What are your incremental baking improvements?


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I find that baking progress isn't usually a eureka moment but lots of tiny incremental improvements. What are the tiny things you've done or changed about a bake that has made all the difference and made you feel like you've moved on a little?

Today I baked my best ever basic white loaf. I was pretty bad with bread a few years ago. I've had lots of incremental improvements with this - learning about hydration, how to test if a dough has been kneaded or proofed enough, oven temperatures, steam in the oven, etc. Today I applied better shaping techniques and it really helped. I was also more comfortable using my knowledge about rising and proofing to judge when the dough was ready to go in the oven. I slashed the bread a bit unevenly, so that will be my next incremental thing to work on. I'd also like to learn how to bake with different yeast (I use instant yeast).

What has given you those tiny, incremental improvements, whether it's bread, cake, pastry or something else?

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I still have a long way to go. I certainly don't get texture like you do!

My most recent incremental improvement was reducing the amount of sugar - I was using too much.
 
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Ah, that's interesting, I don't use sugar. What kind of yeast do you use?
 
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2001 I purchased The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett. In her introduction Baggett provides detailed instructions on volume measurements. Nonetheless, recipe after recipe failed. I had taken a number of cooking classes up to that point, but never did much baking and had not taken any baking classes. So I had no clue as to what was wrong.

This was back in the early days of internet (DSL), the internet was slow as molasses. So there wasn’t a ton of personal interests websites on the internet. The few baking websites I found were pretty useless. But I found a site that talked about baker’s percentages and baking by metric weight. I was really sure about the baker’s percentages, but I decided to give the metic weight a try.

I bought a food scale. The scale came with a chart to convert ingredients from volume to weight. So converted several recipes in The All-American Cookie Book to metric weight. The results were amazing. Every cookie turned out perfect. When I took a box of cookies into work, my colleagues all commented about how delicious they were and wanted to know the name of the bakery. One woman refused to believe I baked them because they look professionally baked. At Christmas, my husband’s adult nephew couldn’t believe I had baked the cookies either. Especially the white chocolate chunk and macadamia nut cookies which he said were better than those from the bakery.

I was still more interested in cooking than baking for several years. But after that, I started baking more and started including baking classes to my schedule.

These days I develop my own formulas for pretty much anything I want to bake.
 
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Ah, that's interesting, I don't use sugar. What kind of yeast do you use?



At present. I have used a similar product from Dove's Farm, and also fresh yeast. But, due to the Covid-19 crisis getting even worse here I've stopped actually going into shops and can't get fresh yeast.
 
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I still have a long way to go. I certainly don't get texture like you do!

My most recent incremental improvement was reducing the amount of sugar - I was using too much.

It’s not the yeast that will determine texture, but the type of flour. Protein content; treatment (bleached, unbleached, malted, unmalted); extraction rate (amount of bran, germ, endosperm in the flour); blend (kernel is separated into parts and milled separately, clear flour and patent flours are then blended to make flour); variety of wheat.

Flour is very complex.
 
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2001 I purchased The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett. In her introduction Baggett provides detailed instructions on volume measurements. Nonetheless, recipe after recipe failed. I had taken a number of cooking classes up to that point, but never did much baking and had not taken any baking classes. So I had no clue as to what was wrong.

This was back in the early days of internet (DSL), the internet was slow as molasses. So there wasn’t a ton of personal interests websites on the internet. The few baking websites I found were pretty useless. But I found a site that talked about baker’s percentages and baking by metric weight. I was really sure about the baker’s percentages, but I decided to give the metic weight a try.

I bought a food scale. The scale came with a chart to convert ingredients from volume to weight. So converted several recipes in The All-American Cookie Book to metric weight. The results were amazing. Every cookie turned out perfect. When I took a box of cookies into work, my colleagues all commented about how delicious they were and wanted to know the name of the bakery. One woman refused to believe I baked them because they look professionally baked. At Christmas, my husband’s adult nephew couldn’t believe I had baked the cookies either. Especially the white chocolate chunk and macadamia nut cookies which he said were better than those from the bakery.

