Monday, February 22, 2010

My Fudge is Taunting Me

Dear Tricia, My fudge came out ooey-gooey. And what the hell is a "softball?"

Gross. Not because your fudge came out ooey-gooey, but because I hate fudge. And yours sounds awful. So lets fix that, pronto.
When you cook the sugar/water mixture for your fudge, you have to boil the sugar to a high enough temperature until the water evaporates out of it to make it set up and harden a little bit. If you don't cook it long enough, there's still too much water in the mix and it stays ooey gooey- hence, your dilemma. And then you're left with gross fudge and you have to send me emails and I'm sure you have better things to do.
The magical temperature that you're aiming for is 235 degrees Fahrenheit. This is called "softball" stage, but its name has nothing to do with the scary women who throw giant balls really fast for sport. Especially since these softballs are hot as all hell. It gets its name because if you drop some of the 235 degree sugar into a bowl of cold water, when it cools it will form a soft, mold able ball of sugar. If you kept cooking the sugar, it would continue on to "hardball" stage (nothing to do with that loud, yelling-all-the-time Chris Matthews) at 255 degrees, eventually to hard-crack stage at 300 (in the cold water it will harden enough so that you can break it), and then full-blown caramel at about 335 or so. But for fudge, you don't have to worry about most of that. You just have to get it up to 235 degrees.
Your problem thus far, is that you didn't cook the sugar long enough to get it to softball stage. The easiest way to do this is by buying a candy thermometer. You can get them at craft supply stores, some grocery stores, or an overpriced kitchen furnishing store like Williams Sonoma. Try the grocery store first and save yourself a few bucks. Candy thermometers are rad because they clip on to the side of your pan so you don't have to hold them, and they have all of the temperatures and stages (like softball) printed on them for easy reference. Seriously, they make cooking sugar so easy that you would be wasting your time to try and guess if sugar is at softball stage by putting it in a bowl of ice water. That's how they did it in the old-school days, so if you're progressive enough to be able to use the Internet, then you can be progressive enough to buy a $9 candy thermometer. Plus, the less you handle sugar, the less likely you'll be to get it on your skin, and that's no fun. 235 degrees is freaking hot. Let me make that mistake for you.
The other thing about working with cooked sugar is that it doesn't hold its temperature for very long. You have to work really fast with it while its still at softball stage. If you cook it to 235, and then you turn off the stove and go get the rest of your ingredients together to mix into it, the sugar is going to cool down and affect the potential for ooey gooey-ness. So, if you have to stir in milk or condensed milk, or whatever other ingredient to your softball stage sugar, be prepared and have it ready to go. And if you're a frequent reader, you should know that applies for anytime you're cooking or baking to begin with.
Back to my Real Housewives of Orange County marathon...

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Case of the Spooge-ing Cinnamon Rolls

Dear Tricia, My cinnamon rolls keep pooping out all their goo and I can't figure out how to make this stop. I tried proofing the hell out of them after rolling them wicked tight, but when I baked them, the dough kinda withered and the filling just spooged out all over the pan. Any ideas?

