Archive for: cooks country
Americans spend upwards of $400 million dollars a year on pancake syrup and maple syrup while shopping in supermarkets, and consumer much more than that when you take into account that people are dousing their pancakes, french toast and waffles in syrup when dining in restaurants. The vast majority of that money is spend on pancake syrup, not maple syrup, which is corn syrup that flavored with things that make it taste similar to real maple syrup, a natural syrup made by boiling the sap from a maple tree. Maple syrup generally has a more intense, complex flavor than pancake syrup, but it is also quite a bit more expensive, which could explain why so many shoppers reach for products like Log Cabin and Aunt Jemima instead of real maple syrup. The Cook’s Country test kitchen held a taste test (link) to compare pancake syrup to maple syrup to see which syrup came out on top.
The taste test included five maple syrups and five popular pancake syrups. They tasted them on waffles and in a pie recipe, since maple syrup is called for in many recipes, both sweet and savory. The maple syrup beat the pancake syrup hands-down in all of the tests. Taste tested reported that the pancake syrups did not taste like maple, and overpowering butterscotch, caramel and artificial butter flavors dominated the “candylike” syrups. Tasters also did not care for the overly thick texture of the pancake syrups. The maple syrups came out ahead, but there were a wide range of flavors in the brands tested, and testers preferred syrups that had a clear balance of sweetness and maple flavor in them.
Sweetened condensed milk is a product where there usually aren’t too many choices between different brands in the grocery store. You might find yourself grabbing whatever brand is on the shelf when you need some, but there are differences between brands and Cook’s Country Magazine decided to give them a taste test in their Dec/Jan 2013 issue. They tasted four different brands, looking to see which had the best taste on its own and which held up best in recipes, particularly a flan recipe that they were featuring in that same issue.
The winner was Borden Eagle Brand, one of the most widely available brands of sweetened condensed milk. Tasters found that this milk wasn’t too exciting on its own, but it worked great in recipes and gave a consistently smooth, velvety finish to flan. Nestle Carnation Sweetened Condensed Milk also received a “Recommended” designation, thanks to the buttery caramel notes that the sweetened condensed milk had straight out of the can. Both of these brands only contain sugar and milk in their ingredient lists.
Two brands received “Recommended with Reservations” marks, the Parrot Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk and Meadow Gold Sweetened Condensed Milk (I will note here that I have never seen either of these brands in stores near me, though I have seen quite a few “organic” sweetened condensed milks that were not rated here). Parrot Brand was deemed to be “greasy” by taste testers and contained soybean oil in addition to milk. Meadow Gold is another sugar and milk product, but was runnier than the other milks and resulted in a looser set when used in flan, so it might not be idea for baking.
Homemade pie crust is the best option when you are baking pies, and although they can sometimes be intimidating to make, it only takes a little practice to get the technique of making a very flaky pie crust down. That being said, ready made pie crusts are very convenient and can be a time-saving solution for many bakers who want to put together a pie quickly. Ready-made pie crusts aren’t known for being particularly tasty, however, and often lack the flavor and flakiness that you find in a from-scratch pie crust. Since this is pie season, Cook’s Country wanted to give ready-made pie crusts a taste test to see if any would be both convenient and delicious.
They taste tested shells plain, in pumpkin pies and double crust apple pies, looking for flavor, texture, capacity and handling. They wanted the crust to be convenient and easy to work with – since that is the draw of the pre-made crust in the first place – so they did not review any crust mixes, which actually require the same amount of work as a homemade crust.
The test kitchen ended up with one crust earning the “Recommended” designation, the Wholly Wholesome Organic Pie Dough. This frozen dough comes in a roll and can be fit ti your own pie plate. The dough had a good flavor and a tender texture, and took the highest marks from the taste-testers.
A good pie server can make or break your pie – literally. We have all had times when our picture perfect pie stopped looking so perfect when we tried to slide a server or knife underneath of a slice only to have it smush the crust and deform the pie. The filling can fall out of fruit pies if the server isn’t strong enough, and graham cracker crusts can crumble if a server is too stiff. Most of us make do with whatever pie server we have, but Cook’s Country recently reviewed pie servers (August/September 2012) to give you a heads up on which brands served pie the best in case you want to replace a less-than-perfect server with a new one.
Their top performer was the OXO Steel Pie Server. The server features a double-edge serrated blade that allows you to cut through pie crust easily without using a separate knife and offered a broad base that supported large slices of pie. Their other top rated pick was the Paderno Pie Knife, which did not have an offset handle, like most pie servers do, but had a very flexible blade that could slide under most slices. Runners up included the Victorinox Swiss Army Pie Knife, which had an overly narrow blade, and the Wilton Comfort Grip Cake and Pie Server, which had a great price point but also had a too-narrow blade. Last choice was the All-Clad Coo Serve Pie Server, which garnered a “not recommended” review. It had no sharp edges for slicing and was too stiff to slide under delicate crumb crusts without crusting them.
Fine mesh strainers have many uses in the kitchen. They can be used to sift flour into a cake, dust a finished cake with confectioners sugar or strain lumps out of any kind of soup, sauce or pudding. They’re not as glamorous as a stand mixer or blender, but they’re a staple kitchen gadget and it is well worth getting a good one. I was recently in the market for a new one and flipped back through an older issue of Cook’s Country (Aug/Sept 2010) to see how the test kitchen weighed in on strainers.
The test kitchen said that they looked for ease of use and durability in strainers. All models that were tested strained both pudding and raspberry coulis easily, so the brands were mostly even in terms of performance. The big problem that came up with strainers was where durability was concerned, as many models had problems with the handles detaching from the strainer basket over time. Testers like soft, easy-grip plastic and silicone handles, but all metal models proved to be more durable and a better buy overall. The highest rated strainer was the CIA Masters Collection Fine-Mesh Strainer, which was very durable and had a wide bowl rest that made it fit over a variety of containers easily. The mesh basket also held its shape without warping over time, which was the only flaw with runner up models Norpro Krona Double Mesh Strainer and Paderno Mesh Stainless Steel Strainer.