Convenience Comes at a Small Price


While we were finding amazing deals on dining room furniture, we also came across a couple of bread makers for $8 each.

Now, making bread from scratch isn’t hard. It isn’t even all that time-consuming. Which is why I could never justify the $70 or more for one in the past, even though my gadget-loving self has wanted one for quite some time. Finding one for a handful of singles was just too much temptation without very much in the way of risk.

I don’t make an inordinate amount of bread at home–not for lack of love, I just generally buy it when the occasion arises. After going Low-FODMAP, those occasions had become fewer and farther between. Unfortunately, finding a commercially-available bread that is Low-FODMAP tends to leave a lot to be desired. Making good gluten-free bread has not been the most successful kitchen experiments, though my rigged proof box did help quite a bit in that arena. Still, maybe an all-in-one machine would do the trick.

First try--good, but small

First try–good, but small

For the first run I used a recipe from Celiac in the City and my usual flour blend. Because I’d read so many dire warnings in the bread machine’s manual about over-filling the pan, I did make some adjustments to the basic recipe to keep it at the ingredient quantities the manual gave as their preferred basic ratios. I needn’t have worried, though, as the finished “loaf” didn’t even fill up half the pan!

Lack of loft aside, the bread was very tasty. It was dense, of course, but definitely lacked the sawdust tendencies of some gf baking. I stored the finished, sliced loaf in the fridge (baked goods, esp. those without preservatives, don’t do well in this house once the temperature starts to climb) overnight but the next day at lunch the slices were still good and moist.

While some bread maker’s have gluten-free settings, this one does not but the tips I’d read suggested using the “rapid rise” option if the machine gave one, as it’s cuts down on a bit of the handling. Since gf doughs tend to be super-fragile anyway, I figured that was the safest course, and also chose the light crust setting just to be on the safe side.

A bit bigger this time, but still dense. Still tasty, though!

A bit bigger this time, but still dense. Still tasty, though!

For the second trial I decided to use the same recipe but this time not alter the quantities. I stuck with the rapid rise cycle, but used a slightly different flour blend since I was out of some of the components of my house mix. Not quite a controlled experiment, but this isn’t a laboratory, is it?

The thing to be aware of with bread machines is how the ingredients need to be loaded-in. In my case, all liquids go in first, then the flour op top in such a way that it creates a lid on the liquids. The yeast gets poured into a depression in the center of the flour-layer, and then any butter or shortening gets placed in the corners. Since my test recipe uses olive oil, the first batch I poured the oil into the 4 corners of the pan, but for the second go-round I decided to just mix it in with the water and eggs.

Obviously we weren’t in danger of overflowing the pan, but the danger with the slightly larger loaf is whether or not the full loaf will bake in the given time. This one was a bit on the edge of done after the programmed time but at least was a little larger. Still dense, still tasty, and thumps hollow on the bottom, but if you wanted a darker crust or needed to get it a little more baked through, popping it into the oven for a bit is supposed to do the trick. I didn’t find it necessary for this one, though.

Each loaf has featured a really shaggy top–something that can happen with the non-machine gluten-free breads and something I’ll need to work on. Could use just a bit more liquid or some other tweaking to work well, but I’m encouraged. I’ll be making croutons with the remains of the first loaf and using the second loaf for sandwiches later this week.

* * *

I also picked up a Glutino bread mix that, while not being completely Low-FODMAP (pea protein and whey are the potentially troublesome ingredients, but once you’re past the Elimination and Challenge phases, it might be worth trying) does have the benefit of being all-in-one. And, of course, since gluten isn’t a FODMAP, one could always add some vital wheat gluten into the mix to add texture and whatnot, but I haven’t gotten that far, yet.

I think the next loaf on the list will be an old favorite: chocolate orange bread. I haven’t made it in ages, especially not since ditching the wheat, but I’ve been craving it lately. Even if it turns out dense like these, it’ll be great for chocolate bread pudding!

