How’s It Work?- Meringue

     Good evening, friends and neighbors!
I figure it’s been a while since I’ve talked a bit about kitchen science. One of the things that seems to really discourage people from baking at home is the precise nature of it- the chemistry and math involved in particular.
    So every now and again, I’m going to do an entry on the scientific and practical aspects of some part of baking. Perhaps it’ll be a process, perhaps it’ll be a product… whatever you all would like!
    Along the way, I’ll also include some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way to help you along with your own baking ideas- because knowledge is fun, but it’s better if you can use it to make something that’ll go in your face.

Homf homf homf Science is tasty!


Peppermint Meringue Cookies from

    Let’s kick things off with one of the lightest, fluffiest, most enticing elements of baking- something that conjures up soft, marshmallowy clouds floating on pies. 


“Oooooh…. what is it?”
    In brief, meringue is egg whites that have had sugar and air whipped into them, turning them into a light fluffy substance with a number of uses. Meringues are used in making mousse, some buttercream frostings, and some cakes. It can also be baked in dollops in a very low oven to make tasty sweets, blended with gelatin or other stabilzers to make marshmallows and divinity candy, or piped out to make macarons or dacquois layers.

“How does it work?”
Everyone knows that eggs are a great source of protein. Most of that protein exists in the white of the egg. The yolk has SOME protein, but mostly it contains the fats and cholesterol of the egg. Yolks have their own splendid uses and features, but that’s for another entry.
    When you whip egg whites, the violent tearing caused by the beater (a.k.a. “mechanical shear”) makes the proteins in the egg whites denature, or stretch out and change shape. As they do so, air gets trapped in the bubbles of the stretched whites, creating a foam. Allowed to do so for a length of time, more air will be trapped, and the foam will grow lighter and finer. If you remember blowing bubbles in your milk as a kid, you’ve seen this in action.

     Milk, however, is mostly water and also contains milk fat, so the bubbles would eventually pop. Egg whites, however, have far more protein and very little fat, so the bubbles stay and become foam.

     Sugar is always added in one form or another to meringue. The sugar has two jobs- 1. Bond with water molecules and keep them in the meringue, letting it stay moist enough to keep form, and 2. To sweeten.
Since sugar substitutes don’t behave chemically QUITE like sugar, it’s not wise to use them in trying to make meringue.

    There are a number of ways for adding the sugar to your egg whites and creating a meringue- each method creating noticeably different results, and ideal for different purposes.

French meringue is the most common one in home kitchens. As the whites are whipped, granulated sugar is slowly added into the cold whites and is allowed to dissolve in. This is also the most fragile type of meringue, and if it is not to be included in a recipe before baking, it must be served raw. By folding ultra-fine almond flour and confectioners sugar into the meringue, you get the batter for the recently-insanely-popular French Macarons


You know, these dainty and delicious little buggers?

Italian meringue has its sugar added in the form of a boiling sugar syrup while the whites are whipping. This is a more difficult process, but not very. The result is a thick, shiny, smooth meringue that is sometimes used for mousse, Italian buttercream, and some cookies. Since boiling hot sugar is being added and the whites are essentially being cooked, Italian meringue can be left uncooked. This is also the favorite meringue for topping pies. This is also the meringue preferred for spreading into sheets and making thin, crispy dacquois layers.

Hazelnut Dacquoise, pic from

Lastly, the Swiss meringue. To make a Swiss meringue, the whites are VERY carefully warmed over a double boiler, and the sugar is dissolved into it by whisking, and then is whipped till cool. The result is a very stable, shiny, marshmallow material that is ideal for making Swiss buttercream.

That’s about all for meringue right now- any questions? Comments? Want me to cover something in the next post? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me a message at the BHB Facebook page or Twitter! You ARE following me, aren’t you?

Stay Classy,

Hey- what’s the point of learning about meringue if you don’t get to practice?? I’ve got the perfect recipe in mind….

French Macarons
Yield: about 64 half-dollar sized wafers, enough to make 32 sandwiches.

3 egg whites (large eggs)
1/4 c sugar
1 2/3 c confectioners (10x) sugar
1 c almond flour (as finely ground as possible. Seriously, run it through a food processor if you need to.)
Flavoring (preferably water/alcohol based. No flavoring oils!)

