“Do things that you enjoy.” And Shirley Corriher's reputation in the
food world certainly seems to indicate that she is following that advice.
People used to call their mother when they needed help with a recipe. Now, there's Shirley Corriher. The author and lecturer from Atlanta, Georgia, has taken frustrated calls from corporate food
scientists, international chefs, and other cookbook writers needing advice on their cooking dilemmas.
But you don't have to be famous to get Corriher's input on why the eggs are rubbery or the muffins won't
rise. Her advice is readily available in her 1997 book CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking and her
new publication, BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking (2008).
not just for professional chefs," said Corriher. "Really it's just plain old Southern home cookin' - especially
CookWise. Like my recipe for Rooster's Famous Fire Crackers. They're made from saltines, red pepper, and
cheese, but they bake up into a crispy, crunchy pastry."
Corriher started her career
as a biochemist at Vanderbilt Medical school, so her scientific knowledge of cooking is extensive. But so is her experience
in the kitchen. After leaving the Vanderbilt position she went on to start a boys' boarding school with her former husband
in Atlanta in 1959. Eventually she was cooking three meals a day for 140 people, and she learned how to cook the hard way
- trial and error.
After leaving the school she took cooking classes and eventually ended up working at Rich's Cooking School in Atlanta,
setting up classrooms, helping students, and cleaning. Soon people were asking her the questions, and today she is the author
of two books and a syndicated cooking column. And she travels the world talking about the "whys" of cooking.
"People ask me, ‘How on earth did you get such a great job?,'" she said. "With
considerable honesty I answer, ‘Washing dishes.' In the culinary field, you have to wash your way up."
Corriher still experiments with recipes, constantly studying the process to see what makes a recipe better.
"I see the science as liberating me to be wildly creative," she said. "If you know the
limiting factors in a recipe, you're free to go wild with the rest."
this process when she wanted to develop a better-tasting eggless cake recipe. She knew that without the egg proteins, which
help hold the cake together, gluten would be essential. She experimented with different ingredients and varying amounts to
come up with her "Moist Chocolate Crazy Cake."
"It's delicious and moist
and tender because it doesn't have the egg white to toughen it up," she said, adding that you shouldn't use cake
flour because of its lower protein levels. "Technically it's fascinating, but it's all simple."
Corriher's recipes succeed because she has found just the right combination of ingredients. That's true of Corriher's
success as a writer and lecturer as well. She has both a scientific background and years of first-hand experience, which many
people in the food sciences don't have. That makes her valuable. But she also has an accessible, down-to-earth style that
means she's easy to understand and downright fun to talk to. She might even be better than mom...at least when it comes
to her light and tempting "Touch of Grace" biscuits.
Makes 40 crackers
40 fat-free or regular saltines
1 tablespoon seasoning blend of choice
Crushed red pepper flakes, to
10 ounces extra-sharp white cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 500 degrees (450
to 475 degrees if your oven runs hot).
Arrange crackers in row on a 10-by-15-inch sheet pan
so that crackers are touching each other. One sleeve of crackers fits almost perfectly.
seasoning over crackers, then sprinkle with as many pepper flakes as you dare. Finally, top evenly with shredded cheese. Place
pan on center shelf of oven, close door and turn oven off.
Leave in oven overnight or at
least about 4 hours. Hot oven melts and browns cheese, producing an even coating of crisp brown. Fat from cheese soaks into
crackers and puffs them slightly. Leaving them in the oven dries them out well so that they are super crunchy. Break apart
and eat or store. They keep well for several weeks sealed in an airtight container
Moist Chocolate Crazy Cake
1 1/2 cups plain
flour (not cake flour)
1 1/4 cups castor sugar
1/3 cup of cocoa (not Dutch-processed)
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp vinegar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup cold water or coffee
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
In an 8- by 8- by 2-inch nonstick cake tin, stir together
flour, sugar, cocoa, bicarb soda and salt. Poke three holes in ingredients with handle of a wooden spoon. Pour butter or oil
into one hole. Do not mind if it overflows. Spoon vinegar into second hole and the vanilla into last. Pour cold water or coffee
over the top and stir ingredients until smooth.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean,
about 30 minutes. Place the pan on a rack to cool. Serve from the pan. Serves 8.
by Liz McGeachy