Ingredient Function

Please click on the links to learn all about the basic ingredients (you might end up learning more than you ever wanted to know)!  Many of these links go to a Squidoo lens I wrote all about Knowing Your Ingredients, so if they look different than the "normal" PCO stuff, that's why.

Want to learn more about an ingredient? Want to know about an ingredient I haven't covered yet? Leave a comment below and I'll be sure to add a page or three for you.

Fat Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


  1. kikisayshi says

    I recently discovered the awesomeness that is pastry while making cream puffs on a whim. I love your site and I’m learning so much!! Do you recommend investing in a pastry board rather than using a countertop for rolling, kneading, etc? If so, does it matter what kind?

    • says

      Hi, Kiki! glad you’re here and super glad you’re loving the site and, more importantly, learning! Yay! Honestly, I wouldn’t bother with a pasty board. My counter–and it’s not even fancy marble–works just fine for me. And it’s cheaper, too! 😉 I also often use the flat top stove for rolling out sweet dough for cinnamon buns, for example, since it is a very slick, flat surface that stays pretty cool (as long as you don’t have the oven or burners on, that is)! Another thing I’ve learned is to use a light coating of oil/butter/pan spray on both my hands/rolling pin and the work surface. It keeps things from sticking and prevents you from adding too much flour to your dough. 🙂

  2. says

    Oh my goodness I took the Kosher salt for granted at work and now I know why this is the ONLY salt we use. Thank you for your knowledge on salt, I know it is totally going to make me a better cook/baker! I agree, adding salt with each step of a recipe increases the flavor while making it the last touch gives it a sea water flavor. Here Here!

  3. just curious says

    just read – and watched – all the salt info. I generally exclude salt in whatever I bake and use less sugar than recipe calls for. Maybe a big mistake after reading your site. When I do use salt, it is usually kosher or sea but as they are never iodized, should this be a concern? I don’t use table salt either. I believe they began to “iodize” salt due to the high incidence of thyroid disease and salt was used by everyone so theory was that was best way to reach the largest population. Any comments on this?

    • says

      If you have some serious health concerns about salt, then keep doing what you’re doing. But if you just use salt in moderation anyway and don’t have any issues, I urge you to consider giving salt a chance. It will wake up the flavor in everything you cook *and* bake. And as to the sugar, you’ll probably end up with a slightly tougher, slightly drier and less-browned end product, but if you just cut back by a smidge, that might be a negligible difference.

      I never use iodized salt as there are plenty of foods that contain iodine that folks didn’t have easy access to back when they started iodizing salt. and you’re right–goiters were an issue, and that’s why they started iodizing it in the first place.

      Mostly in cooking, I use kosher. In baking, I use fine sea salt as I want it to cream readily into batters.

      Hope that helps, and thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. just curious says

    Thanks for your response…that really helps clear it up for me. I don’t have any medical issues, just thought I should stay away from salt and since I am a pepper person more than a salt one, it was no big deal. I have been trying to perfect brigadeiros. Theydon’t call for salt, should I go ahead and add a pinch? I have to make 170 of them for a nephew’s wedding shower so am busy trying to learn fast. I have gotten the mix of chocolate down right now I think, but they still do not stay round enough after rolling them — Can you give me a tip on how to keep them from being too soft? They are sort of like a truffle. I am using 2T butter (unsalted cause that’s what I have – but I am going to use salted butter next batch) 1 can condensed milk (I’ve tried several brands but think Eagle Brand seems best) 2 T Ghiradelli Sweetened chocolate powder, 2T Hershey’s dutch unsweetened chocolate powder and 2T World Market milk chocolate cocoa mix. It comes out nice and dark and tastes chocolatey rather than just sweet. I stir constantly start at medium low temp for about 10 minutes and when it starts to bubble, lower temp and finish cooking til it separates in a line when I wipe the spoon down the center. I turn heat off then and stir for another approx. 2 minutes. Then spread out and let cool. I’ve tried a lot of batches and now feel this works best – if I could only get the last part right. When I look at them online they are always nice and round over top of the paper cup, but mine sort of spread out against the sides and squish. I also have tried tempering Callaut couverture…It was fun and messy, but I actually did it and dipped some of them in the chocolate. Today I practiced my drizzle…still they do not look professional…I know it is not right to expect to be as good as people who have been doing this for years, but I don’t want to embarass myself or my nephew with sloppy looking favors…so would really appreciate some help. Also how far in advance could I make them so the centers stay gooey? They seem to vary in my kitchen.

    • says

      Actually, you bring up a good point about unsalted butter. Since salt is a preservative, often the older butter gets salted. It also tends to have a slightly higher water content than its unsalted counterpart. For those 2 reasons, I always use unsalted butter in all my cooking and baking and then just add the salt, to taste.

      I had to look up brigadeiros, so I might not be the right person to ask about this, but yes, I’d definitely add a touch of salt. Salt helps to counteract any bitterness that the cocoa might bring to the dish. I’m sharing this blog post because the fudgy goodness (and I’m totally going to make these little guys now, so thank you for the tip) seems much thicker than what you are describing when you make yours. That might be the key.

  5. Rachal says

    Thank you so much for publishing this! Over there years I have started to really enjoying cooking, baking, and making things from scratch. As I have decided that I want to turn this into more than a hobby or just cooking for my immediate family, I realized that there were some basics or fundamentals I did not know. Learning the “how’s and why’s” of these essentials things is a tremendous help. I can’t thank you enough!

    • says

      I can’t tell you how gratifying that is to hear, Rachal! You are my reader: my target audience! Glad you found me and that the posts are helpful. Never hesitate to ask questions, either through email (I have a contact button at the top of the site) or on the facebook page (linked to the right towards the top of my pages) where I’m always hanging out. =)

  6. Chaya says

    Wow. Your site has been so helpful and an eye opener really.
    So I now have to ask, if baking soda is used when ingredients are slightly acidic , how can I find out which ingredients are acidic enough to call for for soda ?Also is double action baking powder recommended for use in muffins?
    And I noticed a question that I had as well (but didn’t see the answer on the site) if a muffin recipe calls for equal amounts of soda and powder (now what function is that?) Should
    It be baked immediately or left to sit out?
    And finally, is it okay to prep muffins in tins and let sit overnight to be baked on the following day? Thanks for your guidance

    • says

      Acidic ingredients–the biggies, anyway–would be yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, buttermilk, citrus juices, coffee, brown sugar, molasses. The rule is generally 1/4 teaspoon soda to neutralize one cup of acidic ingredient. Most of the baking powder available in stores is double acting. Good stuff; it’s like an insurance policy since it releases bubbles twice, once when it gets wet and then again when it heats up in the oven.

      When two leaveners are called for, usually the soda is there to neutralize an acidic ingredient while the baking powder actually provides the leavening. So in those cases, it’s just fine to let it sit out for awhile since you’ll have the second round of bubbling in the oven.

      At the restaurant, we used to make muffin batter in the evening and then scoop and bake the next day. I’d be afraid to let the batter sit in tins overnight for fear of too much sticking.

      Glad you’re enjoying the site!

    • says

      That is a great question. It is basically made of crushed crepes dentelles which are almost impossibly thin crunchy crepes made with a very thin batter. I don’t know the exact formulation, but it is out likely some combination of flour, sugar, egg white, butter and either milk or water. I hope that helps!

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