Baking in a Storm

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I was perusing the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion [affiliate link] and I came across a tip about humidity and baking. It started out with the relatively common advice that, in more humid weather, flour will absorb more liquid and will consequently need less added for any given recipe. However, tucked away under that was another hint that I'd never heard before.

One of the common symptoms of rainy weather is lower atmospheric pressure. The thing I'd never considered is that the lower pressure will affect cooking. It'll have a small effect on the temperature needed to bake, which the King Arthur folk didn't mention because it's probably pretty negligible. This is the same thing that happens to high-altitude bakers and the opposite of what happens in a pressure cooker.

The important thing is that your cake/bread/whatever will rise higher because there isn't as much pressure on it. It's obvious when you think about it, and I'm sure bakers who have travelled to different elevations to practice their craft have noticed the difference, but it's news to me.

What I wonder is if there's anyone who would want an oven that could control its pressure. Not necessarily to pressure-cooker levels, but for people living near the edge of the atmosphere (I'm looking at you, Colorado), they could keep it at 1 ATM. For those who just want the tallest souffles ever, they could dial down the pressure just a smidge.

There's a problem that happens with chemically leavened products like muffins and quick breads. If you put too much leavener in, the quick bread will collapse before it's done baking. This happens because there's not enough structure in the confection to hold it up. Specifically, the atmospheric pressure is pushing it down when the tiny amount of gluten isn't ready to hold it up.

With the fancy atmospherically-controlled oven, you might be able to dial back the pressure enough to allow the structure to set before removing the pressure. There will be limits, of course; a soufflé is going to fall eventually, and if you make your structure too delicate, no amount of reduced pressure is going to help unless you're going to somehow eat it in the reduced pressure. Which seems unlikely.

Still, I'd bet someone talented to could work some magic with a system like that. I doubt it would end up being useful, certainly not compared with the work of actually creating such a device, but I wouldn't have really figured out any good uses for the anti-griddle either, so who can say for sure?

Predicting the rise in bread: is it that easy?

Monika Bartyzel on Slashfood did an interesting article recently on altering the amount of yeast that you use for cold-fermenting bread. The idea behind cold-fermentation is that that you keep the dough cold so that the yeast aren't particularly active. This allows the various enzymatic activities with the dough to happen on their own over time, increasing the flavor of the bread. That works especially well with non-enriched breads. There was a post that Monkia refers to that discusses a specific recipe someone is developing for a cinnamon bread that slow rises. In the comments of that post, someone suggests the baker's formula:
Original Amount of Yeast * Original Fermentation Time
New Fermentation Time
Now, the commenter didn't say explicitly that this formula was for cold-fermenting breads. Also, I have to say that I'm a little suspicious of the simplicity of the formula. It could be that everything just works out fine with it, because there are a lot of close-enoughs that make it work out. But yeast don't reproduce in a linear fashion, they reproduce exponentially. Under ideal conditions, yeast will double in size every generation. So instead of starting with 2 yeast, then having 4 the next generation, the 6 the next, then 8, 10, 12, and 14, we start with 2, then 4,8,16,32,64,128,256. After a while, the yeast by-products, alcohol in particular, will kill off the yeast, so they can only go so far before they all die off. However, given their exponential growth beforehand, you can see that the amount of time that passes should eventually have a much greater effect on yeast reproduction than the amount that you reduce the initial batch by. So if I started with 30 yeasts instead of 60 yeasts, according to the formula I would be able to double the amount of time that it takes the bread to rise. But let's assume our target is 6000 yeasts, With the 30 yeasts it would take: 30, 60, 120, 240, 480, 960, 1920, 3840, and over 6000 the next generation, or about 9 generations. With the 60 yeasts, it would take: 60, 120, 240, 480, 960, 1920, 3840, and over 6000 the next generation, or about 8 generations. That's not a huge time difference, and it gets smaller the longer you let it go (to a point). Of course, there are other factors. There's the amount of food available (the sugars and the potential sugars), the temperature of the environment, and if there are any wild yeasts ready to jump on the bandwagon. With the cold-storage method, you control the temperature and the ability for wild yeasts to interfere, so that may help settle things down into what is, for all intents and purposes, a linear scale. So, while I'm not saying that the formula is wrong, I am saying that it looks suspicious. A little too easy. Quiet… too quiet. I've got a bad feeling about this. I do not think it means what you think it means. It's probably a good starting point, but I will do some experimentation in my own kitchen before I decide that I can put this dough in my fridge for almost exactly 16 hours and be ready to have perfect bread in time for my dinner party that night.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

