Building the Perfect Meringue

Building the Perfect Meringue

Making a meringue is a critical tool in your baking tool set.  Before too long the process of making each method of meringue should be second nature such that you can formulate, scale, make, and use them without much additional thought.

This is a two-part series were we discuss the basics of getting started with meringues, the methods used, why ratios matter to the process and final product. Later we venture more deeply into coloring, additions, meringue methods and how sugar to egg white ratios impact the final product.

Take a look at this example from Fine Cooking showing the visual difference between Soft, Medium, and Stiff (Firm) peak.  It’s all in how the small peak of meringue folds over on itself (or doesn’t).

Meringue Peaks from Fine Cooking

Episode 1

Meringue Basics:

  • Methods
  • Uses
  • Considerations

Episode 2

Advanced Concepts:

  • Detailed Methods
  • Sugar to White Ratios
  • Additions (Coloring, Flavoring, and Chunks)

Quick and Inexpensive Food Photography

Quick and Inexpensive Food Photography

Getting your lighting “right” like a photographer can be extremely difficult and take a lifetime to perfect.  Fortunately, we’re not concerned with perfection.  We just want you to share your work so that the Bake Like a Chef Community can provide great feedback.  Our hope is that the following article will get you to “good enough.”  Our goal with food lighting is to help you get closer to a food photo solution so that you can:

  • Get started with little to no money
  • Set your photo shoot up quickly
  • Take consistent and true-to-life photos
  • Take your photo setup down and store it quickly

Some of this requires establishing routine in your life so you can retrieve and return your setup quickly to its home.

If this is helpful to you please make a point of sharing it on social media!

Tips for Making a Good Photo Shoot Happen Every Time

One: Don't procrastinate.

Get an ok shot today in good light today is better than waiting for a perfect shot tomorrow (when you might not be able to guarantee good lighting).  Getting feedback sooner on “good enough” is better than feedback much later on “perfect.”

Two: Scout a good window or light source ahead of time.

Take the basic setup we have below and try it around the building or space where you will practice your baking.  Take an object with you such as an egg, a piece of fruit, your breakfast, etc. and practice taking photos in your desired space.  Try taking photos:

  • At different times of day when speed and timing aren’t an issue.  
  • At the time of day when you will typically have time to practice your baking, more specifically when you will most likely have a final product.  This will help you understand lighting conditions when you will typically have a product ready.
  • In different weather (overcast, sunny, rainy, with snow cover etc).  

In short, know your environment and how the lighting will change on your subject in different conditions.

Three: Practice setting up and taking down quickly. Know your conditions.

So many variables can impact how you shoot your photo.  Is there something that consistently sits on the sill of your favorite window? Is there already a table there? Is the place where you will put your food item at the height of a pet that might want to eat what you place there? Is this room heavily trafficked? Will you have to remove other housemates to use this window? Where is your backup window?  The act of taking a photo shouldn’t be an additional drain on your time and energy.  If you want to be a food photographer, take your time here. If you want to be a chef, get a good photo and move on so you can make the next thing!

Just like cooking you want to have your photo kit setup such that it is easy to retrieve, setup, use, pack-up, and put away.  Mis en Place is as critical here as it is in the kitchen. Learn as you go and always have a backup plan.  If you can leave your photo area set up it will help you with any impromptu photos that you need to take.

Four: Setup, take your photos, and clean up!

Have a neutral test object.  Setup the shot when you aren’t in a rush.  Are you waiting for a shell/crust to cool before you fill and garnish?  Take this time to setup your photo and test all angles.  Depending on the amount of time you have this might also be a great moment to brainstorm creative shots and create a quick shot list.

When the time comes to shoot, capture the following angles:

  • Top down
  • Eye-level side (from multiple sides if it helps better communicate the dish)
  • Customer angle
  • Creative Shot

Getting the top and side shots out of the way first will help you better understand the subject; improve your lighting; and improve customer angle and creative shot.  

Five: Write down the details for each photo.

