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Lifestyle, News & Events, Pastry and Baked Goods

Baking 101 – The Chemistry Behind The Crumb

Have you ever sat down and thought about the chemistry that goes into creating those delicious treats on your favourite bakery products list? Chances are like most of us you were too busy enjoying the fluffy texture of that perfectly baked cupcake or surreptitiously eyeing that second creamy chocolate eclair to notice.

No sweat, the knowledgeable team at Crustique bakery restaurant has rustled up an easy reference guide that will tell you all you need to know about the science behind the crumb. This is truly the one situation where you can have your cake and eat it…

For the purpose of ease and brevity we will assume that you are baking a cake. Here’s the skinny of what is going on while you follow the recipe:

1. Every ingredient has a job
They’re not hanging out there for the fun of it. Flour is in the mix because it contains proteins that become gluten, which provides the structure; baking powder and -soda are there to ensure that the final product is nice and airy; eggs bind everything together; fats like butter and oil ensure a soft texture; and sugar makes it delicious, while milk, water and other liquids provide the moisture.

2. Adding wet to dry starts the party
The actual party only starts when you combine the wet and dry ingredients. This is when the proteins in the flour bond to create gluten and the baking powder and -soda release carbon dioxide, which bubbles and allows the batter to expand. Pro tip: Always add the dry ingredients in the exact order called for in the recipe you are using – each dry element competes for moisture and if you mix up the order you are messing with the pecking order so to speak. The water in your mixture will naturally favour the stronger competitor and the batter tends to clump if the wrong guy wins.

3. Curb your mixing enthusiasm (somewhat)
As soon as your cake batter flows you can be sure that the hydration throughout the mixture is consistent. It is however important not to over-mix the batter. On a molecular level, once the gluten molecules align, it does so in strands. If you keep mixing after this stage you disrupt the networks that had formed, which means the strands break and your mixture will become overly runny, resulting in a cake that won’t have the structure to rise.

4. Once we hit the oven the game is truly on
When you add dry heat to the mix your ingredients change again. With some help from the sugar, the starch portion of the flour gels to create a web-like structure that traps moisture, while the CO2 from the baking powder creates bubbles that pushes up and expands the cake. The gluten that was created in the mixing phase holds these bubbles in place and the fat from the oil or butter lubricates the whole exchange. This is why a cake falls flat when you take it out of the oven too quickly – the gluten structure didn’t have sufficient time to harden and set.

Cool stuff, right? Here are a few more interesting facts to bandy about next time you pop out for tea with your mother-in-law and run out of polite chitchat:

  • The process of browning baked goods to create extra flavour is called the Maillard reaction. In layman’s terms it means that heat helps to speed up the conversion of sugars and amino acids into flavour- and colour molecules.
  • An egg is essentially one giant cell, albeit 1000x larger than the average cell we have in our bodies.
  • Artificial sweeteners were discovered completely by accident. Constantine Fahlberg was working at Johns Hopkins University in 1879 when he spilled a chemical on his hands. He forgot to wash his hands before having lunch (a bit worrisome, but okay) and he noticed that his sandwich tasted unusually sweet. This led to further experiments and the development of the first artificial sweetener. The use of saccharin did not become widespread until sugar was rationed during World War I, and its popularity increased during the 1960s and 1970s when diet soft drinks became all the rage.
  • The first use of flour dates back 10 000 years. Grinding stones from Italy, Russian and the Czech Republic have been found embedded with starch grains, suggesting that 30,000 years ago people processed roots from cattails and ferns into flour.

Now that you know more about the chemistry behind all those tasty morsels you see in bakery pictures around the web, you are one step closer to recreating it at home. Knowing the ins and outs regarding common ingredients and how they behave greatly increases your chance of success in the kitchen. Pro tip: Before you try your hand at baking that first delicious loaf of bread, read our blog on the 6 simple rules that will allow you to bake perfect bread every time.

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Lifestyle

6 Baking Gadgets To Streamline Your Kitchen

Have you ever peered over the counter at your local bakery and café to marvel at the efficiency with which the bakers move around their workplace? It’s enough to make anyone doubt their own efforts in the kitchen back home and lose all nerve when it comes to whipping up some treats for the family.

Never fear, at Crustique we know all the ins and outs of the baking trade and we’ve put together a list of all the weird and wonderful gadgets you can use in the kitchen to create those delicious bakery desserts you see at our counter. It’s so much easier to do a good job in the kitchen if you have the right tools at hand, so have a look at the nifty gadgets below and put it on your wish list!

1. The Edge Brownie Pan
Everybody knows the brownies at the edges of the pan are the most delicious – you get the soft, warm, gooey centre bit, flanked by the deliciously crispy, flaky edge that bake right up against the pan. We have wonderful news – there’s no more need to get involved in any fisticuffs over these lovely best-of-both brownies! The Edge Brownie Pan allows you to make every brownie in your batch the belle of the ball.