Stand mixer with whip attachment (or a whisk and a couple strong arms)
Mixing bowl
Rubber scraper
Fine sifter
Cookie sheet
SILPAT baking sheet (you can TRY using parchment, but Silpat works best.)
Piping bag with a #8 round tip

1. Sift the confectioners sugar and almond flour together. If there are any stubborn particles, discard them or rub them through.

2. In the CLEAN mixing bowl (wiped out with a little lemon juice), and using the equally clean whip, whip the white until JUST foamy. Slowly add the 1/4 c sugar, and then whip to soft peaks.

3. Add the almond sugar mix to the meringue, and fold it in, quickly but lightly. Folding is exactly what it sounds like. Using your rubber scraper, bring whats on bottom of the bowl to the top, and keep going. You don’t want to pummel TOO much air out of your merengue- just enough to make it smooth. Here is where you would fold in your flavoring too. You’re going to fold about 30-40 times.

4. Fit your tip into your piping bag, and fill with the batter. You’ll know your batter is the right texture if you pipe a little bit out and it makes a peak that soon spreads and flattens. Lay out your Silpat on your cookie sheet, and pipe out half-dollar sized dollops.  Let these sit at room temperature for an hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 285 F (140 C). 

5. Once the macarons have sat, bake them for 10 minutes or so, till they have raised slightly and lost their shine, but are NOT browned. Remove from the oven, and wait for them to cool COMPLETELY before peeling off the Silpat. Sandwich them with a bit of your favorite buttercream and enjoy! Keep them in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days or so.



Nothing Lucky About It

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

This last week has been exciting and stressful for me on a number of different levels- personal and professional, across both my day job and the BHB. It gets so easy sometimes to get “lost in the noise-” become so overwhelmed that you feel like your are doing everything, when you are really doing nothing. Nothing, at least, toward what you really want to do.

Especially during times like this, it’s tempting to want to compare yourself to others. It’s easier to give in to envy and anger and self-doubt than to confront your challenges sometimes.


Or smash your head into a hard surface. That too.

Recently, I’ve been able to pull out of a bit of a slump.

First though, we’re going to talk about my friend Carrie.

Carrie is a friend of mine and another baker who graduated culinary school about the same time I did. She is an extremely gifted baker and cake decorator. One of the teachers at the school put in a recommendation for her to work at a well-known local cake studio. She did extremely well, and through another teacher, she is now spending her second spring and summer working in a restaurant in the French Alps, and is currently vacationing in Spain.

Carrie is a good friend of mine. She leaves my decorating skills in the dust.

She works in a fascinating place that I have never been to, surrounded by natural splendor, loves the people she works with, and the work she does.
I envy the HELL out of her.

For someone like Carrie, it’s easy to look at her accomplishments, grumble, kick the dirt and mutter that she got a bunch of lucky breaks. She knew her teachers, her teachers knew the right people, they got her an in, etcetera.

This kind of thinking does Carrie, and talented people like her, a MASSIVE disservice. What’s more, it demonstrates an incredible consequence of comparing yourself to others- defeatism.

The old saying goes that “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” It’s not so much how the coin lands for you, it’s being ready to do what’s needed to make EITHER way the coin lands work out best for you- and that takes skill, planning, dedication, and hard work. 

Yes, Carrie DID get in her current position through a string of connections. Untold, however, is that Carrie:

– worked several years in a restaurant.
– worked very hard at culinary school, demonstrating impressive skill and knowledge that earned the admiration of her teachers and fellow students.
– showed enough character and determination that her teachers felt that a recommendation for her would not reflect badly on them.
– worked/works long and hard at these jobs to demonstrate that their faith is not unfounded, and making her an asset to her employers.
– made numerous sacrifices and hard decisions in all aspects of her life.

To write all of that off and just say she was “lucky” is insulting and, frankly, bullshit. Carrie was prepared, so when the opportunities came, she could reach out and seize them. She earned what she got.

In comparing ourselves against others, we rarely take into account everything a person has done that we HAVEN’T seen, or isn’t obvious. You can’t know the stories and motives behind every persons life.

Which is why it’s vital, if you are going to succeed in anything, DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF.
You have to follow your own plan and your own motives.
You have to make your own luck.

