What’s the Difference: Whisks?

In September 2012 I wrote a post entitled Top Ten….or is it Eleven? in which I described the top 10 (actually 11) items I can’t live without in the kitchen.  Whisks made the list.  In fact, they were the first thing I wrote about (the list was in random order, not order of importance to me).

So I thought I’d give you a little more information on whisks and the different types of whisks.

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What’s the Difference: Orange Marmalade?

I want to share with you a lesson I’ve learned over the last week.  While testing a recipe I will be making later in the month for a catered event, I discovered that all orange marmalades are not alike.  I know, not a gasp-out-loud, jaw dropping revelation – because you’d expect differences; but I did not expect what I found.

Orange Marmalade

Let me start by clearing up one of the great mysteries of life…the difference between marmalade, jam and jelly!

  • Marmalade – a clear, jelly-like preserve made from the pulp and rind of fruits, especially citrus fruits.
  • Jam – a preserve made from whole fruit boiled to a pulp with sugar.
  • Jelly – a fruit product made by boiling sugar and the juice of the fruit.

So, back to my story….

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What’s the Difference: Flour? Part 1

Last week, when I was working at the Kitchen Shoppe, an intriguing challenge arose from a student’s question to the instructor.  The instructor was talking about the flour he was adding to a roux and one of the class members asked if you could substitute other types of flour.

The instructor began talking about different types of flour – bread flour, all-purpose flour, and pastry flour (a.k.a. soft flour or sometimes substituted by cake flour).  He challenged class members to try each of these types of flour by making the same recipe multiple times only changing the flour.

Well, never being one to shy away from a challenge, I decided to give it a whirl.  But rather than simply try one recipe, I decided I would try two.  Chocolate cake and foccacia.  This post details my findings in the chocolate cake category.

I began by making a very basic chocolate cake recipe with bread flour, with all-purpose flour and with cake flour (since I didn’t have and couldn’t easily locate pastry flour).  I drafted a team of six tasters – including one of the world’s foremost authorities on chocolate cake, my buddy Jackson, and his dad, Tim.  Incidentally, it’s not that difficult to draft a team of tasters when chocolate cake is on the menu; however I wonder if it will be so easy should I decide to test brussel sprouts!

I must admit, I went into this experiment with a preconceived idea of which flour would be the best.  I was surprised to find that the results were somewhat different than I thought they would be.

I was also surprised to find during my research that there are differences between Southern all-purpose flour and Northern all-purpose flour.  Who knew?  Not me.

I fully expected the cake flour to make the best cake – I mean, duh, cake is in the name.  And were we only judging on taste and texture, I would have been right.  But when we included appearance into the criteria, pastry flour fell flat – pun intended.

 After researching the different kinds of wheat flour, I put together a chart I hope is helpful:

Bread Flour All Purpose Flour Pastry Flour
Southern Northern
Protein Content 12 – 13% 8 – 10% 11 – 12% 9% (Cake flour 7 – 8%)
Gluten Content high medium low
Weighing and Measuring 1 cup = 160 grams 1 cup = 140 grams 1 cup = 130 grams
Wheat hard, high protein wheat Blend of hard and soft wheat soft winter wheat
soft winter wheat
General Good for breads and some pastries, best choice for yeast products Good for cakes, cookies, breads and pastries Good for cakes and cookies where a tender/delicate texture is desired. / Cake flour is slightly different than pastry flour but is a good substitute
Shelf-Life Cabinet – several months in a cool, dry cabinet in sealed container / Freezer – up to 1 year Cabinet – up to 8 months in sealed container / Refrigerator – up to 1 year Cabinet – up to 8 months in sealed container / Refrigerator – up to 1 year
Crumb / Texture Produced Chewy Delicate, tender

MY RESULTS:

The following are the results of my first experiment, during which I baked the cakes for exactly the same amount of time; however, I want to see what happens if I alter baking times based upon the type of flour –  my hunch is the cakes made with the all-purpose flour and cake flour could have used a little more time than the one made with the bread flour.  I will also dust the cake pans with flour the next time, rather than my usual dusting of sugar (which people always love, but which makes it a little more difficult to remove the cake from the pan).

The taste tests were blind in that the testers did not know ahead of time which flour was used in which cake.  The cakes were simply labeled A, B and C and only I knew which flour which cake.  The cakes were single layer and did not have any icing on them.  Testers were asked to comment on appearance, texture, moisture, taste and ‘other.’

Cake A – Bread Flour

This cake looked the best.  It was 1 1/8 inches high and held its shape nicely.  It was easy to remove from the pan – no coaxing necessary.

Appearance: Testers commented that it looked brownie-like, nice and even, lightest color, compact, and cakey.

Texture: There were a wide variety of opinions on the texture. Testers commented that the texture was dense, toughest of the 3, soft and chocolatey interior, and spongy.

Moisture: Again, there were a wide variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, moist and good without frosting, a bit dry, medium – on the dry side, evenly moist, driest.

Taste: Testers said sweet – not overly chocolatey, least like chocolate, dull, like a brownie, and good.

Other: Testers comments included, I liked this, least flavorful, no frosting needed, and small holes on top.

Cake B – All-Purpose Flour

This cake was the tallest.  It was 1 1/2 inches high and took just a little coaxing to get out of the pan.  Except for a damaged corner, it held its shape.

Appearance: Testers commented that it wet (moist) and light (fluffy), thin and chocolatey, tallest overall, and tempting-looking.

Texture: There was less variety in opinions on the texture of cake B than on the texture of cake A. Testers commented that the texture was spongy, fluffy, gooey, moist – cake like, fluffy, and light in color.

Moisture: Again, there was less variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, very moist, gooey, better than A, evenly moist, and medium moist.