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2. The Kitchen Safe
If you bake at home for an extra income, it can be a little bothersome if your family or housemates keep sneaking bits and pieces of your product. This futuristic storing kit is perfect for cupcakes and cookies and can be locked with a timer that specifies when the contents are accessible. Come to think of it, it’s also a clever solution for those of us who have trouble sticking to our diets when there are freshly baked treats in the vicinity!

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3. The Magisso Cake Server
Okay ladies and gents; get ready because this gadget is pure genius. Gone are the days of being glared at while you divvy up the cake lest somebody gets a less than adequate slice (then having to balance the cake precariously on an egg lifter as you serve). Enter the Magisso Cake Server, a marvel of Finnish design that allows you to cut a perfectly uniform slice every time and serve it without spilling as much as a crumb. It’s brilliant design like this that gives us hope for the future of humanity.

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4. Water Boiling Alarm
We’ve all done it – put a pot of water on the stove to boil, walked away to do something else and promptly forgot all about it until we were alerted by a burning smell that all the water has boiled away, leaving a nasty layer of minerals stuck to the bottom of the pot. This water boiling alarm goes off as soon as the water comes to the boil, alerting you that it is time to add your ingredients. Pretty nifty if you ask us!

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5. Purifi Pan
This product is still in the development phase, but check how great it is! The concept is very simple – you eliminate cloying cooking fumes right at the source without the need for conventional oven hoods. The electronic purifying element attaches straight onto the pan’s rim and converts the aromatic fumes into a refreshing gust of cool air.

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6. The Perfect Bake™ smart scale & interactive recipe app system
We’ve been sneaky and kept the best gadget for last. We don’t want to go out on a limb here, but chances are this app system is the best thing that could ever happen to a novice baker.

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The system (which is compatible with iOS and Android devices) includes three color-coded mixing bowls, a smart scale, a phone/tablet stand, and an oven thermometer. The real-time scale connects to your phone via an ingenious mobile app that guides you in the process of preparing a variety of baked goods. You pour the ingredients directly into the bowl on the scale and the on-screen app alerts you as soon as you’ve added enough. Baking in this way (i.e. using weight instead of volume) ensures perfect results every time.

A quick roundup of the benefits of this clever system includes:

  • It automatically scales any recipe so you don’t have to get tangled up in complicated arithmetic
  • You don’t need any measuring cups or spoons – you simply pour until you hear ‘ding’
  • There are 100s of delicious recipes pre-loaded onto the app
  • You can input the ingredients you have on hand in your fridge and pantry to see what you can make without going to the shops
  • The app provides a handy shopping list when you try a new recipe

These wonderful gadgets make it so much simpler to create bakery and pastry treats. Now that you know what you will need to kit out your kitchen, all you need to do is keep an eye on the Crustique blog to stay informed of the latest baking trends and foolproof baking tips. Happy baking!

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Lifestyle, Pastry and Baked Goods

5 Reasons Your Bread Won’t Rise & How To Fix It

There’s nothing quite like the golden-brown aroma of baking bread wafting from the warm oven. Except when you open the oven door to find that the beautiful loaves you imagined fell flat on their doughy faces. Then life is not all that awesome.

At Crustique we’ve had our fair share of baking mishaps and we understand the crippling disappointment that sets in when your culinary vision does not live up to your expectations. We understand that baking bread is more than just throwing together water, flour and yeast – it’s an event for which you carve out time from your busy schedule. This is why we asked our panel of baking experts to tell us more about the reasons why bread fails to rise and how to avoid it in future.

So, without further ado, here are the top five reasons why your bread won’t rise and how you can fix it:

Your yeast is dead

Sometimes is just not your fault – yeast dies on the best of us. Of course, if you used yeast from a packet that has been hiding out in the back of your fridge for the last five years, you did have a hand in its demise. Dry, inactive yeast can survive for years if you store it at the correct temperature, but sometimes you happen to buy a packet of yeast that had been stored at fluctuating temperatures through no fault of your own. The good news is that you can test or ‘proof’ your yeast to see it is still alive and kicking. Here’s a handy step-by-step written tutorial and video that shows you how.

Your water is too hot

Yeast is super particular about the temperature at which it’s happy to start doing its thing – i.e. multiplying so your bread can rise. If your loaves are refusing to rise, the water you’re adding could very well be too hot. Recipes that are based on active dry yeast will tell you to dissolve the yeast in warm water (or sometimes to heat the liquid with fat and then add the yeast), but what exactly is warm in this instance? Too cold and the yeast won’t activate, too warm and you’ll kill off the precious yeast cells.

Not sure which water temperature is suitable for the yeast you’re working with? Here is a handy guide you can reference and a great resource on testing water temperature manually if you don’t happen to have a kitchen thermometer on hand.

Your kitchen is too cold

Dough rises best at between 23 to 32 ℃, which is great in summertime, but can be tough to regulate in winter when ambient temperatures are tougher to control. If you find that your dough refuses to rise despite the fact that you checked to see that it was alive AND regulated the temperature of the water you used in the mixture, the relative temperature of your kitchen could be the issue.