As I said before, I’ve been having a tough week. Thoughts and worries about how to move my career forward, how to build and improve on the BHB, what my next steps should be, and so on whizzed around my head like angry hornets.
Plenty of friends, family, and other well-meaning folks offered advice, suggestions, resources, connections, and more, but all of it seemed to be help for Step 3, 4, 5,7, and 12 when I wasn’t even sure what Step 1 should be.

I was lost in the noise and burying myself in daily minutiae, stagnating.

I compared myself to other apparently successful people, grumbling and envious.

Then, one night, after a talk with my girlfriend, I realized what my problem was-

Mise en place.

I may or may not have covered this before, but “mise en place” is French for “everything in place.” In the kitchen, it is having all of your ingredients right in front of you, in the forms you need them, in the ORDER you need them, before you even think of mixing anything together.
Mise en place is the motto, the creed, and religion of the kitchen.

The mise en place for my life was utter crap.
I didn’t know what Step 1 should be because I HAD no steps. Everything seemed so monumental and difficult, because I was looking at it as ONE BIG HONKING THING.

I looked up, saw the whizzing thoughts and worries around my head, and made them line them. I put them in priority order, and just looked at one thing at a time.

You know- some of the decisions I’ll be making still look really damn worrying and scary, but they are a scary I can manage now.

Once you organize yourself and break things down, things rarely look quite so confused and nerve-wracking as they do at first.

As another old saying goes, “When the ‘why’ is clear, the ‘how’ is easy.”

Stay clear, and 

Stay Classy,

Let All Who Are Hungry…

Good evening, friends and neighbors! I apologize for the week of silence- the reason why will become clear momentarily.
First, a couple of my favorite food quotes:

“What does cookery mean? It means the knowledge of Medea and of Circe, and of Calypso, and Sheba. It means knowledge of all herbs, and fruits, and balms and spices… It means the economy of your great-grandmother and the science of modern chemistry, and French art, and Arabian hospitality. It means, in fine, that you are to see imperatively that everyone has something nice to eat.” – John Ruskin

“The fact is, I love to feed other people. I love their pleasure, their comfort, their delight in being cared for. Cooking gives me the means to make other people feel better, which in a very simple equation makes me feel better. I believe that food can be a profound means of communication, allowing me to express myself in a way that seems much deeper and more sincere than words. My Gruyere cheese puffs straight from the oven say ‘I’m glad you’re here. Sit down, relax. I’ll look after everything.’ 
– Ann Patchett, “Dinner For One, Please, James”

In a previous entry, I discussed (likely at annoying length) my feelings about what hospitality means- the welcoming of guests in one’s house, and kindness to the stranger at your door. In a way, I feel that charity is another form of hospitality- perhaps a different definition of the same word: giving of oneself to make others comfortable.

A while back, a friend of my family asked if I would donate some baked goods to a meeting of the Red Door Society, the donors group for Gilda’s Club. For those who don’t know, Gilda’s Club is a support group for people with cancer and their families. This includes meetings and workshops for those with cancer, cancer survivors, caretakers, and even an arts-and-crafts activity group for children. The organization was started by famous Saturday Night Live comedienne Gilda Radner and her husband, Gene Wilder. Gilda was diagnosed with (and eventually succumbed to) cancer, and the couple established the organization on the belief that no one should have to face cancer alone.

Obviously, I said yes. You may have seen the pictures of my creations for that event on the BHB Facebook page (because you’ve liked the BHB on Facebook, right?)
If not, here they are- Red Velvet Doors, and Mocha Brownie Bites!

     After I finished setting up, my friend invited me to hang around and meet some of the donors. All in all, it was a fine little party, and I’m glad they enjoyed the pastries.

     That’s not what this blog is about though.

     Towards the end of the night, a few members of the group were invited up to share their stories. A woman told about how scary it was for her and her young family when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Gilda’s Club doesn’t ask a penny of any of it’s members, and the woman talked about how she no longer felt alone in the fight, her husband learned what to expect in caring for her, and her children could talk about everything and have fun at “Noogieland” (the children’s programming.) Every evening, all the programs would break for about 15 minutes, and everyone would convene in the kitchen area to snack, talk, and chat for a bit.

