Tell Me Why!

In this section, I attempt to answer your questions about cooking and/or baking!

Why do I need to chill my cookie dough for a minimum of 2 hours?
Chilling permits the gluten strands in the flour to relax, avoiding a "rubbery" consistency in the final product. The elapsed time may also permit the flour to absorb more of the moisture in the dough, so the cookies do not spread out so much when baking.

What is a ban-marie?
A bain-marie is a water bath or double boiler. It is a French term for a piece of equipment used in science, industry, and cooking to heat materials gently and gradually to fixed temperatures, or to keep materials warm over a period of time.

What is a Dutch oven and why should I have one?
A Dutch oven is a thick-walled (usually cast iron) cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. Dutch ovens have been used as cooking vessels for hundreds of years. They are called casserole dishes in English speaking countries other than the USA. A heavy dutch oven is really a nice thing to have. Aside from the fact that a heavy cast iron or iron/enamel dutch oven is good for browning and braising, the heavy cover really seals well and can cook things faster on the stovetop.
NOTE: If you do not have a Dutch oven, you can use a baking tray, and cover it with aluminium foil.

What is granulated sugar, or what sugar should I use when I bake?
Granulated sugar is caster sugar. Unless otherwise stated, I use caster sugar when I bake. Caster sugar is finer and can be incorporated into the batter more quickly and easily so you do not end up with bits of sugar in whatever you are baking. You can blitz normal sugar in a food processor to form caster sugar.

I do not have the baking tin that is required for a recipe. Can I substitute with ...
You can find a guide on baking pan size conversions here.

Can I use vanilla essence in place of vanilla extract?
Uh, NO, NO and NO. Pure vanilla extract is made by macerating and percolating vanilla beans in a solution of ethyl alcohol and water. Imitation vanilla extract contains vanillin, made either from guaiacol or from lignin, a byproduct of the wood pulp industry. Do you even know what that means? Then why eat it?

What is cake flour, and can I substitute it with plain flour?
Cake flour is a low protein flour that is made from soft winter wheat. It has a protein content of about 8% and is usually bleached, which gives it a very fine texture and a very light color. Because it has such a fine texture, cake flour should be sifted before incorporating it into a recipe to prevent clumping. Cake flour is great for making cakes and other baked goods because it gives you a very tender result. This is because it has such a low protein content compared to other flours and less gluten forms when you mix it into a batter, producing a cake with a fine, soft, even crumb.
To make cake flour, take one level cup of all-purpose flour, remove two tablespoons, and then add two tablespoons of corn starch back in.

Can I substitute baking  powder for bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) or vice versa?
No, sorry. Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. When baking soda is combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient (e.g., yogurt, chocolate, buttermilk, honey), the resulting chemical reaction produces bubbles of carbon dioxide that expand under oven temperatures, causing baked goods to rise. The reaction begins immediately upon mixing the ingredients, so you need to bake recipes which call for baking soda immediately, or else they will fall flat.
On the other hand, baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate, but it includes the acidifying agent already (cream of tartar), and also a drying agent (usually starch). Baking powder is available as single-acting baking powder and as double-acting baking powder. Single-acting powders are activated by moisture, so you must bake recipes which include this product immediately after mixing. Double-acting powders react in two phases and can stand for a while before baking. With double-acting powder, some gas is released at room temperature when the powder is added to dough, but the majority of the gas is released after the temperature of the dough increases in the oven. (Source: here.)

Why do I need to rest meat or chicken after grilling or roasting?
As one surface of the steak hits the hot pan (or grill), the juices in that surface are forced away towards the center, increasing the concentration of moisture in the middle of the steak. Once the steak gets flipped over, the same thing happens on the other side. The center of the steak becomes supersaturated with liquid—there's more liquid in there than it can hold on to—so when you slice it open, all that extra liquid pours out. By resting the steaks, you allow all that liquid that was forced out of the edges and into the center time to migrate back out to the edges. (Source: here.)

How to make buttermilk?

How to Make a Quick & Easy Buttermilk Substitute
Makes 1 cup, recipe can be halved, doubled, or tripled as needed


1 scant cup milk (whole, 2%, or heavy cream)
1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar

Combine the milk and lemon juice. Measure 1 scant cup of milk. Stir in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar.
Let stand 5-10 minutes. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. When it is ready, the milk will be slightly thickened and you will see small curdled bits. (This substitute will not become as thick as regular buttermilk.)
Use the buttermilk. Use this substitute (including curdled bits) as you would buttermilk in your recipe.

How to freeze strawberries?
1. Go through the strawberries. Discard the ones that are damaged or unripe.
2. Rinse the strawberries in cool water and pat them dry (thoroughly) with kitchen towels. Hull the strawberries (ie, remove the green stem).
3. Place the berries in a single layer on a sheet of baking paper. Put the tray in the freezer until the berries are frozen solid. If unsure, freeze overnight.
4. Place the berries in ziplock bags - get as much air out of the bag as possible before you seal the bag.
5. The frozen berries can be store up to 6 months in the freezer.

What are the different types of rolled oats?
1. Regular Rolled Oats (also known as "Old Fashioned" Rolled Oats)
  • These oats are made by steaming the oat groats so as to soften them, before they are rolled into flakes.
  • The steaming process partially cooks the oats so the cooking time is reduced. Since they are flattened when rolled, they also have a greater surface area, thus they cook faster.
  • These oats are great for using in baked goods like cookies and muffins.
2. Quick Rolled Oats
  • These are like regular rolled oats but they are steamed and rolled more so they are partially cooked even more. They are also rolled thinner than old fashioned oats. As a result they are creamier and less chewy.
  • Quick Rolled Oats are digested more quickly so you don't feel as full for as long. 
  • These can also be used in baked goods like cookies and muffins.
3. Instant Rolled Oats
  • These oats are steamed for an even longer time so they are pre-cooked. They are rolled even thinner and are dehydrated.
  • Because the oats are pre-cooked, you need to only add boiling water to re-hydrate them before eating.
  • These oats are usually not used in baking.
Source: See here.

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