>Now we’re cooking

> A year or so ago I decided I wanted to make a Southern-style coconut cake, like the one my friend Roger’s aunt made when we visited Norfolk many years ago.
I discovered that the ultimate recipe for coconut cake is in a book called Cookwise, which was not particularly easy to obtain at the time. I eventually got the book, looked up the recipe, and nearly went into shock when I read the recipe. It is not a low-calorie, or even moderate-calorie, cake.

The book is about making food wonderful, from selecting the right ingredients to using the right techniques. I used it this week to make ice cream and learned several things that elevated a decent ice cream recipe to an amazing ice cream recipe, including:

• Why you heat milk or half-and-half for ice cream (but not the cream itself).

• Why all ice cream recipes need a little bit of salt.

• Why your ice cream mix needs to cure in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before you put it into the ice cream maker.

Cookwise was written by Shirley O. Corriher, an expert on the chemistry of cooking. I’m now using it on a regular basis. I think there are several types of cooks it would appeal to, among them beginners who are curious about why things work and experienced, confident cooks who want to tackle trickier dishes that rely on technique.

This is not a book to choose for the recipes (many of them are high-calorie). And it’s not a good cookbook for someone who wants to blindly follow detailed, step-by-step instructions. It’s more advice on which to base your cooking decisions.

Cookwise is a marvelous antidote to the dumbed-down, “anybody can cook this!” cookbooks that direct you to over cook meats (so you won’t under cook them) and omit interesting ingredients and flavorings because they might be intimidating.

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