The process of baking carries a vocabulary all its own, steeped in time-tested techniques handed down through generations. Fortunately, the basic gist of words such as stir, fold, beat, knead and glaze is obvious in mainstream cooking vocabulary. Infuse is a bit trickier, with multiple meanings both within and outside the world of cooking. Consider the word from various angles, then apply it your particular creation of the day as needed.
Directions such as beating or whipping pretty much have one meaning, but the word infuse, when it comes to baking, implies only that something is to be introduced into the main component of the recipe. It does not always specify the method of introducing the new item. The important thing to understand is that infusing generally means that an ingredient is being added or extracted, usually both. You are not simply throwing a new item into an evolving recipe, but rather inserting an extracted element into a specific area.
The term infusion in culinary terms most commonly refers to an ingredient being steeped in hot liquid until the flavor is extracted and absorbed into the liquid. In baking, that ingredient is usually then inserted into the overall recipe at some specified point. For example, many oils have been infused with flavors such as garlic, lemon or various herbs. The oil is then used in baking breads, casseroles, desserts and more. Recipes for custards and sauces sometimes call for milk or cream that has been infused with flavor first.
Fill 'Er Up
The term infuse can also mean to fill something up, like filling a crack by introducing something into the void. In baked goods, the introduction could be cheese inserted into slits in a casserole, or layers of chocolate in a layered cake. To infuse also means to insert a solution into the body through a vein; in cooking, a flavor injector does the job of infusing flavor in liquid form into a dish using a dedicated culinary syringe. For baked meat dishes, try using a flavor infuser that comes already stocked with marinade.
Toss It Up
Increasingly, chefs are infusing ordinary baking elements with seemingly incompatible ingredients. Infused sugars are flavored by flowers such as violets, lavender and rose petals. Various spices added to sugar change the flavor altogether and are used as an alternative in recipes calling for plain sugar. Try star anise, vanilla pods, cinnamon and cumin. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of flavoring to each 1/2 cup of sugar, toss lightly, and store in an airtight container for several weeks. Shake occasionally.
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