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.

The Lost Art of… Marmalade?

Blueberry Toast with Mixed-Citrus Marmalade

Blueberry Toast with Mixed-Citrus Marmalade

On our second trip to the farmers’ market (Todd came with, this time), I spotted kumquats and thought making marmalade would be a good way to use the fruit and have it available for more than just one meal. Now, I’d made marmalade in the past, but it had been maybe 10 years since, so I wanted to check what I thought I remembered (namely that it didn’t require added pectin) and how much sugar per pound of citrus and so forth.

Would you believe that I went through 6 cookbooks before finding marmalade instructions? We have an entire bookcase of cookbooks and not all of them are general-use, so it’s not like I was looking in the specialty books and striking out, these were the massive tomes of all-purpose food knowledge. And while my “textbook” from Culinary School did have a definition and basic method listed, it still wasn’t telling me what I needed to know. Even Joy of Cooking only had a Red Onion Marmalade (which, by the way, is stretching the definition just a bit).

It’s no wonder, then, that the one book to finally come to my rescue was Forgotten Skills of Cooking. It had a whole section on marmalade and even featured a kumquat one. I ended up cobbling together several recipes to fit my time constraints (it was already Sunday and I wanted to use the finished marmalade Monday night, so doing an overnight soak of the seeds and membranes wasn’t practical) and did a mixed citrus marmalade using up some leftover lemons (from Lemon Curd-making the day before), tangerines from Christmas and a couple of pink grapefruits, too.

What I ended up with, after analyzing the various recipes I’d found, was a basic formula that can be used for any sort of citrus you’ve got:

Marmalade Formula

Per pound of citrus (weighed whole) you’ll need:

1 quart water plus 1 cup for the pot
2-3 cups granulated sugar, depending on the kind of citrus you’re using and how sweet you want your finished marmalade to be

And it really is that simple–which is probably why only 7 of our 95 cookbooks mention it at all. (The other reason being that most people buy their marmalade, of course.)

The reason you don’t need additional pectin is because you get that from the seeds and membranes of the fruit, itself–you use everything in some way, shape or form.

Marmalade Procedure

Break Down the Citrus Break down the fruit into its basic components: juice, seeds and peels. Juice each lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit, reserving the juice and placing the seeds in a cheesecloth-lined bowl. Remove the membranes from the squeezed-out fruit halves and add those to the seed-pile. Since kumquats don’t really juice so well, just slice those and remove the seeds, and slice the other citrus peels into bite-sized strips.
Combine and Simmer The initial simmer. Combine the reserved juice, the peels, water and the seeds and membranes tied up in their cheesecloth sack in a deep stock pot. Choose one deeper than I did to prevent boil-overs in later steps–learn from my mistakes, folks! Simmer this mixture, covered, for an hour or so. Don’t let it boil or your marmalade could end up very bitter. Unless, of course, you prefer your marmalade with a lot of bite, then boil it covered through the next step.
The Volume Decreased by Half Cook and concentrate. Right now you’ve got a lot of liquid and some still-tough peels in your pot. Remove the cheesecloth bag with the seeds and membranes (you’ve already harvested the required pectin from them). Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, at a low boil and uncovered, until the liquid has reduced your preferred amount and the peel is as soft as you want it to be.
Adding the sugar before the final boil Add the sugar and cook until set, approximately 15-20 minutes. Here’s the tricky part. According to Forgotten Skills you can test for doneness by placing a small amount of the marmalade onto a cold saucer and see if it gels. This didn’t work for me so I kept cooking the marmalade (on medium-low) for another hour or more (honestly, I lost track). It still hadn’t passed the set-test as described, but I pulled it off the heat and let it cool, anyway, figuring something had to have happened by now.
The finished Marmalade I started with 2.5 pounds of citrus and ended up with 2 quarts of marmalade. I’ve never been into canning so I just divided the spread between 4 pint containers and popping them into the fridge once they’d had a chance to cool off a bit on the counter. If you don’t go the sterilized jars and heat sealing method, you’ll want to store any marmalade you’re not going to use in the next couple of weeks in the freezer.

About the setting thing? I needn’t have worried. The next day You could stand a knife in the marmalade and it wouldn’t even wobble. And despite it’s dark color (probably from the extra cooking time), it wasn’t bitter at all. Added to warm, buttered toast, it’s quite tasty!

Oh, and the main reason I purchased the kumquats and the redfish fillet on the same day? Monday’s dinner was marmalade redfish and it was wonderful!

Season the redfish (or any other firm, white-fleshed fish like cod or monkfish) with salt and pepper and place, skin-side down, on a bed of sliced lemons. Heat half a cup of marmalade with a tablespoon of white wine, just until pourable, and spoon over the fish. Broil the fish 10-15 minutes until done (the flesh is opaque and flakes easily when pressed with a fork), moving it a few inches farther away from the heat if the pieces of peel in the marmalade start to get too dark.

Marmalade Redfish

Marmalade Redfish