The image for the article is licensed by robplusjessie under a Creative Commons By-NC-SA 2.0 license. If I need a relatively simple dessert, or if I feel that I have earned a reward, or if I think of it, I like to make Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake, from her cookbook Feast. It is the perfect cake, because not only is the cake itself rich and flavorful, but I actually enjoy the frosting as well. Generally, I despise frosting in more than trace amounts, and I will ditch the frosting from a cake without a second thought. This cake, though, is great with all of its frosting. Indeed, the frosting balances out the dark chocolatey, Guinnessey nature of the cake. It is a well-balanced cake. The problem for others has been that, as far as I knew, the recipe wasn't available online. However, Susie Nadler from The Kitchn showed me that it was in the New York Times all along. Hooray! So run, run, run, and make the Chocolate Guinness Cake. Serve it to people that you like, and notice how they like you just a little bit more now.

Yeast Bread and schedule balancing

Bread was one of those things that my mother refused to make without the aid of a bread machine. But hand making bread was right out. And although I do not fear the bread, I tend to think of it as being harder than it really is. Part of the reason I don't fear bread baking is because I have studied up on the techniques and understand the basics of the physical chemistry of bread. Gluten and I are good friends, and we pal around on the weekends and go on fishing trips together. We invite yeast along*, occasionally with some sugar and butter or similar, and a good time is had by all. Perhaps a bigger part of why I don't fear baking bread is because I have a stand mixer with a dough hook, and consequently don't have to knead by hand. Those of you who are hand-kneaders may scoff at me (I see you back there), but it removes a decent amount of the work and active time to the baking process. I think the reason that I do have a little trepidation for making bread is because I'm never really convinced that rising and proofing are attention-free on my part. There's always a bit of me that has to check up on it from time to time to see if it's achieved the proper amount of lift, and I tend to be on its timetable rather than it being on mine. Some of this is because I'm a project manager, and so am duty-bound to keep an eye on the progress of others. Still, I am making bread. Ideally, I will work it into my daily routine, along with my day job, writing for my various blogs and publications, exercise, housework, and spending time with my lovely wife. Most of that's easy, but the day job makes it trickier, because it's this big 8 or so hour chunk of time in the day where it will take 30 minutes of driving if I want to make adjustments to the bread. The King Arthur Cookbook suggests that I can learn to play with the amount of yeast in my bread recipes, which will fine-tune rising time. Perhaps that will be my secret. Perhaps I will manage something with sponges, or refrigerating dough overnight, or similar. So I ask you, my readers: How do you juggle a full-time job and regular bread baking? *- Yeast, incidentally, constantly makes flatulence jokes and giggles. It's not my thing, but he brings the booze as well, so what can ya do?

Instructable Wednesday: Food Stencils

Instructable Wednesday is a weekly look at food and cooking related items from the site Instructables, a DIY site with a great community and all sorts of useful tutorials. Today, let's look at the "I ♥ Accuracy" Brownies. It has long been a staple of people who love things everywhere to make a heart that has two bumpy bits at the top and a pointy bit at the bottom. That's all well and good, but what about those of us who are pretty sure that a heart doesn't look like that? Not only is this a handy technique for the anatomically pedantic, but it's also good starting point for making stencils that will work for food. The technique can work with sweet confections such as the brownies, or you could adapt it with flour for bread. Using colored powders or edible spray-paint, you could take this technique to new heights for the stencil-ready foods. Let your imagination run wild. Think of it like silk screening: anything that could go on a t-shirt could go on food. Not that you'd want everything that has gone onto t-shirts to go onto food, but it gives you an idea of the flexibility of the technique.

