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The Science of Good Cooking (Cook's Illustrated Cookbooks) (original 2012; edition 2012)

by The Editors of America's Test Kitchen and Guy Crosby Ph.D

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182465,058 (4.5)7
Member:brendajanefrank
Title:The Science of Good Cooking (Cook's Illustrated Cookbooks)
Authors:The Editors of America's Test Kitchen and Guy Crosby Ph.D
Info:Cook's Illustrated (2012), Hardcover, 504 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:cookbook, reference, nonfiction, own, Vine

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The Science of Good Cooking by The Editors of America's Test Kitchen (2012)

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When I subscribed to Cook’s Illustrated magazine, I read each issue cover to cover, enjoying every bit of deconstructing a recipe or technique and evaluating commercial pantry staples and cookery tools. And now I devoured every word of this big volume on the science behind 50 fundamental concepts essential to good cooking.

Each concept is presented as an 8-16 page chapter that begins with the science/theory behind a technique, followed by a cooking experiment that tests the science, and then much further exploration of the concept via at least half-a-dozen recipes (for generally familiar, delicious, foods). Note: this is not an “illustrated,” coffee-table book; there are some graphics to help describe the science, and some simple photos of experimental results, but this is a text-heavy book -- lush with information not visuals.

The topics mostly concern meat, eggs, vegetables and baking. All of it feels solid -- the reinforcement of concepts I already knew about, the confidence to try techniques that are new to me, and many “aha” moments about the whys behind the science, some of which come to mind even now:

• when to cut a food with the grain vs. against the grain (answer: onions and tough meats, respectively; cutting across cells breaks them, resulting in a too-pungent onion but a more tender meat);

• the difference between baking soda (which reacts with an acid in the recipe to create CO2 bubbles that leaven) vs. baking powder (which contains baking soda + a powdered acid) vs. double-acting baking powder (which contains a second acid that works later, in the oven’s heat) -- and why you ever even need separate baking soda (it leads to flavorful browning);

• why adding eggs to a batter one at a time, and alternating the addition of wet and dry ingredients, does matter (both cause ingredients to incorporate faster/better and prevent the over-mixing that toughens the batter);

• whether to salt scrambled eggs before or after cooking (before: “Salt affects the electrical charge on the protein molecules in the eggs, reducing the tendency of the proteins to bond with each other. A weaker protein network means eggs are less likely to overcoagulate and will cook up tender, not tough.”)

If you have an opinion about Cook’s Illustrated magazine, that will be your opinion of this book -- multiplied by 50 :) If you’re unfamiliar with the magazine, I highly recommend using e.g. Amazon's “Look Inside” feature to browse the Table of Contents for the concepts/techniques covered, and then read the “First Pages” (which is “Concept 1: Gentle Heat Prevents Overcooking”) and is representative of the book.

Enthusiastically recommended! ( )
7 vote DetailMuse | Apr 10, 2014 |
Unlike any other cookbook you know, The Science of Good Cooking is organized around concepts, rather than recipes, categories, or occasions. The editors urge you to master these fifty simple concepts in order to enjoy a lifetime of success in the kitchen. After each concept--such as “Gentle Heat Prevents Overcooking” or “Resting Meat Maximizes Juiciness” or “Salty Marinades Work Best”--the science behind it is explained. A description of the test kitchen experiment on the subject follows. More than 400 recipes that demonstrate the concepts are included. Helpful little tips on practical science abound. The Science of Good Cooking is the most original, and perhaps most instructive, cookery book I’ve seen! ( )
  EmmaBleu | Apr 11, 2013 |
I know how to cook, but baking is my specialty, having had professional training in bread and pastry. From this perspective, I highly recommend "The Science of Good Cooking," by Cook's Illustrated. This isn't your grandma's home cooking, but a study of culinary processes and techniques to create better food products.

Rarely would I read from cover to cover a cookbook or a book on cooking, but I did so with "The Science of Good Cooking." That alone is saying a lot since it's 451 pages long.

