The Weird Tool That Made Me a Better Baker
When Jacques Torres made chocolate cake on the Food Network Kitchen app, he revealed this clever trick.
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My general philosophy about single-use kitchen gadgets? Less is more. Why buy a strawberry huller if you can use a paring knife? Why invest in a flour sifter when a fine mesh strainer will do the same job? Mind you, I live in a small New York City apartment where space is at a premium. But I like the idea of having a minimalist toolkit, in which every single item pulls its weight doing double-duty. I also like the idea of not having to spend a lot of money. So when I tell you that I discovered a weird tool that made me a better baker, I’ll preface it by saying that I already owned it — and you probably do too.
Let’s back up a little. When Jaques Torres taught an Easy Chocolate Cake class on the Food Network Kitchen app, I bookmarked it because I knew the master chocolatier and pastry chef would have some pearls of wisdom for an enthusiastic but budding baker like myself. Case in point? Within the first few minutes, he taught me a few brilliant tricks for bringing cold eggs to room temperature quickly.
But the aha! moment came when Torres started working with melted chocolate and mentioned that one of his favorite tools is a heat gun — or a simple hair dryer if you don't own a heat gun. He’d melted a big bowl of chocolate earlier; as he worked on the cake it cooled down and started solidifying. To warm it back up, he blasted it with hand-held heat for a few seconds and stirred it for nearly instant silky-smooth results.
Using a hair dryer to re-warm chocolate is a novel idea for recipes like chocolate covered strawberries, where you’re working with melted chocolate for a long time. One third of the way in, when you’ve finally gotten in a groove, the chocolate will inevitably start to thicken. Instead of pausing to put the chocolate back onto a double boiler (getting the bottom of the bowl annoyingly wet), or walking across the kitchen to microwave it, just blast it occasionally hair dryer.
I just so happened to be making a recipe involving chocolate covered strawberries (drizzled with milk and white chocolate) and put the blow dryer trick to the test. The technique worked especially well for the milk and white chocolate. Sometimes I’ve accidentally scorched them when re-heating in the microwave, but the blow dryer gently re-melted them.
In addition, I’ve put my hair dryer to use in a couple other smart ways. When recently decorating a chocolate birthday cake, I warmed up the side of a chocolate baking block for a few seconds before using my y-shaped peeler to create big, beautiful chocolate curls. Heating up the chocolate made it slice more smoothly, a bit like butter. Second, when serving a slice of said cake to the birthday boy, I warmed up the end of a candle and glued the softened wax onto the plate, so the candle stuck straight up from the plate on its own, creating a gorgeous and impressive presentation. And third, unrelated to baking, one morning I softened a pat of cold, un-spreadble butter on my morning toast.
Anyone else think I should I start storing my hair dryer next to my blender and food processor?