Folks, it’s cold out. In my corner of the world, we’re looking at 44 hours of below-freezing temperatures. That’s a pretty big deal here, south of the Mason-Dixon line. I’m not a cold-hater, though. Rather, I’m looking forward to my first “real” winter in eight years, after moving north from Florida. By “real”, I mean I can wear a coat and a scarf without sweating. I know that lots of my Florida friends love wearing shorts in January, but I was raised in a state with four seasons, and being warm all year long just seems unnatural.
At any rate, I thought I’d give ice a little shout-out. While lots of folks are scraping ice off their windshields and sliding on it and cursing it, I thought raise a small, lone voice in praise of ice and its virtues in the pastry kitchen.
- I use ice to keep my water very cold when making pie dough. The way to get a flaky crust is to keep the fat in rather large pieces. The best way to keep it from mixing completely into a dough is to keep it very cold. Thank you, ice.
- When my caramel has gotten to be the perfect color, I kill the heat and throw a little handful of ice into it. Then, I stir madly. This shocks the caramel and keeps it from getting any darker and possibly burning. Don’t worry, the little bit of extra water will cook off. Thank you, ice.
- Custards are not only tasty, but they contain a lot of things that bacteria like to eat. Yum. In order to cool a liquid custard quickly and get it out of the dreaded Temperature Danger Zone (reverb, please), I pour the cooked custard into a metal bowl set inside a larger metal bowl containing ice water. Then, I stir and stir until the custard is cold. This bowl-in-bowl contraption is called an ice bath. Thank you, ice.
- I whip cream in an ice bath, too. It keeps the fat nice and firm, resulting in a more stable foam. The whipping might take a little longer, but there’s much less chance that you’ll over-whip it and have it go all grainy and sad. Thank you, ice.
- When I’m whipping a European-style buttercream and it’s a little warm in the kitchen, I’ll hold some flexible ice packs (or a bag of frozen peas) against the outside of the mixer bowl to keep the fat cool and plastic. Thank you, ice.
- If I’m afraid that my instant read thermometer is not measuring correctly, I take a glass full of ice, add some water and stir well. I insert the thermometer, wait 20 seconds, and then make sure it’s reading 32 degrees, F. If not, I adjust it. Thank you, ice.
- This one isn’t a pastry tip, but it’s a good one: Add some crushed ice to your meatball mix. It will keep the meatballs nice and cold, keep you from over-mixing and making them dense, and keep them nice and juicy, especially if you sear them before simmering in sauce. Thank you, ice.
Anyone else want to join me in praise of ice? Leave your uses for ice in the comments section and I’ll add them to the list.
PS Just because I like to wear a coat doesn’t mean that I didn’t buy some fire logs and wine today. I will enjoy looking at the cold from inside:)
And the comments roll in:
- Veronica says: “YAY ICE! (It keeps my soda frosty cold just the way I like it!)” Good one, Veronica. I don’t put ice in my drinks (I know, weird, right?!), so thanks for adding that one.
- Donna says that ice is a magic cure-all for her kids. Crying child? Just apply ice!
- Cindy reminds us that ice water is used to shock foods and stop the cooking process. She blanches and shocks veggies before freezing. And speaking of freezing,
- Chris weighs in: “Thanks to creative ice cube trays (and too much free time on my part), one can make penguin ice cubes and make a winter wonderland out of food, all without going outside!” Chris even provides a visual aid: http://www.kitchenemporium.com/kitchenemporium/images/hi39004r.jpg
- Daily Spud gives us this gem: ice or frozen peas to soothe a wicked kitchen burn. Yup, I’ve been there, too!