This is going to be one of those questions that ends up in my 2nd or 3rd book. My agent told me she sees this blog published as a series, so I'm going to make one of the books focus more on the advanced questions that I sometimes get in my email box. Because seriously, most people don't make cinnamon rolls from scratch. So good on you for that.
There's a few things we can trouble shoot here. First of all, the part where you roll them wicked tight: that's gotta go. Let me back up though. Here's what's going on inside the dough:
Yeast is this little, magical, live being that eats and poops, just like everything else on the planet. After it eats sugar, its main source of food, it leaves behind carbon dioxide and water as a waste product. (Fancy term for poop.) And the carbon dioxide bubbles are what make the bread rise when you proof it (for all of you non-bakers, that's when you let the dough rise before you bake it). When you let proof the dough, the carbon dioxide bubbles are forming, and when you bake it, the bubbles expand.
This is where the rolling it wicked tight part doesn't work. When the dough is getting bigger in the oven, the yeast needs somewhere to grow and expand. And if you've rolled it really tight, there's nowhere to go but up. So then you've got a cinnamon roll with the center popping up and out, possibly causing all of the filling come out with it.
Proofing the hell out of the dough is also something that you might want to change. I'm going to quote my favorite reference book, Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. Even though he's not the expert when it comes to baking bread, he is the expert at explaining food science and chemistry, so what he says goes. "When poked with a finger, fully fermented dough will retain the impression and will not spring back." What over-proofing bread (what you're doing) will look like is a wobbly water-balloon looking thing that, when you poke it, has the potential to just collapse. It probably already does that, since you said its withering. So if you proof the hell out them and then bake them, the heavy filling is likely going to climb out on top of the cinnamon roll simply because the dough is weak enough to let it. And no one likes weak, girly-man cinnamon rolls.
Last thing: what's your filling like? Does it have a ton of sugar in it and not much else? In baking, there are 2 categories of ingredients: liquifiers and stablizers. Things like flour and eggs are stablizers, and surprise! Sugar is a liquifier. So if your filling has brown sugar and corn syrup and powdered sugar and all kinds of other sugars in it, it just wants to make the filling thinner and goopier, and melt when it bakes and make a mess and get all over everything. That's fine and dandy, but it contributes to your filling spooging problem. I don't want to re-write your recipe- there's probably a very good reason why you use that filling- but it might need more stablizers in it, even if its just nuts and a little bit of egg white. So if you have the creative freedom to do so, make a thicker filling that stays put.
So, you're going to need to proof the dough less to give the dough more muscle to support the heavy filling, and roll it looser to give the dough somewhere to grow besides up. If these don't work, try messing around with the filling to make it thicker. And then let me know how it works out because the suspense is already killing me.
For more blogging on liquifiers and stablizers, check out my post, "Damn you, Cream Cheese Frosting!" Also, if you're on Facebook, check out the fan page for Chef Richard Coppedge, my breads instructor in school. He's super smart when it comes to anything involving yeast, and he can also do the splits. (While you're on there, don't forget to become a fan of my facebook page too.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Things They Don't Teach You at the CIA

While filing my taxes this morning (Fun!), I was looking through that big envelope of "important stuff" that I keep in my desk drawer. You know, we all have one of those envelopes or file cabinets of old tax returns, doctors stuff, college transcripts, passport, politically incorrect and very offensive handmade cards from your best friend... I found something I wrote while I was the executive chef at a gorgeous little boutique hotel in Telluride, Colorado. I was fresh out of culinary school when I wrote this (well, it had been a year... I was stale out of school?) and after working my first important job in the food industry, learned a whole lot to say the least.

Things They Don't Teach You at the Culinary Institute of America

1. You can never judge a book by its cover. Sometimes the best employee is tattooed, pierced, and looks all together tore up. Its the most innocent looking ones that turn out to be the crackheads. (Yeah, you'd just assume that when they go out for a "smoke break," its for a cigarette, but you could be wrong.)

2. Be kind to your maintenance man. He will save your ass when your freezer breaks down in the middle of a holiday weekend.

3. Learn how to fix your major appliances: dishwashers and refrigerators especially! This saves oodles of money and stress because, again, they will always break down in the middle of a holiday weekend.

4. If you're looking to hire someone who's detail oriented, don't hire someone with typos on their resume.

5. Write ups and documenting your employees may seem to be a stupid concept and very annoying, but its so helpful when firing some one's snotty, insubordinate ass.

6. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Especially on a resume.

7. Always lead by example.

8. Don't get drunk with your employees.

9. If you have to work extra hours instead of hiring half-assed help, just deal with it. Its better to get things done right than sit around on your day off, worrying about what's going on at work.

10. Get a good night's sleep before a busy day. If you're out partying the night before and come to work with a hangover, you may feel like shit but trust me... you look worse than you feel. And everyone else has to look at you. Cut them a break already.

11. Drug tests are crap. Some employees are just more pleasant to be around when they're stoned.

12. When you're the new boss, start out as a Nazi and slowly work your way into being the nice guy. If you do this inversely, you won't get taken seriously when its time to be a Nazi.

13. Work every position or station in your kitchen. This gives you a good idea of how long it should take to finish every task. Then you've got a better picture of your labor costs and who's not cutting it.

14. Keep your kitchen spotless. A good health inspection will give you just as much pride as putting out a good plate.

15. Be kind to your vendors, reps, and neighbors. What you put out will certainly come back to you.

16. That smell? Its the grease trap. Make sure it is maintained regularly so that it doesn't overflow during the middle of a holiday weekend, when everything else will break down. And be nice to the grease trap cleaning guy. His job sucks.

17. Don't hire someone just because they're cute, no matter how sexually frustrated you are, or how tight their ass is.

18. Bribes are and will probably always be effective for getting what you want.

19. Leave work at work. No one wants to hear you complain about your day over cocktails.

20. You will never use 95% of what you learn at the CIA.