Food + Drink Goals

3 Things I Learned from a French Laundry Alum

February 2, 2012

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I don’t care if cake pops are the new cupcakes. I despise them. Pie pops I could probably get behind, but cake pops… no. Just no. So I remain convinced that the next best thing since cupcakes is still the French import of macarons.

Several weekends ago, I took a “Mastering Macarons” class at Sur La Table. While we may not have totally mastered them (oh, please, we totally did… ok, I guess that will be determined after we make a second go of it), it was fun learning about a treat I knew so little about! Turns out the teaching chef, Ben Whitten, was a French Laundry alum (& also chef of Candybar — a dessert lounge in San Francisco). That’s one of the things I love about cooking classes, they’re like a fun, easy, and short version of culinary school. One of my 30 Before 30 items was to take a cooking class, and since it was so much fun the first time around, I thought a dessert class should be next.

So here are three cooking tips I learned this time:

1. To separate egg yolk from the white, use your hands.

How do you best remove the egg yolk, leaving just the white? You know the whole “crack an egg and then toss it back and forth between the cracked shell to strain out the egg white” trick? Turns out there’s a better way. Chef Ben taught us a much simpler step. 1. Crack the egg in a bowl. 2. Cup your hand, and scoop the yolk straight out of the bowl, straining out the white. Obviously you need to have clean hands. It really is simpler and since you need to wash your hands after either way, it’s actually much cleaner, as salmonella can be on the shells too.

2. Vanilla extract is the single worst ingredient.

“The more money you spend on fancy vanilla bean extract, the more money you’re throwing away.”  I’ve always been a fan of “true” vanilla extract vs imitation, but “true” vanilla includes alcohol which makes the vanilla burn off anyway if you’re cooking with it. A better (and comparably priced) option is vanilla bean paste.

3. You’re in control of the heat, not the food.

Sometimes when I’m cooking I get a little too busy or if I’m cooking a new or more difficult recipe I can feel like I’m starting to fall behind. At this point, for whatever reason, I often feel like I’m at the mercy of my stove & the recipe (which specifies med-high etc). Note to self: You’re in control of the heat, not the food. Such a good reminder to ignore the recipe, go with your intuition and turn down the gosh darn stove. :)

4. Bonus tip: You can never have too much buttercream frosting.

Yes, I made this one up, and you probably can have too much buttercream frosting, but since there were some leftovers, I felt like grabbing the bowl and running out of Sur La Table was the best option. Instead I stayed and finished building every last macaron that I could.

Have you taken any cooking classes lately?