Thursday, November 25, 2004

the raw and the cooked

Pancakes for dinner tonight. Deeply misshapen ones; I made them bigger than I could comfortably flip with my spatula, and they got all squished up and had tendrils flying off everywhere and droplets of batter sizzling away, far from the main body of the pancake amoeba. I ate the first two with my fingers while I made the rest, and ate the rest with butter and syrup.

The interesting thing about the mix is that the instructions tell you to adjust the amount of milk depending on how thick or thin you want the cakes. Which got me thinking about the difference between thick and thin pancakes, or cookies, or brownies, or seared ahi filets, or chicken cutlets, or anything prepared with heat. Because it's really a question of the ratio of surface area to volume, isn't it? A thick pancake mostly tastes of the interior, while a thin one the exterior. Your preference for thin over thick, or vice versa, could be a direct indicator of how cooked you want something to taste.

Had a foodie moment around this recently, talking to Thread about a disappointing loaf of so-called artisan bread I'd bought at the UN Plaza farmer's market. The crumb was too dense, I told her, and then had to explain that there are two different names for the "parts" of bread, interior and exterior, crumb and crust. I hadn't know that before I started catering. Yes, the outside is the crust, but for years I thought the guts didn't have their own name.

Crumb. Which is linguistically curious: crumbs are obviously small bits of crumb, but crumbs don't add up to crumb. Crumb is not a mass noun, like water or sugar.

English is damn weird.

Anyway. I had a babysitter when we lived in Mason (isn't it cute?) who would deliberately overbake the cookies she made, because she liked the burnt taste. Maybe also because that way she guaranteed that she didn't have to share with the rest of her family. If I have access to a pan of lasagna or macaroni and cheese, I'll go for the darker stuff around the edges first. I like the edges because they're chewier, and somehow richer than the center.

I mean, I'm happy to eat the center too, of course. But a tender center's not as exciting as the crunchy burnt bits. Maybe it's something primal or atavistic about me, the same impulse that makes vegetarianism so difficult to maintain: I want to chew and rip and tear.

But not with cookies, which I invariably underbake. And usually eat before they've fully cooled, pulling them off the cookie sheet in burning-hot, gooey fingerfuls.

Maybe in case that babysitter ever shows up and tries to steal them.