Kitchen Torches

We tested a hardware-store propane torch against petite kitchen torches fueled by butane.

A torch is the best way to caramelize the sugar on your crème brûlée. We tested a hardware-store propane torch against five petiite kitchen torches fueled by butane.

The propane torch, with its powerful flame, caramelized the sugar quickly and easily, but admittedly, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Although easy to wield, a propane torch puts out a lot of heat and works in just seconds, so you must work very carefully. (In contrast, the kitchen torches took about 1 1/2 minutes to brûlée each custard.) If you opt for a propane torch, make sure to buy a model with a built-in trigger that does not need to be held in place for the torch to remain lit.

Among the four butane-powered kitchen torches we tested, only two are worth owning. They have a plastic flame adjuster that is clearly marked and stayed cool enough to handle without burning our fingers. These torches were also the easiest to operate. Our favorite model requires only one hand to operate and is triggered by the thumb rather than the forefinger, which we found far more comfortable than our runner-up. Also, the safety switch can be flicked off with the thumb, which is much easier than the two-handed pull-push trick required by the second-place finisher.

The remaining models had flaws. The safety lock on one was difficult to engage and the air intake port became red-hot with use. The metal flame-width adjuster on another must be held in place during use, but it became very hot to the touch. Finally, although the final product generated the most powerful flame of the kitchen torches tested, testers needed to use both hands to switch it on and found its large size awkward.

Winner – Bernzomatic Mini Kitchen Torch (Model ST2200T)

Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 3:10 pm  Comments (7)  

Make Ahead Chocolate Soufflé

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 11:29 am  Comments (2)  

New Nintendo ATK Game Just Launched

Let’s Get Cooking –

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 6:21 pm  Comments (3)  

To Sift Or Not To Sift?

Does it really matter if you sift your flour before you measure it or after? In a word: Yes.

When a recipe calls for “1 cup sifted flour,” the flour should be sifted before measuring; whereas “1 cup flour, sifted” should be sifted after measuring. Here’s why: A cup of flour sifted before measuring will weigh 20 to 30 percent less than a cup of flour sifted after measuring—a difference that can make a huge impact on the texture of finished baked goods. The best way to make sure you’ve got the right amount of flour? Weigh it.

Here’s what various types of flour weigh, both sifted and unsifted:

All-Purpose 5 ounces 4 ounces
Cake 4 ounces 3.25 ounces
Bread 5.5 ounces 4.5 ounces

JUST RIGHT: This cake was made by measuring flour by weight before sifting, as the recipe directed.

TOO LITTLE FLOUR: This cake was made by measuring flour by volume after sifting, causing us to use 25 percent less flour by weight, resulting in an overly wet, dense texture.

Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm  Comments (4)  

Skillet Testing

We are testing nonstick skillets in the kitchen this week—all under $50, because you have to dispose of them when they the coating wears off and they stop working.

Our Senior Equipment Editor, Lisa McManus, has already made 312 eggs and counting.  The process is so tedious that she said it makes her root for a pan to fail just to make it more interesting.

After the egg test comes the crepe test.  A good nonstick skillet will show evenness of browning and have a comfortable handle.  The weight of the pan is also a consideration. (How easy is it to swirl the pan as you pour the batter? Is it too heavy, off balance, awkward? Does the handle hurt your hand?)

This crepe looks good: it’s evenly golden brown across the pan surface, showing no hot spots or cold spots in the pan.

So far, we have not had one skillet that has distinguished itself as a clear winner or loser, but based on our battery of extensive tests ahead, this may change.  Look for the final results in the September issue of Cooks Illustrated.

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 3:16 pm  Comments (14)  

Essential Kitchen Tools On A Budget

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 11:51 am  Comments (3)  

Jar Openers

We found one opener that could open anything from a small bottle of vanilla to a quart-sized jar of pasta sauce.

Manufacturers keep coming up with new ways to open stubborn jars. We rounded up five new jar openers, plus the winner of our March 2005 review, and tested them on big jars of spaghetti sauce as well as tiny bottles of vanilla extract. One opener was so cumbersome it was worse than struggling with a jar. Two others couldn’t shrink down to grip vanilla lids. Another mangled lids as they were opened. We liked a rubbery disk that also works as a trivet and pot holder, but it couldn’t outperform our old standby. For its low price and ability to adjust quickly to any size jar without a single slip, our favorite is still our previous winner. Made of chrome plate, this opener consists of a 7 1/2-inch bar perforated with 18 holes and a vinyl grip. Although it takes a few tries to learn to adjust the clamp, this tool is handy in the stickiest of situations.

WINNER:  Swing-A-Way Adjust-A-Grip Jar and Bottle Opener

Model Number: 711BK

Where To Shop:

Price: $6.95

Testers’ Comments: While it takes a few minutes to learn how to use the Swing-A-Way, its clamp grip is strong and sturdy, and lids of any size pop off with little effort.

Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 3:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Perfectly Poached Eggs Anyone?

One of the least appealing characteristics of poorly poached eggs is uneven, feathery whites instead of a beautifully round, domed egg. We’ve found that we can solve the problem by adding a few tablespoons of vinegar to the poaching water. The vinegar lowers the water’s pH, which ensures that the egg whites stay intact during cooking. Plus, the eggs taste even better.



Published in: on March 19, 2010 at 2:06 pm  Comments (3)  

Hand Held Mixer Testing – One Mixer Aced Every Test

Do new, more powerful models make these the equal of stand mixers?

When it comes to heavy-duty baking, we favor stand mixers over hand mixers every time. Even the best hand mixers fail miserably at kneading bread dough, a task any decent stand mixer can handle while freeing the cook to do other things. But if you don’t make bread (or if you knead it by hand), bake only on occasion, or have a small kitchen or budget, a hand mixer is a good alternative. It’s compact, simple to clean, and compared to stand mixers, which cost upward of $250, it’s cheap. Moreover, a hand mixer is good for lighter jobs such as beating egg whites, making whipped cream, and whisking ingredients that are warming over a double boiler (try that with a stand mixer!). It’s also good for small jobs—whipping one egg white or ½ cup cream. But it’s important to invest in a good one. In the past, we’ve found too many hand mixers with lousy designs and weak motors. We gathered seven, priced from $15.99 to $79.99, to see if any could meet our standards.

Winner: Cuisinart Power Advantage 7-Speed Hand Mixer (Model Number: HM-70)

Weight:  2 pounds, 8 ounces

Where To Shop:

Price: $49.95

Testers’ Comments: Powerful enough to whip and beat almost as quickly as a stand mixer, its extra-low speed also let us incorporate light ingredients without making a mess. The motor was quiet, and the simple digital controls, separate beater-release lever, and contoured handle made the mixer a pleasure to use. A swiveling cord helps left-handed users.

Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Have Your Cake And Eat It Too – How To Tell When Your Cake Is Done

Published in: on March 16, 2010 at 11:55 am  Leave a Comment