Thursday, April 4, 2013

Finding the Sweet Spot – The Science of Baking

It’s there – that spot in the middle of the racquet that feels just right when you hit the tennis ball, the spot on the backboard that assures the basketball will glide through the hoop, or the spot on the cue ball that will cause it to stop in its tracks when it hits another ball, guiding the second ball right into the pocket.

The sweet spot. It’s not always a single point – there’s a little bit of room just above, below, or to the sides, but it’s undeniably there.

No, I’m not talking about sports, or about sugar, but I am talking about baking. Yes, there are sweet spots in baking.

How do you know when your yeast bread has risen enough? How do you know when your batter is properly mixed, or when your shortening is properly creamed with the sugar? How do you know if you should add more water to dough? Or when your flaxseed gel is ready to use? How do you know when your baked goods are done?

These are just a few of the sweet spots in baking, and – as with all things – once you find the sweet spot, you will recognize it. Of course, the best way to get really good at the science of baking is to practice. I think of every baking project as a science project, but it’s actually a series of science experiments rolled into one larger science project – baking.

It also helps to have a really great recipe that not only gives you specific times for key steps, but the visual cues to go along with it. For example:

If your gluten-free yeast bread starts to develop tiny pock marks during proofing, you are just outside the sweet spot – get it into the oven, now! (and reduce the proofing time in the future).

Your flaxseed gel is ready to use when it is a gloppy consistency (like an egg). If you mix it in with while it’s still too wet you may not get the texture you want.

Jam (made on the stovetop) is done when you can draw a spoon through it and – for just an instant – it leaves a track in the pan.

Do you have a baking sweet spot you are trying to find? Leave a comment with your question and I will do my best to answer it.


h said...

I am horrible at finding the "sweet spot" for the right amount of moisture for a vegan, gluten free pie crust. It taste goods but never looks very pretty!

Colette said...

Homa, for pie crusts (and for cookies) the trick is to use just enough water for it to stick together, but to not be wet. Adding the water slowly is usually the best bet. If you are using a pastry cutter, when you start to see "sheets" of dough come through the cutter, you are at the sweet spot. I'll try to take a picture next time I make a crust or cookies.

Gratefulfoodie said...

You are spot on! I'm in search of my gluten free sweet spot. The kids are not allergic to gluten, but my ankles swell and being half Greek, they have started out thicker than average, so I don't need extra help.

I'm biggest struggle is jumping over that hump of being afraid to try!

I love your cookbook and look at it often. But...I can't bring myself to kick off a recipe for fear of gluten free. What's the first item I should attempt! I need to dive into your cookbook, I think it may be one of my most favorite books! love reading it, but alas, it is a cookbook! Which means an action is required!

Help oh wise one of the kitchen!

Colette said...

Caroline, it's just like everything else -- you need to just do it! Where to start? Start with a simple batter -- something like the Blueberry Muffins in chapter 6 -- It's almost impossible to go wrong with that.

Gratefulfoodie said...

Okay, I was raring to go and then I got caught up in NV Epinephrine legislation!

My goal this week is to dive in! I just love reading through your book and this is pathetic!

I will report by the end of the week!