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January 2007

Getting Bread to Rise

My wife makes home made bread and we love it,  but she can't seem to get it to rise enough.  This is regular dough bread.  She lets it rise once then forms it in the pans and lets it rise again, but it doesn't raise enough to suit us. What can we do?

There are a number of things your wife can try, or check, that might help.

First, be sure that your yeast is alive, and strong.  Old yeast that is nearing its expiration date may have a large number dead yeast cells, making it weaker.  While a lot of people like the new instant and fast-rise yeasts, I personally prefer the traditional type because you can easily check to be sure it is still good.  Just dissolve the yeast in some of the liquid from the recipe and wait about 10 minutes.  If the surface is bubbling or foamy, the yeast is likely good.  If you are using one of the yeasts that is mixed with the dry ingredients, at least check the expiration date to be sure it is still good.

Bread rises because of small balloons formed by gluten that trap expanding gases.  If the bread is not kneaded enough to form sufficient glutens, it won't trap the gases and rise.  The common way to tell is the windowpane test.  Take a small amount of dough, a bit bigger than a golf ball, and stretch it over the first and second fingers of both hands.  Simultaneously move your hands apart and spread your fingers until you have the dough stretched across four fingers making a rectangle of about 1 to 1½ inches (2.5 to 4 cm) to a side.  The dough should stretch, without tearing, to form an opaque window that you can see light through.  If it tears, keep kneading.  It is almost impossible to over-knead bread dough by hand or with a home mixer.  If it is over-kneaded, however, the gluten strands break down and the dough will again not be able to hold the gases.

If your recipe says to keep adding flour until the dough is no longer sticky, and you do that, your dough will likely be too stiff by the time you are done.  This was one of my problems when first learning to make bread.  Until you are finished kneading, the dough will still be fairly sticky.  It shouldn't, however be a wet shaggy mess, unless you are making ciabatta, or some other rustic breads.  By the time you finish kneading, it will still be a bit sticky, but not clinging to everything.

While most recipes say to leave the bread to rise for a given amount of time, the real measure is until it has increased in volume, usually until it has doubled.  If the recipe says to leave the dough rise for an hour or until it has doubled in volume, the hour is just a guess at the time it will take.  Let it rise until it has doubled in volume, whether that is an hour or two hours or whatever.  If you aren't sure what doubled in volume looks like, use a fairly straight sided container to raise the bread in, measure how tall that is and let it rise until it is twice as tall.

Punching down is a misnomer.  When handling bread dough, it should be gently pressed and folded to redistribute the yeast and gases.  It shouldn't have all of the bubbles forced out.

Check your oven temperature using a thermometer designed for the purpose and make sure it is warmed up for about 20 minutes before the bread goes into the oven.  The final way that bread rises is through oven spring.  When bread is put into the oven, there are bubbles of carbon dioxide trapped in gluten throughout it.  Also, the bread will have a certain amount of alcohol produced as a byproduct of the yeast.  Since alcohol has a low boiling point, it turns to a gas easily.  These two gases expand in the heat of the oven causing the the gluten bubbles to expand even more.  Oven spring can contribute up to about ¼ or more of the total volume of the finished bread.  Most breads start their baking at somewhere between 375°F and 425°F (190°C and 220°C) in order to maximize oven spring.  If your oven thermostat is wrong, it may not be getting hot enough to give much spring.

Also, an oven that has just reached cooking temperature will cool more rapidly when the door is opened than one that has been warmed well beforehand.  The thermostat in ovens measures the air temperature.  While the air may have reached a given heat, the walls and racks of the oven may still be warming up.  When you open the oven door, most of the hot air spills out immediately and is replaced by cooler room air.  After you close the door again, heat from the metal surfaces reheats the fresh air in the oven.  It is important for getting oven spring that the entire oven and not just the air inside is heated fully.

Finally, check your loaf pans, too.  Loaf pans made of shiny material, or having a shiny surface may reflect heat away from the loaf, lessening the oven spring.  Dark colored pans are better than bright silvery ones.

