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Archive for September, 2009

"It's a living . . . " The author's hard-working brown sugar bear.

"It's a living . . . " The author's hard-working brown sugar bear.

Claire Walter observed in a recent comment:

Keeping brown sugar moist is a challenge for me. I read that slice of bread in the sugar bag or container keeps it moist and usable. I tried that and it helped — a little. Suggestions?

Ahhh . . . brown sugar sedimentary rock prevention — a chore familiar to all of us in the West. Brown Sugar is the culinary bane of dry climates (and forgetful people in humid climates). Though we westerners may be able to make divinity on a whim, and our crackers, cereals, and chips stay fresh until their oils go rancid, brown sugar tends to mineralize no mater what we do.

It is true that a slice of bread will work — for a while (coincidentally, I have also heard that apple slices work). After the bread slice is completely dry the brown sugar will start drying out once again. It seems there are few plastic bags that don’t have microcracks, and the water vapor that keeps brown sugar soft will find these cracks and escape. I’ve tried double bagging my brown sugar — and that also doesn’t work. I’ve even had unopened bags of brown sugar with no visible cracks get hard after they sat around long enough.

In my experience, there are two ways to get around this.

  1. Continually supply moisture. That’s why bread works, but also why you have to keep replacing the bread after a few weeks. There are a few downsides — the brown sugar will adhere to and crystalize on parts of the bread. Plus I like to save those odd bread slices for French toast, bread pudding, etc. in the freezer (although, as my friend Ben P. points out, dried-out bread with some brown sugar adhered is by no means no longer a candidate for bread pudding). A similar method is to buy a terra cotta brown sugar bear (see top of post), or for those more economically inclined, find a piece of a broken terra cotta flower pot and file down the sharp edges. You simply soak them in water for 20 minutes, wipe them off, and toss them in with your sugar. You have the same problem (as with bread) with some of the sugar adhering and crystalizing on the bear, but all in all the method works well for a few weeks or months. But eventually those microcracks will get you and you’ll have to recharge the bear. Still kind of annoying.
  2. Find some sort of NASA-grade hermetically sealed containers. Those glass jars with the rubber-gasketed clamped-on lids seem like they would do the trick. Or some really kick-ass tupperware. In this case, you are preventing any moisture from leaving whatsoever. The down side is that you are limited to storing however much brown sugar will fit in your container. So I’d recommend buying a big one.

Whatever you do, don’t microwave the sugar unless you will be using it right away. Microwaving brown sugar will soften it temporarily, but in the end only removes more water from the sugar, and once it cools it will become even harder than before.

Anyone else care to chime in?

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flickr_blackberries

This is the final part of my sister Ashley’s supper club posts from a group meal she hosted back in April. I meant to post this weeks ago and forgot. Ooops! Now you finally get to find out how her meal finished. As well, it’s been a while since I posted and I apologize for the delay! jf

I received a set of ramekins for Christmas that I had only used once, thus the inspiration for my desert (one of the ways I decide what to make is by finding meals that involve some of my underused kitchen toys).  A recipe for blueberry mousse came on their box.  I made the executive decision at the store to make it a blackberry mousse because blackberries are delicious…and they were cheaper.  Berries are usually pretty interchangeable.

Another reason I chose this recipe was to improve my skills.  Several weeks ago I tried to make a coconut cake with seven minute frosting.  Unfortunately, I obtained firsthand experience in why it’s called seven minute frosting and not three or four and a half minute frosting.  I didn’t get my egg whites beaten long enough and so the foamy base of my icing wasn’t stiff enough.

Upon assembling the cake, the second layer and the icing oozed off very reminiscent of the scene in Better Off Dead where Lane Meyer’s dinner makes its way off the plate…not cool.  So let me impart my new found wisdom to you all.  You can not overbeat egg whites.  And in the words of my grandmother…”beat the hell out of them.”

Fast forward to supper club, I was determined to get it right this time.  I beat and beat those suckers until you could cut yourself on the peaks.  Sadly though, I butchered the boiling of my karo syrup and heated it to hard crack instead of hard ball, which let me assure you makes a difference (think light and fluffy icing vs. soft and daggery).

Upon second attempt, things went well and I was able to bring blackberries, egg whites and syrup together in beautiful harmony.  To finish, I loaded the concoction in ramekins and let them set up in the freezer.

Postmortem:
All in all, I think the girls enjoyed the lesson in artichokes a lot and the gnocchi was definitely a big hit.  I wasn’t too excited about the mousse, but the pasta was pretty heavy, so I needed something light.  I think next time I’d minus the mousse and just serve the berries au naturel.

Ashley
“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.” – Catherine Aird

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