Allow me to tell you why. In this industry, there is a merry war (friendly rivalry) between cooks and bakers, especially in colleges that have both culinary and baking programs. As a chef, I have done baking my entire career, but to bring it to my students in a classroom is nothing short of pure joy.
At its core, baking is chemistry and livestock management. It is chemistry, as we need to understand how the molecules in our basic ingredients interact with one another. It is livestock management as we need to understand, care for and harness yeast, which does so much work for us.
Throughout 2019, I will explore these concepts, explain the different kinds of flours, mixing times, kinds of yeast and offer a variety of basic recipes for you to try out.
Flour is the most fundamental ingredient in the bake shop, and the most common form of flour is all-purpose. There is also pastry flour, cake flour and bread flour. All these flours come from wheat, and that will be critical to understanding the basics of baking.
But before we get into what all of that means, we have to understand gluten. Gluten is a protein that is formed in wheat flour, and is therefore found in most baked goods. When water is added to flour, two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, merge together to form gluten. You can think of gluten as a flexible, rubber band-like substance that provides structure, or scaffolding, in our baked goods. Depending on what we are making, we want may want a range from very little to a lot of structure.
One of our primary goals in baking is to control the development of gluten. When I say"development of gluten," I am referring to making gluten stronger by creating cross-connections and less flexibility. The more gluten develops, the more "structure" there is in our baked goods. For breads, this is desired, but for cookies and cakes, this makes for tough or chewy results. Time spent mixing, the intensity of mixing and leavening all contribute to gluten development.
Let's finish the first step in our baking journey with a simple recipe - chocolate chip cookies. Cookies require very little gluten development. In fact, we want to have as little gluten development as possible, so we will use the "creaming method." Note that with the creaming method, flour is added toward the end so the other ingredients can be combine without developing any gluten. Please note that in bake shops, we weigh everything and typically use a stand-mixer.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
5 ounces butter
4 ounces granulated sugar
4 ounces brown sugar
5/8 tsp salt
3 ounces eggs (crack two eggs, whip together and weigh out what you need)
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 ounces pastry flour (all-purpose flour will work)
5/8 tsp baking soda
10 ounces chocolate chips
4 ounces chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Creaming method: Scale ingredients accurately. Have all ingredients at room temperature.
- Place the butter, sugar, salt and spices in the mixing bowl. With the paddle attachment, cream these ingredients at low speed. Partway through mixing, stop the machine and scrape down the bowl to ensure even mixing.
- For light cookies, cream until the mix is light and fluffy, in order to incorporate more air for leavening. For denser cookies, blend to a smooth paste, but do not cream until light.
- Add the eggs and liquid, if any, and blend in at low speed.
- Sift in the flour and baking soda. Mix until just combined. Do not over mix, or gluten will develop.
- Using a small scoop or spoon, drop dough, approximately 2 inches apart, on a greased, parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 to 14 minutes, depending on size.
Yield: 20 2-ounce cookies, but you can make them any size