I was still more interested in cooking than baking for several years. But after that, I started baking more and started including baking classes to my schedule.

These days I develop my own formulas for pretty much anything I want to bake.
That's a great example! I must say that the first time I stumbled upon cup measurements in my teens I was baffled. I wondered whether it was just any old cup you used and didn't realise they were standard measurements of volume. I imagine it's very convenient and pretty good for cooking but as you say, less so for baking. I had a similar revelation when looking at bakers percentages that you need the WEIGHT not the volume of water. Of course, recipes just put the volume as that's what we normally measure in. I can now look at the volume of liquid a recipe states and work out roughly what the weight and hydration will be.
 
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At present. I have used a similar product from Dove's Farm, and also fresh yeast. But, due to the Covid-19 crisis getting even worse here I've stopped actually going into shops and can't get fresh yeast.
Same as me! Plus the Hovis stuff. But looking at having a go with dried active. Wouldn't know where to start with fresh yet. We're in Essex and flour and yeast has been difficult to get (and I hate sourdough so that's not an option) but easier now as I think people have got bored with baking if they're not really into it. I know different yeast gives different flavour and the easy bake stuff is easy to over-rest and over-proof as it's designed for a quick rise. I find 50-60 minutes rest, pre-shape, rest for a couple of minutes, final shape, 30-45 minutes proofing is about right for me.
 
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It’s not the yeast that will determine texture, but the type of flour. Protein content; treatment (bleached, unbleached, malted, unmalted); extraction rate (amount of bran, germ, endosperm in the flour); blend (kernel is separated into parts and milled separately, clear flour and patent flours are then blended to make flour); variety of wheat.

Flour is very complex.
Funnily enough I normally use Allinson white flour (as you have said before, all our UK flour is unbleached) or supermarket premium Canadian bread flour. This time I just used normal white bread flour from Sainsbury's. I'll have to have a look at the info on the packet but I was really impressed.
 
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Funnily enough I normally use Allinson white flour (as you have said before, all our UK flour is unbleached) or supermarket premium Canadian bread flour. This time I just used normal white bread flour from Sainsbury's. I'll have to have a look at the info on the packet but I was really impressed.

You definitely want to match your flour to your baking project

Cake requires a very soft delicate crumb. You want a flour that is milled from the endosperm (wheat kernel embryo) with a low extraction rate (40%) and low in protein (9% or lower)

Canadian flour is too high at 13%

Bread requires a strong flour because you want a crusty chewy bread. You need strong dough for the oven spring and you want that open cell structure.

You want flour with higher extraction rate (73% - 75%); higher protein (12% - 13%); unbleached; malted;

So you would not use a plain flour or self rising flour for bread.



Just to give you an idea of flour specifications, look at the flours offered from the bakery supply shop where I buy most of my flours.



In the UK, Bakery Bits sells a large selection of flours for bread, pizza and pasta. I don’t think they sell pastry flours though.

 
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You definitely want to match your flour to your baking project

Cake requires a very soft delicate crumb. You want a flour that is milled from the endosperm (wheat kernel embryo) with a low extraction rate (40%) and low in protein (9% or lower)

Canadian flour is too high at 13%

Bread requires a strong flour because you want a crusty chewy bread. You need strong dough for the oven spring and you want that open cell structure.

You want flour with higher extraction rate (73% - 75%); higher protein (12% - 13%); unbleached; malted;

So you would not use a plain flour or self rising flour for bread.



Just to give you an idea of flour specifications, look at the flours offered from the bakery supply shop where I buy most of my flours.



In the UK, Bakery Bits sells a large selection of flours for bread, pizza and pasta. I don’t think they sell pastry flours though.

Sorry, wasn't clear - these are all bread flours, just one is branded and the other two supermarket own brands.

I use bread flour for choux pastry but I think that's about it otherwise - plain flour all the way, very rarely use self-raising. Not tried cake flour but I think UK flour is already pretty good for cakes, isn't it?
 
