Ask the Chef: A Culinary Professor Shares Cooking Secrets

Eric Schawaroch, associate professor of Culinary Arts at the Culinary Institute of America, offers insider tips.


Q: What is the difference between cake flour and all-purpose flour? And what is each used for?

ES: Cake flour has less protein, which develops into gluten, and is more finely milled. It makes a more tender product. That is why it is great for cakes — as they have a more delicate crumb. All-purpose flour is just that: all-purpose. It is good for cakes, batters, and breads. However, it does not produce as fine a result as when you use specialty flours.


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Q: How can a home baker proof their bread (especially in cold weather)?

ES: In warm weather, you can place the item you wish to proof in a warm place (yeast rises best above 75°F), covered with a towel or plastic wrap. If it is cold inside and out, you can make a home proof-box by pouring boiling hot water into a glass baking pan placed on the lower rack of the oven, then placing the dough to be proofed in its own baking pan on a rack above the hot water. No need to turn the oven on, as the water will add enough heat.


Q: When following a recipe, should I adjust my cooking time based on whether I’m cooking on a gas range or an electric range?

ES: Gas on the stovetop is easier for me to regulate and heats up faster, although no matter what you cook you will have to wait for the pan to heat up.

In the oven, electric has a drier, more even heat, whereas gas can be hotter towards the top and might be less even. Some gas ovens tend to have hot spots, depending where the pilot light and vent are.

As long as the temperature is set correctly, the cooking times should be the same. I always have a hanging thermometer in my oven that I check to confirm that the oven is properly heated to the desired temperature.

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