Books for cooks



"American Classics," By the Editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine (Boston Common Press, 2002, $29.95)

Thousands of recipes tested
for 'American Classics'

Do your homemade muffins sometimes have the density of hockey pucks? Is your egg salad pasty and drab? Does your meringue weep or shrink from the sides of the pie crust?

"American Classics" comes to the rescue with more than 300 tried-and-true recipes for many favorite comfort foods. After all, if you're going to take the time to cook from scratch, you want terrific results. The cookbook also contains more than 200 illustrations (mostly black and white), as well as dozens of equipment ratings and taste tests of supermarket ingredients.

Thousands of recipes were tested for this cookbook. The editors share both successes and failures, in order that the home chef might better understand the science of cooking.

This isn't for people in a hurry. To benefit most from the editors' research, you will want to read the narrative, study the illustrations and follow carefully the very detailed recipe directions. At first glance the length of the recipes may be a little intimidating, but don't be alarmed. The instructions are very easy to understand.

After making more than 30 lemon meringue pies in their test kitchen, the editors admit that the key to a perfect meringue still remains somewhat a mystery. But here are some tips to help you avoid the common pitfalls.

>> Puddling underneath the meringue is the result of undercooking. Prevent this by keeping the filling piping hot, which helps cook the underside of the meringue.

>> Beading on top of the meringue is from overcooking. Keep oven temperature relatively low (325 degrees), and bake until meringue is evenly browned (about 20 minutes for an average-size pie meringue).

>> Adding a tiny bit of cornstarch to the beaten egg whites will stabilize the meringue and help avoid weeping.

Meringue Topping for Pie

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup (3-1/2 ounces) sugar
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix cornstarch with water in saucepan; bring to simmer, whisking occasionally at the beginning and more frequently as it thickens. When mixture starts to simmer and turn translucent, remove from heat. Cool while beating egg whites.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix cream of tartar and sugar. Beat egg whites and vanilla until frothy. Beat in sugar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, until sugar mixture forms soft peaks. Add cornstarch mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, continue to beat meringue to stiff peaks.

Using a spatula, immediately smooth meringue around edge and then center of pie to keep it from sinking into filling. Make sure meringue attaches to crust to prevent shrinking. Use back of spoon to create peaks. Bake until meringue is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature. Serve the same day.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving (1/6 recipe): 80 calories, no fat or cholesterol, 35 mg sodium, 2 g protein, 18 g carbohydrate.

Rating Scale: StarStarStarStar Best in its class / StarStarStar Highly recommended / StarStar Recommended / Star Not recommended

Barbara Burke is a Hawaii-Pacific University instructor who teaches and writes about food and nutrition. Contact her at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813; or e-mail her at:

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