Sticky business Regular readers of my recipe columns might have noticed that I’m an advocate of pan coating (as well as cling-film, although that’s a subject for another Truc column). Also called baking spray, cooking spray or pan release, it’s a convenient alternative to the more traditional baking technique of “greasing and flouring” a pan. Instead of rubbing the interior of the pan with fat, such as butter or shortening, then coating it with a thin layer of flour to prevent batters and doughs from sticking, you just spray on some pan coating.
I admit to having some qualms about it. It’s not the pseudoscience alarmists who worry me – they claim to “tell us the truth” about cooking sprays, saying that because they contain multi-syllabic chemicals that the “researcher” can’t pronounce, they are unsafe. They also say that the propellant in pan coating is flammable and therefore dangerous if ingested.
Some people use cooking spray for dietary reasons, because the manufacturers often claim it has “zero calories” if used in what according to them is the correct serving size (a spritz of one-quarter of a second! Who uses that little?). These dieters offer sensible alternatives, including hand-squeeze (or pump) misters that spray on a thin layer of oil, which are cheaper than commercial pan coatings and also let you use the oil of your choice. This works for skillets when you’re searing a piece of meat but not when you’re baking because it lacks the ingredients that prevent the batter from sticking to the pan.
My main qualm about pan coating is the can itself, because it adds to our landfill problems.
I continue to use it though, because it has so many purposes other than spraying cake pans (for cookies and other treats baked on a flat tray, I use baking paper or reusable silicon-coated sheets).
Whenever I chop syrupy, sugary ingredients, such as candied ginger or citrus rind, I lightly spray both sides of the blade of the knife, to prevent the fruit from sticking.
When I make caramel for croquant or praline, I stir the sugar with a silicon spatula so it doesn’t stick, pour it on a silicon mat (which also doesn’t stick), then spread the caramel with a metal spatula that I’ve lightly coated with baking spray – again, so it doesn’t stick.
A tip I found online, which I now use frequently, is to spray food-storage containers before putting in any leftovers that may stain it; it also seems to prevent the container from absorbing strong smells of garlic or onion that may taint ingredients stored in it in future.
And a tip I learned from food stylist Nellie Ming Lee: when we prepare dishes for the recipe photo shoots that appear in Post Magazine (all of what we make is the real thing: we don’t use mashed potatoes as a substitute for ice cream, or brush dishwashing detergent mixed with soy sauce to give a semiraw chicken the deep-brown, glossy appearance of a well-roasted bird), we do sometimes spray pan coating over cooked foods so they maintain their glossy look. It’s for appearance only and doesn’t harm the food, which we eat after the dish has been photographed. Pan coating also has nonculinary uses: people advise spraying it on sticky locks and squeaky hinges, but I would rather use WD-40. When buying pan coating, avoid the types that are “butter flavoured” or made with coconut oil; the ones that use neutral-flavoured oil are more versatile.
Truc (tryk): noun, masculine, trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chefâs secret.