Sunday, February 20, 2011

Baking Soda and Baking Powder

Have you ever had problems with cakes and muffins that did not rise?

There are a few things you should keep in mind when baking, depending on what kind of leavening you are using.

Unlike yeast which takes time to make the dough rise and the most common reason for bread not rising is because you didn't wait long enough, baking soda and baking powder act quickly, and you really shouldn't leave the batter lying around. Joy of Baking estimates that baking powder can be left lying around for 15-20 minutes, but a batter with baking soda has got to go into the oven immediately.

First rule: Turn the oven on before you start mixing and weighing things and making the batter. That's why good cookbooks will tell you to preheat the oven to xxx at the very beginning.

Baking soda is four times stronger than baking soda and has a faster reaction time than baking powder, which means that there's more urgency to putting the batter into the oven faster.

Second Rule: Baking soda needs an acidic environment so that it can activate. If you're making a recipe with baking soda, don't replace acidic ingredients with those that aren't. For example, if it calls for buttermilk, don't replace it with plain milk unless it's gone sour and nobody wants to use sour milk in their baking. You can however replace it with milk mixed with lemon or yogurt which are acidic.

Acidic Ingredients: Honey, Natural Cocoa (not dutch processed), Sourdough*, vinegar, Citrus Juice, Sour Cream, Honey, Molasses, Brown Sugar, Fruit, Maple Syrup, etc.

Third Rule: Last but not least, make sure you whisk all the dry ingredients or sift them so that the baking soda or baking powder gets distributed evenly.

For more detailed information, please refer to Joy of Baking.

*When I made the Sourdough Chocolate Cake from King Arthur Flour, I used cocoa that was probably Dutch processed. Although the recipe tells you not to do so, I pretty much counted on my sourdough being acidic enough, and it was. However, should you make a chocolate cake without sourdough and the recipe calls for cocoa that is not Dutch processed, I'd make sure the cocoa is the right kind as there would be no sourdough to make the batter acidic. That, or you can replace some other ingredient with yogurt or sour cream.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Focaccia with Moroccan Oil Cured Black Olives & Herbs (Non-Sourdough Version)

This is a variation of Ilva's Sweet Focaccia recipe and it's a savory recipe similar to the Sourdough Foccacia I made. Aside from being careful about how much salt you sprinkle on top since the oil cured black olives are already quite salty, this bread was delicious. The proportions of herbs to dough was just right versus previous attempts.

Focaccia with Moroccan Oil Cured Black Olives & Herbs


1 Packet Dried Yeast (5g)

4 Tsp Brown Sugar

1 Tsp Sea Salt

3 dl Finger Warm Water

5 dl Bread Flour*

4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 -2 Tbsp Fleur de Sel or Escamas de Sal

20 Oil Cured Black Moroccan Olives (pitted and chopped)

1 Tsp Rosemary

2 Tsp Thyme

2 Tsp Oregano

Step 1: Warm the water and pour it over the yeast. Add the sugar and salt and let it stand until it's a bit frothy.

Step 2: Add the flour. Do this 1/2 cup at a time. You may need more or less than 5 dl. This is because the absorbency of the flour can vary from region to region, brand to brand and due to weather conditions. Then knead this until you have a nice elastic dough.

Step 3: Cover and leave for 1 hour.

Step 4: Roll out the dough on a floured surface and spread the herbs and olives all over it. Then roll it up and knead it a bit.

Step 5: Oil a 21.5 cm x 21. 5 cm baking pan and then flatten the dough into it so that it is 1.5 - 2 cm high.

Step 6: Set the oven to 200C and turn it on.

Step 7: When the oven is preheated, drizzle on more olive oil and sprinkle the top with as much fleur de sel as you wish.

Step 8: Bake in the oven for 15 - 25 minutes or until it's golden brown.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Guide to Blending Flour

The best source I've found online is Joy of Baking. This article gives you a good idea of the percentage of protein you need to have in your flour to get the desired results in specific recipes. It's a site primarily made for Americans, which means that they give you volume measurement equivalents to grams. The site basically gives you all the information you need to calculate how to blend flours yourself, should the country you are currently living in not have certain kinds of flours, e.g. AP Flour (All Purpose Flour).

I thought I'd write a post about this as people travel a lot these days. If you're a single working expatriate you may not cook, but if you are moving around with a family the person staying at home might be doing some baking.