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Sorry, wasn't clear - these are all bread flours, just one is branded and the other two supermarket own brands.

I use bread flour for choux pastry but I think that's about it otherwise - plain flour all the way, very rarely use self-raising. Not tried cake flour but I think UK flour is already pretty good for cakes, isn't it?

Flour is not a standardized ingredient like baking soda. The labels “bread” “all purpose” “plain” and “cake” and “pastry” flour have no real meaning since there are no industry standards for any of those terms. They are just marketing terms used to sell sacks of flour to the home baker.

Take any two brands of flour in any category, and compare the specs, you will find differences, some have significant differences.

Learn about the flour brands and specs, then match your flours to your baking projects.

The flour YOU select will make a huge difference in your finished product.

You mentioned pate a choux. Pate a choux needs a flour with a 10% - 11% protein; ash 56% - 60%; and extraction around 73%.

The reason you don’t want too high a protein is pate a choux is an outlier in pastry in that it is twice cooked and gluten is deliberately developed in the dough. Since gluten is developed in the dough in the beating stage, the pate a choux will be tough if a high protein flour is used.

Flour has to be selected for specifications, rather than a generic term like “bread” flour; if you look at the flour specifications on Central Milling’s site or learn about flours, you will see the specs are vastly different for the various flours.

What King Arther Flour sells as “bread flour” has a protein content of 12.7% protein. Too high for pata a choux.

Canadian Strong flour has 14.9% protein. Too high for pate a choux

Canadian All purpose flour has 13% protein—higher than American so called “bread flour”. Too high for pate a choux.

UK plain flour is a low 9% protein. Too low for pate a choux


Organic High Mountain

Protein 13.5% - too high for pate a choux
Ash 0.60%
Blend Organic Dark Northern Spring Wheat
Flour Treatment: None


Organic Beehive
Protein 10% - 10.5% - this flour is good for pate a choux
Ash 0.56%
Blend Organic Hard Red Winter Wheat
Flour Treatment: Malted with Organic Malted Barley Flour


Organic Artisan Baker’s Craft
Protein 11.5% this flour is good for pate a choux
Ash 0.60%
Blend Organic Hard Red Winter Wheat
Flour Treatment: None


Some times other factors come into play. My biscotti needs a flour with around 11% protein, 60% ash. But Central Millings Artisan Craft and Craft Plus just don’t work even though both flours have the right protein, ash and extraction specs. Biscotti made with these flours are very slow to dry out in the second bake. So they over bake. I believe it is the variety of wheat in the flour: yecora rojo. While this variety of wheat is prized by bread bakers for its flavor and dough quality (it doesn’t get bucky), there is something about the moisture content that does not work in my biscotti formula. I use these flours in a number of other cookies, just not my biscotti.



Drop cookies like chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter, etc are best with 10% - 11.5% protein and up to 60% ash.


These are examples of matching your flour to your baking project instead of just buying whatever is on the shelf.


My biscotti 11.7% protein unbleached malted flour King Arthur all purpose flour
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morning bun enriched dough 10.5% protein unbleached malted flour Central Milling Beehive flour
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fruit hand pie 10.5% protein unbleached malted flour Central Milling Beehive flour; I will use 11.5% protein unbleached malted and unmalted flour in a pinch, but only Central Milling Artisan Baker’s Craft, never King Arthur brand
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Gluten free vegetable tart: my blend of brown and white rice flours, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, arrowroot
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unglazed eclairs and puff w/ craquelin topping 10.5% protein unbleached malted flour Central Milling Beehive flour
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chiffon cake 8% protein bleached flour no treatment SoftaSilk brand cake flour
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Chocolate chunk cookie 11.5% protein unbleached malted flour Central Milling Artisan Baker’s Craft Plus
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Another reason to select one’s flours as opposed to just a generic sack on the store shelf is to create flavor profiles. These have blends of different flours to create more flavor without fermenting the dough—all are straight doughs, just made by blending flours.

