Mise-en-place is a technical term which, when referring to cooking, means “setting up”. It involves all of those minute details, like weighing and measuring, that you take care of before you actually begin to cook.
A well written recipe includes the mise-en-place in the list of ingredients, by telling you how much you need of each, and what you need to do to it. When you reach the last ingredient in the list, your mise-en-place is done and you’re ready to cook. Doing careful mise-en-place acts like a sedative – when you’re finished with it you’re calm and confident. You know your ingredients, they’re sliced, minced, diced and melted, all ready to go. The only thing left to do is have some fun.
To get an idea of mise-en-place, take a look at the recipe here for yogurt cake, a quintessential sweet in the French repertoire. It is one children often learn to make at school and that mom’s (or the occasional dad) make when time is short. It is often served for that magical French after-school “meal,” the gouter.
Most of the ingredients, clearly listed, simply need to be weighed or measured. The dry ingredients need sifting, and the butter needs melting. So does the chocolate.
While those two things are happening, you can proceed to step 1 of the method. In baking, this is the final part of the mise-en-place, because it tells you how to prepare your pans, and at what temperature to pre-heat the oven.
When those two tasks are finished, the butter and chocolate are melted and cool enough to use and you can continue with the recipe. It’s a snap – you follow the instructions, the ingredients are all ready and voila! You’ve got yogurt cake batter ready to pour into the prepared pan.
Imagine if you hadn’t done mise-en-place. You’d get to step 3 and realize you had to melt the butter. But your dry ingredients are already blended with the eggs and sugar. This means the baking powder is activating and it may begin to turn bitter. Suddenly, there is pressure to add hot melted butter and chocolate to the batter; the success of your cake is compromised.
Fortunately you understand the importance of mise-en-place and your recipe leads you to do it, so this will never happen to you.
Mise-en-place is key to a great cooking experience. When you’ve done it well, it gives you confidence and makes cooking easy, really, really easy.
GATEAU AU YAOURT
1-1/2 cups (200g) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch fine sea salt
3 large eggs
1 cup (200g) vanilla sugar
½ cup (125ml) plain, full-fat yogurt
1 teaspoon best-quality vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (½ cup;4ounces;125g)) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 ounces (90g) bitter chocolate, preferably Lindt 64%, melted in a double boiler, then cooled
1. Butter and flour one 9-1/2 inch (24cm) round cake pan. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190C; gas 5).
2. Sift together the flour, the baking powder and the salt onto a piece of waxed or parchment paper.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and the sugar until they are light and pale yellow. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the eggs and sugar, whisking to incorporate them as you do. Fold in the yogurt and vanilla, then the melted butter.
4. Pour half the batter into the prepared cake pan. Fold the melted chocolate into the remaining batter until it is thoroughly combined. Pour the chocolate batter on top of the plain batter that is already in the cake pan and run a rubber scraper through the batter several times to swirl the two batters together.
5. Bake the cake in the center of the oven until it is slightly mounded and your finger leaves a very slight impression when you touch the top of it, about 25 minutes.
6. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire cooling rack. Serve when it is fully cool, or the following day. If you like, you may dust the top with powdered sugar.
About 8 servings