Taste: Testers said sweet/good, a super sweet brownie, better cake taste than A, not too sweet or too chocolatey, and chocolatey.

Other: Testers comments included, cracked top, no frosting needed, tastes like cake, very good, and I liked this too.

Cake C – Cake Flour

This cake was the shortest.  It was 1 1/16 inches high and took a lot of coaxing to get out of the pan.  The middle of the cake stuck to the pan and had to be placed back into the rest of the cake once it was coaxed out.

Appearance: Testers commented that very moist (wet on top), crumbly, fallen – least visually appealing but darkest, uneven surface, darkest color and big holes on top.

Texture: Of all the cakes there was the most variety in opinions on the texture. Testers commented that the texture was moist and light, fluffy, denser than the others – not light and airy, very light – almost angel food texture, and crumbly and airy.

Moisture: Of all the cakes there was the least variety of opinions on moisture.  Testers comments included, very moist, most moist of three, very moist throughout, and most moist.

Taste: Testers said good – different than others but not sure why, chocolatey, best taste – seems chocolatier, and delicious chocolate flavor.

Other: Testers comments included, didn’t like as much as others, like taste but not appearance, and can picture raspberry mousse, peanut butter, vanilla fillings or frostings with this.

There was no clear favorite, nor was there a clear loser. Each cake had its merits and downfalls.  As I said earlier, I will try my experiment again – at least once – and will report back.  For now I would say for an overall good result, the all-purpose flour takes the cake!

What’s the Difference: Salt?

Last night I received a text message from a friend that read, “Question inspired by your blog…what is the difference between kosher salt and “regular” salt (you know the one with the girl and the umbrella on the package)?”  I will not divulge who asked – not because I think it’s a silly question (the only silly question is the one not asked), but because I don’t like to write about people without their permission.  Except of course for Jeff – I figure the marriage vows include a free pass on blogging!

 

Anyway, back to the salt.  The answer is simple and complicated.  There are really three salts I think I should discuss:  kosher salt, sea salt, and table salt (the one I believe my friend is questioning).

There are several things to consider when buying salt:

  1. INGREDIENTS

Table salt – these ingredients aren’t true for all brands, but they are true for “the one with the girl and the umbrella on the package:” salt, calcium silicate (an anti-caking agent), dextrose (a form of glucose, added to stabilize the iodide), and potassium iodide (originally added to prevent health problems caused by a lack of iodine).

Kosher salt – typically contains no additives.  It’s just salt.  But you have to look at the packaging to make sure.  Two brands that are just salt are Diamond Crystal and David’s (I believe both are available at Wegman’s (which is near my house and having lived in Rochester one of my favorite grocery stores).

Sea salt – normally contains no additives.  To oversimplify the explanation of how it is “made,” the water is evaporated from sea water!  This salt often contains some good trace minerals, but be aware that these can affect the taste – sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a way that you don’t like.  There are many different types and colors depending on the sea from which they are derived.  There are also sea salts you can purchase that contain additives – for example I have in my cupboard right now a yummy wild porcini mushroom sea salt.

2. COST
If I were to rank the salts in order of cost from least expensive to most expensive (keeping in mind that prices vary depending on where you shop and where you live), they would fall as follows:

$ – table salt

 

$$ – kosher salt

 

$$$ – sea salt (particularly some of the more exotic sea salts)

3. GRAIN SIZE

Table salt – typically small grains which dissolve more quickly than other types of salt and absorb less moisture.  Some say because of the small grains it is better for baking, but I disagree.  I actually like the salty hint you get from kosher salt in baking – I think it balances the sweetness.  But you should try it for yourself.

 

Kosher salt – typically larger grains (depending on the brand and how/if they’re processed) which dissolve more slowly.  They absorb more moisture, which make them good for curing meats.

 

Sea salt – typically larger grains, but again it depends on the variety.

4. TASTE

Table salt – in my opinion table salt has a metallic taste and makes the food taste like salt.  It’s definitely not my favorite, but there times I use it – these are personal preferences – often when mashed potatoes and baked potatoes are served I like a little more salty kick so I reach for the table salt and in a recipe I have for oven roasted carrots.  Otherwise my go-to salt is kosher salt.

 

Kosher salt – when tasted on its own it tastes like salt, when added to food it makes the food taste more like what it is rather than salty.  So when added to chicken, it tastes more chicken-y not salty.

 

Sea salt – the taste of sea salt varies widely, but usually makes foods taste more like what they are or adds a hint of “exotic“ flavor.

I told you at the beginning the answer can be complicated.  But to simplify it, here are my tips:

  1. Read labels and make informed decisions.  Know what you are consuming and feeding your family.  If there is something in the ingredient list that you don’t need or want to consume, look for a different option.  If there’s something in the ingredient list that you can’t pronounce, I’d stay away from it or learn more about it!
  2. Taste your food before salting and taste the salt to know the flavor you are adding.
  3. Know your own taste buds and the taste buds of those for whom you cook.
  4. Larger grain salts aren’t good in the average salt shaker, but you can purchase a relatively inexpensive salt grinder or go back in time and use a salt cellar on the table – they can add a nostalgic twist to your table and can make an interesting collection.
  5. Know your budget, but keep in mind some things are worth paying extra for if they are better for your health or if you like them better and can afford to splurge.
  6. Don’t assume a tsp. (or other equal measure) of kosher salt vs. table salt vs. sea salt will yield the same results.  Test it out!!!

Well friend, I hope this helps and doesn’t just confuse you.  If I had to sum it up in one sentence (which is OBVIOUSLY quite difficult for me), I’d say a good kosher salt is a good all-purpose salt!