Adventures of a budding bread baker
by Johanne and Alain Bossé
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a baker; not in an official capacity, mind you. I simply wanted to be able to bake for my family and friends. I wasn’t going to be content with making passable squares or merely-edible cookies. I had a secret desire to be that go-to person whenever somebody needed something really, really decadent. I wanted to be the one who could make pies and biscuits that brought people back to their childhood, straight into their grandmother’s kitchen. I also wanted to be able to create cakes that were so moist and decorated so beautifully that when people required a really special dessert, they would automatically think of me.
Full disclosure; I’ve never actually become that baker, but my skills have become more than passable. I’ve been fortunate to have much encouragement from a pretty great chef. While Alain is not exactly a baker per se (most chefs aren’t, actually) he did have a pretty reliable repertoire of recipes that he picked up in culinary school and they became my base. He was also very willing to eat (and critique) my efforts.
Once I had reliable recipes from which to work I practiced; a lot. We ate biscuits every day for 2 weeks until I mastered them. Pie, we ate every few days for a month. What I taught myself during this time was technique. When I say technique, I’m talking about the basics, things like properly measuring flour. That is a thing, maybe THE most important thing.
There are several methods of measuring flour that I’ve come across such as plunging the cup to the bottom, dragging it towards the side and then pressing it hard against the edge while pulling up, or filling the cup, tapping the side with a knife, filling the void and repeating until the cup is full. Both of these methods will yield close to 1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups from a one single cup measure. The absolute best method is to weigh your flour; second to that I suggest fluffing up the flour in your bin then gently running the cup through the flour and finally lightly shaking to remove any excess. That’s it.
The other thing I do every time I bake is to assemble my ingredients together and then I remove them to another location once they’ve been added. That way I’m never left wondering if I’ve missed something, like vanilla. Trust me, a sponge cake without vanilla tastes quite similar to, well, a sponge!
When making biscuits and pie dough turning the dough in a clockwise direction prevents overworking. I always add frozen grated butter and buttermilk to my biscuits; they expand in the oven, giving me light, fluffy biscuits and the acid from buttermilk gives them additional height.
When baking bread I’ve learned that the perfect temperature for marrying liquids with yeast is 110 degrees. I’ve also learned the hard way that two minutes in my KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook is the equivalent to 10 -12 minutes of hand kneading. Bread should never be mixed in a stand mixer for more than 6 minutes and should never exceed speed 2. I always finish by hand so I can feel the elasticity in my dough. Learning the feel of your baked goods is a definite key to success.
Also; get to know your oven! Most people never give it a thought until it stops working. I keep a thermometer in my oven to ensure that it’s calibrated to the right temperature. Meringues at 200 will be lovely and white, but a 50 degree variation can have them turning a caramel colour. My oven has hot spots—they come with age, but if I know where they are I can compensate. To see if you have any hot spots in your oven, place 6 pieces of white bread on the center rack in a pre-heated 350-degree oven; after 15 minutes you will be able to tell by the colouring on the bread whether you have any problem areas. I have a hot spot at the bottom of my oven so I always bake biscuits with an extra pan underneath to prevent hard, brown bottoms; but I also know that this hot spot is advantageous when baking a pie with a nice dry bottom crust.
But my absolute best bit of advice; stop baking with a perfect result in mind and start baking simply for the pleasure of seeing a child’s eyes light up when you hand him a chocolate chip cookie, or the smile on your husbands face when you tell him you made coconut cream pie…again.
Note: The bread recipe is from The Kilted Chef’s The Acadian Kitchen Then and Now.
Like every culture, making homemade bread was a weekly chore that brought amazing smells to the neighbourhood. Nothing beats homemade bread fresh out of the oven and slathered with butter and molasses.
Homemade Bread/Pain Fait À la Main
Makes 3 loaves
2 tbsp (30 mL) sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) yeast
1 cup (250 mL) warm water
12 cups (3 L) flour
4 tsp (20 mL) salt
4 cups (1 L) warm water
2 tbsp (30 mL) shortening
Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C)
Dissolve sugar and yeast in 1 cup of warm water, let stand for 10 minutes.
Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the salt. Make a hole in the center and start adding the 4 cups of warm water. Add shortening and stir the mixture until the shortening is completely melted. Add dissolved yeast and mix by hand until a soft dough forms.
Knead dough on a floured surface for 10 minutes or so. Form in a ball, put dough into a greased bowl, cover with a clean cloth and set in a warm place to rise. When dough has doubled in size punch out the dough and cut the dough into three equal portions, knead pieces individually and form into loaves.
Place dough in greased bread pans, cover, and let rise in a warm spot. When doubled in size bake for 15 minutes then turn the oven down to 375°F (190°C) and bake for another 45 minutes.
Maple Glazed Cinnamon Buns
Makes 10 Buns
2 ¾ cups (650 mL) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp (45 mL) white sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1 package instant yeast
½ cup (125 mL) buttermilk
¼ cup (50 mL) water
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
1 lg egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup (50 mL) soft butter
1 ¼ cup (300 mL) maple sugar
2 tsp (10 mL) cinnamon
1 cup (250 mL) pecans, chopped
¼ cup (50 mL) whipped cream cheese
¼ cup (50 mL) buttermilk
1 ¼ cups (300 mL) icing sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) maple extract
Combine flour, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix just to combine.
In a small pot add buttermilk, water and butter, heat over med low just until butter has melted; temperature should be 110°F (45°C). If it’s higher than that, allow to cool slightly.
Once milk is at desired temperature add it to flour mixture along with egg, mix until combined. Switch to a dough hook and knead until the dough is no longer sticky, 2-3 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
Place rested dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 10 X 14 rectangle. Spread with butter and then sprinkle with maple sugar, cinnamon and pecans. Roll up dough from the long side and pinch the edge to seal. Cut into 10 portions and place in a greased cast iron skillet. Cover with a clean dish cloth and place in a warm area to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Place in preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes.
While buns are baking, prepare glaze by combining whipped cream cheese and buttermilk; beat in icing sugar until smooth and add maple extract. Pour over hot cinnamon buns.