     Even in the terrifying face of cancer, the Irish proverb is true: “Laughter is brightest where the food is.”

     That night, I met the CEO of the local chapter and asked about donations. They are a non-profit organization, and start off each year with a budget of $0. Everything-  EVERYTHING- they provide to their members FREE OF CHARGE, is donated or paid for with donated capital.

     “…It means, in fine, that you are to see imperatively that everyone has something nice to eat.”

     “‘I’m glad you’re here. Sit down, relax. I’ll take care of everything.'”

     Not being an especially wealthy man, I asked if they accepted donations of baked goods. The answer was an emphatic “YES.” Those 15 minute breaks the young woman had mentioned always involve food- usually donated, occasionally cooked in-house.

     I asked her if she’d be terribly opposed to a few dozen cookies or a cake appearing on the table every week or so, courtesy of the Black Hat Bakery.

     I guess I’ll be a little more busy now.

     I get to bake and try out new recipes.
     The food gets eaten and enjoyed, by people who wouldn’t mind having something else to smile about.

     That’s about as big a win-win as I can think of.

     Whatever you can do for something you care about, do it.
     Give money.
    Offer your time.
     Bake cakes and cookies and give them away.

      Hospitality doesn’t just happen at home.

Stay Classy,

Not In Kansas Anymore

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

This past weekend (as you may know if you follow my Facebook and Twitter- which you should, like every good right-thinking American), Emily and I decided to wander around Philadelphia again, but this time in a part we’ve really only tip-toed into before- Chinatown.

Philly’s Chinatown is not the biggest one in America- maybe a few square blocks or so. It occupies a corner of Center City, right as you come off the Ben Franklin Bridge. We had one or two favorite restaurants there- a tea shop and a dim sum joint with the BEST SOUP DUMPLINGS EVER. Apart from that, Chinatown was more or less how we knew we had taken a wrong turn wandering out of Reading Terminal Market.

Recently, Emily has been fond of a YouTube channel called “Off The Great Wall-” a group of young Asian Americans who make thought-provoking, revealing, and often amusing videos about the differences between Western and Eastern cultures- especially in terms of parenting, expectation in child rearing, food, and more. This had the both of us eager to explore the closest, most authentic part of the East we had nearby. As I said in my blog on RTM- if traveling to another country isn’t feasible, find a part of it closer by and experience that for a starter.

We arrived on a sunny, warm, and windy Sunday afternoon, and we were starving- a perfect way to start exploring if there ever was one. We immediately sought out good Chinese food.

I should make a mention here that we were not looking for Chinese-AMERICAN food. No General Tso’s. No (blank) and Broccoli. No bizarrely orange and gluey sweet and sour chicken. That stuff has a place and time. According to at least one writer, it has a special place in my own Jewish-American culture too.
Not today, though. We were looking for CHINESE food- a term which covers over 40 distinct cuisines, each with their own host of signature ingredients, preparations, and inspirations. To quote Anthony Bourdain, “Saying that you’ve ‘been to China’ is like saying you’ve ‘been to Earth.'”

After peeping menus of Taiwanese, Szechuan, Hong Kong-style, and a few non- Chinese choices, we settled on Shang Hai 1. Shang Hai 1 specialized in- you guessed it- Shanghai-style food.

Emboldened by our recently-acquired knowledge of how to spot an authentic Chinese restaurant, we were greeted warmly and offered a table near the door. Hot tea was immediately poured, and ice water was offered which we declined.

The restaurant slowly filled with a late lunch crowd, and our orders of beef scallion pancake, Shanghai Style Panfried Pork Soup Dumplings, and Eight Treasure Noodles arrived. Absolutely fantastic food, in excellent portions for a great price.
Throughout the meal, I began to notice something strange. Every time the waiter came by to refill our teacups, they also asked if we wanted ice water- even going so far as to look at us quizzically and say “You sure? No water?” I then realized- Emily and I were the ONLY table being offered water.

We were also the only Westerners in the entire restaurant.

In Chinese culture, ice water isn’t really a “thing.” Hot water or hot tea is normally drunk as a refreshment, regardless of the weather or time of year. Some grouchy, irritable part of me (not yet ENTIRELY quelled by the delicious food) first thought, “Huh.. thanks for the casual racism, pal.”