Contest: Cupcake v. Muffin, Round 1: Toppings

After doing an informal survey of my readers and twitter friends, it appears that there is still life in the controversy of "Which is better? Cupakes or Muffins?" Therefore, I propose a series of challenges, with each round getting a prize. Cupcakes have been in the public eye for a while. Perhaps too long, as there are those who believe that they are passé. I say good food is never passé, but I also say that muffins are clearly superior to cupcakes. So, let's find out the which is better the semi-scientific way. Round 1: Toppings. This should be an advantage to the cupcake, because cupcakes are generally synonymous with toppings, but who can say? The challenge is to come up with a recipe for a cupcake or a muffin that is topped. You'll want to consider the flavor and texture balance with the muffin or cupcake itself, how much topping, and so on. A topping is anything that sits on top of the confection and is added after the confection is baked. There should not have to be extraordinary measures taken to ensure that the topping stays. If the judge can't walk across the room without the topping falling off, then it's not really a topping. The prize for Round 1 is a copy of Shirley Corriher's Bakewise. If the winner already has Bakewise, we can determine a suitable replacement prize. Okay, get to it. Rules are below. muffins.jpg

Rules:

  1. Create or find a cupcake or muffin recipe that will best fit the challenge of the current round. Submit that recipe as a comment on the rounds' announcement post. You must have claimed your comments with a valid disqus account, so I will be able to contact you if you win.
  2. For any given recipe, it can only be entered once throughout the entire competition. The first person to enter the recipe based on the order that it appears in the comment feed is the person who gets to claim that recipe. Slight variations will not be counted. The judging panel will determine if a recipe is too similar to an older recipe.
  3. A muffin is defined as any hand-held confection assembled primarily via the muffin method: combine dry ingredients, combine wet ingredients, mix together briefly, and bake.
  4. A cupcake is defined as any hand-held confection assembled primarily via any non-muffin cake method, such as the creaming method.
  5. A recipe can be submitted as a link or in the body of a comment. If the recipe is a link, and it changes at some point, the recipe that the judges happened to get is the one that will be judged. If a modification is submitted to a recipe, the modification will only be used if the entry has not been judged up to this point.
  6. Judging will be a panel of entrants lead by Brian J. Geiger (The Food Geek). In the case of a tie, The Food Geek gets an extra vote or two as necessary. Judges may not enter the round that they are judging. The judging panel can change from round to round. Bear in mind that the judges have to make these concoctions, so if it is a particularly complicated or difficult recipe, and we do it poorly, then the results will be judged based on what is made, not what is intended. Needing special equipment aside from a standard-sized muffin tin will be frowned upon.
  7. Each round will be given a certain number of points, based on the importance of the challenge to the overall question of Confection Superiority. Once points are totaled, the winner will be declared. In the case of a tie, muffins win, as The Food Geek prefers muffins.
  8. Friends or family of The Food Geek or the judging panel are welcome to enter, but don't expect special treatment. If I don't get a birthday gift this year because you had a bad recipe, the you should be ashamed of yourself.
  9. Judging will take as long as it takes. I make no promises as to how quickly we can get through the entries.
  10. If there is not enough interest in the contest, I will declare an end to it before judging any particular round. The winner will be based on points up to that round.
  11. If problems are found with the rules, they will be amended in the round during which the problem is found. If that affects a recipe, then the judges will be called upon to make a ruling as to if the recipe gets by under the old rules or has to follow the new.
Updated at 8:30 AM on Monday, February 16 to clarify the challenge for this round.