Keep a journal of your shoots so that you can reference them in the future. Include the weather, which window, lighting setup, and any special settings you may have used on your camera or phone.  It’s also good to take a photo of your light setup per shot.  Share what you find with bake like a chef so we can all grow our abilities to shoot better food photography at home.

Six : Ask a few people for feedback.

Try the following.  

Ask the question: “I’m working on my baking and pastry and want to submit my work for feedback to an online community that supports my growth. Would you mind helping me by tasting my work and answering a few questions?” 

  • What 5 words would you use to describe this?
  • What flavors do you taste?  

Sharing feedback

  • Try to keep your photos at least 1000px by 1000px.  
  • Show the entire dish for all shots (the creative shot is a possible exception).
  • Share the photos on the Bake Like a Chef Feedback Group.  
  • Include the feedback you received during your taste test in post. 

Photo setup. What does it look like?

From this point forward we’re going to focus on lighting setups, and more “show” than “tell.”  Most shots are made with natural lighting and I strongly recommend you use the window + one bounce card setup for your shots.

For some shots I used a relatively inexpensive light kit that I made to help support photos for small dishes like this teacup (2.5″ diameter by 2.5″ tall) and up to a 12″ plate.  The lighting rig of an inexpensive foam-board bounce card and is supplemented with a foam board light (this required some soldering skills).

For now, if you don’t have a lighting rig, get started shooting during the day using a window (see below).

Artificial lighting rig during daylight
Artificial lighting rig in a dark room

Window source with a single bounce card

Here, my subject and card are supported by two stools.  Use anything that you can to make this work.  Clips on chairs, window sills, etc.  

Window source with a side and back bounce card

Two bounce cards with a window.  I’m using a folding bounce card that I custom-built. 

Here, my subject and card are supported by two stools.  Use anything that you can to make this work.  Clips on chairs, window sills, etc.  

Light rig with one bounce card.

Artificial Lighting Rig with a Single Bounce Card (daytime)

Here, my subject and card are supported by two stools.  Use anything that you can to make this work.  Clips on chairs, window sills, etc.  

Customer View

Window Only
Window + One Bounce Card
Window + Two Bounce Cards
Rig + One Bounce Card

Customer View

Window Only
One Bounce Card
Two Bounce Cards
Artificial with One Bounce Card

Top View

Window Only
One Bounce Card
Two Bounce Cards
Artificial with One Bounce Card

Side View

Window Only
One Bounce Card
Two Bounce Cards
Artificial with One Bounce Card

Yelling at Your Staff Works! (But not in the way that you think)

Yelling at Your Staff Works! (But not in the way that you think)

It can be frustrating to lose skilled members of the team or start from scratch only to be left training new team members.  Days are harder and more challenging as you bring your team back to a (relative) smooth operational state.  

This may result in more mistakes and rising tensions as staff question hiring decisions and new team members’ ability to keep up.

The Bake Like a Chef Community and Feedback Group

Get access and submit your work!  This group started in October of 2020 but I’m confident that we’ll grow quickly. 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/bakelikeachef

When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.

– Thomas Jefferson

Reacting to a Bad Situation - The Script

Addressing it right now:

1) If you have time, do the following.  Otherwise go to the script 2.

Catch yourself in the moment before you act. Count to 5 and think about the best outcome. If necessary count more! 

Voice the following:

  • Here are the things that went well
  • Here are the things are ok
  • Here are the challenges and where they occurred
  • Here’s how to fix the problem
  • Here’s what I would do differently next time

2) If you don’t have time right now, follow this and use script 1 later.

Voice the following:

  • “These things happen”
  •  Let’s catch up and talk about this [at closing, after rush, at 10:15PM, etc]

Then use the script above

Getting Feedback from Bake Like a Chef's Community (How to shoot a nice, natural light, photo)

We put to together a nice, quick article showing how you can shoot better photos of your dishes in support of getting better feedback.  Normally, we like to keep our episode content together but this felt like a meaningful separation of ideas. 

