We asked our readers here and on social media to share their cooking questions with us so we could take them to the chefs in the Test Kitchen of our cooking class program. Check out the questions and responses below, and then let us know if you have a question you want answered!
Q: What type of food processor do you recommend for making pie dough? I am only just learning to bake so I don’t want to go with anything too fancy/expensive.
A: I actually love to make my pie dough with a pastry blender and cold ingredients. I find the dough is more tender if I do it this way. A food processor works, but you need one large enough to hold the ingredients and that will run you at least $149. This one is a good option.
Q: I prefer desserts that aren’t too sweet, but I worry about messing up a baking recipe if I start taking sugar out. How essential is sugar to the structure of whatever I’m baking and how much of it is just for sweetness?
A: Good question! The simple answer to this in baking is, unfortunately, don’t. Baking recipes are specially calibrated to balance all the ingredients to produce a successful final product. This balance involves chemistry between the ingredients: flour, sugar, fat etc.
However, don’t despair! Millions of delicious recipes would not exist if it weren’t for variation and experimentation. And if a failed baking attempt won’t crush your motivation to bake again, then go for it! You may discover a new recipe custom-designed for your palette. Here are some tips:
- Make small adjustments first. Take out 25 percent or less of the sugar to start and see if you like the results.
- Reduce the sugar in toppings, fillings, sauces and frostings before altering it in dough and batters.
- Use recipes that utilize whole grains. Sometimes these recipes need less sugar to impart flavor, but sometimes not, so review the recipe thoroughly.
Best advice, look for baking recipes from reputable sources that are low on the sweet stuff and try them out. It might take some digging, but once you find a recipe you like, it’s more likely to be successful every time you bake it!
Q: I love eggplant, but I often skip the step in recipes that has you salt sliced raw eggplant and let it drain in a colander. But is my laziness affecting my cooking?
A: As long as your eggplant is fresh, you can skip this step. If it’s older, it will have brown seeds and they tend to have a bitter quality which the salt can help draw out.
Q: If I have a recipe for, say, chocolate chip cookies or brownies that calls for nuts, but I want to leave the nuts out, do I need to change anything else?
A: No need to change a thing — just omit the nuts. They don’t alter the structure of the baked treat much.
Q: When a recipe asks me to scald milk, what does that actually mean? I don’t want to burn the milk and then ruin the recipe.
A: To scald or not to scald, that is the question.
Back in the day before pasteurization, folks would scald their milk to kill off any harmful bacteria and microbes to make the milk safe for consumption. The process was passed down through recipes even after Louis Pasteur invented ways to make our milk safe (pasteurization). Recipes passed down from generations to generation held true to traditions, i.e., scald the milk.
There are, however, times where scalding in certain situations can help the end result, like with bread making. Unscalded milk contains an amino acid that can soften dough by breaking down the gluten (protein strands). Scalding the milk destroys that amino acid, resulting in dough that is firmer and springier — an all-around better loaf of bread. Just make sure to cool the milk to room temperature after it has been scalded so it doesn’t kill the yeast or melt any butter before baking.
The other case for scalding milk is when making yogurt from scratch. When you make homemade yogurt you inoculate fresh milk with Lactobacillus acidophilus, the culture that coagulates the milk into the soft curds we know as yogurt. Scalding the milk to 180°F will kill off any natural occurring bacteria and wild bacteria, yeast or mold spores that might have gotten into the milk, controlling the environment to allow the introduced culture an undisturbed clean slate to make its magic without competition.
Thanks, Test Kitchen team! If you have questions you want our in-house chefs to answer, let us know in the comments. Remember, there’s no question too small …