Luckily, there’s an easy fix. If you think your kitchen may be a tad too cold, you can simply leave your dough to rise on a warm surface (like to top of your fridge) or you can pre-heat your oven for about two minutes, put it off and leave your dough to rise in the residual heat. Pro tip – if you are a little forgetful, it could help to leave a Post-it on the oven, lest you forget your dough is on there and decide to put the oven back on for another purpose. Believe us, the results will not be pretty.

You were too impatient

Sometimes it’s as easy as that. Dough takes time to rise and may even take a little longer than a certain recipe suggests due to things like regional atmospheric pressure for instance. If your dough has not risen sufficiently, try to give it a little more time to do its thing.

You used the wrong pan

Often it’s not the dough that didn’t rise, it’s that the pan you used to bake it in was too big for the volume of the original mixture. Here’s a great resource on adapting a recipe to fit the pan size you have on hand.

BONUS TIP: Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. If your dough didn’t rise you don’t need to throw it out. Give it to the kids to wrap around sticks and bake over a campfire or roll it out and use it to bake some homemade crackers!

And there you have it – five potential reasons why your bread-baking endeavours have not been successful and how you can fix it the next time around. Keep your eye on the Crustique blog for more awesome baking hints and tips in coming weeks and months. We’d also like to hear from you if you know of any other reasons why yeast gives up the ghost – get in touch to share your hard-won wisdom so we can pass it on to our readers!

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Lifestyle, Pastry and Baked Goods

Perfect Bread Every Time – 6 Simple Tricks

We all love a perfect slice of freshly baked bread, hot from the oven, and slathered in lashings of creamy butter, but it seems like such an effort to do the baking yourself that we often settle for baking delivery. Hey, nobody’s judging! We live in the age of convenience and there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking advantage of fresh bakery food from your favourite supplier. If, however, you feel like trying your own hand at baking some fresh bread for your family, we do have a few tricks up our sleeve that will allow you to produce the perfect loaf every time.

1. Choose Your Flour Like A Pro

If you are baking with white flour there is no need to go for the most expensive brand – it is all roller- milled and of roughly the same quality. However, if you are baking with rye, barley, spelt or other whole-wheat flours, you should look for brands that don’t strip out the bran and oily wheat germ during processing. This will normally be your smaller, traditional millers.

2. Read The Manual

If you have the luxury of using a bread machine, do yourself a favour and read the manual. The machine has been calibrated to work with certain recipes, which will be supplied by the manufacturer. Stick to those and you will enjoy great success; don’t veer off course too much by adding seeds and other bits and bobs that could potentially impact on the integrity of the gluten structure.

3. Give It Time

If you are baking by hand you will need a bit of patience. No matter what recipe you end up using, trust us on this one: mix the dough and let it stand for at least ten minutes before you start kneading. Knead and then let the dough stand until it has risen by another half. Shape the bread and let it stand to rise by two-thirds. Now you can bake it. These visual cues are much more accurate than other timing methods.

4. Extra Add-ons Require A Bit of Prep

It’s lovely to liven up your loaf with some extra surprises, but don’t just toss it in there with the rest of your ingredients. Here are a few tips we’ve come up with over the years:

  • Grains like oats and cornmeal soak up a lot of moisture, so soak it in some boiling water and leave it to stand for ten minutes before adding it to your mixture.
  • When using seeds, bake it lightly on an oven tray before you add it to the dough mixture – this makes for a delicious nutty taste.
  • Adding beer/wine to the mix for some flavour or colour is a great idea, just make sure that you don’t substitute more than half of the water that is called for in the recipe, as this will impact negatively on your yeast action.

That said, baking is all about fun, so feel free to go wild! Go seasonal and toss in whatever is running rampant in the garden. After all, bread doesn’t have to look perfect to taste delicious.

5. Kneading – A Quick How To

Kneading in the most simple terms means pressing the heel of your hand into the dough to stretch it, then folding the dough back on itself, rotating it a quarter turn, and repeating. Rub your hands and the worktop with oil, and only knead for ten seconds every ten minutes for half an hour. If you don’t knead the dough at all it will still turn out fine, but the crumb might be a bit gummy. If you whack the dough about vigorously you will get a slightly fluffier crumb (and toned arms in time).

6. Strange But True

Here are some unusual tricks of the trade passed on to us by our mentors and mothers:

  • Place a tray of boiling water on the bottom shelf of the oven while baking to give your crust a rich colour and cause it to break open for a dramatic look.
  • To ensure a soft crumb after baking add a tablespoon of vinegar or soya flour to your dough mix.
  • Using wholemeal flour and want to ensure that the loaves rise nicely? Add half a vitamin C tablet or the juice of one orange to your dough mix.
  • Want to add more flavour to your white bread? Replace half the water called for in the recipe with natural unflavoured yoghurt.

Now that you know how to whip up bakery goods in your own home, why not pop around to Crustique to see what special treats we have on the shelves this week? You might just get some more inspiration for further experimentation in the kitchen at home! Keep an eye on the blog for further handy tips on baking trends, tips and much more.