Check it out here! Quick Natural Light Food Photography.

Add a Little Knowledge to Your Bread Baking Process, Autolysis.

Add a Little Knowledge to Your Bread Baking Process, Autolysis.

Learning to bake a decent loaf of bread can take new bakers weeks to capture the basics and a lifetime to perfect. Though nothing can replace working with professional bakers and learning from what they do and how they interpret what they see, there is always room for learning through trial and error.  In this episode we’ll help you get a leg up by giving information about something happening during the fermentation process that will support you in making better bread. We’ll also walk through the the basic bread making process and share a little about why flour seems to magically turn into a nice crusty and airy loaf of bread.

Quick bread bulk rise and proof process.

Formula and Formula Card

White Rustic Loaf Formula (Free to download)

This is your run of the mill white rustic loaf. It is a little unusual in that it is a slack dough meaning it has a high level of hydration so it will be much more sticky and stretch more than you might expect. This means you could benefit from using a little more bench flour to dust the counter when you're kneading and forming.

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Egg Separating Techniques That Will Save You Time and Money

Egg Separating Techniques That Will Save You Time and Money

When separating eggs your goal is to remove as much of the white from the yolk as you can without damaging the yolk (and thus getting yolk in your white). Other than getting the most out of each part of the egg there are some concerns that having any yolk in your white will reduce the white’s ability to form meringue (see “Meringue and fat” below).

The following details and articles should help you get started.

Techniques

Using the shell

The basic technique shown in every home cooking demo.  You crack the egg into two half-shells and use them as two cups passing the yolk from cup to cup until most of the white is removed. This is a great method when you don’t want to dirty a lot of dishes and you don’t have that many eggs to separate.

Pros

Good for separating a few eggs
No additional dishes to wash
Can be accurate with little to no loss of whites or yolks

Cons

Slow
Risk puncturing the yolk with the shell

Using your hands

Our egg separating method of choice.  Whether cracking the egg into your hand and letting the white fall into a bowl or cracking into a bowl and picking up the yolk this method allows you to move quickly and get the best separation.

PROS

Good for volume
Fast
Can get an exceptionally thorough separation of the white from the yolk

CONS

Exposure of the egg white and yolk to your hands
For high volumes of eggs rigor must be applied to your workflow in order to reduce risk of getting yolk in your whites.

Using tools

If you have a specialized tool and you love it our only recommendation is that master the two methods listed here. Your best M.O. as a chef is to have the skillset to work as lean as possible and master common toolsets found in kitchens. That means having the ability to do most of your work without specialized tools.

Meringue and fat

There is some convincing informal research surrounding the impact of fat on the creation of a good meringue (link below) . Take a look at the following article on Serious Eats and draw conclusions for yourself.  For our purposes you should ensure that there is no yolk in your whites when you are making meringues.

https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/10/is-it-true-not-to-get-yolk-in-egg-whites.html

What to do with extra yolks and whites

You are learning a number of skills as you grow your proficiency. Three that come into play here are planning, resourcefulness, and delight.  What can you do with your extra whites and yolks?

  • Make something with the extra yolks or whites that you can eat or share (buttercream to use of store for later use, custard, meringues, egg white omelets)
  • Store them for later use (in the fridge or by freezing)
  • Where possible plan your menus to incorporate the whole of your fresh ingredients

Freezing Whites

Whites can be frozen as-is and, when thawed, they will work as if they were fresh.  It is best to use these for things that will be cooked like cakes, butter creams, and cookies.

Freezing Yolks

Cooks magazine describes how mixing a small portion of sugar syrup (2:1, Sugar:Water) with your yolks at 3/4 teaspoon per 4 large yolks will stabilize the yolks for succesful freezing and thawing.

Links:

https://www.incredibleegg.org/eggcyclopedia/f/freezing-eggs/
https://www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/5748-freezing-egg-yolks
https://www.marthastewart.com/272253/saving-eggs
https://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/6793/why-do-yolks-break-so-easily-sometimesabovelink

Selecting and Storing Eggs

Before we get started…a quick note.