Cupcake Muffin Showdown

After blithely making the statement: muffinvcupcake.png it occurred to me that this might be an interesting challenge. I know my reasons: cupcakes are a transportation mechanism for frosting, and I'm not that big of a fan of frosting. Muffins are more versatile. Muffins taste better. Muffins are easier to make. Muffins have better texture. Muffins are potentially healthier. Muffins, I decided, are better. However, I know that many of my friends on Twitter are cupcake fans. There has been much activity over the past several months about cupcakes. Perhaps they would disagree. So far: not so much. I've gotten a bunch of, "Yay muffins!" responses, and some, "both are good, really," responses, but no one claiming to be the champion of the cupcake. In retrospect, this is disappoint, because I want to issue a challenge: to determine the ultimate winner of cupcake v. muffin. If I can get enough people on each side to claim there's superiority, then I will host a series of contests for specific challenges. There will be prizes. Good prizes. Not necessarily expensive prizes, but good even so. If not, then muffins are clearly the winner, and I'll have to find real controversy somewhere. To state your claim, send me a @reply on twitter (@thefoodgeek or @thefoodgeek_com), or comment here. Pass around tweets and retweets to point people here. Let's find out the true the scientific way. Or, in a pinch, a way vaguely resembling the scientific way.

Peter Reinhart at TASTE^3 on Whole Grain Bread

I haven't watched all of this, but as I am technically mentioned in his book on whole grain bread, and I categorically recommend everything the man writes or does, you might as well watch it with me. This is Peter Reinhart at the TASTE^3 conference, which I had not heard of before but will research and write about next week, talking about his epoxy method of whole grain breads.

