Here is the first five:
I am going to embark on an expedition of analyzing the good, the bad, the ugly (no such thing) and the beauty in baking and sharing every step of the way with you. Actually, I am hoping for more than that; I would like you to actively participate in the process. It is fun, educational, and most of all we can all enjoy and compare the end results.
One of the reason I like baking more than cooking is the discipline and knowledge one needs for success. In cooking, you can gather things into one dish and depending on your artistic abilities, create a great dish. In baking that would be a no-no. As a scientist you never take anything for granted. You always look on the how’s, why’s, and from what and where to…
1. Measuring/Units of Measurement
In baking, precision is of paramount importance; that is why I like to offer choices of measuring units in as many ways as possible in a recipe. Weighing everything is still the best and most accurate method; however, you do need a good scale for that, so we will check the scales on the market in upcoming posts. Tablespoons and “cups” measuring units have the potential to ruin your work and you will not even know why. Bakers need to be scientist in the kitchen, but please do not get alarmed; you do not need a science degree, only a basic knowledge that most of it you already have, just need to apply it in practice. In addition, a good recipe and someone to explain what matters and why would be helpful – information that you will find when visiting with us, or we are just an e-mail away.
I am not sure if you paid attention that bakers and pastry chefs in North America are more and more using the metric system in their recipes. Not because it is more accurate, but because it is easier to use. Liquids, like milk, cream, and even eggs, that weigh comparably to water, need to be measured as volumes for accuracy. However, fluids that are denser than water, such as oil, sugar syrup, or honey, are weighed. I had discussed measuring issues in a earlier post (dated: February 17, 2011 ) but it is so important that we will need to expand on it in a future posts, as well; preferably in the context of baking.
The other most important element in assuring the success of your end product in baking is the ingredients you use. You not only must use the freshest ingredients, but the right ingredients, which may vary based on a specific recipe. For example, when the recipe calls for butter, you have to know that not all butters are created equal. Dori Greenspan and her friends Molly Stevens and Elizabeth Alston used to organize butter tasting events to show the difference among the seemingly comparable butters. They voted for Echire, made by a small company in Western France, but they also like the butters made by the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company from cultured cream (it has nearly 86% fat). In general, the higher the fat content, which makes the fluid content lower, the better the butter for baking.
I have not seen any recipe that designates the type of butter you should use. They leave the selection up to you, based on your personal preference. I used to use Plugra for years, but lately changed to Kerrygold, the imported Irish cultured butter and never looked back (not that anything is wrong with Plugra, but the cultured cream does make a difference). It is available from Trader Joe’s with better price as compared to other Supermarkets.
A brief summary about butters:
- Standard American butter is about 80% fat, 15% water and 5% milk solids
- European butter (best for baking) has a minimum of 82% fat and less moisture
- Butter is sold as salted and unsalted (or sweet) – although sweet butter is more perishable, it has a fresher taste and it is preferred in baking
- The most expensive, top quality butter is made from cultured pasteurized cream
What butter do you use? Why did you select the one you are working with?
We will discuss the potential choices of butter available in the market in a future post and I would like to include as many ideas as possible; therefore, your participation would be greatly appreciated.
3. The temperature of the ingredients
If the temperature of the ingredients is not controlled, failure may occur. Why? because the characteristics of the ingredient may change with the changing in temperature. The best example is eggs: when cold, it is raw, warmed up and may become scrambled or hard-boiled. Another examples is butter: pie and tart dough preparation requires the butter to be very cold, because if it warms up, it melts into the dough and you may lose the desired flakiness of the pastry dough.
4. The Method of Preparation
You selected and prepared the best quality ingredients for the baking and you are at the stage where you need to mix all the ingredients into a dough, or batter to be placed into a baking dish and into the oven. I would say that most of the time you should follow the directions of the author of the recipe. Hopefully, the author prepared this dish multiple times to assure the recipe’s repeatability. However, sometimes you may want to experiment yourself. This is where understanding the functions of each ingredients becomes important.
Sugar – adds moisture and tenderizes or softens the end product
Fat (i.e.butter) – is a great flavor carrier
Egg yolks are emulsifiers – they improve the texture of the cake and add moisture, as well
Flour – absorbs liquids (drier; only important in bread baking), provides structure (important in pie crust and crisp cookies)
5. The Sequence of Mixing the Ingredients
Top quality ingredients are good, but do not guarantee a fine cake. Understanding the importance of sequential mixing procedure is an essential part of a great cake or pastry. Only a slight deviation from the correct procedure can produce a cake with poor texture and volume.
High fat cakes use the following methods:
two stage method
Low fat cakes use the following methods:
We will discuss these methods in detail while preparing the type(s) of cakes; however the three main goals of mixing cake batters are:
- combining the ingredients into a uniform batter
- create enough air cells in the batter
- assure the development of the right texture in the finished product
Understanding these principles will help you to avoid errors in mixing
Stay tuned to continue (it would be too long in one post)