You are working with eggs and, however sourced, eggs have the potential to make people sick. Take a look at the FDA guidelines for working with eggs. If you plan to serve them professionally and in any volume you are increasing your risk of causing illness.  So what does this mean to you and your day-to-day?

Keep eggs refrigerated until use

  • Store them in a refrigerator and keep them under 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius).  Buy them from the refrigerator case at the store after confirming your store is holding them at the correct temperature. Keep them at temperature during transport.
  • If you suspect an egg might be bad, don’t use it. You need to keep your costs down but eggs are relatively inexpensive and they aren’t worth the risk.
  • Consume eggs within 4-5 weeks of the Julian Date on the carton (below).
  • Use additional discretion when serving to the elderly, children, or anyone with a compromised immune system.

In addition to the dates, you should also check your eggs for cracks, purchase eggs that include the USDA grade mark, and buy eggs from a refrigerated case. Choose the most economical and useful egg size for your lifestyle.

The Julian Date

Eggs should be consumed within 4 to 5 weeks of the Julian date. Use the chart below to help you better understand how old your eggs are.

Week: 0Julian: 10504-14-2024
Week: 1Julian: 9804-07-2024
Week: 2Julian: 9103-31-2024
Week: 3Julian: 8403-24-2024
Week: 4Julian: 7703-17-2024
Week: 5Julian: 7003-10-2024

Eggs should be consumed within 4 to 5 weeks of the Julian date. Use the chart below to help you better understand how old your eggs are.

Week: Julian: Date
Week: 0Julian: 10504-14-2024
Week: 1Julian: 9804-07-2024
Week: 2Julian: 9103-31-2024
Week: 3Julian: 8403-24-2024
Week: 4Julian: 7703-17-2024
Week: 5Julian: 7003-10-2024

Let how know how this is working for you and if there is a way that we can improve it to support your work. Use this quick form to submit feedback.

For you, for now, for the purpose of learning

As long as I’ve stuck to the basics of food safety and FDA’s recommendations on buying and storing Grade A or AA eggs, I’ve been perfectly fine when it comes to all of my baking and pastry.  Stick to these basic food safety guidelines as well as thoughtful sanitation practices and you should be fine.

On To the Eggs

If you’re buying from a new source or in volume, check the eggs. How do you do this?

  • Use a reputable distributor
  • Check the Julian Date
  • Confirm the Freshness through a crack test

How to do a crack test

Crack one of the eggs onto a plate and look for:

  • A nice rounded yolk that is more dome shaped than disc shaped
  • Whites that are slightly opaque
  • Whites that stay closer to the yolk and that stand tall. If you’ve been cracking older or lower-quality eggs your entire life seeing a cracked fresh egg will stand out

An example of thin whites:

http://www.thepoultrysite.com/publications/1/egg-quality-handbook/30/watery-whites/

The Float test

The eggs you use shouldn’t need this test but it is a good way of knowing when a carton of eggs should be set aside. Use fresh eggs. It’s that simple. Go to the grocery, check the Julian date, and use fresh eggs. If you have some eggs at home that you aren’t sure about you can use the float test to verify freshness but as a general rule of thumb don’t serve eggs that you suspect are not fresh. Go get fresh eggs for your baking and pastry needs.

An explanation of the float test:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/test-egg-freshness_us_56965d72e4b09dbb4bad58e7

For the time being simply buy good eggs from a reliable source or a grocery store and serve them to be consumed within 4-5 weeks of the Julian date.

Pre-Cracked Carton Eggs

For now, leave these alone. There is a lot of talk on the internet about particular brands and methods that will support better use of carton egg products. We will do our best to ensure that in your efforts we will use the whole egg and not waste any ingredients. Carton egg whites and yolks are much faster but, as is the custom, contain stabilizers and other ingredients that alter the chemistry not making them ideal for learning.