Cover Story : Just a Drop in the Batter


Most of us take water for granted, except during drought years. We think of it in limited terms: It is great for swimming, quenches thirst, gives life to forests and crops. But when it comes to cooking, we tend to think that it is good only for simmering and boiling.

My first revelation about cooking with water came a few years ago when I was searching for a good ladyfinger recipe. Most I tried were disappointing, until I found Madeleine Kamman’s recipe in her book “The Making of a Cook.” Her recipe wasn’t very different from the others, except that it called for 1 teaspoon of hot water. I could not believe, with the addition of that tiny amount, how perfect her ladyfingers were.

I told her my story and she explained the chemistry, but I never quite understood it. Enough to say, hers were the best. Since then, I’ve found many other instances in which the addition of just a little water makes a big difference.


* When you make angel food cake, add 2 tablespoons of cold water to the egg whites before you begin beating them and your cake will be higher and lighter. (This works with other cakes as well; the cold-water chocolate cake below is exceptionally delicate and fine-textured.)

* Water is also helpful for those who love, but must avoid, butter. A friend melts one tablespoon of butter with two tablespoons of water and pours this mixture over vegetables and rice. It is amazing how it captures that rich butter taste.

* Instead of using milk when you make scrambled eggs, use the same amount of water. The eggs will be delicate and creamy instead of coarse and “curdy.”

Cold-water Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup cold water

Cream butter and slowly mix in sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, mixing well. Add chocolate and combine thoroughly.

Mix flour, baking soda and salt together and add to butter mixture, mixing well. Add cold water and beat until smooth.

Pour batter into 2 buttered and floured (8-inch) cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool completely before frosting.


Makes 8 servings.

Each serving, without frosting, contains about:

401 calories; 282 mg sodium; 84 mg cholesterol; 17 grams fat; 61 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.23 gram fiber.


3 eggs, separated

1/3 cup sugar

Pinch salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon hot water

2/3 cup sifted flour

From Madeleine Kamman’s “The Making of a Cook.”

Beat egg yolks and sugar until light and lemon-colored. Add salt, vanilla and hot water and continue beating until mixer leaves a ribbon trail when lifted out of batter.

Beat egg whites. Mix 1/4 egg whites into egg yolk mixture to lighten. Add rest of whites to top of egg yolk mixture and sift flour on top of whites. Fold whites and flour into egg yolk mixture until completely mixed.

Pour batter into pastry bag fitted with 1/2-inch nozzle. Pipe 6 ladyfingers 3 inches long on strip of baking paper. Holding ends of strip, invert ladyfingers onto sheet of wax paper well dusted with powdered sugar to coat tops. Batter will adhere to strips of paper. Repeat using remainder of batter. There should be 4 paper strips in all.

Place paper strips on buttered cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 7 minutes, then lower temperature to 325 for 5 more minutes. When baked, remove paper strips from cookie sheets and remove ladyfingers (rolling paper strips over corner of counter or table will help loosen ladyfingers). Cool on cake rack.

Makes 24 ladyfingers.

Each ladyfinger contains about:

31 calories; 18 mg sodium; 27 mg cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 5 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.01 gram fiber.



2 small cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons plus 1/4 teaspoon sugar

1 small fresh red chile, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons lime juice

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup nuoc mam (fish sauce)

1 small carrot

1 small white turnip or small daikon

Combine garlic, 2 tablespoons sugar and chile in mortar. Grind to paste. Stir in lime juice, vinegar, water and nuoc mam. Or, use food processor or blender, pureeing garlic, 2 tablespoons sugar, chile, lime juice, vinegar, water and nuoc mam until sugar is fully dissolved.

Shred carrot and turnip and toss with remaining 1/4 teaspoon sugar. Let stand 10 minutes and add to sauce before serving.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Each 1-tablespoon serving contains about:

7 calories; 114 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.05 gram fiber.

Note: If you develop a dependency on this sauce, you may boil appropriate quantities of sugar, vinegar and water, let it cool and add fish sauce and lime juice. Store in very clean jar. To finish, remove needed portion and add crushed chiles, garlic and vegetables.



