Guess who came to town? The traveling bakers team from King Arthur Flour! They gave a free demo on sweet yeast breads at the Doubletree San Pedro. Since my baking posse friends were otherwise engaged, I went alone. There were at least 200 people there, mostly women, mostly a good 30 years older than I am. Tonight, there’s a second demo on pies and tarts which I wasn’t able to attend.
Strangely, they didn’t serve any food! It’s a little weird to go to a cooking demo and not have a taste of whatever they cooked. On the other hand, there were lots of door prizes, and I won a 5-pound bag of white whole wheat flour. We also received coupons, a packet of yeast from their partner, Red Star, our very own KAF bench scraper, and a gift card for $10 off a $20 purchase. Score!
Although I was familiar with a lot of the techniques Baking Education Center instructor Robyn Sargeant showed, it was still great to watch her talk through the process. I was most impressed at her pace: she kept things going but it never felt rushed, and she answered any and all questions along the way. I picked up a bunch of good tricks and thought I’d share them here:
- A lot of dough recipes call for a range of the amount of flour, e.g., 4 ½ to 5 ½ cups, because of variances in temperature, humidity, etc. To avoid adding more flour than you need, add flour to your dough one cup at a time, reserving the last cup. If it’s the right texture to begin kneading, hang onto that last cup and use it to flour the board and your hands.
- Don’t sprinkle flour on the dough itself to keep it from sticking. Just flour the board and your hands lightly, and add more as necessary.
- To knead without torturing the dough: Fold the dough in half toward you. Use your hands to push/roll it away from you. Then give it a quarter turn. Repeat. This ensures you’re working it nice and gently, but firmly, and evenly. Fold, roll, turn. Fold, roll, turn.
- To check if you’ve kneaded enough, poke the dough with your finger. If the indentation fills in, the gluten is activated, so you’re on your way. You can also do the windowpane test. Cut off a small hunk of dough and stretch it like you would a pizza dough. Hold it up to the light. If it stretches thin enough that you can see light through it, you’ve kneaded it
- Cover your dough to let it rise by pressing a piece of plastic wrap, sprayed with cooking spray, right down on the surface. This gives it just a little more warmth and moisture and ensures no hard spots develop on the top. If you want to be nice to the environment, fold up the plastic wrap, toss it in the freezer, and reuse it as often as you like.
- I’m a fan of punching down the dough, but Robyn thinks that’s mean. Instead, when you deflate the dough lay it out on the board and gently press it all over with your hands to disperse the air pockets that have built up within the dough.
Finally, Robyn told a great story about a customer from Japan who visited the store. She bought a bunch of ingredients, returned home, and three weeks later called the Baker’s Hotline to ask for help with her bread. She said, “I put the dough to rise in the oven with the light on. But it is pushing the oven door open and spilling down the sides and my dog is eating it. What did I do wrong?” They asked about the yeast she was using, and she said, “I bought it at your store. It said to use one packet, so that’s what I did.” Which would have been fine, except they sell yeast in one pound packets! Oops!
Oh, one more thing. If you are having trouble keeping track of how many eggs you need for a recipe, line 'em up on the counter:
(There's an air pocket on the large end of the egg. Stand the egg up and rap it gently on the counter to slightly crush the shell over the air pocket. Your eggs will stand at attention!)