Well today is obviously brought to you by the letter “B”! And what a great letter it is, so many awesome things start with that letter – “birthday”, “baking”, “brown butter”, and of course (my love), “Bret”! If only “doughnut” started with the letter “b”… should I stretch for it with “beignet“? A baked doughnut doesn’t really qualify as a beignet, but maybe for the sake of perfect alliteration it will do.
So what is with all the “b” words you ask? Well in case you were struggling with pulling it together, this weekend is Bretto’s happy birthday, and I like to treat my man right with a little something sweet like a batch of freshly baked doughnuts. I mean outside of a birthday cake, what screams birthday party more than a sprinkled doughnut? These little beauties look like they are ready to party, non?
Now, while I typically love my adventures in cooking, the pressure to deliver for the occasion left me with what I can only affectionately refer to as “performance anxiety”. Remember last week? I was in no mood to deal with temperamental food and had no time for recipe testing. Scouring my library of cookbooks and my trusty blog roll for a tried and true recipe, I realized a little Achilles’ heel of mine; while I love to bake and can follow a recipe with the best of them, I actually don’t really understand baking. I mean sure, flour has gluten, and baking soda makes things rise, but to be a true kitchen baller, I needed to go a deeper.
With 8th edition of The Culinary Institute of America’s “The Professional Chef” in hand I set out to do a little Baking 101, and demystify some of the science that makes baking so distinctly different from cooking. Here’s what I got.
I guess like anything in life you gotta know your role; Baking is no different and knowing the role each ingredient plays in the finished product is a good place start. My handy text book broke this out into three sections; Stabilizers, Liquefiers, and Leaveners.
- Stabilizers: a stabilizer is any ingredient that helps your baked good develop a stable structure, either by toughening the dough, tightening the dough, or thickening the mixture; flour and eggs are two such ingredients. For flour, it is the combination of gluten and starch that will help achieve this (different flours have different gluten to starch ratios, and will thus greatly affect the finished product). Eggs too lend to the stability of the product while having the added influence of effecting the texture as they help to distribute and incorporate air throughout your treat.
- Liquefiers: A liquefier is basically an ingredient that helps to loosen or tenderize a dough or batter. Ingredients such as water, milk, other liquids, and even fats and sugars qualify. Here are where things start to get a little blurred.
- Water obviously dilutes water-soluble ingredients like sugar and salt, and helps to ensure they are evenly distributed, but also helps to act like a leavener thanks to the production of steam
- MIlk has many of the same functions as water, but because it has fat, protein and sugar it can serve many more functions and contribute to the overall flavour. The lactic acid in milk also has a tightening effect on the proteins in flour, serving to increase its stability
- Sugar, deceptive as ever, appears to tighten dough/batter when first added, but loosens everything up as soon as heat gets involved
- Fats (provided that they are less than 3% of the weight of the finished product) act to increase the elasticity of the flour proteins helping the product expand during baking (think cookies spreading in a hot oven!)
- Leaveners: basically this group makes things lighter and let’s them rise. There are several ways to accomplish this in baking; organically (yeast), chemically (baking powder/baking soda), mechanically (steam). For most amateur bakers baking powder/baking soda are what you need to understand the most.
- Baking powder (sodium bicarbonate + acidic salt + corn starch) is usually called for when the recipe includes more alkaline ingredients. Add too much of it to a recipe though and you will wind up with a bitter batter that can rise too quickly, collapse, and result in a tough misshapen mess.
- Baking soda (straight up sodium bicarbonate) is 4x stronger than baking powder, and reacts with acidic ingredients in recipes such as yogurt, buttermilk or chocolate. Add too much of this to the batter and you will end up with a “soapy” tasting baked good. Ugh.
- If a recipe calls for both, the baking powder will do most of the leavening, while the baking soda will help neutralize some of the acid and give the recipe tenderness.
So with all this information in my head now, do I feel like a master baker? Nope. But if a recipe fails, I do feel a little bit more equipped with how to fix it. Plus learning is fun…. I practically hope a recipe fails so I can try to dissect why! Nerding out on this stuff is part of my charm.
Here is to a recipe though that didn’t fail… and thank goodness because it is a weekend to party.
Happy Birthday Bretto!!!
Brown Butter Doughnuts
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Public Service Announcement: Joy said this recipe got 6 doughnuts… I got 9. Maybe I am more stingy with the dough than her, but 9 doughnuts seems more fun than 6! I also had a ton of chocolate glaze so had to make a second batch of chocolate cinnamon doughnuts… just saying, be prepared to go doughnut crazy. These things are irresistible.
1 cup all purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup of sugar
3 Tbsp butter (which will net you 2 Tbsp of brown butter)
½ cup butter milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
For Chocolate Glaze
1½ cup powdered sugar
4 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
4-5 Tbsp milk
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
- Place rack in the upper 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly grease a doughnut pan and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and sugar.
- In a small pot over medium heat melt butter. As it releases its water it will bubble and pop. This will eventually calm down and the butter solids will begin to caramelize and get all toasty smelling. This is brown butter. Keep an eye on it as it will change fast and you don’t want burnt butter. Once brown immediately remove from heat and place in a small bowl allowing to cool slightly.
- In a medium size bowl whisk together buttermilk, egg, and vanilla. Whisk in brown butter.
- Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined but with no lumps.
- Add batter to doughnut wells (using a small spoon is easiest) filling each ¾ of the way full.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool completely on wire rack before glazing.
- For the glaze sift powdered sugar and cocoa into a large mixing bowl. Add milk slowly. You want a glaze that you can pour but is still somewhat thick. When you get desired texture whisk in salt and vanilla.
- Dip completely cooled doughnuts in glaze and immediately top with sprinkles. Allow glaze to set for at least 30 minutes.
1. The Culinary Institute of America’s “The Professional Chef“. Eight Edition