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Things that are especially aesthetically pleasing or sensuous in cooking and baking...

One of the things I most enjoy in baking is preparing peaches. I love the way the skins slip off and expose the roseate flesh underneath. I love their scent and their slickness in my hands. I love their juiciness. I love sneaking a piece of them every so often. One of summer's most delightful joys. How about you? What lights your culinary torch?

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  1. Big cubes of browned meat slow braising in a heady mixture of booze, herbs, spices, and maybe some dried fruit and a bunch of whole garlic cloves---especially towards the end when the port or porter or whatever thickens and glistens with rendered fat.

    1. Caramelizing onions. Love how they gradually turn golden in colour and the smell is better than any of those fooffy room scents for setting the mood ;-).

      1. Stovetop custards and puddings and sauces. Lemon curd. I love feeling them thicken as I stir.

        2 Replies
          1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

            Sabayon, too. I love the act of whisking and watching it slowly mound on the whisk.

          2. This might sound simplistic, but I really like creaming butter and sugar together by hand. Actually, mixing any batter or dough by hand, with a wooden spoon or wire whip, does it for me.

            1. Anything that involves strawberries and melted chocolate. Do I really need to explain?

              1. A piping bag full of buttercream or mousse - the combination of seeing it coming out in pretty shapes, the faint crackle as the bubbles burst through the nozzle, and the heavy fullness of the bag as it's squeezed through the hands.

                1. Making pasta dough, with flour in well and eggs/yolks in the center. I love mixing it up and seeing it take form.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: chowser

                    Similarly, the feel of freshly made pasta, when the big string of dough slides across the skin of your arm as it goes through the press.

                  2. Browning meatballs and making a couple of small ones for the cook. I love the crustiness before I put them in the sauce to finish cooking.

                    1. Searing scallops: the crispy brown edge looks so beautiful against the creamy white of the scallop flesh.

                      1. Kneading bread. I love the feel of the dough under my hands, and I love the sense of connection with innumerable generations of women who've done the same thing since time immemorial.

                        I also love all the ritual associated with canning time in the late summer and early autumn. We mostly canned vegetables: the methodical preparation of tomatoes, beans, peppers, sauces, pickles... a double sink overflowing with produce... the bubbling water on the stove... the steamy kitchen full of enticing aromas... packing tomatoes into a jar... the tiny spoon from the salt cellar that we only used for canning... the equipment that came out just during that season... the satisfying "ping!" of a sealed mason jar... sigh...

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: LauraGrace

                          You beat me to the punch on kneading bread. It's so satisfying to see a lump of sticky mess turn into a silken dough. I wouldn't use a stand mixer or food processor to make bread dough EVER, 'cause it would take the fun out of it for me.

                          1. re: LauraGrace

                            Kneading dough is almost magical to me. You can literally feel it develop as you work it, until suddenly, it's a different substance than what you started with.

                          2. When you make a gumbo, after chopping the peppers, onions, and celery, and stirring the roux until it's a rich chocolate brown, the wave of steam that comes out of the pot as the trinity hits the scalding hot roux for the first time.

                              1. Butter. Butter and more butter. I love slicing into a perfect room-temperature cube of it, all pearly white, to spread on good bread and sprinkle with salt. I love melting it slowly to incorporate into sauces, and I love browning it for vegetables. The creamy texture; delicious flavors available in every different brand with all different butterfat contents. I love working it into flour, feeling it soften under my fingers as it becomes first a crumble and then a short pastry with streaks of delicious ivory barely showing. And especially, I love making homemade biscuits, making sure not to over incorporate or let get too warm, so they'll be layered and crumbly and almost have buttered themselves. And I love creaming it with maple sugar, or maple syrup, or honey, to make a delicious, beaded spread for cornbread or toaster biscuits. And sometimes I slice off just a small dab, and eat it plain. Yum. Butter's the ticket. Sexy.

                                7 Replies
                                    1. re: LauraGrace

                                      Here's the part where I look over my shoulder and say, "I sorry." Which, we all know what that means. :)

                                    2. re: mamachef

                                      +99! I just made chipotle butter yesterday, and it was delicious on home-grown corn on the cob.

                                      1. re: pine time

                                        ha! i did just that the other day to break in my new grill. had the chipotles leftover from a mojo marinade for some chops.

                                        i have to say, a squeeze of lime over the chipotle-buttered corn really took it to the edge.

                                      2. re: mamachef

                                        Wholeheartedly agree. Especially with the parts about blending it into pastry and watching the cubes of cold butter turn the flour to a granular texture, and the creaming of butter with honey or maple syrup. The wonders of butter.

                                      3. Kneading bread. I love the feel of the dough in my hands and the actual kneading is almost cathartic when having a bad day. I somehow imagine that bakers couldn't possibly ever be depressed or uptight about anything. ;)

                                        1. I love it when the chocolate melts in a ganache, and it all comes together in silky, chocolatey, ribbons.

                                          1. Depending on your gender, bananas.

                                            1. The absolutely amazing smell of onions cooking in butter is one of my favorite cooking smells in the world.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: gilintx

                                                My mother was a typical stay at home military wife of the '50's. When she was running late (the bridge game went into extra innings, the golf foursome in front was too slow) she would dash into the kitchen and start sauteing onions. After that she'd come up with some sort of dinner plan. The smell alone was reassuring to everyone that things were under control.

                                                1. re: mandycat

                                                  This is both a great story and a great plan! Filing this strategy away for future reference. :)

                                                  1. re: LauraGrace

                                                    Had a friend who did in-home catering: she said she always started with a saute pan of onions and garlic, even if she didn't need it for a recipe, 'cause the customers always commented on the delicious smells.

                                              2. Also the feel and sound of dry beans.

                                                1. Cutting anything fast and and thin, with a VERY sharp knife

                                                  Cracking the top of a creme brulee with a spoon

                                                  Cracking an egg

                                                  Tearing a well made, crackly baguette

                                                  Mixing up a bibimbap up before eating it

                                                  Peeling the skin and meat off a rib bone with your teeth, leaving it bare

                                                  Slurping a long udon noodle from the bowl into my mouth.

                                                  Everything about sushi, from making it, to eating it, to just being in its presence

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                    cracking the top of the creme brulee.... OMG... love it.

                                                  2. Really juicy oranges, when the sweetness runs down your chin and scents your fingers for hours. (And maybe this is TMI, but I love kissing my man after he has eaten oranges.) Also love the feel of kneading dough and the smell of baking bread. Lamb and cinnamon together are rather sensuous, too.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: Isolda

                                                      Um. (Swallows hard.) Is it hot in here?

                                                    2. I love peeling a hard boiled egg when the skin slips right off, especially in one piece. Similarly, I love the quick smash on a garlic clove and having the peel slip off. I love mushing bananas with it oozing between my fingers--better than mud pies when I was young. I love the window pane test when making dough.

                                                      1. Melty cheese. Cheese is good, but melted cheese is an entirely different food. Fresh cold cheese on a taco is fine, but melt that cheese into your burrito, and oh, my. I like the glistening meltiness. Scoop up a knifeful of baked brie and watch the gooey strings snap as you apply it to a cracker.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                          Ooh, yeah. In any form, it's wonderful. And, it can turn plain food into something special.

                                                            1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                              I'm the one who doesn't dab grease off the top of the pizza.