The Proof is in the Bread Box


After a successful-yet-leaves-room-for-improvement attempt at last month’s Daring Bakers challenge I wanted to try the given recipe again but tweak it a little.

What I’d ended up with was a tasty, if somewhat dry, pastry that I thought could do with some enriching to make it work better with the vagaries of gluten-free baking. In order to create a more tender dough, I planned to add an extra egg (providing both fat as well as some extra protein for stability), a little more butter, and using all milk instead of 3:1 milk to water.

In addition to the recipe changes, I knew the other hurdle I had to jump were the conditions that the dough resting in during rising. I’d yet to have gluten-free yeast doughs rise the way standard doughs would and my hypothesis is that they (the gf breads) are super sensitive to temperature and drafts. To be truly scientific I suppose I’d need to make two doughs, identical but for the flour used, and see how the compared. But I had company coming over and I opted to test a solution, instead of proving the problem.

Back in my pastry chef days, we were lucky enough to have these amazing proof boxes that kept a truly balmy humidity. At the Plantation, before I started making breads from scratch, they’d load muffin pans with slices of frozen bread and pop them in there and they’d be just shy of over-proofed in no time flat. I don’t trust my current oven, even at its lowest setting, not to cook the dough before it’s had a chance to rise (though the pilot light of a gas oven does work wonderfully for this). Instead, I needed to manufacture a safer environment for the delicate dough in its place–and I figured the perfect environment was hiding in my garage.

Not the garage itself, of course, but my counter-top roasting oven!

This combination of pans and racks allowed for just enough warmth, humidity, and protection from drafts for a perfect rise.

This combination of pans and racks allowed for just enough warmth, humidity, and protection from drafts for a perfect rise.

After mixing up a slightly stickier dough than previously had been made, I stacked the dough in it’s oiled bowl on a rack over a pan on another rack in the roasting oven. Sounds convoluted, but I promise it’s simpler than it sounds. To keep the lid slightly open I’s flipped the included rack upside down so the “wings” propped open the lid, then heated the roaster at 200 degrees F while I mixed up the dough, with the empty cake pan inside. Then, when it was time to add the additional rack and the dough, I poured some cold water into the warm pan to create some steam, turned off the roaster, and “closed” the lid.

After an hour the dough had actually doubled, though it was still a little sticky (not uncommon with rich doughs) but a gentle kneading with a bit of extra flour took care of that.

My modified "beautiful bread" twists worked so much better this time.

My modified “beautiful bread” twists worked so much better this time.

I used a similar technique to roll out, fill, and form the decorative twists and this version of the dough was much more pliable than the first (though I only used a double thickness for each twist instead of the quadruple, so that could be part of it, too). And instead of the cinnamon-sugar of the original, I used some Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter (not entirely Low-FODMAP, it does contain honey, but I’ve been able to eat small amounts of this spread without trouble), but kept with the practice of brushing the dough with milk before baking, and letting it rest 15 minutes before baking.

DB Challenge results on the left, the "proof" of improvement on the right.

DB Challenge results on the left, the “proof” of improvement on the right.

Even tough I was encouraged enough with the progress so far, the real proof came when we pulled the pan from the oven and saw the soft, risen bread just begging to be gobbled up. Fresh from the oven it was wonderful and even after it’d cooled for a few hours it was denser, but not hard or dry–another common outcome of gluten-free breads. It was still best warm, though, so a toaster oven or microwave will be any leftovers friend.

Possibly the best King Cake's I've made, yet!

Possibly the best King Cake’s I’ve made, yet!

I made a triple batch of the dough a couple days later to make a King Cakes for Fat Tuesday, making long rolls of dough filled with strawberry preserves (Welch’s Natural qualifies as Low-FODMAP from what I can tell) and topped with a powdered sugar glaze and colored sugar for the holiday. While wonderful as a coffee cake, it also worked well after dinner, warmed and topped with a bit of lactose-free Ice Cream.

