Monday, April 20, 2009

Measuring lemon zest

Creating recipes has a lot of challenges. If you're just cooking for yourself, you just eyeball things, throwing in amounts according to your instinct. But if you're creating a recipe you expect someone else to follow--and get the same results--then it's all about weighing and measuring and precision.

There are lots of pitfalls here, of course. For starters, you have no idea how other people are going to measure things. Lots of cooks, for example, measure flour in a glass measuring cup. Recipe developers (and especially bakers) would never do that: They would use a handled dry-measure and level off the flour with a knife. The difference in the amount of flour is actually significant.

Anyway, another problem area I discovered recently was in the matter of citrus zest. How you measure a teaspoon of grated zest is a question of whether you really pack it into the spoon or let it sit all fluffy-like. But it also has a lot to do with the tool you use to get the zest off the fruit in the first place.

There are several tools devoted to the task. It used to be that the only choice was a French-style zester (1) that pulled the zest off in dear little curls. Then along came the Microplane zester (2) that takes the zest off in very fine fragments. There is also something called a channel knife (3) that takes the zest and some of the peel off in big strips. In the pictures above, the amount of zest you see is technically all the same--from 1/2 lemon--but the quantities are really different.

There's no punch line here. I happen to use the Microplane zester for most recipes because I like the flavor of citrus and want to get the most mileage out of the lemon/orange/lime, but I use a French-style zester if the zest is more of a garnish, because the curls are cute.


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  2. Great Post...I always have the same problems...I usually just guessing! Most of the time it works...sometimes it doesn't!