Every wednesday I review a cookbook to help weed out the good the bad and the ugly. This week I am reviewing I’m Just Here For MORE FOOD by Alton Brown. As an engineer and a certified nerd, I love Alton Brown. His show is designed around humor and the basics, that make food what it is. He takes the most complicated concepts and makes them fun and interesting. His newest book does not disappoint.  

Alton Brown’s   sequal to I’m just here for the FOOD.  This book is all about baking.  It is organized well and is set up to teach experienced and inexperienced cooks about baking.  Just like his first book in the series, this book is full of information.  Alton breaks down the book into the Parts Department, the muffin method, the biscuit method, the creaming method, the straight dough method, the egg foam method and custards.  Alton shows how all basic baked goods are created using one of the six methods disclosed above.

The Parts Department

Alton describes how each ingredient reacts with every other ingredient.  He teaches how proteins, carbohydrates, fats, water and air all come together to make the perfect baked goods.  My favorite part is that he describes each type of ingredient reacts in a baked good.  For instance, sugar tenderizes baked goods by breaking up proteins and asorbing water, they preserve by bind water, sugar leavens by airating fat molecules and sugar browns by breaking into color and aroma compounds when heated.    This section is the basis behind why our food looks, tastes, and feels the way it does.  I actually read this section a couple of times as it was so interesting. 

The Muffin Method

The basis of the muffin method is that you combine all of the dry ingredients in one bowl and all of the wet ingredients into a separate bowl.  Then you add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  In this method you stir until just combined, remembering not to overmix.  In this method Alton describes why we sift our flour.  Flour when sifted is airated and requires less mixing to form a batter.  Thus, less stirring means less gluten, meaning a more flaky biscuit.  A thing to note, muffins are not cupcakes.  Cupcakes are moist and tender, a muffin is meant to be coarse and crumbly.  Another great tip is that you should heat your oven a tad higher than the recommended temperature before you place your muffins in the oven.  After you place them in the oven reduce the heat to the recommended temperature.  This will compensate for the cooler pans and the oven door being open.  Thus, giving you a better final product. 

The Biscuit Method

The basis of the biscuit method is to cut the fat into the dry ingredients.  Then once the fats are dispersed in the dry ingredients, you add the wet ingredients into the center and quickly mix.  Then you turn the mixture out on a surface and knead briefly.  Alton describes how this method is used to create biscuits, scones, shortcakes and dumplings.  My favorite part of the section is making homemade saltines.  I am always amazed at recipes for things that I wouldn’t even think to make at home.  The recipe is quick and simple.  I believe that you will be seeing a post in the near future about homemade saltines. 

The Creaming Method

The basis of the creaming method is to cream the sugar with the fats.  Once creamed you add the eggs and stir.  Then finally you gradually add the dry ingredients.  You have seen me use this method many times.  Take for instance my awesome chocolate chip cookies.  But, I never realized that the shortening should be at a temperature a little colder than room temperature.  According to Alton, he prefers using it at around 50 degrees.  You can either refrigerate it or cool it in a glass of ice water.  If you do the latter remember to dry it off before using.

The Straight Dough Method

The basis of the straight dough method is to start by soaking the yeast. Then adding the ingredients to a work bowl starting with the wet ingredients, then the dry, and finally the salt.  Mix until a dough ball is formed and then turn out on a surface to knead.  Allow to rise.  Punch down and allow to rise again.  Proof quickly and bake.  This is the method that I used to create my sour dough bread.  Alton uses it to make everything from dinner rolls, to pizza to homemade bread.  I am always learning from this book.  Near the beginning of the section he has step by step illustrated instructions for kneading dough.  I must say his method appears to be far superior to my punch and fold method. 

The Egg Foam Method

The basis of the egg foam method is to separate the eggs.  Using cream of tartar beat the egg white using a whisk until the whites are foamy and opaque.  Then use accordingly.  This method is the basis of meringues, souffle’s and angel food cake.  There is a recipe for cheesy souffle’ that sounds amazing.  There is 2 whole cups of cheese in it.  I love cheese almost as much as I love bacon.  I said almost, Bond.  This recipe would be amazing with some bacon bits in it.  Remember don’t over mix your egg whites and remember to fold so that you don’t crush your pretty air bubbles.   

Custards

The basis of the custard is to capture liquid in the mass of coagulated protein molecules to thicken it.  Basically it is the basis of custards, quiche, puddings and ice creams.  I have always found the process of tempering egg yolks with scalding hot liquid as hard and quite time consuming.  Mostly because I cook the eggs forcing me to start over.  Alton has put my fears to rest with a tourtise v. hare illustration describing the process.  Yes, this book even has illustrations for the kids.  The best part of the section for me was the cheesecake.  I love cheesecake, but I always overcook it and cause the top to crack.  Alton has a solution for that too.  He cooks it with the oven on for an hour and turns the oven off and leaves the cheesecake to cook in the oven with the residual heat.  Genius!  This prevents overcooking and with the times he lists, it is pretty fool proof.

Overall

This book is just as good, actually even better than the first.  This might be because I love to bake, but I think Alton has learned some new ways to get the information across.  The book is perfect for a beginner or for a seasoned cook that would like to know more about food.  I totally recommend it.  It was fun, entertaining and down right informative.  Alton is a genius with food.

Rex is an avid griller, barbecuer and bacon enthusiast. He is the Pitmaster for the Rex BBQ competition team. Rex was also featured on the TV show American Grilled. If you have any questions or wish to have Rex decode your favorite dish, click on the ASK REX link in the menu above.

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