Monday, October 27, 2014

7 Tips For New Bread Bakers-What I Wish I'd Known

bread, baking bread, tips, homemade bread,

My mom taught me how to make bread when I was a little girl.  It was a really fun activity for a kid, kneading dough, watching it rise, slathering it with butter warm out of the oven (actually, also fun for a grown up).

So when I was first married, I thought nothing of cracking open my fresh copy of Joy of Cooking
and going to town on one of their bread recipes.  Imagine my dismay when the loaf turned out to be pure garbage.  But I knew how to bake bread!  I'd done it a million times!

Turns out, I didn't really understand the nuances involved.  The little things my mom took care of that I didn't fully understand.  Over the next few years (and lots of phone calls to my mom) here are seven things that I learned about baking bread:

No Knead Bread
The Second Rise Is Always Necessary-I love to tinker with recipes.  When I made that first loaf as a newlywed, I decided that waiting for that second rise was just too much of a pain.  Turns out, that second rise is extremely important.  It creates air pockets in the dough and shapes your bread into the loaf.  Without it, your loaf is very very heavy.

Whole Wheat Challah
The Amount Of Flour/Water In A Recipe Is Fluid-It depends who you ask as to which ingredient is supposed to be fluid.  My mom always says the amount of flour you put in depends on how dry your dough is.  Peter Reinhart says that the amount of water you put in the recipe is fluid depending on how dry your dough is.  I've done it both ways.  It works pretty well both ways.

The most important thing is to let your dough speak to you.  I know, that sounds crazy, but trust me, it works.  If the dough is sticky, add a LITTLE bit more flour.  If the dough is dry to the touch, a little more water.  Your dough should be tacky like that blue sticky tack your teacher used to hang stuff on the wall when you were a kid.  If you are going to err on one side or another, make the dough more wet at first because you always add more flour in on the second knead.  We tend not to like to get bread dough on our hands and so we make it too dry and then have a heavy loaf.

Monkey Muffins
Overproofing The Dough Tastes Bad-If you let your bread dough rise (proof) too long the yeast run out of food to eat.  Your dough becomes flaccid and smells like skunky beer.  When you are making a sourdough culture this is not a bad thing.  When you are making direct method (single day, 2 rise) bread, the flavor profile can get intense.  You only want to let it rise to about double the size of your starting dough.  Depending on the temperature of your house, this usually takes about 1-1 1/2 hours.  If your house is unusually warm, this might go faster.  Pay attention.  

Cinnamon Swirl Pumpkin Bread
Bread Is Pretty Forgiving- I know I have told you all the things that can go wrong, but really, you can fix the flour/water problem pretty easily.  If you let your dough rise too long, punch it down and let it go again, you will just have a little more flavor than you expected.

Homemade Naan
People Really Love Homemade Bread-I know that I love homemade bread, but I grew up with it.  I assumed it was one of those weird things that only my family enjoyed like Dite Rite or excessively sweet desserts.  Turns out though, almost everyone I have run into loves homemade bread.  And more than that, they love it when you bake bread just for them, shows you're willing to put out a little effort to say I love you.  Luckily, many bread recipes make two loaves.  One for you to keep and one to give to someone you care about.

French Bread
Instant Yeast Is A Lot Easier To Use Than Active Dry Yeast-I grew up using active dry yeast.  To make active dry yeast work, you have to add it to a little bit of warm water for 15 minutes at the start of your recipe to "activate" the yeast.  Instant yeast or bread machine yeast needs no warm up.  You just add it directly to the dough.  This is nice because you don't have to worry about what that extra bit of water will do to your dough.  If your recipe calls for active dry yeast and you only have instant yeast, just remember to add in that extra bit of water because it is usually accounted for in recipes calling for active dry yeast.

Apple Cider Doughnuts
Bread Machines Aren't Necessary-Some people love their bread machines.  I am not one of those people.   To me, it is a big heavy machine that took up cabinet space and really limits the kinds of bread I can make.  One of the best things about baking bread is its simplicity.  All you really need is a bowl, a spoon, some bread pans and time.  And most of your bread baking time is really passive time you could be doing something else like laundry or watching the Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Age Old Question: Baking Powder Vs. Baking Soda-Which One and Why?

baking soda, baking powder, infographic

Life Beyond Silicon wrote:Hi H! Technical question: how come some of your recent cookies don't have baking powder or baking soda? These are ingredients I almost always find in cookies. Cookies don't really "rise", but what do these ingredients do? Or, written another way, what would happen if I made this recipe and added one or the other one in?

