Friday, September 11, 2009

pop quiz, hotshot:

Q: How do ingredients differ between a pound cake and a sponge cake?

(tick tock tick tock tick tock, time's up!)

A: They don't! They both have equal parts butter, sugar, egg and flour. The absolute only difference is the mixing method. Use the creaming method - whipping the butter and sugar together first, produces little air bubbles and therefore denser pound cake. Using the foaming method, whipping the eggs and sugar together first, produces lots of big bubbles and therefore the airy sponge cake. There are lots of variations, and I'm learning what happens when you add more eggs, other leavening agents (baking powder/baking soda), reduce butter, use different flours, etc.

I'm starting to see how it's all a continuum - that pasta, bread, cookies, cakes, muffins, pancakes, fritters, etc. are all a few basic ingredients in different ratios. (See previous posts for how awesome this book Ratio is.) I find it so liberating to walk into the kitchen and say to myself - hmm..perhaps I will make a sponge cake, or a pear-ginger bread (that's my plan for later today), or heart-shaped pancakes (yes I actually got heart-shaped molds, I was feeling in love) and I can just DO it, without sifting through recipes. I can be creative with cooking, but alas, finally, I can do the same with baking!

If you think I'M excited about this stuff, you should hear the author. He usually keeps his passion in check enough so that people won't commit him somewhere, but once in a while it escapes. An example:

And I think that people who are gifted pastry chefs have simply seen the crepe-cake continuum more clearly for longer, rather than seeing crepe equaling one set of instructions, cake another, and so have been able to improvise; they understand how small adjustments in fat, flour, egg, and sugar can result in satisfying nuances of lightness and delicacy or richness in flavor and texture. It's all one thing.

Which is why I love cooking. It's all one thing. Which is the ultimate comfort in a life fraught with uncertainty and questions. Which is why I don't fear dying. Which is what I'd put on my headstone if I thought being buried in the ground mattered: "It's all one thing." Which is why I love batters.

Michael Ruhlman

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