I've heard time and again about how 'the recipe doesn't work with the local flour', but haven't you noticed that no matter where you are, there is that lady or man who doesn't seem to be having problems with baking and is churning out all these amazing things? Why doesn't my cake rise? Why does her cake rise? What is wrong with my cake? There is usually a good scientific explanation as to why one person failed and the other did not. There is no need to engage in any superstitious rituals and there is no need to import flour from your home country.

According to Joy of Baking:

All Purpose Flour: 10-12% protein content
Cake Flour: 6-8% protein content
Pastry Flour: 8-10% protein content
Bread Flour: 12-14% protein content

Now, the country you're in may not have flour categorized in this manner. In Japan for example you will be able to find 2 types of flour: Hakuriki and Kyoryoku. Although Hakuriki flour is generally known as 'cake flour' and Kyoryoku flour is known as 'bread flour' I sent an email to Nissin asking them about protein percentages. They gave me their numbers for their most popular brand 'Camelia':

Hakuriki Flour: 8%
Kyoroku Flour: 12%

Remember basic algebra?

Hakuriki Flour=X
Kyoryoku Flour=Y

You know that this is what you have and now you need to figure out in what proportions you should blend these two bags of flour to get the desired results.

All Purpose Flour: 10-12% protein content

We'll take the median or the average, which is 11%, even though if you wanted a high percentage AP Flour you could presumably use Camelia Kyoryoku Flour as it's within the range of AP Flour. I have found from past experience that since the Kyoryoku Flour was formulated not for making bread, but for making 'Udon', it's easier to handle when you mix in some Hakuriki Flour which was formulated for making cake and French style butter cookies.


Let X=1 *Let 1 portion of flour=100g


This means that you should mix 100g of Hakuriki flour with 116g of Kyoryoku flour to get a flour with an 11% protein content.

For a 10% AP Flour in Japan:


Let X=1


This means you should mix 100g of Hakuriki Flour with 100g of Kyoroku Flour to get a 10% AP Flour. This is the formula I use and so far I've had good results with this. However, I know that should I want more texture, I could increase the proportion of Kyoryoku to Hakuriki.

If you need a 12% AP flour, just use Kyoryoku Flour, although I've found that since it is formulated for making 'udon' it can benefit from a little 'cake flour' blended into it.

To get the desired results, I've found that blending these flours at a 1:1 ratio (10% protein content) works well for me.

As for pastry flour, the 10% blend can work, but if you feel you'd like the crust to be a little more delicate, you need to blend slightly more Hakuriki flour in proportion to the Kyoryoku flour.

Pastry Flour: 8-10% protein content.

For a 9% Pastry Flour


Let X=1


This means that you should blend 100g of Hakuriki flour with 83g of Kyryoku flour.

For an 8% Pastry Flour, just use Hakuriki flour.

I have however found that the 9% blend gives the desired results.

Remember that each manufacturer in each country has formulated their flour to meet the demands of their consumers and you are a minority as a foreigner. If you find Japanese cakes to be too soft, well, unfortunately, this is the way the Japanese like their cakes to be. But this doesn't mean that you have to suffer eating these cakes. Just blend your flours a bit, using the formulas I've provided you with, and you'll get a cake that's more to your liking.

If you want to take this one step further, write your manufacturer back home and ask them for the exact percentages of protein they have in that specific brand of flour you used. I've already done that bit for you on the Japanese end so you can recalculate everything to make sure your blended flour will have the exact same percentage as the flour you were using back home.

If you don't live in Japan, you'll have to do the homework on both ends, but I think I've provided you with enough of a basic guideline so that you can manage to calculate the right proportions no matter where you are in the world.

Note 1: I've found that when I'm in Spain and I blend their regular flour (AP Flour) with their Cake Flour to make Pastry Flour, I need more water for the dough to come together. I am however not sure whether this is due to the protein content or whether their Cake Flour absorbs more water.

Note 2: The most common flour in Germany is Cake Flour. This could be due to the fact that in the past few decades (at least), the Germans bought their bread whereas they baked cake in industrial quantities at home. This means that a lot of foreigners who thought their most common flour was AP flour didn't have enough protein in their flour and ended-up baking different types of things with what's known as Cake Flour in America.

Note 3: When blending your own flour, it's easier to calculate ratios in grams rather than by volume. Doing this by volume means using a more complicated mathematical equation and I'm just not that good at math!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

BLT with Sourdough Focaccia

The BLT is an American pleasure that appears to be widely unknown among certain demographies. The first time I made this for Ronny with regular bread, he loved it. This was my lunch today and I have to say that it was pretty damn good.