Proof box trial #2 was effective but still not as good as the first try.

Proof box trial #2 was effective but still not as good as the first try.

On the last batch I tried just using the roaster with it’s buffet inserts–and it worked okay–but I think it’s best to do the multiple-rack version. The steam hitting the bottom of the thinner buffet inserts started to dry out the bottom of the dough and not-quite cook it, so unless I’m making another boatload of bread dough, I’ll stick to the stack of racks and sturdier bowl.

Not to mention that it’s just pretty cool to find another awesome use for the counter-top roaster oven!

Nibble on This: Nora Ephron on Carbs


I’ve had this one in my tickle file for a couple months, now, ever since NPR re-ran an interview with Nora Ephron after her death in June from pneumonia, a complication of her leukemia.

Screenwriter, Producer and Director, she’s had a hand in many of the movies that shaped my teens and twenties and, of course, served all three roles with the lovely Julie and Julia.

From that 2006 interview on Fresh Air, this particular portion snagged me enough that I sat at my desk and did the old-fashioned play-pause-type-rewind routine just to get it all down:

This is just a crap shoot. This is a lottery. Who knows? So I feel–I don’t think about the next 20 years, I think about today. So, today, I’ve already been to a bakery. This is the thing that I’m obsessed with is carbohydrates. I feel that I’m now living in an age where there’s the best bread we have ever had in the history of the world, there has never been more bread that is good out there. So it seems to me a shame not to eat some of it. Even if, and this is one of the terrible dilemmas of old age, you know, do you save all your money as if you’re gonna live til you’re 90, or do you spend it all because you might die tomorrow? Do you diet like a fanatic in the hopes that it’s gonna buy you a couple of extra years, or is it going to have nothing to do–are you gonna be hit by a bus and your last thought will be ‘I shoulda had that doughnut.’ And it’s very confusing to know what to do, but I’m coming down on the doughnut side. So I feel that, you know, that’s one of the things–I’m not so into 20 years, I’m kinda into is this meal I’m having something I really want to have? And if someone says to me ‘let’s go somewhere that’s not good’ I say ‘let’s not, let’s not, because I have a finite number of meals ahead of me and they are all gonna be good. They’re just gonna be good. That’s the truth.

I’d have to come down on the side of the doughnut, too. Or, in my case, lately, soft pretzel bread. I made some this weekend that was divine while being absolutely comedic in the making–kind of fitting for this quote in it’s own way. I’ll tell you all about it, I promise (next week), but for now, I’m going to enjoy a bit of wonderful, homemade bread and put on a fun movie to finish out my Sunday evening.

ICC | Besan Ki Masala Roti


It’s mid-month and you might recall that that’s when I get to try out another authentic Indian dish and see how much I can avoid mucking it up with my American ways. In other words: it’s time for another Indian Cooking Challenge!

This month’s recipe was very easy to incorporate into our weekly dinners, as it’s an Indian bread (roti), and we love our breads. This particular roti is “stuffed” with a masala (mixtures of spices) and cooked on a griddled. As an unleavened bread, it’s somewhere between a cracker and a biscuit, but very tasty nonetheless. It paired nicely with the Thai-style cauliflower curry and basmati rice I made for supper one night this week.

Besan ki Masala Roti with Cauliflower Curry and rice

Besan Ki Masala Roti

from Marwari Vegetarian Cooking, makes 8


Masala:1 1/2 tsp ground Cumin
1/2 tsp ground Coriander
1/4 tsp ground Turmeric
1 Green Chili, diced
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Amchur (dried mango powder)
1/2 tsp Chilli Powder
1 1/s Tbsp Olive Oil
Bread:1 cup Besan (gram flour)
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
4-6 Tbsp Water

Ingredients for the Masala

Combine the masala ingredients in a small bowl and mix until a paste forms. Set aside.