Kindle for the Food Enthusiast

The image used in the preview of this article was taken by John Pastor and used via a Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic license It's hardly a secret, especially after Oprah told everyone to buy one, that Amazon has* an e-book reader called the Kindle. There's a general review of the Kindle and a comparison between it, books, and other e-book readers, but those who already own a Kindle and just want to know what books to get for it can scroll down to near the bottom, past the blocks of text and into the listy bits. The basics Your general purpose e-book reader is a small device, generally the size of a paperback book or thereabouts, designed to hold a bunch of books on it. The screen of an e-book reader is usually what's called e-ink. Unlike your general LCD screen, the e-ink has a very high contrast ratio, meaning that it's easy to distinguish between the words and the white space. Also, it's completely reflective, so unlike a laptop, it works just as well outside in full sunlight as it does inside under a lamp. And it does require a lamp, because also unlike a laptop screen, it doesn't have any sort of backlight. So, just like a book, you need to ensure that there's a proper reading light source available. What's special about the Kindle There have been several e-book readers over the years, many of which are from Sony. What makes the Kindle so special? The Kindle has a built-in cell-phone modem, meaning wherever you have an EVDO connection, you can shop for, buy, and receive books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs. So, if you're stuck at the airport and nothing you have in your library suits your tastes for the 4-hour layover, you don't have to buy the latest Stephen King novel from the airport newsstand. Instead, you pop into the Kindle store, search through there hundreds of thousands of titles, and within a few minutes, your new book will be ready for you to read. Best of all, it doesn't take any more space in your luggage or your home library for the extra book. Because it has an always-on internet connection, you can even browse the web in a pinch. The browser isn't the best, and the connection is a little slow, but it's great for popping over to wikipedia to look something up that might not be in your library. Pros vs. Books As mentioned, you can have hundreds or thousands of books on your Kindle, and they won't take up any more physical space. The largest of books will never be heavier than the smaller books. You can make annotations, highlights, or page clippings from books, and those will appear in a centralized file that you can reference later, as well as interspersed within the books themselves. It's hard to argue with the ability to hold a library in your bag. The biggest advantage of the Kindle vs. a real book, aside from space savings, is the ability to search everything in your library all at once. For me, this is especially useful. If I want to find out what I know about aubergines, I can hit the search button and see: aubergine-kindle.png Likewise, if I do a similar search for "maillard" and click on the On Food and Cooking link, then I will see something like: maillard-kindle.png Clicking on any of those items will take me to the part of the book referenced. It is unbelievably handy. What are the downsides The biggest downside to the Kindle vs. books is that the Kindle does not handle the organization of large numbers of books very well. You can sort them by title, by author, or by recency, but that's it. You can't sort by genre, you can't make custom lists or groups, and you can't put them into folders. I really hope they fix this problem, because it's the one thing that keeps me from going crazy putting lots of extraneous-but-free books on my Kindle.** Another downside, which is much more obvious but should be stated, is that the Kindle is a battery-powered device. This means that, if you don't keep up with the charging, you will be book-free until you charge it back up again. This is rarely a problem, especially if you don't leave the network connection running all the time. One of the advantages of e-ink is that it really uses very little battery power, and mostly just to change the page. I've gone for days of regular use without having to recharge, though it's wise to get into some sort of charging routine. While there are pictures in the Kindle, they are not as sharp as they would be in a book, and they are never in color. Generally they're good enough to get by, though. Finally, the Kindle does not support all of the features of the e-book file format that it uses. Specifically, it can't handle tables, which means that there are sections to some books that look like lists that would make much more sense if the Kindle decoded them properly. This and the organization of books should just be a software update, so it's possible that they'll fix both of these problems. Maybe. What do I have on the Kindle, anyways? Although I have many other titles on the Kindle, these are the things that are related to food and/or cooking. From the Kindle Store: From other sources: On Food and Cooking and Bakewise are the two titles that currently get the most use. I can't yet fully recommend the other titles, because I haven't gotten through them all, but these seemed the most useful to have on hand of what was available at the time. As time goes on, I'll update the list here. If it weren't so expensive, I would pick up a copy of Chef's Book of Formulas, Yields, and Sizes as well, because it sounds terribly useful for a reference library. Perhaps one day. Preferably one day when the price is lower. *- Well, I say "has" but they're sometimes backordered, such as at the time of posting. However, according to commenter Karen, there are refurbished Kindles available. Read her comment for more information. **- There's this great e-book from feedbooks.com that has links to kazillions of free e-books, whether public domain or creative commons. You download the book into the Kindle, then click on the links in the e-book, and it will put the book onto your Kindle, as if by magic. They have some cool other services as well, and they have things that work with other e-book readers, so go to their site and peruse.

Vanilla Salt Cookies

vanilla_salt_cookies.jpg This entry is stolen… er, used under Creative Commons License from umami.com. I have made these cookies several times and love them ever so. They are my favorite cookies to make at Christmas, because they are easy and tasty and a bit more sophisticated than your average Christmas cookie. I have not made any alterations to the recipe because the license of the site does not allow for derivative works. And although, as a recipe, I could alter it and make it my own, it's a very good recipe without any change. Other than the salt on the top, as I have used fleur de sel instead of the pink Himalayan stuff.
These cookies were made using from the recipe for Vanilla Wafers in the "Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking". Instead of sugar crystals as suggested in the book, which I did not have on hand, I pressed some pink Himalayan salt crystals on the top just before baking. The salt accentuated the sweet vanila butteriness of the cookies, intriguing those who tasted with its familiar yet novel sensation. The recipe calls for one whole block of butter, and makes over 60 cookies. For a small household like mine it makes sense to freeze part of the dough. The ones above were from one of the frozen portions, slightly overbaked and crumbly, but still really rather scrumptious. Next time I might increase the quantity of flour. 250g butter 1/4 tsp salt (or if you are like me, omit this and use slightly salted butter) 125g sugar 2 large egg yolks 1 tbsp vanilla extract 315g plain flour Beat the butter, salt and sugar at medium speed untill smooth. Add egg yolks and vanilla and beat at low speed until blended. Add flour and mix until a dough forms. Divide dough into three or four equal portions. Roll each portion into logs about 1.5 inches in diameter. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and freeze or refridgerate till firm. Before baking, unwrap log and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices. At this point you can op to sprinkle crystal sugar, crystal salt or chopped nuts on the surface. Bake at 180 C for 12-15 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Edible.com: for things that (many would say) aren't

