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Cooking Questions from an Amateur

1. Why add 2 cups of water to a recipe (with sugar) and then 'reduce by half'? Why not just reduce the amount of liquid used and reduce the cooking time?

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2. Why do some recipes specify 'unsalted butter' and then later in the recipe use salt as an ingredient? Why not use regular salted butter to begin with?

I am looking for the (scientific/cooking) reasons behind these instructions. Thanks so much for your help.

Carlos from Mexico

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January 4, 20080 found this helpful

1. I'm not sure what you're cooking(fruit?) but you have to start with a certain amount of water because some will be lost to evaporation or absorption.If you reduce your cooking time your food may not be cooked completely or may not be soft enough.

2. Salted butter is of inferior quality, salt is added to improve the flavor(gives it a sweeter, creamier taste). It may taste the same but it does not have the same cooking qualities. For example, cookies made with salted butter can come out "flat". Always use unsalted butter then add salt for taste.

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January 4, 20080 found this helpful

1. Generally, if you are reducing, you are creating a thickened sauce through evaporation, and this applies to fruits for pies and savory sauces. You also produce a more intense flavor by reduction, since you are causing the excess water (or broth) to evaporate, but not the flavorings.

2. Using unsalted butter makes it easier to control the salt in a recipe. Depending on the recipe, using both the amount of salt called for and salted butter can affect the taste and texture.

As for great books on food science, look for "Cookwise" by Shirley Corriher, and "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee. Both of these books discuss the science behind the cooking process, and have helped my cooking.

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January 5, 20080 found this helpful

Ditto on previous posts with this added: Salted butter has different amounts of salt, thereofre you can't be sure how much salt you're actually getting. If sodium is a concern this can make a big difference.

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January 9, 20080 found this helpful

perfumed fan, if I use unsalted butter, how much salt do I know to add?(ie making cookies)

Thanks!

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January 9, 20080 found this helpful

Mikki, you would use the salt called for in the recipe, and there almost always is.

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January 9, 20080 found this helpful

Depending on what you're making, adding salt too early during cooking/baking will sometimes toughen certain foods. Adding it later will flavor them.

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January 14, 20080 found this helpful

When cooking a water & sugar mixture to reduce it by half, you are creating a syrup that you can't otherwise make without doing so; i.e. for making candies, syrups, etc. Simply adding equal amounts of water (even when using hot water) doesn't give the sugar enough liquid to fully dissolve no matter how much you stir it! Cooking the water & sugar together allows the sugar to take another form & it becomes a condensed form of liquid sugar & when cooled is thick, clear, & smooth. As in the case of making fudge, when other ingredients are added & then cooled, you have a nice smooth mixture that isn't granular like sugar--that is, unless you under or over-cook it. If you undercook the sugar/water syrup for the fudge you'll have a runny mixture that won't set up at all. If you overcook the water/sugar syrup mixture then your fudge will either be granular or hard. As for adding salt to a recipe calling for unsalted butter, I agree with 'perfumed fan'. Salt is a seasoning & brings out the flavor of the food it is being used in. Salted butter is inferior to unsalted butter. Compare one to the other when cooking or baking & you can really tell the difference!

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February 8, 20080 found this helpful

My view regarding added salt to unsalted butter is that it provides a controlled amount of salt suitable to the recipe. It reminds me of when I make creamed chipped beef.

If I used the beef as it comes packaged, the result will be too salty. But I boil the beef shortly, which removes the salt. I pour out the water, and then I add a measured amount of salt to the recipe. It's a matter of controlling the amount of slat to suit the recipe.

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