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Baking Tips and Musings

I've been baking a lot lately — figuring out how to make a couple of things and developing my own versions of a few others — and while I'll be writing about those soon, I am not quite ready. Until then, let me offer a few things I've learned along the way.

Those thin plastic "cutting boards" that you can pick up in multi-packs for a few dollars, although far too flimsy for my cutting needs, are a baker's dream. I've been using mine as rolling surfaces lately. It's easy to figure out how to roll out dough  — I just do the math to figure out what size empty border I need and go for it. (It's really easy to eyeball a one inch border, whereas figuring out 11x13 on an empty counter is tough!) I buy mine in a threepack and need more for those days when I have a ton of baking going on. You can even stack them with dough on them for resting periods so you free up counter space. If you use them for rolling dough, remember the untextured side sticks less. I even used one to roll out a danish dough that gets folded several times with alternating resting periods in the refrigerator. When the dough needs resting, I roll the plastic "board" around the dough, slip it all in a plastic bag, and slide it onto a shelf in the fridge. It's so easy! 

Pizza stones radiate heat that can be used to give rising bread a kickstart. I discovered this recently when I had a coolish kitchen, too many stones in the oven (I stack two 18" square unglazed floor tiles on a rack and leave them in almost all the time.), and bread that was being slooooow. After I pulled the stone out, I placed a wooden rack on top of the stone and the pan with bread doug on top of that. It was apparently the perfect distance, the dough rose perfectly and was oven-ready in about 45 minutes.

Sourdough starter makes anything better. Yeah, yeah, this is a duh. I've been working on an english muffin recipe this past week or two and, while I haven't gotten to the "great big holes" stage...yet, I have improved the taste greatly with the addition of sourdough starter. Next on the sourdough list is pitas. Stay tuned.

Made some of these almond danish the other day and have a few thoughts. First, I am not so impressed with the dough recipe. Don't get me wrong, it's tasty and reasonably flaky for the blitz-style dough, but I ended up adding 15-20% more flour to get it to resemble dough rather than mush and it took five turns to get it pastryable. I was still adding bits of flour on the fourth set of turns! I am not sure if it's me or the recipe —  it's a Nigella and I've not been so impressed with the reliability of her recipes — but next time I am just going for the real thing with a layer of butter. It can't possibly be that much more work and I really do have to master the technique. Also, the recipe calls for all bread flour, which strikes me as just plain wrong. However, even given all of that, the danish were really good. They rose to about two inches at the high spots and were reasonably flaky, the filling was good, and if I'd bought them at a neighborhood bakery I'd have been okay with it. But my standards for my own baking are high so I'm still working on this one too.

And while I've been busy in the kitchen, River has been busy too. Remember the tethermouse? Look what she can do!

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