I spent a big chunk of Monday evening making these gnocchi after studying most of the weekend for an exam at school. The recipe comes from the September issue of Cook’s Illustrated, and since it’s full of useful cooking science advice, I thought I’d have plenty to share about my experience making the gnocchi. Like gluten development when kneading the potato-flour mixture and starch granules within the potatoes themselves. But then I tried to modify the sauce recipe (taking out the heavy cream and replacing it with half-and-half) and it all fell apart on me. Literally. First, I combined the wine and heavy cream in a skillet, turned on the heat, and it curdled. Thinking that the heat was on too high too soon, I started over with the heat way down and just the cream.
And it curdled. Curious about what I was doing wrong, I turned to Shirley Corriher’s Cookwise book, a reference I used during my food science class last year. I was doing most everything wrong, it turns out, because I was making a reduction sauce. Shirley lists a few reasons for what happened to my sauce:
– The wine: If it isn’t boiled before adding the dairy element, the milk or cream can curdle. Alcohol and other compounds need to undergo chemical changes (caused by heat) before adding the cream.
– Using lower-fat dairy: By not using cream, there wasn’t enough fat in my sauce to coat the milk proteins. Heat and acid (like the wine) can cause these proteins to unwind and reform as coagulated masses. Adding a starch element can help with this issue.
After two attempts, I switched to heavy cream and followed the recipe as outlined in the recipe. Both the gnocchi and the sauce turned out wonderfully. Having spent time in the Cook’s Illustrated offices, I knew the recipe was a winner, but I was trying to lighten it up a bit. Guess I’ll save that project for another time.