Baking soda (Recipe: lemon thyme cornmeal cookies)
Things I can remember:
Phone numbers. PIN numbers. Latin verb conjugations. One phrase in Yiddish. The names of donors to a fundraising campaign I worked on fifteen years ago. My favorite jambalaya recipe. The words to old Beatles songs from the 1960s. Almost every line from every Doris Day-Rock Hudson film.
Things I can't remember at the moment:
The name of my first-grade teacher. How to use a slide rule. Kim's cell phone number (thank heavens for address books). Directions to Mary's new house (thank heavens for Mapquest). The current location of my favorite grey linen summer dress.
One thing I can't remember, ever, is the difference between baking powder and baking soda.
When baking soda (pure bicarbonate of soda -- an alkali) is combined with an acid ingredient such as buttermilk, honey, yogurt or molasses, the chemical reaction produces carbon dioxide gas bubbles, which create air pockets in the dough or batter, causing it to rise. All of those air pockets make for a lighter and more tender final product.
Because it reacts instantly when moistened, baking soda always should be mixed with dry ingredients before adding any liquid, and the resulting batter or dough should go into the oven or pan or griddle right away.
If you're planning to use baking soda for baking, you want to keep it from absorbing odors in your refrigerator. After opening the box, decant into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, and store in your pantry or fridge. How can you tell if the baking soda still viable? Fill a small cup half full with vinegar and drop a teaspoon of baking soda in it. If it fizzes, it's good to go.
Baking soda isn't just for baking, however. Add a pinch to tomato sauce to balance the acidity. Add another pinch to the water when you soak dried beans; the beans will cook faster, and you'll toot a bit less when you eat them. And though I've never tried this, I've read that you can tenderize meat by rubbing baking soda directly on the meat, and then rinsing it off before cooking.
One more thing you can do with baking soda: use it to make your own baking powder.
How confusing is that?
Lemon thyme cornmeal cookies
I don't have a sweet tooth (except for chocolate, for which exemptions are always granted), so cookies that are more on the tart side really appeal to me. And what's better than a recipe that uses herbs from my garden? Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies, this recipe makes 24-30 cookies.
1-3/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup dried currants
1/4 tsp lemon zest
1 heaping Tbsp finely chopped lemon thyme
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time. Reduce speed to low; mix in the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in currants, lemon zest and lemon thyme.
Drop rounded tablespoons onto baking sheets lined with Silpats (silicon mats) or parchment paper, spacing the dough at least 2 inches apart. Bake until pale golden, 10-12 minutes. Let cool on the sheets for 2-3 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool. Store in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 3 days.