Why is my coffee bitter? It doesn't make any sense. I mean, sure, it's got a lot of bitter flavor compounds in it, and sure, the tongue supposedly has those taste receptors just for bitter flavors so that we don't eat poisonous things or something, but my coffee can be tastier. I've had tastier coffee. What am I missing? Salt. That's it. A tiny bit of salt in the coffee. Did I just blow your mind? I found this one though Ideas in Food, who found out about it through Shirley O. Corriher. So, what's going on here? As mentioned before, we've been taught in elementary school about the taste receptors in our tongues that handle sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Perhaps even umami, though we probably weren't taught that in elementary school. Well, I wasn't. But we know that food is far more than the combination of those flavors. Flavor compounds combine in strange ways and float up through the nasal cavities and coat the tongue in more subtle variations to the simple way taught in schools. When I drink coffee, I'm not really all that interested in the bitter. Therefore, I'll use the espresso machine and make a double ristretto, which is effectively a full espresso's worth of water over two espresso's worth of beans. This extracts lots of flavor and not that much bitter. Still, the double ristretto uses a lot of beans. What if there were some magical substance that made flavors more noticeable? What if a simple, two-atom molecule could turn bland foods into taste explosions? Wouldn't the world be a better place if it existed? Wouldn't we all be happier? Yes, yes we would. Because we have salt, all of our lives are more fulfilling. Magic does exist in the world. And, if you sprinkle a little bit of this magical fairy dust into an espresso, so 10-15 flakes of kosher salt, for example, all of the flavors that aren't bitter are amplified. A single, normal cup of espresso tastes like a double ristretto. Seriously, how cool is that? The folks over at Ideas in Food will now be going crazy with experimentation on standard beverages with the addition of salt. I'm sure we'll hear new things as time goes on. Personally, I couldn't be more pleased learning about this one, except insofar as I did not think of it, nor even think to think of it.
I am reading through BakeWise now, partially because it's what I do, and partly because I am in the process of developing something special. A couple of special things, really. I'm reading through the Kindle edition I mentioned earlier, which is super cool. [amtap book:isbn=1416560785] My initial impressions are: 1) Awesome. 2) Okay, Shirley is definitely teaching me some seriously useful things about baking, and how to analyze and adapt recipes. I am into the first chapter so far, and the knowledge is just pouring in. It's not like On Food and Cooking, where it's a non-stop deluge of new facts. In BakeWise, Shirley repeats key facts and conclusions so that you can remember them, tying them together as new lessons are learned. It's a very useful teaching tool. [amtap book:isbn=0684800012] 3) The Kindle edition, while incredibly handy, is not going to be the only edition of the book I own. It's clear that the limited formatting of the Kindle causes asides to get mixed into the text, so that it seems as if she is repeating whole paragraphs of information, when it's probably just a sidebar. But having a searchable and portable version of the book is great. 4) Still awesome.
Whenever I go to bake, I have two go-to books that I like to check first. One of them is Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food, and the other is Shirley O'Corriher's Cookwise. I imagine I'll be adding The Breadmaker's Apprentice at some point, but I don't have it just yet. What makes me so interested in the first two books? [amtap book:isbn=0688102298] [amtap book:isbn=1584793414] [amtap book:isbn=1580082688] Alton Brown's book is great because it divides up the cooking by preparation type, which I think all bakers should start doing. If you're using yeast, it's the Straight Dough method, and if you're making bubbles by incorporating sugar into solid butter, then it's the Creaming Method. You get a much more firm understanding of the different baking processes than you would just by reading the recipes. As an example, I was transcribing the family Coffee Cake recipe over Thanksgiving, and I noticed it used the Creaming Method. This saved me no end of writing, and I was able to grab the important information. Also, there was a mistake in the recipe as it was written, and I was able to fix it when I first went to make it (the chemical leavener was added to the wrong bit in the recipe). It's easy to use, and it has some great applications (what some people would call "recipes"). Shirley's Cookwise is a completely different beast. Her chapter divisions are based more on the material being studied, such as sugars, fats, or bread. What assured me that I made the right decision in buying her book, and the thing I point to whenever I want someone to know about it, is the thorough way she treated flour. Flour seems simple on the surface - All Purpose Flour, Bread Flour, Pastry Flour, etc. You pick one based on the recipe you're using, depending on how much protein your recipe needs. Pastry flour has relatively little protein, so it's a soft flour, and bread flour has much more protein, so it's a hard flour. However, Shirley points out that AP flours from different regions have different levels protein, so Southern brands are softer than Northern brands, and bleaching has an effect on the hardness, and so on. Then she shows you how you can determine, for any given flour, what the percentage of protein in it is. Not that you may ever need it, but if you do, it's there. The interesting thing about the recipes in Cookwise is that they are geared for success. They are not made to be simple, and they are not made to be quick. They are made to work. Every time. Any little trick that would increase the probability of your bread coming out perfectly is added in, and she makes notes of why the techniques or ingredients were added in to any given recipe, so you can understand what you would be doing if you left it out or modified it. In all, I highly recommend both books, and I would likely be lost without them at this stage in my baking. They're not books that you would use because you just need a quick idea of what you want to bake for breakfast this morning, but they are books to get you to the stage that you can master the concepts involved in baking.