1 large bunch Italian parsley, leaves and small stems only


Dash Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper



8 heads garlic, or 1 1/4 cups freshly peeled garlic

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon milk

Salt and pepper


4 (3- to 4-ounce) farm-raised striped bass fillets, skin on

2 plum tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup Vinaigrette

1 large bunch watercress


1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lemon, sliced

One of Bernard Loiseau’s signature dishes is cuisse de grenouilles avec de persil et d’ail (frog’s legs with garlic and parsley). In the classic preparation, the frogs’ legs are cooked with chopped garlic and butter and finished with chopped, Italian parsley (the perfect foil for garlic). In Loiseau’s re-imagining, those keynote ingredients are separated. The parsley is a smooth, green (water-based) sauce. The garlic is boiled four times, starting with fresh, cold water each time, and whipped into a puree with cream and butter. With the puree in the center and the sauce surrounding it, Loiseau places pairs of crossed frog’s legs around the rim of the plate. Delicious, new, yet still classic! I have taken his sauce and puree and applied them to farm-raised striped bass instead of frog legs.


Bring pot of lightly salted water to boil. Put parsley into rapidly boiling water, stir and cook uncovered for 30 seconds. Remove leaves with skimmer or strainer and refresh in ice water.


Drain parsley well. Puree parsley and 1/4 cup water in blender or small food processor until very smooth, scraping down sides frequently with rubber spatula. When thoroughly pureed, strain mixture through very fine strainer, pushing and scraping with rubber spatula until almost all has passed through. Add mustard and up to 1 1/2 teaspoons additional water to get smooth, pourable consistency. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and sugar.


Break garlic heads into individual cloves. Cover cloves in saucepan with cold water. Bring to rolling boil, then drain and cover once again with cold water. When garlic is cool, peel and remove brown stem at bottom of each clove.

Return peeled cloves to saucepan, cover with cold water and bring again to rolling boil. Drain and repeat process 4 times, each time with fresh cold water.

Puree garlic and 1/4 cup water in blender or food processor until very smooth. Push through fine strainer with rubber spatula.

Before serving, warm puree gently in small sauce pan. Add cream, butter and milk. Beat vigorously with wooden spoon and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.


Remove pin bones and trim fish fillets (or have fish shop do so). With small knife, scrape skin to be sure no scales are left. Pat dry with towel and refrigerate until ready to use.


Char whole tomatoes in hot, ungreased saute pan for 3 to 4 minutes. Let cool, cut into quarters, gently salt and pepper to taste and brush with Vinaigrette. Set aside.

Pick watercress leaves from stems, wash and dry. Place in small bowl and refrigerate. Warm and vigorously beat Garlic Puree with wooden spoon. Put Parsley Sauce in pan to be heated at last second.

Mix 2 cups flour with salt and pepper to taste. Dredge skin side of fish in seasoned flour. Shake off excess.

Heat large non-reactive skillet over high heat. Add butter and oil and allow butter to melt and begin to foam. Pan should be quite hot but not quite smoking--first wisps of smoke will appear. (If pan is too hot, fish will burn; if too cool, skin will be soggy.) Gently lay fish skin-side down in pan, being careful not to crowd pan. Put weight, such as smaller pan, on fish to keep from curling during cooking.

While fish is cooking, toss watercress in Vinaigrette and heat Parsley Sauce, watching fish carefully. When fish skin is evenly browned and crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes, flip over and cook 1 to 2 minutes more, depending on thickness.

Serve on warm plates with small pile of watercress salad with lemon slices and tomatoes layered over top, Garlic Puree in center, Parsley Sauce around edge and Fish on top.


Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

434 calories; 497 mg sodium; 88 mg cholesterol; 37 grams fat; 12 grams carbohydrates; 15 grams protein; 0.59 gram fiber.

Note: Sometimes, especially in winter, parsley can be overly bitter (mildly bitter is perfect). Only add few grains of sugar if necessary.