Monday, October 30, 2017

No 2: Europe 2017! Bleached Parchment Paper vs. Natural

This is my second article comparing a kitchen product purchased while on vacation in Paris with a similar product found in American grocery stores. The funny thing is that this comparison actually involves two products that are made in France - bleached and natural parchment paper. I didn't have experience with natural baking paper and was curious how it would compare side by side with the bleached white variety.
The Reynolds version (top in the above pic) is the type I see most often in local stores.
The paper is made in France, packaged in the U.S., very high quality and allows for the baking of several batches per sheet. The natural Alfapac baking paper that I purchased in Paris (bottom in above pic) is also a very nice quality, but feels thinner to the touch.

I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and baked some on each kind of paper.
Raw dough on natural parchment paper

Raw dough on bleached parchment paper
  1. The natural paper was easier to work with, because it didn't curl up as much as the Reynolds
  2.  Reynolds paper could probably bake more batches per sheet as it was more durable.
  3. The natural paper tended to burn on the edges more easily.
  4. The baked cookies looked quite similar, but I preferred the ones made on the natural parchment paper. They spread just the right amount and baked more evenly, although it's a little difficult to tell from the photos below.
  5. I like the width of the natural paper, because it fit my pans without trimming.
  6. Both papers provided excellent non-stick surfaces.
  7. I love chocolate chip cookies.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Europe 2017! 1. Carrefour in Paris - Definitely not Walmart!

1.  Europe 2017 - Carrefour Hypermarket
This is the first of my articles relating to our European trip in July.  We visited Copenhagen, Berlin, Bremen, Amsterdam, Bruges, and our final destination, Paris. While there, I wanted to go to a large retail store and see what is was like and hopefully purchase some goodies to take home. We were traveling light and could not take too much with us, but I still had to get some more cooking things!

Looking online for a place to go, I read about the Carrefour chain and its hypermarket in Paris. This hypermarket was equated somewhat to our Walmart superstores. Of course, I had to go and see for myself.  When we first walked in, the non-food items were displayed near the entrance and they did resemble what you might see at a Walmart. However, when we got to the food section, oh my...Absolutely no comparison.

There were amazing breads, cheeses, meats, seafood and on and on. In the top picture is a crepe machine in the distance. In the video below you can see it automatically making huge delicious looking crepes (unfortunately, we didn't try them). 

 I wish I could have brought home some different flours seen in the picture above, but flour is a bit heavy to travel with. I did, however, purchase many other culinary items and in future articles/videos, will be comparing and contrasting. Coming next up next: French yeast vs. Aldi.  Stay tuned...

Side note: One thing that I noticed in all the countries we visited in Europe, is that the ingredients listed on products appear to be more natural than those same products in the states. Especially when it comes to artificial food coloring. I've never understood why most pickles in the US have yellow food coloring in them. A topic for another article!

Friday, May 5, 2017

"Can I Freeze Leftover Dough?"

This is one of the most frequent questions I get asked from YouTube viewers and students. Usually it refers to leftover pizza dough, but it can be about any yeast dough. My answer is that the freezer is not too friendly to living yeast and the dough will be rather lifeless after being thawed. I prefer to finish off all I've made made (although, I sometimes refrigerate some for use the next day) and then freeze the finished product. This is true with pizza and breads.
Freshly made dough

For example, a couple of weeks ago we did some backyard grilling and I made one of my all-time favorites, grilled flat bread. It can be made with almost any lean dough (one that doesn't have too much sugar or fat) and is super easy and fast. The charcoal was a bit too hot since my husband decided to throw on some wood clippings from our pear tree, so they sure cooked fast! Some a little too fast. They were delicious and we ate a bunch with dinner. The leftovers were frozen in a plastic bag.  To reheat, I just pop them in the toaster oven (watch closely) and enjoy nice hot flat breads. I've even warmed them over my gas burner. You can also microwave to thaw first -very briefly.
On the grill
Today, I needed to make a quick lunch and there wasn't too much going on in the fridge, so I took out a couple of breads, defrosted them in the microwave, topped with a little olive oil, fresh tomato and provolone cheese.
Ready for the toaster oven
Popped them into the toaster oven and voilĂ , I had a nice hot lunch with a flavor reminiscent of the fresh made flat breads! Here's the recipe.
Super quick and tasty lunch!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Mini tarts made easier and better!

