Cream Of Tartar
Cream of Tartar is one of those mysterious ingredients from my dry-goods pantry that I always keep on hand, but had little understood, except to know that a cook uses it in tiny, precise amounts to cause a chemical reaction of one kind or another.
So, what *is* Cream of Tartar? Is it made of dried up Cossacks? [No, those are Tatars]. Does it come out of a Mrs. Paul's Fish Stick box? [No, that is Tartar Sauce, which contains no Cream of Tartar]. Cream of Tartar is a potassium acid salt, a white powder that forms as a byproduct of fermenting grape juice -- that is, winemaking.
Traces of Cream of Tartar have been found in pottery from as far back as 7000 years ago. Today's modern cook can put Cream of Tartar to many good uses, including:
Add Cream of Tartar to candy and frosting recipes for a creamier consistency. Cream of Tartar also is used in some decorative frostings for piping onto cookies or gingerbread houses to "set" the frosting - it will dry hard and crunchy [and more durable for display or transport]. Cream of Tartar prevents sugary or chocolate syrups from crystallizing, and is a crucial ingredient in delicious Snickerdoodle cookies.
A tiny bit of Cream of Tartar stabilizes egg whites in meringues, and stiffens homemade whipped cream. Half a teaspoon of Cream of Tartar in your cooking water reduces discoloration of boiled vegetables.
Do-it-yourselfers can use Cream of Tartar to make their own baking powder [1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar], or their own homemade play dough, or for cleaning copper cookware.