Baking Blog:

Gingerbread for Winter

December 7th, 2009

I’ve been busy with gingerbread lately. Gingerbread can be made into many forms: cakes, cookies, lattes, igloos.

igloo-1

Oh, and it can be decorated too!

On a side note: Macaron, macaron, everywhere!

The now ubiquitous macaron can now be found at Starbucks and Costco.

Donuts or Doughuts?

November 25th, 2009

Doughnuts are on my brain lately as I’ve been trying to make my perfect doughnut. Or is it donut? Either way, doughnuts are sweet, deep-fried, and delicious. There are two main schools of donuts: yeast and cake. Today I wandered on the cake side.

Donuts have been around for a while, and like all good things, many people want to lay claim to their origins. The predecessor of the doughnut was most likely olykoek, a Dutch treat that can be translated as “oil cake.” As delicious as these oily cakes may have been, they don’t look much like the doughnuts we see today at Dunkin’s and Tim Hortons. Rumor has it that the holey doughnut we know and love is courtesy of Hansen Gregory, an American sea captain who was the first to punch a hole into his olykoek.

History aside, some people don’t even consider cake doughnuts a doughnut. Traditionally olykoek are yeast based, so where did cake doughnuts come from? According to joepastry.com, cake doughnuts were created out of necessity and nostalgia. Apparently, during WWI, Salvation Army volunteers created a taste of home for world weary soldiers. Because yeast doughnuts need time to rise, and also because the volunteers had chemical leaveners on hand, the cake doughnut was created. When the troops went home however, they didn’t forget their wartime doughnuts and thus, cake doughnuts were popularized.

My cake doughnuts aren’t so rough and tumble as the original cake doughnut, but I did decide to go with a classic cake doughnut recipe. I fried them in Crisco as opposed to vegetable oil and was plesantly surprised. Soft and fluffy on the inside while delicately crunchy on the outside.

Waffle Shortage!

November 24th, 2009

Technically waffles aren’t baked goods. In fact, they don’t use the oven at all, unless you’re toasting up an Eggo. But if Eggos are the only time you’ve ever experienced waffles, you’re in for a surprise. First of all, there’s an Eggo shortage, possibly until 2010. Don’t fear! Waffles are an easy fix, unless you don’t own that pesky invention called a waffle iron.

Waffle irons have been around since the Middle Ages. Back then, the waffles were more like wafers: thin, crispy and light. Today’s waffle is a modern, leavened (fluffy) version of the crispy wafers of days past. Waffles were introduced in North America by Dutch Pilgrims in 1620, but the popularity of waffles today can be linked to one man: Thomas Jefferson. Thomas liked his food. So much so that he brought back a waffle iron from France and proceeded to have “waffle frolics.”

You too can have your own waffle frolics! Waffles are delicious for breakfast or anytime. Nothing beats a fresh made buttermilk waffle, crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Just remember, when mixing the batter, waffle batter is a quick bread. That is, the fluffiness you aim to achieve is due to the quick mixing of the dry and wet ingredients. If you mix your batter too much, you will create more opportunity for air to escape the batter. The trapped air bubbles are what creates the light fluffy texture you’re looking for.

Today, to do my part to help ease the shortage of Eggos worldwide, I made my own waffles from this recipe I found on epicurious.com. The recipe’s for Belgian buttermilk waffles with glazed bananas, but I skipped out on the bananas, only because I don’t have any.

For waffles

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • Vegetable oil for waffle iron

Make waffles:
Put oven rack in middle position and put a large metal cooling rack directly on it. Preheat oven to 250°F and preheat waffle iron.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk together buttermilk, melted butter, and eggs in another bowl, then whisk into flour mixture until just combined.

Brush hot waffle iron lightly with vegetable oil and pour a slightly rounded 1/2 cup of batter into each waffle mold. Cook waffles until golden and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer as cooked to rack in oven to keep warm, keeping waffles in 1 layer to stay crisp.

Donuts and the Eternal Question

November 23rd, 2009

I whipped up a half batch of yeast donuts today and the unaltered recipe called for 1 egg, which brought me to the eternal question: volume or weight? In the case of the egg, the obvious answer would be weight, since eggs (unfortunately) don’t come in half sizes. The egg aside, should one measure by volume or weight?

It’s true that most home bakers don’t have a scale and in North America, most of our recipes are volume measures. The standard volume measures were popularized by Fannie Farmer, in her 1896 cookbook, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Fannie also introduced leveling. I grew up measuring dry ingredients in precisely this manner: Scoop the dry ingredients into your cup, tablespoon or teaspoon measure and level it off using a straight edge. While this might be convenient and seem logical, there is a reason why weighing ingredients in baking is superior.

mixing up donut dough

Baking, unlike cooking, is an exacting science. In cooking, a little extra paprika thrown in won’t result in a horrible end product, most likely you’ll just end up with a slightly more flavourful dish. Baking, however, is a chemistry of ratios. Sugar to fat determines crispiness of cookies versus chewiness. Fat to flour determines whether or not your cookies hold their shape or spread all over the pan. Ratios determine successful baking.

When measuring ingredients with volume measures, there are a multitude of variables that affect how much you are able to fit into your measure. For example, flour. Measuring flour by volume will most likely result in differences in weight. These differences can be explained by the compactness or fluffiness of the flour, how you handled the flour, how it was processed, etc. When you measure flour by volume, you may have a different weight measure of flour every time. On the other hand, when using a scale, what you weigh is what you get.

Lots of times beginning bakers wonder why their finished products don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to. It could be something a simple as weighing ingredients. It might seem a little bit neurotic to weigh out everything (eggs and liquid ingredients included), but if you do, you’ll find that your recipes come out the way that they should. Or if they don’t, just blame it on the scale!