Masala Paste

In a larger bowl, combine the flours and salt and mix until uniform.

Ingredients for Roti dough

Stir in the olive oil until the mixture is crumbly, kind of like pie crust.

Crumbly dough

Add in the water a tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a tight ball. It took my 5 Tbsp and then my dough was a bit sticky, but a little more flour fixed that.

Dough for roti

Divide your dough into 8 equal parts and form each into a ball.

Balls of roti dough

Roll each ball into a circle, about 4 inches or so in diameter, then divide the masala filling between each, spreading it around a bit.

the stuffed roti

Fold each circle in half over the filling, and in half again to make a triangle with one rounded edge. Roll these stacked packets into triangular roti–about 1/4 inch thick or less if you can manage it without sticking or tearing.

re-rolled triangular roti

Heat a griddle and drizzle a little olive oil on it, “pan frying” the roti until each side is golden brown. Serve warm.

I had the devil of a time rolling out the stuffed roti–the filling wanted to make the dough squish around and tear, to the point that were I to make these again, I’d definitely just mix the spices into the dry ingredients from the get-go, and skipped the filling step. It definitely would cut down on the chances of over-handling the dough (always a landmine when dealing with breads), which I also think I did this time.

Besan ki Masala Roti

Still, they were tasty–pretty much anything made with besan is awesome in my book.

Oh, and the original recipe used ghee (clarified butter). I opted to use olive oil for health reasons and convenience, but to be more authentic, ghee would be your best bet.

Baking By the Numbers


This weekend I needed to check out a recipe I’d concocted awhile back, a bread recipe that I’d adapted from various sources and while it worked, I wasn’t 100% happy with it. Thinking the blame might lie equally with the method as well as the ingredients, I decided to just start over and then compare the two recipes.

For the second trial I went back to my Professional Baking textbook from school. Deceptively thin, this book has just about everything you need to know about baking in it, but the recipes aren’t exactly what you’d call standard.

Baking is, for the most part, chemistry. All cooking is, to an extent, but while you can thicken a runny soup or bump up the seasoning of a stir-fry at will, baking is one of those things that if you’re ratio of wet to dry or leavening to mass is off, then you might very well end up with hockey pucks instead of rolls.

And no one wants hardtack on their plates.

So there’s math involved. Especially if you only want to make 1 small loaf of bread and not 12 of them.

Professional Baking is pretty much geared towards a production kitchen, after all.

But because baking is chemistry and science and math all rolled up into a tasty loaf of fresh bread, it’s fairly easy to figure out how much of everything you need if you use baking ratios.

Ratios, for those whose math skills are a little more than rusty, are a way of comparing items based on a single unit of measure. Think 4 parts flour to 1 part sugar, where part can be grams, ounces, or pounds depending on how much of something you’re trying to make.

Baking ratios are determined be considering the total weight of the flour as 100%, and all the other ingredients in relation to that. So if you only want to make a loaf of dough that uses 2 cups of flour, you can use the ratios to find out that you then need 1.2 cups of water, .075 cups of yeast and so on and so forth.

White Pan Bread baking ratios from Professional Baking with lots of margin notes

Cookbooks are the only books I regularly write in

Granted, having to figure out what .075 cups is equal to in the real world is a bit of a pain (.6 ounces or, roughly, 1 Tbsp + 1/2 tsp), having a scale with a metric function is incredibly helpful when doing any sort of baking conversions. Just weigh the flour you want to use in grams and base the rest of the ingredients off of that (also in grams, very important!).

Of course, it’s not a perfect system, mostly because there’s plenty of opportunity for human error.

Like when I figured out I needed 56% of something only I wrote it down in the wrong spot, thought it was the total grams needed of flour and ended up with a 3 oz “loaf” of bread dough. Oops. But, hey, if I ever need to make only 1 or 2 dinner rolls, now I can!

And that’s kind of a neat trick in and of itself.