When reviewing a book, the first thing I notice is the quality of construction - the paper, the binding, the cover, the print and the design. This book gets five stars in these categories, despite the sepia illustrations. This isn't a coffee table picture book, but a scientific approach to best practices in cooking. I particularly like the dust jacket, which has a plastic-type coating. This gives it a nice feel and provides some protection against splatter.

The format of "The Science of Good Cooking" is useful. With clear and precise writing, each chapter presents a concept, describes how it works and reviews the test kitchen methods of analysis. Following, you see the results and "The Takeaway." If you wanted to cut to the chase, you could skip to the results and the takeaway and still benefit from the chapter. After the text, Cook's Illustrated gives you the practical application of the science in the form of fail-proof recipes.

Reading this book and practicing the concepts can substitute for some expensive culinary training for the untutored cook. I skimmed the chapters on bread and pastry, having already learned the content. However, the information is solid. I was especially impressed that Cook's Illustrated included a discussion of the autolyse process, developed by Raymond Calvel, to improve the flavor of bread. Autolyse is a professional technique of allowing hydrated flour to develop prior to using it to make bread dough.

"The Science of Good Cooking" includes a section on kitchen tools, with recommendations from Cook's Illustrated tests. This makes the book a real bargain. You're getting cooking fundamentals, recipes and equipment ratings. Cook's Illustrated has a website that contains this information, but it's expensive and annoying. You can search for information and find that some is free, some is available only to subscribers, and some is available only to premium subscribers.

About half the book is on meat, logical considering the importance of animal protein in cooking. Here is where the full color photos and illustrations would, in my opinion, not be an asset. The descriptions of the scientific analysis in cooking meat tend to make the reader consider being a vegetarian. There are extremely detailed discussions of the muscle fiber, connective tissue, fat, fiber and collagen in meat, and how the age and exercise of the animal affect the meat. Then, we learn how different cooking processes affect these animal parts, in more excruciating detail. Yeah, sepia is okay with me.

Some readers might find the Cook's Illustrated recipes complicated and cumbersome but, with experience, many of the steps become routine and painless. However, this criticism could be valid concerning a few of the recipes. I do think that you can make good scrambled eggs without knowing the correct size of the pan for the number of eggs, precisely timing the cooking on medium and low heat, adding half-and-half instead of milk or cream, adding extra egg yolks (leaving you with extra egg whites) and using chilled, unsalted butter instead of salted butter at any temperature. I think the idea is to understand the concepts and follow them, as precisely or generally as you wish, and the outcome will still be improved.

"The Science of Cooking" is a good for cooks of all levels of knowledge and experience - a solid five-star book. ( )
1 vote brendajanefrank | Nov 20, 2012 |
I am a connoisseur of good food, and good cookbooks. I am of the opinion, one can never have too many good cookbooks!

However, this one, this marvellous piece of cooking knowledge, I so wish I'd had those 30+ years ago when I first started out on my own! Do they still teach 'Home Ec' in high schools? [If so, this should be required curriculum!]

Not only is this book filled with fabulous recipes, but the science that makes the recipe work! Yes, you read that right.... the "science" behind the recipe that makes it a success. [I was in my 40's before that light bulb moment of realizing that cooking was science and chemistry, before my real love for it took off!]

Different areas of science are spelled out, followed by several recipes in which that particular area of science makes the recipe such a successful dish. And there is no shortage of recipes to try out! [400-plus!]

By 'Cook's Illustrated' so it's a trusted book to be sure! This would be a wonderful addition for every newlywed, as well as anyone just moving out on their own for the first time. And it's making a grand addition to this 'old-timer's' kitchen shelf as well!

I give this book FIVE STARS and a big THUMBS UP!

Highly recommended!
****DISCLOSURE: This book was provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for an independent and non-biased review. ( )
  texicanwife | Oct 27, 2012 |
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Crosby, Guymain authorall editionsconfirmed
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In this radical new approach to home cooking, science is used to explain what goes on in the kitchen. Unlike other food science books, this is a direct and practical connection between the science and the cooking divided into 50 core principles.

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