After slicing the Sourdough Focaccia which had Moroccan oil cured black olives, rosemary, thyme and oregano baked into it, I toasted the slices. Then I spread a luxurious amount of Spanish cream cheese onto one side and piled on the iceberg lettuce, two thin slices of tomatoes, thin slices of red onion and two crispy pieces of bacon.

Even though the English invented the sandwich, the Americans have elevated sandwich making into an art form with their different types of bread, toasted or not toasted, and the wide variety of ingredients they use. Unlike the English, the Americans weren't shy about being innovative and we have them to thank for the BLT.

Certain sources like to trace back the origins of BLT to Victorian times and attempt to hand over the credit for this invention to the English by saying that 'Recipes are not invented, they evolve', I think we can pretty safely say that BLT in its current state is American cuisine.

Anyway, who cares? Let people who want to take credit for things argue forever. I'm going to eat another sandwich!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sourdough Chocolate Cake

This the aftermath of the disaster involving the Sourdough Chocolate Cake from King Arthur Flour. I'm posting this for you, Lori.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sourdough Herb & Olive Bread

When I fed 'Zlatan' this weekend, I kept separating his children into different bowls and making more and more 'Zlatan' and ended-up with too much sourdough bubbling all over the place, so I made a Sourdough Chocolate Cake which turned out to be a delightfully moist cake, but we were impatient and took it out of the bundt pan too quickly and guess what? It became unsuitable for photography. However, I can tell you that it tasted great and that I'd make it again. I also baked a loaf of bread and made two medium sized buns yesterday with some spelt flour thrown into it but I still had more sponge.

So as I write this, I'm making more of Jim Lahey's No Knead Baguettes and am trying out a new recipe from Sarah's Musings: Sourdough Focaccia.

Sourdough Herb & Olive Bread - Adapted from the Sourdough Focaccia recipe from 'Sarah's Musings'

You start out by mixing these together:

1.5 Cups Sponge (a starter that has been proofed)
1 Cup Finger Warm Water
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Dark Honey
1 Cup AP Flour

This mixture was fermented for 1 hour.

Then, I mixed in:

1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tsp Fine Sea Salt

...and more AP flour.

It should be noted that when using yeast, I prefer to mix in some AP flour first before I put in any oil or salt which the yeast do not like. I am not sure this makes much difference, but if you have had experiences with your bread not rising, this might help. Yeast feast on flour and this will help them multiply, but salt and oil will hinder them from propagating.

Now, Sarah's recipes says 4 cups flour, but flour varies in absorbency and starters/sponge can have more or less water in them, so although this gives you a very rough idea of how much flour you might need, the rule of thumb is to always trust your eyes and hands more when making the dough. I used around 4 cups + a little more flour, but you might need more or less.

So I put in as much AP flour was was necessary to make a smooth elastic dough.

I kneaded it for 5-7 minutes until it was smooth and elastic.

Then I put it back in the bowl to rest.

Sarah used a clean oiled bowl, but I have found that if you're a lazy and messy cook like me, your bread will not die if you just put it back in the dirty (dirty with yeast and flour) bowl you used to ferment the sponge. I guess this is why she's presumably a good homemaker, and I'm not - but I digress...

I covered the bowl with a cloth and let it rise for 1.5 - 2 hours as stipulated.

I then mixed in some herbs: 2 tsp oregano, 2 tsp thyme and 1 tsp rosemary.

I also mixed in 100g of oil cured black olives (pitted and chopped up).

I then lined a pan with more extra virgin olive oil and pressed the dough into the pan just like I did when I made Ilva's sweet focaccia. I wondered about letting it rest for another hour as Ilva's recipe did not require this additional step, but then I thought: It's sourdough and it will rise more slowly than the dried stuff I use.

So I let it rest for 60 minutes.

I was going to brush the dough with more olive oil, but like Sarah's, mine spilled over from the bottom of the pan on top of the dough too, so all I did was sprinkle some fleur de sel over it before I put it into the preheated oven.

Unfortunately, my biggest rectangular pan wasn't big enough and the thickness of the dough was more like 3 cm rather than 1.5 - 2 cm.

I baked it at 230 C (450 F) for around 25 minutes. I had a feeling it should bake for at least 30 minutes, but the top had become quite brown so I took it out of the oven.

...and here it is - a bread baked along the lines of a focaccia bread, but more robust. It is sinfully delicious when you have it with herb & garlic butter. Whatever you decide to call this bread, the crust is crisp and the inside of the loaf is lovely and moist. Don't forget to let it rest for 20 minutes before cutting it.