I had some left over pastry/pie dough in the fridge and wanted to use it up, but didn't feel like rolling out dough. Because I make my pie dough with butter, (recipe) it gets extremely hard when cold. So...I decided in my moment of laziness to try something new.  I just chopped up some fruit (apples, pears and plums) into small oven proof bowls, added some sugar, cinnamon, flour and lemon zest (didn't measure) and gently mixed with a spoon. Then I thinly sliced my pie dough into disks and placed it on top of the fruit. Baked at 400F until bubbly. Didn't time it, but I think it took around 30 minutes. They were so good that I thought I would share. 
Happy Baking!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Proofing Yeast: What does it mean & Do I need to do it?

I often get asked about the necessity of proofing yeast, how should the yeast look, how long should it take, what if the yeast doesn't get foamy, etc, etc... I would like to answer some of those questions here. My most watched video on YouTube is How to Make Pizza Dough, and in that video I show how to proof active dry yeast. I'd like to go over some of the many concerns and questions involving this step.
First, let me talk about the yeast. I would prefer to use beautiful, natural fresh (cake) yeast for baking breads and pizzas, but that is quite impractical for home baker as it doesn't stay fresh long, comes in 1 lb. blocks and is not usually found in grocery stores. The cake yeast that was available for the home baker and sold in grocery stores (I don't know if it still is) is not the same as commercial cake (fresh) yeast.  The commercial yeast has no starch or sugar in it, whereas the home version did. The advantage of using fresh yeast is that it can usually be incorporated directly into the dough ingredients without softening or dissolving first and has no additives.
This leads me to the next subject about additives. I prefer to use yeast that has nothing else added to it. You can see in the picture below that the yeast used for this demo is from Aldi and the only ingredient is yeast.

Natural active dry yeast usually needs to be softened in liquid before use. Many of the instant and/or quick rising yeasts do not need to be pre-softened and can be added directly to the rest of the ingredients. Many bakers and many websites swear by these instant yeasts. I am not one of them. They usually contain Sorbitan monostearate and sometimes, ascorbic acid. An explanation of why Sorbitan monostearate is used is found on this Red Star yeast FAQs page. Let me just say that I find the quality of the dough and texture of the crumb better when made with regular active dry yeast.
So why proof the yeast? You don't have to, but it will show you that the yeast is alive and well and also gives it a nice kick start before being added to the dough. If you don't add sugar (and sometimes I don't-depending on the recipe), it won't foam, but the softening is important to help the yeast to develop and grow once it gets some food, such as found in flour.
Here is a picture of 1 packet (~2 teaspoons) of Aldi regular active dry yeast (above) gently stirred into 1/2 cup warm spring water with 1 teaspoon of sugar and allowed to rest 10-15 minutes. Yours may not look like this for several reasons. Here are a few:
1) Your yeast may not be fresh enough, even though the "use by" date may be valid.
2) The water may be too cool or too hot. Temperature should be between 90-110F.
3) Your water may have things like chlorine or excessive hardness, etc, that can affect yeast growth.
4) A different brand yeast may soften and/or grow at a different rate than the yeast above.

In closing, even if your yeast seems sluggish, it may still work perfectly fine. It has happened to me many times. However, I have had to throw out yeast, especially bulk active dry yeast, that just seemed to lose its strength. When yeast gets old, it not only becomes sluggish, it can affect the quality of the dough.
Hope that answers some questions. Happy Baking!