"Temper, temper" my parents used to say to me when I neared one of my many childhood meltdowns. If you've been admonished like this, you know that there's nothing more annoying than hearing this phrase when you're mad. But that's what I have to remind myself when I am mixing a hot liquid into eggs for a stovetop custard or egg-based sauce. Otherwise, I really will have a tantrum when I find I've ended up with scrambled eggs.
Tempering is one of those techniques that's not difficult, but requires you to take your time. It may feel a bit like taking a step backward to have to remove some of the hot liquid and gradually whisk it into my egg mixture. But skipping this process means that the eggs go straight into a scalding liquid unprepared for the high heat. Instead of becoming smoothly incorporated into the liquid and thickening it, the eggs seize up and curdle.
So if you've had temper problems in the past, take a look at the slideshow and set yourself straight.
If you're planning to make your first batch of ice cream anytime soon, you might prevent an episode of stove-rage by following these simple guidelines. You can also use this technique when adding sour cream or yogurt to a hot soup or sauce.
Tempering chocolate, on the other hand, is a different process that requires even more patience and forbearance. We'll save that technique for another day.
About the author: Kumiko writes the blog Recipe Interrupted. She believes that having a few cooking techniques under your belt can help make home cooking creative and easy, and is excited to share these basics here on her regular column Technique of the Week. A graduate of Brown University, the Institute of Culinary Education, and a mother of two hungry girls, Kumiko is always trying to keep her Brooklyn kitchen smelling of something good.