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May 27, 2009 10:49 AM

Breaking cooking/baking 'rules'

I was making waffles on Mother's Day for our family brunch. My recipe uses separated eggs; the whites are whipped to soft peaks and folded in at the end. Being a lazy sort, I was separating the egg whites directly into the mixer bowl and, of course, on the last egg I accidentally dumped the yolk in and it leaked. I fished it out as best as possible, but definitely not completely and proceeded to beat my whites. This has happened to me before, so I knew that my whites would still whip up to the correct texture and they did.

But it made me think of all those recipes and instruction books that insist that no bit of yolk or other fat be in the whites or they won't whip up. And that made me think of all the things I do in the kitchen contrary to the 'rules.'

Such as...

I don't always make my cornstarch into a slurry when thickening. Sometimes I sprinkle it on top of the sauce/stew and quickly blend it in. And it doesn't go lumpy.

In baking, I don't always measure every ingredient exactly. Actually, I never measure salt or vanilla, I just eyeball them. I think the measuring thing comes from the pastry kitchens where I worked, where most measuring was kind of slapdash.

I don't add my eggs on at a time in most recipes and they always mix in properly.

What about others out there? What 'rules' do you break?

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  1. Yep, I break a lot of "rules" without penalty. My favorite is using bleached AP flour (it's less expensive than the other flour and sometimes I have to watch my pennies) in place of unbleached bread flour. My Ciabatta, Sourdough boule and other breads come out of the oven with a beautiful crumb, chewy and I have never had a problem. I admit that I do also use bread flour and unbleached AP flour if I can get it at a decent price or if I'm preparing something like bagels or pretzels (then too, I have made some pretty good pretzels with bleached AP flour) but I don't let the fact that I have none of the "special" flour from preventing me from making bread.
    I also don't usually proof my active dry yeast. I just mix it in with the other dry ingredients and move on. Works just fine ... Of course, if I ever get hold of some dead yeast I'll pay a price for my arrogance. But it hasn't happened yet and unleavened breads or those made with a starter (the wild yeast element) are still pretty good if the starter is working at all.

    1. I also eyeball teaspoon/tablespoon measurements or fractions thereof. I've also noticed that a bit of yolk in egg whites beaten in a mixer with sufficient power (I have a Kitchen Aid K5A standing mixer) doesn't really affect the way they beat up. I sometimes add eggs whole to cake recipes that call for whites and yolks to be separated (and beat the heck out of the butter/sugar/egg to compensate). You maybe sacrifice a bit of volume (but nothing terribly significant in my opinion).

      1. Yep, I like to live on the wild side,too. I read often that baking is less forgiving of ad libbing than other cooking and I sort of get that...but I don't buy it as THE LAW in the hands of an experienced and fearless home cook.

        I do see that If you love garlic and want to use 6 cloves in a roast chicken rather than the 1 clove the recipe suggests, then go for it...but you can't use 6x the vanilla in that white cake.

        But I don't measure slavishly, I substitute whole wheat flour for AP white, I add things that suit my family and tastes. And if something goes "wrong" (that triple layer cake doesn't rise properly because I got carried away with adding too much banana liquere) then just get out the whipped cream, make a peanut-butter sauce, grab the jelly and announce you are serving Tipsy Banana Trifle. Who would ever know or care?

        2 Replies
        1. re: LJS

          Ah yes, good one. Last minute renaming of dishes is an invaluable skill in my kitchen, too.

          1. re: cimui

            Ha. I may have to try that more!

        2. Phew, I don't even know where to start, I break so many. I never sift my flour. I don't often mix my dry ingredients together separately (they seem to do ok if you put the flour in first, follow with leavening agents, etc..., and kind of swish 'em all together a bit before you swish them into wet ingredients). Definitely do the collective egg pool thing, too....

          (Mind you I don't consider myself a good baker!)

          3 Replies
          1. re: cimui

            Cimui: But thats the friends DO consider me a good baker and I have won contests and so forth. I can't imagine a really good baker that doesn't experiment and that has got to mean breaking rules...after all, Julia Child herself advocated a cavalier attitude that served her VERY well.

            1. re: LJS

              Ah, I know. There are *many* reasons why I'm not a good baker, wholly unrelated to my inability to measure ingredients. :) My cooking, luckily, sometimes does better for the creative license.

            2. re: cimui

              When baking, I tend to mix dry ingredients, mix wet ingredients and then combine, despite recipes which have complicated combinations. Usually works fine.

            3. Some of the rules arose also when we went from cooking as a home art to cooking as a more scientific thing. In the early 20th century when "home economics" arose as a discipline and profession. Fannie Farmer's book played a role. She eliminated things in recipes like a pinch of salt or butter the size of an egg and said that correct measurements were critical. This book (Perfection Salad) talks about the history of all that stuff: