Why do cheesecakes crack?

Reader Rick is sick and tired of having to disguise the cracks in his cheesecake with sour cream toppings and fruit and wants to know what he can do about it. Rick, I have a few ideas.

Cracks in cheesecakes are caused by temperature problems, and are usually a result of one region of the cake heating faster than another. Large cheesecakes are especially crack-prone since the areas closest to the rim of the pan cook and firm up first. If this happens too abruptly the outer portion of the cheesecake can shrink and pull away from the softer inner portion. …

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New Oil, Old Oil

Apple fritter lover Emma wants to know whether it’s OK to combine fresh oil with older oil when you’re frying. She says she keeps seeing recipes that specifically instruct her never to do that. I’ve seen those as well, Emma, and all I can think is that none of these folks have done very much frying, for not only can you combine old fry oil with new, you absolutely, positively should.


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Strained Relations

Apples and pears are like two siblings with nothing common. Oh sure they may have sprung from the same family, grown up in the same household, but when it comes to their disposition, passtimes and taste in friends, they couldn’t be more different.

Both the pear and the apple call the mountainous areas of modern-day Kazakhstan home. Both traveled the Silk Road west to Europe and east to China and Japan. Both are so-called pome fruits (members of the rose family along with quinces and Asian medlars and loquats). They’re climacteric and heterozygous (see The Great Apple Crap Shoot for more on that). Aside from that, though, they’re barely on speaking terms….

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Pears in a Cage (Tarte aux Poires en Cage) Recipe

Pears in a cage make a stunning closer to an autumn meal. They’re light but full of flavor, especially if you take the extra step of filling the pear with a little bit of almond cream (talk about gilding the lily, it’s a luscious surprise inside an already impressive dessert). You’ll need:

6 poached pear halves
about 10 ounces puff pastry
2-3 ounces almond cream (optional)
egg wash


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Food Scientist Top 10 List?

Reader Dan writes:

Hi Joe. You say that George Washington Carver is “one of” your favorite food scientists. Who are some of your other favorites if I may ask? Can you give me your top ten?

I’m not sure if Dan is on the level here or if he’s having me on. But it just so happens I do have several food science heroes, whose dreamy portraits adorn my walls. There’s Nicholas Appert, the inventor of canning, he’s really the grandfather of modern food science. Alfred Bird, inventor of stable baking powder and instant pudding (custard). There’s Otto Rohwedder, the sliced bread guy, chocolate chemist Coenraad Van Houten, good ol’ Louis Pasteur, you can’t forget him. To tell you the truth “food science” encompasses so many different…

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Should I store bread in the refrigerator?

Lots of questions about bread today! Reader Trey, you definitely should not store bread in the refrigerator. Low temperatures speed up — dramatically speed up — the rate at which starch crystallizes. Unless the bread gets below the freezing point of water, at which point is slows down dramatically, most likely because the water between the starch molecules hardens, keeping them from stacking up and forming crystals. So: at room temperature or frozen, nowhere in between. The exception to this rule is a really moist bread like a pumpernickel, which stays supple as a result of all the pentosan (seed coat) gums it contains, and the fridge will keep it from getting moldy. …

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How Bakers Fight Staling

Reader Evan asks:

How do additives (either traditional like fats or modern) slow staling?

That’s a great question, Evan. The answer is that the way in which additives inhibit staling isn’t always well understood, which shouldn’t be surprising because the chemistry of bread isn’t all that well understood either. Still there are some pretty good theories out there.

We’ve talked before about crystallization, which happens when similar molecules start stacking up on each other like LEGO’s. Crystallization is the phenomenon primarily responsible for the hardening of bread starch (i.e. staling). Thus it stands to reason that if you could somehow stop wheat starch crystals from forming, or at least slow that crystallization down, then you’d keep bread fresher for longer. …

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A Little More GWC

A few requests for a bit more info on George Washington Carver and his times. I am only too happy to oblige, as he’s one of my very favorite food scientists. As I mentioned, Carver was born into slavery at very the close of the Civil War. He grew up during Reconstruction, a tumultuous and painful time in America during which the South was forced to completely reinvent itself — its society, its culture, its economy…the lot. Agriculturally, the Confederate states had been relying heavily cotton as a cash crop, so much so that little else was actually grown in the South. …

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How does bread go stale?

Thanks for that excellent question, reader Cindy! In fact the word “stale” is akin to “aged”, but in a good way. “Ripened” is more like what it means. We moderns, addicted as we are to perfectly fresh bread, would scarcely think of applying a world like that to a past-its-prime loaf. But the ancients (and not-so-ancients) did, mostly because they had no alternative.

But what is staling exactly? Most people think of it as the “drying out” of bread, but that’s not the half of it. If it were, fresh bread kept in a tight sheath of plastic wrap would never go stale. I think we’ve all experimented with double and triple layers of Reynold’s Wrap long enough to know what a fool’s paradise that is. So what is it with bread that it starts to harden the moment it’s removed from the oven? It all has to do with the behavior of starch molecules.


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On a completely unrelated note…

…have a look at this very unusual mushroom that little Joan just pointed out to me in the yard. I thought it was a piece of an old toy someone had left out in the yard, but it’s actually a fungus. I guess it’s something called an “Earth Star”, not edible but certainly lovely, pale pink with a white center. A…

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