smoking as a cooking technique

Smoking is a culinary cooking technique not often used in the pastry world. There are many reasons for this. A smoked flavor and aroma can easily overpower a plate, especially a dessert plate. Additionally, the smoked flavor is hard to control. In contrast to meat products, fruits and vegetables readily and quickly absorb smoked flavor.

To have more control over the strength of the smoked flavor, it is sometimes best to smoke the sweetener rather than the fruit or vegetable. This technique works well for sugars and honey. Pour the honey or sugar into a pie tin or hotel pan and place in the smoker. Taste at frequent intervals. The resulting smoky sweetener can be stored in a covered container at room temperature. Having the smoke in the sweetener makes it easy to control the level of smoky flavor in the end product. When used with a gentle hand-smoked sugar or honey can add a wonderfully full back note to a plated dessert as well as a hint of aroma for a top note. If a freestanding smoker is not available, smoking can be done on the stovetop or in the oven. Use a tightly closed hotel or roasting pan for this. Experiment with different types of wood chips. These will offer your plate additional woody notes.

The earthiness of a smoky note works well when combined with a fruit or vegetable that has been roasted. The strength and depth of the roasted flavor allows the smoky sweetener to harmonize with the plate rather than overwhelming it.

moist heat

Moist heat uses some type of liquid to transfer heat to the product being cooked. Recall that water boils at 212°F (100°C). Moist cooking methods do not rise above the boiling temperature of water. Therefore, caramelization and Maillard browning, which both occur at temperature higher than 212°F (100°C), are not present in these moist cooking methods.

Poaching

A poached product is one cooked in a flavored liquid. In this cooking process the flavors of the liquid are infused in the product as it cooks. Traditionally, poaching is used for delicately flavored food items as these will more easily absorb the flavor(s) of the poaching liquid. Enough liquid should be used so that the item being poached is completely submerged. Poaching generally takes place between 160 and 185°F (71–85°C). This relatively low temperature means that fragile items can be poached without disintegrating.

Certainly the most familiar dessert using poaching is that of poached fruit. In this instance, the fruit is gently cooked while being infused with flavors from the poaching liquid. Consider the many alternative uses for poaching liquid. It can be used as a sorbet base, the beginning of a reduction sauce, or a consommé or made into a gelée. Alternatively, it can simply be refrigerated and used in the future to poach more fruit.

Simmering

Simmering occurs between 185 and 200°F (85–93°C). The increased heat means that denser and less fragile items can be used than those used in poaching. Technically, therefore, many poached fruit desserts are in reality simmered fruit. This is especially true of poached apples or pears. The strong structure of these fruits allows them to be cooked at high temperatures. There is a greater amount of flavor transfer from liquid to product in simmering than in poaching. Just as with poaching, the liquid can be utilized for other products such as sauces, sorbet bases, and gelées.

Boiling

Boiling takes place at 212°F (100°C). This cooking method is used often for grains and pastas. Items such as polenta, grits, risotto, and farina all employ boiling as part of their preparation. Most boiling is accomplished with plain water. In this method the liquid is not usually flavored as is the case in poaching or simmering. And unlike poaching or simmering, the liquid used in boiling will often be completely absorbed by the item being cooked. For some pastry work a dairy product such as milk or heavy cream may replace a portion of the water. Polenta, for instance, may be cooked with lightly sweetened water, and heavy cream may be added toward the end of the cooking process. The result is a rich, luxurious polenta that can be used in a multitude of forms on a plated dessert. A risotto made in much the same way can form the base of a flavorful dessert risotto or the base of a rice pudding.