I ran across this little specialty food site today called Edible. When I write "specialty food", I seriously mean it. The items that caught my immediate interest were the Wild Black Vanilla Pod and the infamous Civet Coffee. The vanilla because the mind just overflows with the possibilities inherent in a wild version. The coffee because, well, it's kind of gross. Which leads me to the strength of Edible.com: the Insectivore Section. Oven baked tarantula, toffee scorpion candy, and Chocolate Covered Giant Ants are merely a representative selection of the sorts of critters that I am not currently interested in eating. I mean, none of those are local, so justifying the expense of shipping them just for the gourmet experience seems excessive in our current climate of ecological responsibility. My one real gripe, because if someone wants tasty tarantula, more power to them, is that, if you're going through the trouble of harvesting coffee from the solid waste of a civet or a weasel, then why would you pre-grind it? This is supposed to be a sublime gourmet experience, which is the only reason why you would take something that passed through the digestive tract of another creature (well, that and for medicinal purposes, I suppose. And for money). Why destroy the flavor by grinding it ahead of time. That's just stupid. I don't know if it's edible.com's fault, but I will not be ordering pre-ground civet coffee. Oh, and the Monkey-Picked Tea looks cool. In any case, it looks like their stock varies somewhat from time to time, and it's definitely the place to go if you need something for that extra-special dinner party, so check often for new and interesting experiences. via MonkeyFilter.

Food Mysteries: Liquid Frosting

One of my favorite food activities is when someone is having a problem with a recipe and ask for help. Whether it's asked directly to me or just in my vicinity, it gives me a chance to test what I've learned and see how well I'm doing. There's nothing like taking some basic problem, breaking it down as best I can, and attempting to come up with a solution. Sometimes I'm right, often I'm wrong, but it's generally worth the effort. In this particular instance, one of my twitter friends asked: Broken_Recipe.png This was a little vague, but my mystery-loving nose was a-twitchin', so I asked for more information. What she told me was that she had this coffee mascarpone frosting recipe that she'd used for forever. Normally it went together with no trouble, but this time it was much more fluid than solid, which is generally not what you want with a frosting. The recipe was:
  • 1 cup chilled whipping cream
  • 8 oz mascarpone
  • 1/4 cup ground coffee
  • 2 to 3 cups confectioner's sugar (depending upon how thick you prefer frosting)
Whip up whipping cream in mixer until soft peaks begin to form. Fold in mascarpone and coffee grinds. Then while mixing over low speed, slowly add the confectioner's sugar one cup at a time, being careful not to over whip frosting. Okay, all well and good. Comparing with other frosting recipes, it appeared that the sugar should be more than enough to thicken things up (although sugar does not thicken in the same way a starch does, it can still do its share under the right circumstance, generally by dissolving itself into water and preventing the water from moving about). As the coffee is ground and not, say, a liquid, it wasn't likely to throw anything off. I asked if perhaps she was using a different brand of whipping cream with more liquid, or a different mascarpone, but no, that was all the same. As the cream was being whipped, there was a possibility that it was the culprit. It's easy to break a whipped cream with too much heat. So I suggested that perhaps something were warmer than usual and that may have caused the trouble. Finally, I noticed that other recipes, rather than whipping the cream first then folding and mixing, just threw everything together and mixed that way. I suggested that, if she still had everything together, perhaps she could give that a go. The responded to tell me that, yes, it was the temperature. Hurrah! But, instead of being too warm, the mascarpone was too cold, and bringing it to room temperature fixed the problem. Hurroo. So I was half-right, and I was helpful, and I learned something. That's all good. As I get better, hopefully I will be right more than I am wrong. As with most of life, the important thing is to never stop learning.