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Ooh, lovely chiffon cake! I do fancy giving that a go but they do seem to be temperamental little things.

I love baking chiffon cake. There is a store called Whole Foods that makes a Chantilly Cake with fresh fruit that my sister just loves. So much so my BIL groans when she brings another one home. Several years ago I decided to try to replicate it for her, but change up the flavors and change the cake to a chiffon. The result was chiffon cake made with elderflower and lemon. A lemon or passionfruit curd cream filling with a layer of fresh berries, a layer of mascarpone and Chantilly cream icing. Then iced in the mascarpone chantilly cream icing. Now she loves my cake better than the original. And it has become my signature cake.
 
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I love baking chiffon cake. There is a store called Whole Foods that makes a Chantilly Cake with fresh fruit that my sister just loves. So much so my BIL groans when she brings another one home. Several years ago I decided to try to replicate it for her, but change up the flavors and change the cake to a chiffon. The result was chiffon cake made with elderflower and lemon. A lemon or passionfruit curd cream filling with a layer of fresh berries, a layer of mascarpone and Chantilly cream icing. Then iced in the mascarpone chantilly cream icing. Now she loves my cake better than the original. And it has become my signature cake.
That sounds amazing! We were in the US a couple of times a year before covid and I may just have had that cake from Whole Foods! I'm only just catching up with the last season of GBBO (You guys call it the GBBS?) and they've been making chiffon and cotton jiggly cakes. :)
 
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That sounds amazing! We were in the US a couple of times a year before covid and I may just have had that cake from Whole Foods! I'm only just catching up with the last season of GBBO (You guys call it the GBBS?) and they've been making chiffon and cotton jiggly cakes. :)

GBBS is sooooo popular here! Everyone loves Mary Berry. People were heartbroken when she quick the show. That show has been so good for baking.

That would be an amazing coincidence if you had the chantilly cake from Whole Foods. It is one of their signature cakes. Everyone who shops at Whole Foods knows that cake. When people have my cake, even without knowing the story behind my cake, will say things like, “oh my god, this like Whole Foods chantilly cake, but such better flavor and so light.” You can’t go wrong with chiffon, it’s always a crowd pleaser.

I need to make one of those cotton cheese cakes—I’ve that on my list to bake for a long time!!!
 
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Let us know how it goes!

It must have been in Seattle that we had the cake, or DC if they have one there. We've had some amazing cakes in Astoria, NY and a food market in Alameda, CA but neither of those places has a Whole Foods, I think.

The UK is protecting Mary Berry more than our nuclear codes during this pandemic. She's in a secret bunker with David Attenborough and Julie Andrews. :D
 
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Let us know how it goes!

It must have been in Seattle that we had the cake, or DC if they have one there. We've had some amazing cakes in Astoria, NY and a food market in Alameda, CA but neither of those places has a Whole Foods, I think.

The UK is protecting Mary Berry more than our nuclear codes during this pandemic. She's in a secret bunker with David Attenborough and Julie Andrews. :D

OMG, you were in Alameda? I live in the Napa Valley about 2 hrs from Alameda. I have family who live in Alameda. They don’t have a WF in Alameda, but in the cities surrounding Alameda they have WF stores. This area is a food mecca because of the wine industry. There something like 10 Michelin rated restaurants in the valley. One of the top culinary schools in the country is located up the road from me. Several of the top bakeries are located here. The pandemic has devastated the food and wine industry here. The economy is at a screeching halt. Most of the work here is related to food and wine. When the wineries and restaurants close, everything stops. It’s really heartbreaking. Everyone is suffering.

Lol, Mary Berry, Sir Attenborough and Dame Andrews really are living national treasures. I hope everyone makes it though this pandemic safely. This new surge is really very frightening.
 
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Ah, nearest we've been to Napa Valley is Muir Woods. Very lovely. We found Alameda very 'foodie' and felt really safe. Similar vibe to Astoria but maybe less 'trendy'. :D The poor food (and tourism) industries are just being devastated.
 

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