Thoughts about food and technology
Fri, 16 Jul 2010 15:13:39 +0000
Cookie decorating: Secrets of the pros
Mon, 11 Dec 2006 15:00:38 +0000
Karen G. Anderson
Last year, following the step-by-step advice in a well-known cooking magazine, I decorated a batch of holiday cookies. My efforts yielded a ghastly mess of smeared, melted, and clotted sugar.
This year, I headed over to the local
store to take a class from a professional cake and cookie decorator. It was a revelation, and the revelation was three-fold: icing ingredients, decorating equipment, and basic technique.
Last year, I’d mixed up a batch of royal icing, divided it in three, added liquid food coloring, and got to work. Bzzt! Wrong move. Instead of liquid food coloring, I should have blended in coloring in paste from, available at cooking stores. I’d also used decorating gels, pre-mixed, in tubes from the supermarket. Wrong again. Gels (as I discovered) melt and blur. You need to prepare your own icing, and fine tune it (adding water or confectioner’s sugar) to the right consistency.
And, as it turns out, there are two consistencies. The thick one, which I was familiar with, is for outlining. The other (very liquid) is for “flooding,” a technique explained below.
One of my frustrations last year was the discovery that I needed not just one bag for piping the icing, but several — one for each color I was working with. The Sur la Table instructor showed us how to turn zip-closure plastic bags (freezer grade) into quick, cheap pastry bags by making a tiny snip in one corner, adding a piping tip, and then filling with frosting.
Toothpicks (round ones) also turned out to be an important tool. They are used for plugging the tips of the piping bags to prevent drying out and/or leaking as you work. And they are used for making designs in the flooding icing, much the way a barista makes designs in espresso foam.
The outlining technique, using firm, thick icing, was what I had previously mistaken for simple decorative lines. As it turns out, the outline of firm piped icing serves as a dike to contain the large, smooth swatches of “flooded” color (see the snowman, or the green ornament, in the photo; click for a larger version). Instead of trying to smear thick icing around with a tiny offset spatula as I had last year, we simply squirted the thin icing into the outlined area, nudging it around a bit with the piping tip, and it melted into place.
A second, very elaborate-looking technique involved taking advantage of the melting property of the soft icing. A dot or a stripe of soft icing is piped directly into a lake of soft color (see ornament and stocking top), where it melts flush to the first color. Then, a clean toothpick is used to marble the two colors into a design (see top of bell). This technique was also used to transform a red dot on the gingerbread man’s vest into a heart.We also learned to use the firm icing as glue for attaching the candy cane (stocking) and miniature candies (eyes on the gingerbread man).There were 16 people in the class, and by the end of the two hours, every one of them was creating bakery-quality cookies.
Want to try the dual-icing technique? Here are some online recipes and guidance from
(good recipes and detailed instructions) and
(nice pictures of decorating technique).
“Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner” released
Fri, 22 Sep 2006 20:40:46 +0000
It’s the first day of autumn, which in the United States means just one thing: the Halloween shopping season! Normally I don’t like thinking about holidays too far in advance, but all summer long I’ve had my mind on another holiday: Thanksgiving. I spent much of the summer writing, testing, and revising my latest book, , and I’m pleased to announce that it’s now available for sale. If you’ve ever tried to cook a Thanksgiving feast for a crowd and run into problems (or if you’re trying it this year for the first time), this book is the solution. It walks you through every step in detail, with careful attention to timing and logistics, so that all the food will be done right and on time—with as little stress for the cook as possible. The book covers the traditional Thanksgiving dishes: roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.
American readers may be thinking that even late September is rather early to be talking about a late-November holiday, but we wanted to get the book out in plenty of time for folks in Canada, where Thanksgiving falls on October 9 this year. (And by the way, I’ve included metric equivalents for all the measurements!) Because some of the planning tasks I recommend can usefully be done a few weeks before Thanksgiving, we wanted to get it out as quickly as we could. (It would have been published last week, in fact, were it not for a last-minute logistical glitch involving the illustrations. Props to illustrator
for rapidly and brilliantly solving all our graphical problems.)
This 104-page book is initially available in electronic form. The ebook costs US$10 and can be downloaded immediately; you can then, if you wish, print it yourself. We’re working hard to get a custom-printed, spiral-bound version ready, and it should be available within a couple of weeks or so (but, I’m afraid, not in time for Thanksgiving in Canada—sorry!). Either way, you also get a downloadable “Print Me” file containing the shopping lists, recipes, and schedules, so that you have something you can tape up in the kitchen, write on, and take with you to the store.
Although I’m no stranger to writing , this project is quite a departure for me, as I normally cover computer-related topics. But I love to cook, too, and have wanted to write a book about food for some time. The publisher and I figured that if I can make something complicated like backing up your computer or installing a new operating system easy to understand, I should be able to do the same thing for a similarly involved cooking project, and I believe I’ve succeeded with this book. You don’t have to be a computer geek (or a cooking geek!) to follow my instructions; the book is written in plain, nontechnical English. As long as you can boil water or chop celery, you should be in good shape.
As time goes on (and particularly in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving), look for more information, tips, and details on this site relating to Thanksgiving dinner. In the meantime, if you plan to cook the big feast this year, please do yourself (and me!) a favor by picking up the new book. I think you’ll find it well worth the money!
Wed, 13 Sep 2006 14:00:57 +0000
This one really has me scratching my head. Maybe I just don’t get something obvious, but regardless, I’m clearly outside the target market. What we have here is a table with a seamless, one piece surface, the middle portion of which heats up to become a grill, and in so doing, bows inward to prevent the juices from whatever you’re cooking from running all over the people seated at the table. Several different styles and sizes of the
Now, I can respect this from an engineering point of view, and even from an aesthetic point of view. I just can’t figure out how this makes practical sense, or who it makes sense for.
To my way of thinking, this is like a fondue set: Once in a long while, you’ll decide that it would be a cool thing to share a special meal with your friends that’s made right on the table. But would anyone seriously use something like this regularly?
Almost every meal I prepare has components that are made in a variety of ways—for example, one dish is boiled, another is baked, another is fried. Only very rarely would I make an entire meal where every single item is grilled. Moreover, with this table, I’d have to reach over (or around) plates and glasses to get to the work area: awkward and potentially messy.
Call me old-fashioned, but I like the idea of having a distinction between the cooking area and the eating area; I also like putting food on plates and taking it out to the table with a little bit of drama and mystery. But again, perhaps I’m just not seeing how this could change the way I cook and eat for the better.