Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hands On -- Beating and Whipping

I just love cooking action verbs.  You know, words like baste, beat, blend, boil, braise, and blanch.  And those are only "B" words!   Cooking, like sailing or surgery or plumbing, has its own special vocabulary.  If you don't speak the language it can be a lot harder to do the work.  So every so often I think it will be fun for us to take a closer look at a cooking verb or two.  This will help us turn recipes on a page into meals on a plate. 

Today's words are "beat" and "whip".

When a recipe tells you to "beat" something, what exactly does that mean?  Is a special tool or appliance required?  Is beating about speed?   Is it the same as stirring but faster?   Is beating a cake batter different from beating an egg?   And how exactly is whipping different from beating?  Can you see how fast this can get confusing?

No wonder it is becoming standard practice to "dumb down" modern recipes.  So many people are not literate when it comes to kitchen verbs.  I just hate to see this happen.  Our food will be so much more boring if nobody ever tells us to fold, gratinee or macerate because they think we can't comprehend.  It is up to you and me to ensure that our children and grandchildren do not grow up in a world where the only cooking verbs they are expected to know are Open and Heat.

 I consulted some of my favorite all purpose cookbooks for guidance.  This definition is based on one from Marion Cunningham's 1990 revision of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook:
Beat:  To mix food or liquids rapidly and thoroughly in order to make a mixture smooth and light by incorporating as much air as possible.  If you're beating by hand, use a whisk, a fork, or a wooden spoon in a rhythmic, over and over motion, lifting and plopping.  

This is pure Julia Child and is really good ergonomic advice:  When you beat, train yourself to use your lower-arm and wrist muscles; if you beat from your shoulder you will tire quickly.

For "whip", Marion Cunningham came through again:
Whip: To lighten and increase the volume by beating.
But Alice Waters has more to add:
To whisk rapidly into a froth  
And then there is Better Homes and Gardens New (it was new in 1962) Cookbook definition which I think is the best one. 
To beat rapidly to incorporate air and produce expansion, as in heavy cream or egg whites

Here are the tools I use to beat or whip. 

Whisk(also called a wire whip)
Whisks are very effective for beating eggs and sauces and for general mixing.  They come in many sizes and don't require electricity to work.   The most common are balloon type.  The very largest are good for beating egg whites.    I really love my flat whisk.  I own one medium sized balloon whisk but I have to admit I never use it.  I think a flat whisk is much better than the round kind for getting out lumps and getting into sides, corners and bottoms of pans or bowls.  It would not be as good as a large balloon whisk if you needed to whip egg whites or heavy cream. 

Little springy thingy
I inherited this from my late Aunt Evelyn.  She was a proud, frugal, teetotaling, kind of grumpy Methodist.  She was also a schoolteacher, gardener and cook.  She loved Lawrence Welk and making clown dolls.  I don't know what this little beater is called but I like to use it for light duty beating tasks.  So sometimes when I am scrambling eggs I remember Aunt Evelyn.

Egg beater
I don't think people use egg beaters much any more.  I like to use mine for whipping cream. (I don't believe in non dairy topping like C*** W***. )  I chill the beater and the pottery beater jar ahead of time.  The whipping goes very fast.  This is a great job for a child.  Let them lick the beater.  Another nice thing about an egg beater is that it beats and whips with no carbon emissions.

Portable electric mixer
I have one of these in harvest gold but it is packed away in a box somewhere so I can't show it to you.  I guess that tells you everything you need to know.  It was ok when I was a beginning cook and hardly ever made bread, cookie dough or angel food cakes.   But once I got my Kitchen Aid workhorse, the portable mixer gathered dust.

Heavy duty stand mixer
I have had this mixer for about 25 years.  I am confident that I will have it for another 25 years if I live that long.   It is not the most powerful or fancy Kitchen Aid.  In fact I think it is the basic model.  But it has served me well.  Over the years I have acquired attachments such as the meat grinder, sausage stuffer and grain mill.  Some kind of heavy duty stand mixer is a valuable kitchen helper.  If you don't own one you might start dropping hints.  It is about 180 shopping days to Christmas.

And don't forget good old fashioned wooden spoons or a fork.

Time for me to beat it. 

Tomorrow:  Focus on Kohlrabi