Good Eats Star Credits BakeWise Chemist

November 12, 2008 Updated: November 15, 2008

He asked her to explain the rule for the right ratio of baking powder to flour.  ‘Wayull…’ drawled Corrihers, arms waving, big smile, ‘The rule for bakin’ powdah is one teaspoon per cup of flour, maximum, one and one fourth.  If there’s  too much leavening, those bubbles get biggah and biggah and they rise and rise and rise to the top and then they just bust.’

Your structure builders  are flour and eggs.  Your structure wreckers are sugar and butter.  If you have too much of the builders–chalk dry.  If you have too much of the structure wreckers, your cake will sag in the middle–it won’t dome up pretty.  We call that a sad cake.  But you know what?  A sad cake is a happy cake.  Why?  Because it tastes  good.  What you do is, you bake it in a bundt pan and turn it over and nobody knows it’s a sad cake.’

The Queen of cooking gave  much more detail about molecules and amino acids and weights and lattices and binders and acids. The above was  a highly condensed answer.  

Brown asked, “What is the single biggest mistake home bakers make?”

‘Wayull…’

‘One!’

‘Ah don’t know if ah can limit mahself.’

‘Try limiting yourself to a single breath.’

She never quite got to the single mistake, but along the way we learned the difference between diostatic and non diostatic malt extract, (the first one is alive), the amazing power of salt to suppress bitterness, and that starch is a secret weapon.  If you want to cook with  low fat milk or yogurt, it won’t form a batch of lumpy curds and ruin the texture of your baked item if you stir a little cornstarch into it.  She ‘just went crazy over’  non stick foil, ‘I just adore that doggone release foil.  You can put your cookies on the foil and slide it on top of your baking sheet, cook them, eight or ten minutes, then slide the whole thing off the sheet and run a little cold water over it.’

Brown said he felt the food media since the nineties had ‘lost the simple pure joy in making food for people,’ and that Corriher embodies it.

According to the event program, Corriher, a James Beard Award winner, was a secret consultant for the most recent Joy of Cooking update.  She has a degree in chemistry from Vanderbilt University  and was a biochemist in its medical school.

Alton Brown said Shirley Corriher inspired him to mix chemistry and humor and cooking in the way that  makes his show “Good Eats” stand out.  He said every time he published a book he was afraid she would publish BakeWise and crush his sales.