Flat Zucchini Bread? Stuck Chicken? Get Advice

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Freshly-baked zucchini bread i

This freshly-baked zucchini bread rose as it was supposed to. But a common problem bakers face is flat zucchini bread. Food chemist Shirley Corriher suggests making sure the baking powder is fresh -- and using less leavening. hide caption

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Freshly-baked zucchini bread

This freshly-baked zucchini bread rose as it was supposed to. But a common problem bakers face is flat zucchini bread. Food chemist Shirley Corriher suggests making sure the baking powder is fresh -- and using less leavening.

There are few things more confounding or vexing in the kitchen than a dish gone wrong.

So in the high season for cooking and baking, Atlanta-based food chemist and cookbook author Shirley O. Corriher offers advice for some common kitchen quandaries.

In a recent baking disaster, NPR's Melissa Block made a tasty but dense zucchini bread that didn't rise.

"Well, you've got a couple of options here," says Corriher. "No. 1: Your baking powder was old and totally gone and inactive."

"No," interrupts Block. "It was new!"

"No. 2," says Corriher, "You had very fresh, very nice baking powder or soda, but the recipe called for too much. Now, when you get too much leavening, the bubbles get big, they bump into each other, they get huge, they float to the top and pop, and there goes your leavening. And your zucchini bread is as heavy as lead."

Corriher warns that a baker's first impulse — to add more leavening —┬áis wrong. In fact, she says, less leavening will probably correct the problem. She says many perfectly workable cookbooks have recipes that call for too much leavening. The recipes turn out much lighter when less baking power or soda is used.

Send Us Your Kitchen Quandaries

If you've got a recipe that won't work anymore, or a technique that never has — and you want to conquer this problem before the holidays — leave them in the comments below. In a few weeks, Corriher will return to answer more kitchen quandaries.

"You need 1 teaspoon per baking powder per cup of flour in the recipe, or 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of flour in the recipe," she recommends.

Sticking is another problem encountered by many cooks, but before reaching for the spatula to chisel that stuck chicken breast away from the frying pan, Corriher urges patience.

"This is a Zen moment," she says. "You have to be at peace with the universe. Think happy thoughts. Take a sip of zinfandel, do whatever you have to do, but don't touch the chicken!"

Proteins in the meat are at work, she says. When heated, proteins unloosen their bonds and will stick to the pan before sticking back together. "Once that surface of the chicken is cooked and lightly brown, it will release by itself, and you just slip the spatula under and flip it over. It's going to take 90 full seconds, and this is forever and ever, but don't touch the chicken!"

Once the chicken is cooked, Corriher says you can make a quick, classic reduction sauce (see below).

Classic French Chicken

Makes 2 servings.

2 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Salt and white pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil or very mild olive oil

1/2 cup chicken stock or chicken stock and dry white wine

4 or 5 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

1/3 cup heavy cream

Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place each breast between two pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper and lightly pound the thick end to make breast more equal in thickness.

Over medium-high heat, heat a 10-inch skillet until the upper edge of the pan feels hot to a quick touch. Remove from the heat; pour in the oil and tilt to run oil over the pan. Return to the heat and immediately place the breasts into the pan with the rib side up. The breasts will sizzle and they will be stuck.

This is a Zen moment. Think happy thoughts. Be at peace with the world. Twiddle your thumbs. Do anything but don't touch the chicken. After about 90 seconds which will seem like an eternity, the breasts will lightly brown and release all by themselves. Turn each over. Again, they will be stuck. Wait again until they brown and release, and then remove them to a platter.

Pour the stock into the hot pan. Scrape the pan to loosen any stuck-on particles. Add the thyme, and bay leaf. Boil on high heat and reduce until a only few tablespoons remain. Stir in the heavy cream and continue to reduce until the sauce thickens. Remove the bay leaf. Slice each fillet at an angle into 3 pieces. Spoon the sauce over the fillets and serve immediately.

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