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Volume III
November 11, 2011

Weekly Home / Cook'n & Eat'n

Cornstarch Basics

By Alice Osborne

How to Use Cornstarch in Cooking
Cornstarch wears a lot of hats in the craft and food world. It's even used in pest control. Consider this: If ants are buggin' you, just place some cornstarch out and they'll carry it back to their nest to share with the other ants. But they can't digest cornstarch and it will kill them.

But to the point - HOW to use it in cooking, Here it's used most commonly as a binder and thickener. I use it to make homemade pudding and pie fillings, gravies, white sauces, and fruit sauces, just to name a few things.

It's a smooth powder made from the endosperm (center) of dried corn kernels, and it has about twice the thickening ability of flour. Unlike flour, cornstarch actually becomes clear when cooked. Notice the thick and pretty glaze over the strawberries in this pie, for instance.

It's also used as an anti-caking agent in powdered sugar, which is why confectioners sugar seems to have a similar consistency to cornstarch. The next time you peruse the baking isle, check out the ingredients list - you'll be surprised to see just how many prepackaged baking mixes use cornstarch as an anti-caking or binding ingredient.

One common occurrence for the beginning cook, when using cornstarch, is the accumulation of lumps. I've thrown out many gravies because of this issue (before I discovered I could strain the lumps out - yeh, I know, DUH). To avoid lumps, mix the cornstarch with a cold liquid until smooth before cooking or adding it to a hot liquid.

And another issue to be aware of: If sauces made with cornstarch are overcooked or stirred too long, they will become thin. This is especially important to know when you're making pie fillings or fruit sauces. The goal, after all, is a nice, thick sauce, so be careful with the stirring.

Now speaking of sauces, here's an especially delicious sauce to practice the stirring on:

Blueberry-Orange Sauce

Makes 6 to 8 servings - about 2 3/4 cups

2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 bag (16 ounces) frozen blueberries, thawed or 3-1/2 to 4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup sugar or 1 tsp stevia powder
2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur

Stir cornstarch into water in medium saucepan until smooth. Stir in orange juice and orange peel. Add blueberries, any accumulated juices and sugar to cornstarch mixture. Cook and stir over high heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 2 to 3 minutes (4 to 5 minutes for fresh blueberries) or until mixture thickens, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in liqueur. Serve immediately over ice cream, Angel Food Cake, pancakes or waffles, etc. Terrific!

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