In this glossary I’ve collected some cooking terms you’ll come across in my (and other) recipes. It is non-exhaustive, but I have tried to cover some common ones that don’t usually come up outside of kitchens. I will continue to update it as I go along.
The process of mixing something rapidly, usually with a whisk or the whisk attachment of an electric mixer to incorporate small air bubbles into a mixture. Synonymous with whip.
To cook food by very briefly submerging in boiling liquid. Can be used as the only method of cooking for things that cook very quickly/don’t need much cooking, or as a means of softening an ingredient or loosening skin on produce.
To cook food in liquid that is it’s boiling point (212 F for water). Boiling is visually identified by constant, large bubbles bursting from the surface of the liquid. Particularly useful for cooking foods like pasta and potatoes.
The process of beating softened butter until it appears fluffy. Best done with an electric mixer. Does not work if the butter is firm. Creaming butter incorporates in a small amount of air, which can be desirable in many baked goods for their texture, and also helps with evenly distributing the butter through the batter/dough.
The process of loosening cooked-on material from a hot pan by introducing water or other liquid. I’ve written a more detailed article about this here.
This one usually appears in recipes for crusts. To dock is to pierce all over (often with a fork) in order to create holes that steam can escape through. This helps prevent big bubbles from forming under the crust and leaving it misshapen after blind baking (pie weights also help). The same principle as cutting slits in the top of a pie, or piercing potatoes with a fork before baking.
Double Boiler (noun) aka Bain Marie or Water Bath
A pot of water on a heat source with a heat-proof bowl (or other vessel) sitting in the top of it. Used to heat things gently through indirect contact with the heat source. Domestocrat has a good run down of how to make and use a double boiler here. You can also buy a purpose-made one, if you like. Useful on the stovetop to do things like melt chocolate or heat eggs, useful in the oven for things like custards, or at a buffet to keep food warm.
The process of gently combining two mixtures or ingredients to avoid knocking air out. Best done with a spatula. Sometimes done by dragging the spatula through the center of the bowl, then scraping around the edge, turning the bowl, and repeating. Sometimes done by stirring bottom to top with a spatula held horizontally while turning the bowl, always going in the same direction. Video on this coming soon. The goal is to mix slowly, softly, and until just barely mixed.
To cut into thin, even matchsticks. Usually this is a technique used for vegetables.
Mountain- or wave-like formations in batter that has been beaten to an increased volume. Usually categorized as soft, medium or firm, and stiff. A good description (with photos) of these different levels of stiffness can be found at here an Fine Cooking. Most commonly we refer to peaks when talking about whipping cream or egg whites.
To cook food in liquid that is not quite simmering (visually, there is very little movement in the liquid and the temperature measures around 150-180 F). Particularly useful in cooking delicate food like eggs, fish, or soft fruit.
To cook food in liquid at a temperature just below the boiling point (visually, the liquid produces constant, fine bubbles and the temperature measures around (180-210 F). Particularly useful for cooking soups and sauces, reducing liquids, and cooking things like rice or lentils.
The change in texture that occurs when melting chocolate is overheated or contaminated with water. The chocolate becomes dull and grainy or solidified and difficult to work with and rather than smooth and shiny. It can sometimes be salvaged by adding a small amount of solid oil (like cocoa butter or coconut oil), but will have a different texture and can no longer be tempered.
Eggs and other mixtures that can curdle: The process of slowly adding a hot mixture to a (temperature-sensitive) cold mixture while whisking quickly so as to warm the temperature-sensitive ingredients gradually and prevent them from curdling. Many recipes call for this step, most commonly ones with eggs such as custards, sauces, or eggnog.
Chocolate: The process of heating and cooling chocolate precisely to change the crystalline structure of the cocoa butter to improve its texture, appearance, and stability. Tempered chocolate melts more smoothly, is stronger and stores better, and has a lovely shiny appearance. King Arthur Flour has a good guide on doing this here.
The process of mixing something rapidly, usually with a whisk or the whisk attachment of an electric mixer to incorporate small air bubbles into a mixture. Synonymous with beat.