This past week I heard from many of you, and it is always good to hear what is on the minds of my readers. Some had questions that arose from my recipe for the Sweet Potato Fries.
Q: What are Panko crumbs? You used them last week in your recipe, and I have seen them in other recipes as well. Are they different than regular bread crumbs?
A: Panko crumbs are much larger and airier than regular breadcrumbs. I like using them because they do not pack down tightly as regular bread crumbs, they stay crisp longer and do not absorb as much fat. There are several brands of Panko, and you will find them in all the major supermarkets.
Q: You mentioned in your recipe last week that a convection setting worked well when roasting the sweet potato fries. How does that work? I have the convection setting on my oven but have never used it. I am afraid I will burn something up.
A: The first thing I would recommend is to read the manual that came with your convection oven. Convection ovens have been around for years and much depends upon which brand and model you purchased. Most manufacturers suggest that you lower the oven 25 degrees and start checking the food about three-fourths of the way through the designated baking time. However, in a cooking class with a roomful of students waiting to taste the food, I do not reduce the temperature so the food cooks quicker.
Q: What makes convection baking different than regular (or radiant) baking?
A: Convection uses a fan to circulate the hot air around the food. Theoretically, the food should bake more evenly, but sometimes I still find it necessary to rotate pans when two or three are in the oven at the same time.
Convection works well when you want the food to brown nicely and is ideal for some baked goods as well as roasting vegetables, some meats, fish and chicken. However, occasionally the exterior may look done while the interior has not reached the designated temperature. If that happens, change back to regular baking to finish cooking. To keep the food from becoming too brown, place a piece of foil loosely over the top until internal temperature is reached.
I seldom use the convection on very delicate items with a custard base. Nor would I use it for an angel food cake. The hot air from the convection oven may cause some items to crust over, causing them not rise to the full potential if a crust is formed too quickly on the surface.