Pastry and Baked Goods

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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, 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.

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Pastry and Baked Goods

Contemporary Canapés That Impress At Any Event

We’ve all been there – one day you’re having a nice relaxing afternoon, then suddenly you have an unexpected social occasion sprung on you by a family member. When you have to feed a bunch of unexpected guests some tasty finger foods, it can be quite tempting to call the nearest pastry shop to order something to go, but those often require a bit of a lead time.

At Crustique, we know the special kind of terror that descends when you realize that you have to whip up something that looks like it came straight off a pastry shop menu, which is why we’ve put together this list of pantry and freezer staples to keep around the house that will allow you to conjure up contemporary canapes at home when time is of the essence.

In the pantry:

1. Crackers
Melba toast, water crackers, wheat meal biscuits, and cheese crisps are a godsend when you have to whip out something to eat really quickly. Arrange it on a plate with some cheese, veggies and pesto and you’ve got a simple canape plate that nobody can fault. Serve it with fresh fruit (like kiwi, grapes or figs) and a drizzle of honey.

2. Tinned seafood
Tinned mussels, tuna, mackerel, and sardines may not be the height of culinary fashion, but it can really save you time if you need to whip up a meal in a pinch. Serve it on crackers with some fresh tomato and basil or cobble together a quick noodle casserole by adding it to pasta and a basic white sauce. Pro tip: You can make snack-size casseroles by baking the pasta, white sauce & fish in a muffin tray.

3. Nuts & chocolate
These two ingredients are wonderful because you can serve it as is – no assembly required. Choose a high quality chocolate that you can present alongside a nice cup of coffee and you have the makings of a simple, yet delightful, dessert right there. Nuts can be served as is, tossed into salads, ground up for a dukkah, added to baked goods, and so much more. Alternatively, you could combine the nuts and chocolate for a delicious hot sauce to serve over ice cream (always a hit with both children and adults alike). Pro tip: Always check if any of your guests have an allergy before adding nuts to a dish.

In the freezer:

1. Puff pastry
Puff pastry is the culinary equivalent of that friend you can take along to any party – it’s simple, easy, and plays well with others. Here’s a quick idea – allow the pastry to defrost, roll it out and blind bake with some dried beans at 180°C for 15 minutes. While the pastry is in the oven, chop some onion, mushroom and the meat of your choice (we like to add some thyme to this mixture). Scoop the mixture onto the puff pastry, cover with grated cheese and pop it back in the oven for another 15 minutes or until the cheese has melted. You can easily make this a vegetarian option by swapping the meat topping for tomato, onion, mushroom and aubergine.

2. Mini frozen appetizers
Many frozen food brands now have mini spring rolls, tartlets and spanakopita as a part of their product ranges. A few boxes of these little treats can really save the day when you are under pressure. Some gastronomes may feel it’s cheating, but when the doorbell is ringing and there is nothing in the way of snacks, we don’t think they’d turn up their noses. If you still feel a little bad about serving ready-made snacks, you can always jazz it up by adding a personal touch, like a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

3. Cheese
Yes, that’s right – cheese freezes perfectly well (we’ve tried and tested it, so you can take our word on this). Keep a few rounds of soft cheese like brie or Camembert in the freezer in case of emergency. We like to stock up when there is a good price at the grocer. To feed an unexpected horde you simply pop it in the oven in a ceramic dish at 180°C for around 30 minutes (watch to see when it melts) and serve it with some of your trusty Melba toast. If you feel fancy you can add some pesto and a sprinkling of pine nuts for a savory option or honey and fresh figs for a sweeter repast.

It’s always good to have a contingency plan in place for when you have to feed a lot of people with little or no lead time. Keep this list of canape ideas handy and you’ll be right as rain. Keep an eye on the Crustique blog for more advice on baked goods, baking trends, kitchen gadgets, and more!