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!

Almost Mardi Gras, Are You Ready?


I know this week’s highlight is Valentine’s Day (aka Singles Awareness Day for those not coupled-up), and while I’m still deciding what sweet treat to make for Tuesday night, my mind keeps wandering a week forward and thinking Mardi Gras.

Which means, of course, that next weekend will be time to start up the dough for King Cakes.

a trio of King cakes

Last year's small, medium and large King Cakes for home and work

from a post way back in 2009:

The King Cake is a coffee cake decorated for the occasion in green (for faith), gold (for power) and purple (for justice) and with a wee plastic baby, silver or gold coin or bean of some such inside. Why? Well, it’s heavy on the Christian symbolism: the prize inside is supposed to be the Baby Jesus. Whoever finds the baby, coin or bean is, traditionally, the King or Queen of the week and is supposed to host the next party or, at the very least, supply the next King Cake.

Any oval coffee cake will do and many, these days, deviate from the cinnamon brioche tradition and use danish pastry filled with cream, fruit filling or chocolate. Yum! I tend to stick with the eggy brioche because it’s just so good the way it is, and the crunchy sugar on top is the best!

According to Rima and Richard Collin’s The New Orleans Cookbook, the King Cake should be made with a coffee cake dough of choice that uses about 4 packages of active dry yeast. So, the first time I made it I went to my go-to brioche recipe from Nick Malgieri’s How to Bake, which uses 2 packages of yeast. So I doubled the recipe. Despite the fact that Malgieri’s recipe makes 2.5 lbs of dough. I made 5 lbs of brioche. I ended up with 2 ginormous king cakes that overflowed my sheet pans, not to mention my counter space. Use only a single batch of the recipe below and you’ll probably still have enough for 2 normal size cakes.

Brioche Dough
(by Nick Malgieri with my paraphrased directions)

1 c milk
5 tsp (2 env) active dry yeast
1.5 c all-purpose flour

12 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
6 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 lg eggs plus 1 egg yolk
2.25 c all-purpose flour

For the sponge: Heat the milk until warm (seriously, you don’t want it over 110 or you could kill the yeast, so just slightly warmer than body temperature) and (off the heat) whisk in yeast and then the flour, cover with plastic wrap to protect against drafts and let sit for 30 minutes.

For the dough: Cream the butter until it’s very soft and fluffy, beat in the sugar and then one egg. Alternate flour and the remaining eggs, one after the other, until everything is incorporated. Mix in the risen sponge then knead for 5 minutes (or let the dough hook of your mixer go at it for 2 minutes). Cover with a piece of plastic wrap, let the dough rise for about an hour, punching down the dough periodically.

Punch down the dough once more, then place it in an oiled bowl, turning the dough over so the surface is lightly coated. Cover and refrigerate the dough for 4 hours or overnight. It’s going to rise so use a big enough bowl to accommodate it and don’t be surprised if it goes all ‘blob’ on you and pushes the top of that super-large rubbermaid container completely off–just means your yeast was really healthy!

After four hours or overnight, take the dough out, punch it down and knead it a bit to get the extra air out, and divide the dough into 2 pieces for one big cake or 4 pieces for 2 normal sized ones.

Now, if you want to fill your dough with anything, that’s up to you. Filled or not you want to roll out each piece of dough into a log shape and twist two of them together and then arrange the twist into an oval, gently pressing the two ends together. Sprinkle the ring with colored sugars and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until the bread is golden and done (thump the bottom of the loaf and if it sounds hollow, it’s ready).

Alternately, you can simply sprinkle the dough with cinnamon sugar, bake, and then drizzle the cake with a powdered sugar icing and then top with the colored sugars. (But the crunchy baked sugar really is one of the best parts!)

After the cake has cooled, insert the bean, baby or coin in through the bottom of the cake (make sure no one is looking) and serve to a group of friends. Sure, you can bake a bean or coin inside, but I usually don’t. It’s just as easy to wait until it’s cool (and make sure you clean that coin well before adding it to any food!).

Now, if you’re serving this cake in the morning, coffee will work well enough to wash it down (but at least go for a good, chicory blend or an all-out cafe au lait) but if you’re off for the day or out for the evening, wash your King Cake down with the quintessential New Orleans drink: the Hurricane. You can find a mix in many liquor stores or specialty shops, but Chef Rick has a from-scratch Hurricane recipe that will most likely treat you better than any powder ever could:

Hurricane Punch

1 ounce white rum
1 ounce Jamaican rum
1 ounce Bacardi 151 proof rum
3 ounces orange juice, with pulp
3 ounces unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 ounce Grenadine
Crushed Ice

Combine all ingredients, mix well (shake or stir). Pour over crushed ice in Hurricane glass. Garnish with orange or pineapple ring and drink through a small straw for maximum wind speed.

Also, his olive salad recipe is the best I’ve found short of taking a trip to Central Grocery for a jar, which isn’t exactly convenient when you’re 4 states away and craving a Muffaletta

Delay of Post Penalty: Excessive Celebration Cooking

Everyday Adventures

Today’s post is going to be a bit delayed–I ended up spending all of Monday night in the kitchen making dinner, trying out this month’s ICC recipe and making 3 King Cakes for Mardi Gras.

See? My time-mismanagement is my office’s windfall.

King Cakes

Goldilocks-like trio of King Cakes

So…. the post I had planned and roughed out for today will show up either late tonight or maybe Wednesday. (Kinda depends on how many Hurricanes we have, tonight!)

In the mean time, and speaking of food, if you’d like to see what I get up to in the kitchen, make sure to check out Nibbles & Bites–this week I’ve got my current take on a Culinary School favorite.

UPDATE: Exhaustion is doing me in, this week–we’ll be back to discuss rings and things next week.