Summary of ingredients used in this recipe:

1.5 Cups Sourdough Starter
5 - 8 Cups AP Flour*
1/4 Cup + 1/2 Cup + 4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil*
1 Tbsp Honey
2 Tsp Fine Sea Salt
2 Tbsp Fleur de Sel*
2 Tsp Oregano
2 Tsp Thyme
100 g Oil Cured Black Olives

*These are approximate portions. Use more or less depending on what's needed. The amount of fleur de sel you will sprinkle on top of your focaccia for example is really up to you.

Note: I don't watch football, but Ronny does. Guess who named the starter? On a more serious note, when you bake bread with salt sprinkled on top, it will make your bread damp. You either need to consume everything right away or if you have leftovers, you can preheat your oven to 200C and warm the bread for about 10 minutes. I like to sprinkle more fleur de sel over the bread when reheating them.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Sweet Focaccia from Lucullian Delights

If you ever have a craving for ever so slightly sweetened rustic bread, this is the recipe. I urge you to read the original post Ilva made as her photograph is much better for one, and there's just something delightful about the way she writes.

To make this recipe you don't need many ingredients. All you need is yeast, flour (AP flour), sugar, salt, milk, almonds and some olive oil. Ilva used a wet yeast, but I used dry yeast. I used marcona almonds and some sweet olive oil from Riviera Ligure.

These were lovely fresh out of the oven and were still very nice the next day.

Sweet Focaccia with Almonds - Lucullian Delights


1 Packet Dried Yeast (5g)

2-3 Tbsp Sugar + some for sprinkling on top of the focaccia

1 Pinch Sea Salt

3 dl Milk

5 dl AP Flour +

50g Marcona Almonds (blanched & chopped)

4 Tbsps Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Riviera Ligure

Step 1: Warm the milk until it's slightly warm to the touch and pour it over the yeast you have put into a preferably plastic bowl. Add the sugar and salt and let it stand while you chop the almonds.

Step 2: Chop the almonds and then put them into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.

Step 3: Add the AP flour. Do this 1/2 cup at a time. You may need less or more flour than 5 dl. I used maybe 7dl or more flour. The absorbency of flour can vary from region to region, brand to brand and weather conditions (humidity) can change how much flour you need to get a nice elastic smooth dough. Always trust your eyes and fingers more than amounts noted in recipes.

Step 4: When you have a nice smooth elastic dough, cover it and leave it for 1 hour.

Step 5: Put enough olive oil inside a 21.5 cm x 21.5 cm baking pan and make sure it is covered with a light film of oil.

Step 6: Press the dough into the pan so that it is 1.5 cm - 2 cm high. Cover it and turn on the oven to 200C.

Step 7: When the oven is preheated, drizzle some more olive oil over the dough and sprinkle a generous dose of sugar. The sugar you have put into the dough will not really be apparent so if you want a sweet cake, make sure you sprinkle enough sugar on top.

Step 8: Bake in the oven for 15- 25 minutes or until the focaccia is a golden brown.

Note 1: The amount of yeast is not that important. Don't freak out if your packet of yeast is 3g or 7g. Yeast given the time and right environment will propagate and increase. If you feel the yeast hasn't increased sufficiently, then leave it to rise for longer than 60 minutes.

Note 2: Ilva used a bigger pan, but it worked fine with a smaller pan, i.e. 21.5 cm x 21. 5 cm. If your pan is a little bigger or smaller, don't freak out. Just don't use anything drastically bigger or smaller.

Note 3: Because this is a sweet focaccia, I would choose a mild tasting olive oil with a sweet flavor for use in this recipe. I opted for the extra virgin olive oil that Samuele sent me rather than the local olive oil for this reason. I would use local Spanish olive oil for a savory focaccia.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cranberry Oatmeal Bar Cookies

Perhaps because Spain has a lot of local produce, fresh fruit and vegetables are a lot cheaper compared to their dried, frozen or canned cousins. When it comes to dried fruit, there also isn't a great deal of variety available all year round. You mostly see the supermarkets and stores saturated with dried or candied fruit during the months leading up to Christmas and after that they just kind of disappear.

Mercadona, however sell 90g packets of cranberries and so I made a batch of these delicious Cranberry Oatmeal Bars. For the recipe, please go here.

These were very good just as they were, but I'd like to experiment a bit with this recipe some time soon and increase the amount of oatmeal and add some omega-6 rich walnuts so that I can kid myself that the bars are good for my rheumatism.