One lesson which I have learned over and over is that people who are skilled at something like nothing more than a willing student to pass their knowledge on to.  If you wife is still having problems making the bread you both dream of, she might try finding someone in the community who makes homemade bread and spending an afternoon or two with them.

Since homemade bread is such a wonderful treat, I hope these suggestions help.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Rainbow Colors on Meat

I notice sometimes that meat in the display counter at my local butcher shop has a green and magenta sheen to it.  What causes this?  Is the meat still okay to eat?

--Toni

What you are noticing is likely a phenomenon referred to as iridescence, or more technically birefringence.  Essentially, this is the same effect as light passing through a crystal and splitting into a rainbow of colors, only the rainbow is from light reflecting off of a surface rather than passing through something.  This can happen with either fresh cut or cured meats, and depends mostly on the angle at which the muscle fiber happens to have been cut.

Birefringence is more noticeable on darker colored meats like beef that lighter ones like chicken because the dark background gives greater contrast.

Provided that it is caused by the reflection of light from the surface and not a permanent green color to the meat, it is still safe to eat.  You can tell by moving the light source, the meat or yourself to a different position and seeing if the rainbow colors shift or disappear.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Which Olive Oil to Choose

There are so many different brands and varieties of olive oil on the store shelves.  Which one should I choose?

--Malka

There are three grades of olive oil generally available in North America -- Extra-Virgin olive oil, Virgin olive oil, and just plain Olive Oil, with no other description.  Each is distinguished by its processing technique, acidity and flavor.

Extra-Virgin olive oil is cold-pressed, meaning it is extracted by strictly mechanical means without the use of heat or solvents, and has an acidity of less than 1 percent.  It is made from the first pressing of olives that have been crushed either using a stone wheel or a hammermill.  The olives are ground to a fine paste which is pressed to extract a liquid which contains both olive oil and water.  The oil is typically centrifuged to separate it from the water and then filtered to remove any other impurities.

Virgin olive oil is made by the same extraction process, using first pressing, but has an acid level of less than 2 percent.

Olive Oil may be processes by other means, using heat and solvents, or it may be processed from oils that contain too much acid content and require further refining.  Often, plain Olive Oil is blended with some Virgin olive oil to give it added flavor.

Extra-Virgin and Virgin olive oils may range from a soft golden-yellow color through to bright green.  Flavors may be soft and fruity to strong and herbaceous.  Typically the more green the color, the more intense the flavor.

So-called "Lite" olive oil is usually Virgin oil which has been heavily filtered.  The resulting oil is lighter in fragrance and color, but contains the same number of calories as any other olive oil, per unit volume.  Some writers suggest that the use of the term 'lite' is deliberate, intended to trade on the diet craze.

So then, which oil to choose?  For cooking, where the flavor of the oil is not as important, you should choose a relatively inexpensive oil.  A plain Olive Oil will do well.  Lite olive oil can also be used for this purpose, but at a higher price and with no real benefit.

For use in salad dressing, and other places where the taste of the oil is more important, use an Extra-Virgin or Virgin olive oil that suits your palate.  Buy the smallest quantities of several oils and taste them to see which one you like.  To sample olive oil, either dip some fresh bread in the oil and eat it, or sip it straight from a spoon.  Fresh, fruity olive oil will leave a peppery flavor at the back of your throat, which I like but may not suit everyone.  Try several and decide which you like.

Personally, I have four different oils that I use for dressings, dips, bruschetta, and the like.  Each tastes slightly different and works well for some purposes but not others.  For example, I wouldn't use the same oil which I put on Caprese Salad to make Caesar Salad dressing, because it is too fruity and would get in the way of the other flavors in the dressing.  Caprese Salad is a simple salad of fresh sliced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese (the real stuff, not the mass-produced rubber that sometimes sells for mozzarella) and fresh basil, dressed with a light drizzle of good olive oil and some salt and pepper.  For that, a fruity, peppery olive oil is perfect.

