Many people will describe baking as a science, and point out that they like the freedom of cooking by feel a lot more than the exactitude of baking. All kinds of cooking rely heavily on science, however, and whether you are aware of it or not, scientific principles help govern what ends up on your plate for dinner at night. The test kitchen at Cook’s Illustrated has been working for more than 20 years to determine what makes the perfect recipe and why, and in The Science of Good Cooking, they’ve put together a list of 50 basic concepts that explain the science behind your cooking that makes recipes work.
The book is divided up by concepts, not simply by recipe type. The concepts are written simply, so you might be surprised to see titles like “Bones Add Flavor Fat and Juiciness” and “Bloom Spices to Boost Their Flavor” instead of chapters about chicken, pork, etc. There are quite a few chapters that are baking-oriented, too, so “Cocoa Powder Delivers Big Flavor” and “Two Leaveners are Better Than One” are great places to start if you love to bake. The science behind each concept is fully explained in cook-friendly terms, so the book doesn’t read like a boring textbook, and you get plenty of examples that illustrate the concept. There are also 400 recipes in the book, so you will have plenty of places to put your new scientific knowledge to use. The introduction, instead of just listing the tools and ingredients that you might need to work with, even gives its information from a scientific perspective.
This book is filled with a lot of great information that will most likely help you to become a better cook. It is fun to read through, even if you don’t end up making the recipes that are paired with each concept (although, since their CI recipes, you know that they will be reliably delicious). Knowing the “whys” and “hows” of cooking lets you make good decisions in the kitchen and allows you to develop your culinary instinct – it also cuts down on the number of failed experiments that you might do, since the basics in this book keep you pointed firmly in the right direction.