Baking Soda: Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate.  It is a base.  When added together with an acid, it creates a reaction and the byproduct is carbon dioxide.  Maybe you remember from when you were a kid and mixed baking soda and vinegar together to make volcanos.  Same idea.  Consequently, you want to add baking soda to baked goods where there in another acidic ingredient.  Buttermilk, lemon juice, and some cocoa powders are all examples of acidic ingredients.

One of the reasons that baking soda is regularly used in cookies is that it makes your baked goods spread so you get a flatter, crispier cookie.

Baking Powder: Sodium bicarbonate plus cream of tarter.  What is cream of tarter you ask?  It is potassium bitartrate and is an acidic byproduct of winemaking.  It is added to the sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda) in order to activate it.  That way you do not have to have any acidic ingredients in the recipe, you can use regular milk and flour, etc.  Baking powder makes your baked goods puff up, which is once of the reasons it is used in many cake recipes. 

Can you swap one for the other?  Not really.  Even though baking powder is comprised to baking soda, you would have to add in a lot more baking powder to get the same effect.  I mixed the two up when baking stout cake once and had a big flat mess on my hands.

The other part of the question was why have some of my cookie recipes not called for either one?  Well, in the case of the caramel apple cookies-butter makes the cookies spread quite a bit already and the eggs in the batter provide enough puff.  Also any of the cake mix cookies will already have one or the other in the mix so no additional is needed.

Personally, I have always wondered why some recipes, like butternut squash bread, required both.  Looks like the answer to that is you may may have a bit of acid in the recipe but not enough to make the product raise on just baking soda alone.  So you use baking soda to neutralize the acid and baking powder to puff up the baked good.

Baking Soda and Baking Powder by Brian Geiger
Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder by Kimberly Holland
Baking 101: The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder by Joy The Baker

Monday, October 20, 2014

Wicked Easy Garlic Toast

Ok, this is too too easy.  However, there is nothing like garlic bread to jazz up your weeknight dinner.  Simply take some bread, any bread will do, and toast it.  Then rub the warm toast with a peeled raw clove of garlic and then slather with salted butter.  Perfect weeknight garlic toast.  Basically zero effort.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Funday

Happy Sunday!  What are you all up to today?  Dave and I are headed downtown to try and find a place to live.  Hopefully we'll find something good.

My poor pony has managed to get himself an eye infection, so I have been lucky enough to get to go medicate him every night.  There is nothing like a horse barn on a crisp fall evening.  Everything is quiet, with just the sounds of all the horses munching their hay.

Here are some interesting things I read this week:

Apple Fritter Monkey Bread-need I say more?

The cutest pretzel broomsticks!

It's time to put our money where our mouth is.

And in case you missed it, here's what was here earlier this week:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Mini Cupcakes

Delicious Sticky Buns

Don't forget, there is still time to enter my giveaway!

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Friday Giveaway!

We decided to sell our house and move into the city.  We are looking for a change of pace and quite a change it will be.  Consequently, I am going from a giant kitchen to probably a very tiny kitchen.

We got an offer a couple weeks ago that we accepted so it's go time in terms of packing up and cleaning out.  Which means good things for you.  I was cleaning out my cupboards and stumbled across 3 cake items still in the wrapper.  If I haven't used them in the last few years, I'm probably not going to use them.  But I thought, maybe, one of you guys could use them.

First item: some cute Valentine's cupcake picks

Next item: a cardboard circus themed cake stand with cake server.  I originally bought it for my nephew's first birthday but ended up making too big of a cake to be supported on the stand.

Finally: set of Wilton pillow pans.  I had lofty dreams of making Cinderella pillow cakes.  But, I never did.  Maybe one of you can now fulfill your own dreams of pillowy cakes.

This giveaway is going to run until next Friday.  One winner and open to U.S. Residents only.   Have a great weekend!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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