Why doesn’t corn meal thicken?

Reader Kati wonders why cornstarch (corn flour) is so effective as a thickener when corn meal makes such a poor thickener. She alludes to some recent kitchen disaster that resulted from an attempt substitute one for the other. Reader Kari, I feel your pain. The answer lies in the way the two flours are processed.

Corn kernels are the seeds of the maize plant. As such, each has a tough outer covering known as a pericarp, which is similar to a bran layer on a wheat berry. Each also has a fatty germ which when pressed yields corn oil. The majority of the kernel is the starchy endosperm. …

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On Buttercream & Cows

Over my extended absence three different readers wrote in to say they were having buttercream consistency problems, specifically with the Swiss and Italian meringue buttercreams. All three reported that their buttercream was working well for spreading and cake building, but piping was a problem. Their piped decorations were dropping and/or losing their sharp edges. Can IMBC and SMBC be firmed in any way?

I can think of two ways to achieve a firmer buttercream texture. One is to scale back the butter a bit, but just by a little, maybe 12%. That raises the ratio of meringue and gives the buttercream a bit more body. The other thing you might try is to buy higher quality butter, which tends to be firmer. Lower quality butters tend to have lower melting points, which makes them softer at room temperature. That tends …

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Filed under:  Pastry | 5 Comments

On the Many Benefits of Milk Powder

Reader Rob writes:

Hi Joe, I have looked through a lot of raised doughnut recipes, and very few ever seem to use milk powder as an ingredient. I assume this is for the proteins, but how come you use it whereas other recipes don’t? Maybe delve into the science behind it?

Hey Rob! Nice question. Milk powder does a few things in a baking application. As you point out it adds protein, and that along with the extra sugars can be handy in terms of getting a darker, more golden finish. It also add flavor, another nice feature especially in fast rising breads like doughnuts and white loaves which tend to be bland because of the extra-quick yeast action. However the big benefit of dry milk is tenderness. The fats and the milk solids undermine gluten formation so the finished product is less rigid than it would otherwise be. That’s especially desirable in a raised doughnut since the crusts can come out of the oil rigid to the point that they shatter when you bite into them. The longer you let the doughnuts rest the softer the crusts get, but since I generally like to hand them around when they’re warm I go the tenderizer route. …

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Filed under:  Pastry | 12 Comments

Making Chocolate Diplomat Cream

Reader Mia asks:

How can i make chocolate pastry cream or diplomat cream? Adding cocoa powder to the whipping cream does not really provide enough chocolate-y flavour

Mia, there are several ways you can tackle this lovely problem. One way to flavor a diplomat cream is to add melted chocolate to the whipped cream portion. You can do that like this. Another route to the same end is to add chocolate to the pastry cream. I’d add about a quarter cup (0.75 ounce) cocoa powder to the milk and sugar mixture and whisk it steadily as it comes to the boil. Proceed as normal, then whisk about another few ounces of bittersweet chocolate into the finished pastry cream when it’s still hot. …

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The Incredible Disappearing Joe

Hello all! Historically I go through bouts of inconsistency with posting, a week here, a week there. It’s been like that since I set out on this little blogging adventure nine years ago. Lately life has been busier than that, as I’m sure you noticed. My hope is that I’ll be more or less over the hump in the next couple of weeks as I get my new business accounts up and running. After that life should return, more or less, to normal, albeit with a Puerto Rico/Los Angeles flair. Thanks for your patience, I shall post what I can…

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Filed under:  Pastry | 31 Comments

Hokkaido Milk Bread Recipe

This milk bread isn’t as sweet as many other recipes. If you like yours sweeter you can add up to 3 ounces of sugar to this basic formula. Note that I’m making twice the amount of tangzhong as I need, but it’s tough to make half of this without overcooking it, much less getting it all out of the pan!

For the Tangzhong

1.6 ounces (1/3 cup) bread flour
4 ounces (1/2 cup) water
4 ounces (1/2 cup) milk

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Whisk the mixture over medium-low heat until “tracks” appear on the surface and it thickens noticeably. Set it aside to cool completely. Place plastic wrap over it to prevent a skin form forming. The tangzhong can be used immediately or up to two days later.


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“Hokkaido”, “Milk”, “Bread”…Doesn’t Add Up

So writes reader Ireney. When did the Chinese and Japanese develop a taste for bread? she asks. That’s a good question. For while we’ve already established that wheat has been a part of the Asian diet for many thousands of years, bread is a very different matter. Today Western-style breads are quite popular in places like Japan, but this was not always so.


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Say it ain’t so, Joseph

Are most French restaurant meals purchased frozen and reheated in microwaves? That’s the incendiary charge leveled by Parisian restauranteur Xavier Denamur in last week’s European Times. If true, it would indicate that even French chefs aren’t immune to the pressures of time and cost. Dare I say that just because the meals are frozen it doesn’t mean they’re bad. The great Gaston Lenôtre pioneered the use of freezers in French cuisine. Of course it’s one thing to microwave food, it’s another to be less than forthcoming about it. Still I bet the typical frozen boeuf bourguignon beats the heck out of a Riblet dinner at Applebees! …

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Filed under:  Pastry | 15 Comments

Watching Those Wishes

I’ve been working for some time to get more local projects so I don’t have to travel up to Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee as much as I’ve been doing the last few years. More time for parenting and blogging, donchaknow. As things turned out, I did succeed in getting work outside of the Upper Midwest: in Los Angeles, Orlando and Puerto Rico. Not what I was expecting, though far be it from me to turn work down, I don’t care where it comes from. Getting these new accounts up and running has been a whole lot of work, hence the…

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And anyway, if you’re going to eat a sandwich…

…it might as well be on a tender bread. I remember back in the 80′s when fashionable cafés first tried to dress up sandwiches by putting them on baguettes. It wasn’t a bad idea in principle, baguettes are good bread. The problem was that in order to tear off a bite you had to clamp down hard with your teeth on one end of the sandwich and yank with both hands from the other. Depending on how thick the crust was, when the bite finally released you’d send your plate, cutlery and water glass flying.


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Filed under:  Pastry | 14 Comments