Then I realized- he’s a waiter, in an AUTHENTIC Chinese restaurant, serving Westerners. THAT’S A PERFECTLY FAIR AND LEGITIMATE THING TO ASK. He was likely used to any Westerners who came in expecting ice water. Cold water at a meal is kind of OUR thing.

After lunch and a stop at TeaDo- a modern teahouse popular among the 20-something-and-under crowd, Emily and I thought it might be interesting to peek in some of the grocery stores and markets in Chinatown and see the differences- presentation of wares, unusual ingredients, and so on.

I enjoy grocery stores. I love seeing what people eat and wondering how they eat it, or what they do with it. We saw lotus roots and varietals of familiar fruits we’d never seen before. There were bottles of strange sauces in different colors. The meat case had the odds and ends of animals that tend not too be featured at Shop Rite and Acme.
After a while, though, I started to look at the people around us too- and reality came flying in.

All around us were people doing their shopping- chatting, debating, weighing. Most of them were older folks- parents and grandparents getting groceries for their homes. 
When their eyes met ours though- IF they made eye contact- the look was a mixture of confusion, suspicion, and accusation. It was a look that said, “Foreigner.”
“What are you doing here? This is not for you.”

That grouchy voice in my head piped up again- “What are they looking at? My money’s green. I can buy something here if I like.”
Another, calmer voice in my head said, “Oh come on- look outside. They have a hard go of things in this corner of town. They have good reason to be suspicious.”
Then finally I realized- They DO have a reason.
It was us. People like me and Emily, doing exactly what we were doing.

Those who know me know I have very strong feelings about cultural appropriation and how truly hurtful and detrimental it can be. 
Cultural appropriation is, in a nutshell, the theft and improper use of symbols or aspects of a culture not your own, with complete ignorance of their symbolism and meaning. For example, a singer wearing a Native American war bonnet on stage to show that he has a “naturalist, earthy side” to him- and being completely ignorant of what that headdress means to Native Americans, and how improper it is for him to be wearing it.

Wanting to explore and learn about other cultures is a great thing to do. It’s one of my favorite things to do- but it should always be done respectfully. You should always be aware that whatever you feel is strange, exotic, and wondrous is another person’s day-to-day life, and it may not be quite as romantic as you imagine.

Emily and I spent the day looking through these markets and the streets of Chinatown, wondering and inquiring about things we hadn’t seen before- and without realizing it, some of the people we saw may have looked at us and thought, “This is my life. This is how I live. This is not some Discovery Channel special for you to gawk at.”

No one was crude or mean toward us, and many we met were very friendly and welcoming. One shop even took a bit of a tongue-in-cheek approach to rampant Asian cultural appropriation with a sign in their window that read:
We are friendly! We haggle!
Buy your souvenirs here!
Everything authentic-looking!
Family owned!”

Even so, a nagging feeling of shame and foreignness hovered over me for the remainder of the afternoon. Sometimes “being a traveler, not a tourist” is a bit more complicated than you may think.

The sorta-glum feeling followed me through Reading Terminal. Em picked up some of the mushrooms used in the Eight Treasure noodles and Szechuan peppercorns, which we had tried brewed in a beer from Forgotten Boardwalk Brewery in Cherry Hill. 
I was reminded of a Ray Bradbury short story I had read titled “Sun and Shadow,” in which a man disrupts a model shoot trying to make “art” out of his village and history. All along, despite his wackine
ss, the reader knows that the man has a point, and the more I thought about it, I felt like I was the wrong person in that story.

As we walked through the city and wound our way out of Chinatown, and my brain wound itself up further and further in nervousness and guilt, we met up with my little sister, who suggested dinner at Moriarty’s.

Just to REALLY put a twist on the day’s cultural landscape, Moriarty’s is an Irish pub in Philadelphia with an excellent beer list- and is very well-known for their Tex-Mex food.

That put everything rather in perspective. I went to Chinatown to learn, not to offend, and all I can do is try to be more cognizant of what (and who) surrounds me.

I came to Chinatown to learn about Chinatown-
and get some freakin’ good soup dumplings.

Good enough reasons as any.

