Posts Tagged ‘dough

23
Mar
08

Elements of Cooking: Fire

The chemistry behind cooking and baking happens while following a recipe. Most of the chemical reactions that take place between ingredients happens during the initial mixing and blending together of those ingredients. The biggest difference I found between a pastry kitchen, and a restaurant kitchen is how fire is incorporated and utilised in the process of producing the finished result.

Fire in a pastry kitchen is utilised in two ways. The first, and likely the most obvious, is through baking.

Ingredients are mixed together, allowed to react to each other, shaped, and nearly finished before they are put in the oven to bake. The use of fire in this instance may or may not be direct, depending on the type of heat source being used. People traditionally think of baking as happening in an oven, however there are some instances where dough or batter is baked over direct heat. Many flat-breads are baked on a metal dome over an open fire, and pancakes, crepes, and waffles are poured into a pan or griddle over a heat source.

One of my favorite bread related memories happened on a three week canoe trip on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. We made bannock, a traditional Native American bread. We stuck the raw dough on the end of sticks, and baked it over the open flames of the bonfire. The finished result, when spread with homemade strawberry jam, was phenomenal. A raccoon even tried to get in on the action and scared the daylights out of my friend Jere.

The other type of heat generally employed in the pastry kitchen is direct heat in the form of boiling. Whether this takes the form of boiling sugar for confectionery work, boiling fruit for a puree, or boiling water for a bain marie, doesn’t really matter, since it’s the same general idea. Often boiling and baking can occur together in the same recipe, as in the case of a pie, where the filling is prepared by boiling ingredients together, and the crust is baked. 

Fire in the restaurant kitchen, on the other hand, is the nearly alchemical process by which a cook takes a single ingredient and transforms it into something different.

Roasting, braising, sauteing, poaching, grilling, broiling, sous vide, frying, steaming, all have their own unique purpose in the cook’s repertoire. Where a pastry chef follows an exact recipe to bring about a desired reaction, chefs use an exact cooking technique.

Through the application of fire, a cook is able to extract and reabsorb juices. They are able to reduce a liquid and caramelize an ingredient. Using these techniques allows them to concentrate flavours and reintegrate them back into the food.

How well you are able to heat, concentrate, and reintegrate through the use of fire will determing how good you are at cooking.

26
Feb
08

Leaveners, a baker’s secret weapon

One of the most important and misunderstood concepts of baking is the ability to take a dough (which can be as simple as flour and water), and make it rise. This is done by a process known as leavening. The main purpose of leavening is to build the structure of the baked good. In other words, without a leavener of some sort, your baking will be very limited.

There are three basic categories of leaveners – organic, chemical, and physical.

Organic:

I include all varieties of yeast in this category. Yeast is a tiny living organism that must be alive to do it’s job (hence the reason I use the term organic). It is very important to keep this in mind as you work with yeast. When learning how to work with yeast doughs, my mentor told me “treat it like you would treat a girlfriend, handle it gently, don’t slap it around. Keep it warm and well fed.” Although I’m not sure this is the key to a good relationship, it certainly works for yeast.

Yeast requires moisture, takes in sugars, reproduces, and gives off carbon dioxide. It is this process, when the conditions are just right, that makes breads rise. The ideal temperature for raising yeast is between 60 and 90F. Keeping the yeast cool is a process known as retardation. It won’t harm the yeast, but it will give you time to make your baking schedule a little more flexible. Using this process to your advantage, it’s possible to store dough overnight in a fridge without worring about it growing too rapidly. Yeast is destroyed when baked over at temperatures over 200F.

Chemical:

This category includes baking soda and baking powder. They rapidly rise a baked good when combined with moisture and heat. Baking soda also needs an acid. The chemical reactions that take place in the baked good produce gasses, which in turn make bubbles. Think back to grade school science fairs. There was always at least one baking soda and vinegar “volcano”. That’s exactly what goes on in your baking.

Physical:

This category includes steam and air. Steam is released when moisture in a batter, supplied by butter, eggs, or another liquid gets heated. The steam forms air pockets and allows the baking to rise. Good examples of this are evident in choux pastry (for eclairs and cream puffs), and puff pastry. Air is also used as a leavener through creaming butter or whipping egg whites and carefully folding them into a batter. The air bubles get trapped and dried out as the product bakes in the oven. A good example of this would be a souffle.

http://straightfromthefarm.wordpress.com/2008/02/21/yeast-primer/ has some informative information on yeast.