Bakewise initial impressions

I am reading through BakeWise now, partially because it's what I do, and partly because I am in the process of developing something special. A couple of special things, really. I'm reading through the Kindle edition I mentioned earlier, which is super cool. [amtap book:isbn=1416560785] My initial impressions are: 1) Awesome. 2) Okay, Shirley is definitely teaching me some seriously useful things about baking, and how to analyze and adapt recipes. I am into the first chapter so far, and the knowledge is just pouring in. It's not like On Food and Cooking, where it's a non-stop deluge of new facts. In BakeWise, Shirley repeats key facts and conclusions so that you can remember them, tying them together as new lessons are learned. It's a very useful teaching tool. [amtap book:isbn=0684800012] 3) The Kindle edition, while incredibly handy, is not going to be the only edition of the book I own. It's clear that the limited formatting of the Kindle causes asides to get mixed into the text, so that it seems as if she is repeating whole paragraphs of information, when it's probably just a sidebar. But having a searchable and portable version of the book is great. 4) Still awesome.

Upgrading the Stand Mixer

There are two new items for the World's Most Popular Stand Mixer In The World*. I'm writing of the KitchenAid Stand Mixer, not some other mixer. The first is the BeaterBlade. Available from Amazon, this handly little device is just like the paddle attachment on your stand mixer, except that it has some silicone bits around the edges which scrape the sides of the mixer for you. Simple, effective, and a no-thought upgrade. If you know someone with an appropriate model stand mixer, you have your holiday or birthday present for the year. The second, for the bread enthusiasts, is the Spiral Dough Hook. This one is an official KitchenAid attachment that will work for the Professional 5 Plus and the Professional 600 models (sorry, Artisan folk). As seen in the embedded video, the new dough hook actually kneads the dough along the bottom of the bowl, thus picking up the various bits of flour at the bottom. Also, it prevents the dough from slapping the side of the bowl like a one-armed midwife at a birthing competition**, so it keeps the mixer from trying to walk across the counter to its eventual doom. *–I have no data to back that up. I completely made up the title. It's a pretty popular mixer, though, you'll agree. **–It sounded okay in my head.

They Go Really Well Together 11 Wrap Up: Banana and Cloves

Khymos.org has wrapped up its most recently flavor pairing challenge "They Go Really Well Together" (TGRWT) #11: Banana and Cloves. The TGRWT challenges are a general web challenge to create new dishes that use a non-traditional flavor pairing. I have not participated in the TGRWT challenges yet, but they're always fascinating. I wrote about them some in my post on Cooking Creatively. One of the great thing about TGRWT is that you're encouraged to post failures as well as successes, because it's a learning endeavor. We don't really know the best way to pair some of these new flavors, so rather than having to try it all yourself, let others show what they've done and give results. Then you'll know what went too far and what worked out well. As you can imagine, there are more than one banana bread in the bunch. There are also a couple of pork-based dishes. There are some desserts, and there is a martini. If you're looking for inspiration for a dish, try one of these, or try something based on the TGWRT challenges.

The mystery of the moister cake

One of my twitter friends posted what was, to him, a disturbing tale of a cake transformed. In 140 characters or less, here was the conundrum: From Twitter user Steve. Me: 'This (day-old leftover) cake is really moist!' Her: 'Wow. It was bone-dry yesterday.' #ulp After eating the cake, his mind was alight with frightening tales of adulterated coffee in offices and strange and weird ways that the cake could have become more moist over the course of a day. None of those possibilities made him feel particularly good about the thus-eaten cake. However, I know a food secret, and it's this: sugar loves water. Loves it. Sugar has a water tattoo on its shoulder, and when they're not dating, it hangs out creepily next to water's car when water is at work, writing little messages in the windows that water won't see until the dew hits the next day. Most substances, when they sit out in the open air, become dryer as time goes on. Bread goes stale, food sticks to the bottom of a bowl, dogs no longer have to shake the water off onto the entire living room, etc. With sugar, though, you've seen how it starts clumping together given half a chance. You let the sugar sit in the jar too long, and you'll have to break it apart. That's because sugar is hygroscopic, which, as I mentioned, means it loves water, especially water that is hanging around in the air. Cakes are sweet, what with all the sugar in them. So even a cake fresh from the oven that is dry has a chance to moisten up if there's any humidity at all. Generally, a cake is better the second day than the first for just this reason. Steve felt much better after I told him about that, and I performed another public service, so it was a good day all round.

