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The Hunt for Cookbooks that Teach

Is there a cookbook that will explain ingredients and methods — why and how they work? For example, in baking, what makes a cake more dense, moist, raise higher, etc.? What do more eggs in a recipe accomplish? What do baking powder and baking soda do? How do different thickeners act differently — flour, corn starch, tapioca, etc.? I want to experiment but would like some kind of idea what I'm doing.

That's great, we love for people to experiment.

And you're absolutely right. The example you use — baking — is much more structured than most other cooking disciplines, and while you can experiment here and there, there are some pretty substantial ground rules that you have to take into account if you want to experiment and be successful.

The book you want is unquestionably Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed, by Shirley Corriher, the well-known Southern cook and food scientist. The book lays out the ground rules for many ingredients, processes, and types of cooking, but it does pay special attention to the necessities of baking. The book also includes hundreds of recipes that elucidate or represent Ms. Corriher's own cooking and baking experiments and triumphs.

Her follow-on book, Bakewise — only 10 years in the making — is to be released shortly, and focuses exclusively on baking.

There are many other science-oriented food and cooking books on the market that will answer many of your questions — Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, Peter Barham's The Science of Cooking, Robert Wolke's What Einstein Told His Cook and What Einstein Told His Cook 2, but most have few or no recipes to help guide you. Madeleine Kamman's The New Making of a Cook is an encyclopedic, but more traditional, cookbook. It is now out of print, but should be on the shelf of every serious cook.

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