• Yes, More With The Bread

    Well, I just keep refining this bread recipe. The second time, Lenore thought she could detect a strange aftertaste in the bread. It wasn’t clear if it was a lingering alcohol smell, or a by-product of stale whole wheat flour, and so I decided to run a couple experiments. Both turned out frickin’ fantastic, if I do say so myself.

    Test Loave Test Loaves Cut

    Both of these breads were made using a white flour poolish made as follows:

    • 10 tbsp white flour
    • 10 tbsp water
    • 1/4 tsp yeast.

    Now, if you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know this mixture is a little different. First, there’s more flour. This is mainly because the white flour absorbs less liquid, and so the poolish can tolerate more. You’ll also note there’s less yeast. I was worried that the first poolish got a little alcohol-y, generating the off flavour Lenore noticed, and so I decreased the amount of yeast in the poolish, and conversely increased the yeast content in the main bread. Interestingly, this poolish formula generated much greater gluten development. As in, the blend went from batter-like when I mixed it, to an almost stretchy, rubbery texture. It was pretty remarkable, actually, and possibly a consequence of the decreased yeast (if flour ferments too long/much, the gluten can actually begin to break down, a phenomenon known as over-proofing).

    As for technique, I dialed back the bake time to thirty minutes, and made use of a thermometer to test for doneness (they need to hit 200F at the center). In addition, as you can see, I scored the tops of the loaves prior to baking, partly because it helps jack up the oven spring by breaking tension in the top of the loaf, and partly because I think it just looks nice. :)

    Other than that, these loaves are essentially the same as attempt number two. The loaf on the left is straight white bread, a test to see if the wheat flour was the cause of the flavour Lenore detected. The loaf on the right is probably 40% WW (I forgot to jack up the WW in the main recipe to compensate for the white flour poolish, but… so it goes).

    As for impressions, as you can see, the crumb is pleasantly tighter and more even than my second loaf, a result, I suspect, of the higher gluten development thanks to the poolish. The bread is much more moist and soft, almost the texture of a store-bought french bread. In conclusion: hands down, my best attempts yet.

    Oh, and the funky taste? No sign of it! Must’ve been the funky flour after all.

  • The Mystery of the Melting Pie - Solved!

    To quote Stephen Colbert, I Did It!

    No-Melt Pies

    Oh yeah, I kinda went crazy. Two apple pies and two dozen butter tarts (using Linda’s delicious recipe… and boy, did they turn out fine). So, what happened? Well, allow me to ramble:

    First off, understand that one of the reasons we make products with flour, and coincidentally one of the reasons celiacs hate it so much, is because of our good friend, gluten. Gluten is a protein present in wheat flour (and I’m assuming other grain flours, as well), and it is gluten which gives flour-based doughs their structure. Basically, when you introduce water to flour and start kneeding it, you liberate the gluten, which proceeds to create a little microscope network of protein strands. The result is a dough which is stretchy and, when baked, chewy (and delicious). Add yeast, baking soda, or some other leavening agent, and you get lift, as the gluten allows bubbles of carbon dioxide and steam to form in the dough.

    But in the world of pastry, gluten is, generally speaking, your enemy. Gluten formation produces a pastry crust that’s chewy and tough, instead of flakey and light. As such, we do all sorts of things to discourage gluten development in pastry dough:

    1. Add only the minimal water necessary to bring the dough together.
    2. Avoid kneeding at all costs.
    3. Use a low-gluten pastry flour.

    And it is that last item that was the key. In the world of flour, there’s all sorts of grades, separated by the amount of gluten present. Lowest to highest, we have:

    1. Cake flour
    2. Pastry flour
    3. All-purpose flour
    4. Bread flour

    I’m sure there’s others in and around those, but those are the most common. Well, I went and bought a flour labelled “Cake and Pastry” flour. But which is it? Well, it turns out it’s the first (real pastry flour is actually pretty hard to come by in regular grocery stores). And there lies the key.

    You know how I said gluten was a pastry-maker’s enemy? Well, that was a bit of a lie. You do need some gluten, otherwise those lovely, flakey layers can’t form. And more importantly, without gluten, the only thing holding the dough together is… the fat. And guess what? Fat melts in the oven. So a pastry dough with extremely low gluten levels will do just that: fall apart when the fat melts. Dough! (yes, that was a pun. Suck it up).

    The solution? Well, I didn’t have all-purpose flour on-hand, so I used a 50% blend of cake and bread flour. Voila! Crust that held together (and tasted yummy!) So, remember, when making pastry, gluten is bad! Mostly.