techniques behind a recipe as we bake it together.Continue reading “Curious Kitchen renovations: Online classes, YouTube, and new logos!”

Starch in the Kitchen: Choosing a Starch

In the last few posts, we discussed starch’s different roles in baked goods and other desserts. But some starches are better than others for certain applications. Cornstarch, for example, is useful for gelling custard pie fillings, but if we refrigerate a cornstarch fruit filling, it gets cloudy. Tapioca starch, on the other hand, won’t gel into a solid you can slice, but it remains clear once refrigerated. In this post, we’ll explore the molecular differences between different starches and their consequent effects in our desserts.