Stay Classy,


Over The Edge

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

There is a strain of sub-culture that is common to almost every physical field of work- masochism and martyrdom.

When I was an EMT, it was common to hear the older guys compare stories of calls they’d been on- heroic things they’d done, crazy stuff they’ve seen, and so on. Even more common were stories of injuries.

“… shredded the tendons in this elbow.”
“… ripped apart both knees.”
“… my back sounded like popcorn.”

And so on- folks comparing and bragging about “cutting their teeth”, “taking their lumps.” Physical proof of their toughness, and that they’d been there, done that.

The culinary world is no different, and even a little darker- just because of the people who find themselves there.
Let’s face it- the culinary world has always had its arms open to the freaks, misfits, rebels, and weirdos. If you’ve got passion, it doesn’t matter if it’s a healthy love or a full-blown psychosis- just point it at the food, and try not to kill anyone.

After college (and earning a few lumps as an EMT,) I finally focused on my passion for food. I had already been indoctrinating myself in the lives and works of chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Marco Pierre White.

These were the rockstars of my little world. They were famous. They did what they loved, and screw the naysayers.
They were misfits and rebels, like me.

I’m fairly certain I’m not psychotic, but I would definitely say I’m a good fit for cooking. In school, I was picked on. I was chubby, had a stutter, read a lot, played NO sports, and I had braces AND glasses. After finding my tribe (music geeks, nerds, and artists) in high school and college, I took pride in my misfit status- and I wanted to let it shine.

Not just shine. I wanted to wear it like a badge.
I wanted to transform it into a tank, and smash through everything and everyone that made me feel worthless before.
I wanted to rub it in the face of the whole world and yell, “SEE THIS?! YOU SEE THIS S**T?! THIS IS WHO I AM, MOTHERF***ERS, SO BITE ME!”

Very few of my classmates in culinary school HADN’T read Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” and drank in every grungy drop of it. Wanton sex on dumpsters during service. Walking into a new job and finding your staff assembling guns in the walk-in. Mid- and post-shift drinking, and drugs drugs drugs drugs drugs to make Hunter S. Thompson look like a choir boy.

A rockstar lifestyle, with gourmet food.

As soon as I joined the professional culinary world, though, I saw the pattern- the same I’d seen as an EMT. People showing off their scars from wayward knives, burns from hot sheet pans and oil splashes. Stories of friends (or even themselves) succumbing to the stress of the life and burning out- through drugs, alcohol, or any number of risky behaviors.

All part of the life, I was told. This crazy rockstar life.

No, my friends. Just, no.

I’d mentioned Hunter S. Thompson earlier- here’s a bit of his wisdom: “The Edge… there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”

Cooks and bakers are artists, and artists are passionate people. We seize upon things at a very deep, visceral level. Often, it can lead to genius and ecstasy. 

Sometimes, madness and isolation.

Sometimes, somewhere much darker.
In recent interviews, Anthony Bourdain has explained his misgivings about Kitchen Confidential- the book that brought him fame. He has since distanced himself from the badboy rockstar of his early years, and has mentioned that he’d be pleased if those years could just be forgotten by the world.

I have read articles by chefs and other culinary professionals who’ve lost friends to the madness, via drugs and alcohol, or who have permanently crippled themselves in an effort to “cut their teeth” and “earn their stripes.”
I’ve been among them, looking down at burns and cuts on my arms and hands with a sort of pride- like they were my own “red badges of courage.”

My friends, this is not the way to go.

Your body- your life- is the best tool you have in your kitchen- and you can’t just go out and get a new one when it breaks. You can’t create and provide for people if you’re too strung out to work.

I have unhealthy habits, and I own them. I drink regularly, though rarely to excess. I used to be a caffeine addict.I also used to be overweight, and in danger of becoming diabetic.

On the other hand, I also exercise regularly. I eat healthier and have lost weight.
Most importantly, I check myself constantly to know when I’m getting too deep- when I need to take a breath and walk away for a moment.
I look forward to a life in culinary- and I’d like it to be as long as possible.

If you see a friend going towards the darkness, don’t let them slide. 
Say something.
DO something.

There are plenty of geniuses in the graveyard, and as I was taught (ironically) in EMT school- “No one needs a dead hero.”

Stay Classy,