How to cut baking prep time

Or:

How to make your baking turn out better.

Or:

Nothing to see; move along.

WarmingEggs.jpgThe title of the article is different depending on what kind of baker you are. When I bake, I rarely either have time to or remember to set the ingredients out to come to room temperature first. It's a really good idea to do so, unless what you're making specifies otherwise (pie crust, for example). I'm not going to go into the why right now, we'll discuss that another day. Let's assume for the moment that you want to and you don't at the moment. The big culprits for room temperature neediness are generally eggs and butter. Everything else is easy. Butter melts like a wicked witch on a water slide, and eggs cook when anything remotely warm is applied to them. So, what to do? Here water is your friend. Many of you may know that, in order to thaw meat in a short amount of time, the best way is to put it in circulating water that's right around room temperature or a bit warmer. The same works for eggs and butter, but it's easier. The eggs you can just put into water straight and they'll be warm in moments. For the butter, you might want to wrap it in plastic wrap first to keep the butter from touching the water. I will admit, though, that I happen to know that a fridge-temp stick of butter in my current, tiny microwave will behave properly if I put it in for 15 seconds, but that will be a trial-and-error procedure with you if you want to try it yourself. More powerful microwaves might require lowering the power setting, or lowering the time, or both. If you're willing to sacrifice the structural integrity of a couple of sticks of butter to keep from having to handle plastic wrap, it'll save you time down the road. Now, for all of you who put their ingredients out well ahead of time because you're with it and actually prepare for your baking, well, I hope you enjoyed the bit about the wicked witch. The rest of us will go about our extemporaneous ways.

Hot cheese bread: grip it and rip it! | King Arthur Flour - Bakers’ Banter

Hot cheese bread: grip it and rip it! | King Arthur Flour - Bakers’ Banter: "40016FE2-BB03-45E9-AE0A-DEF144C94025.jpg If you’re a yeast bread baker, you know that different loaves provoke different visceral responses. There are sandwich loaves, golden brown and perfectly domed, that seem almost too beautiful to cut into. And there’s country sourdough bread, whose occasional lack of beauty is made up for by its enticing aroma. Focaccia begs you to cut it into squares and dip it in seasoned olive oil; a baguette makes you bend down and listen to it ‘singing’ as it cools. But one response all homemade yeast breads invoke in common: they all say RIP INTO ME RIGHT NOW. Hot-from-the-oven bread envelops your house with a yeasty aura of warmth and comfort. But it’s not enough to simply enjoy the aroma of bread, or to admire it as it cools. Though you’re cautioned not to cut into a hot sandwich loaf, lest your precipitous cut turn it gummy (and yes, if you cut oven-hot bread, that does happ"

(Via Slashfood.)

Must…make…bread. Wow.

TFG Podcast 15 - Italian Adventure Part 2: Roman Holiday

Coloseo at night Celebrating the first episode of 2008, Italian Adventure Part 2: Roman Holiday, we have a cornucopia of delightful recommendations for people going to Rome, with a few other odds and ends thrown in for good measure: There is talk of many fine restaurants, some footwear advice, what you should do for tours, and a jab at a certain food celebrity. Who could it be, who could it be? Check out the acknowledgement page from the Whole Grain Book (upper left corner):