My personal favorites include Horia Extra-Virgin olive oil from Greece, which I get at the Bulk Cheese Warehouse in Saskatoon; Umberto's Villa Delia Extra-Virgina olive oil from Italy, which I buy at Il Giardino in Vancouver, Canada; the bulk Extra-Virgin olive oil available at Mercato Foods in Calgary; and Sindyanna Extra Virgin olive oil from Israel, which I get from Ten Thousand Villages, which is operated by the Mennonite Central Committee.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Let Them Eat Cake

One of the most common questions I get has to do with cake recipes or variations on cake recipes.  Some examples of the questions I receive are:

- What is the correct ratio of baking powder to baking soda for a cake?
- How much baking soda should I use per cup of buttermilk or sour cream?
- Should I use baking powder or baking soda?

One of these I have answered already.  All other things being equal, the amount of baking soda to use per cup of buttermilk is about ½ teaspoon.   All of these questions, however, are related.

For a simple cake recipe, you want to use about 1 to 1 ¼ teaspoons of baking powder for each cup of flour.  That is the starting point.  Now, suppose you use buttermilk in place of milk in the recipe.  If the recipe calls for ½ cup of milk, which you replace with ½ cup of buttermilk, then you need ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to react with the acidity of the buttermilk.

If you just add the baking soda to the recipe, then your cake may have too much leavening, which may make it rise too much, split, or even fall.

That means you need to reduce the baking powder by the equivalent amount of leavening.  In Baking Soda vs Baking Powder, I  noted that the formula for equivalence is 1 teaspoon of baking powder can be replaced with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar, with ¼ teaspoon of cornstarch.  In this case, the cream of tartar is used to provide the acidity to react with the baking soda.  The cornstarch is added simply to make up the same volume and has no real role in the mixture.

So, back to the cake recipe, if you replace ½ cup of milk with the same volume of buttermilk, you need to replace 1 teaspoon of the baking powder with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.  If the recipe only uses 1 teaspoon of baking powder, you will replace it all and the recipe only needs baking soda.  If it uses more, then you have to use both baking soda and baking powder.

Now, suppose you are making a chocolate cake that uses cocoa powder.   If you are using cocoa powder that is not "dutched", it is acidic, so you need to replace more of the baking powder with baking soda.  If you don't, the cake may turn out a light reddish brown color.  Cocoa powder that is dutched has an alkaline ingredient added to neutralize the acidity and darken the color, so the amounts of baking soda and baking powder do not need to be adjusted to compensate.

If, however, you were making a ginger cake, then you would need to replace baking powder with baking soda, since the molasses used in ginger cakes is acidic.  The exact amount you would need to replace would depend on whether you are using fancy or cooking molasses in the recipe, as they vary in their acidity.

Now, just to make things more complicated, eggs are a natural leavener.  If they make up the largest proportion of the liquid in a recipe, then it is entirely possible that you don't need to use baking soda or baking powder unless, of course, you are adding an acidic ingredient that needs to be counteracted.

All of this changes again if you live someplace where altitude can affect your result.

In short, creating a recipe from scratch can be a difficult problem involving a detailed understanding of the chemistry of food and a lot of trial and error.  The easiest approach is to look in cookbooks for recipes that come close to what you are attempting, and then adapt them by making small changes.  If you want to make a coffee cake, look for similar coffee cake recipes as a starter.  If you are planning something with the consistency of a pound cake, start from there.  In any case, plan to try a few times before you get the result you are looking for.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Cream of Tartar Shelf Life

Can you tell me if Cream of Tartar has an expiry date?  How long can I safely keep it on my shelf?

--Sandra

Cream of Tartar, chemically known as Potassium Bitartrate (KHC4H4O6), is found as a white crystal on the inside of wine bottles or casks used in the making of wine.  It is used to stabilize beaten egg whites and to prevent sugar syrups from forming crystals.  It may also help reduce the discoloration of boiled vegetables, particularly in areas where the water is hard.   Cream of Tartar can be combined with baking soda to make fast-acting baking powder.

If well sealed and stored in a dry location at room temperature, it will keep indefinitely.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward