Kit Bakes Everything: Brownies, Pretzels, and Bao

Hey guys! Long time no see. Which is fine, I suppose, since no one actually reads this anyway…

Anyway, I had this thought during my bout of All The Baking over the holidays. I should do Mark Bittman’s How to Bake Everything Julie-and-Julia-style, doing all the recipes in it at least once and blogging about it! I will note that I’m not handing myself any kind of time limit on this one, although I am going to try to post more often than I have been. It’s a massive cookbook with more than a thousand recipes. This is probably going to take me longer than a year. I’m also not going to stop my other blog posts– don’t worry, this isn’t suddenly becoming a cooking blog! I’ll post here about writing and my adventures in herbalism and whatever other strangeness I get up to.

General rules: I’m not going to stick 100% to the recipes. I often cook for people with food allergies, and I have many myself, so I do a lot of substitutions. I’m also a good enough baker that this actually works out okay as a general rule.

I did three recipes out of HTBE over my days off. The brownies were most excellent, although they came out more the consistency of fudge. It was a very thick batter, although I’m not sure how much of that is that my homemade egg substitute isn’t as liquidy as an actual egg. The resultant brownies were also very thick. I combined several of the variations into one– I put pecans in the batter, as one of the variation suggests, and drizzled caramel over the top. The pecans worked out very nicely. I think next time I’m going to put the caramel as a layer in the middle of the brownies rather than on top, because the edges puffed up as it baked and all the caramel fell down into the middle. I wonder if that might also have to do with why it was so fudgy in the middle. Not that there’s anything wrong with a fudgy brownie, although with praline Almond Dream over the top and caramel sauce over that I think there was a bit of sugar shock. (Seriously, that dessert is something right off a fancy restaurant menu, eaten at home for way less money. It can be done! Fancy brownie sundaes are not only the stuff of restaurant dessert menus that nobody ever eats a whole one of.)

The pretzels also came out pretty nice. I was somewhat hampered in this instance by an insufficient space to roll out my pretzels into a snake, so they didn’t get that nice pretzel shape when I shaped them and they came out more like oddly shaped rolls. However, they tasted good. I think next time I may double the recipe–there was plenty of boiling water left, and there’s no point wasting baking soda and malt powder when I could be using that water to boil up more.

I am, however, becoming extremely suspicious of some of the occasions in which this book calls for bread flour. The pretzels would have been softer and tasted even better with AP, I think, but they were mostly fine– but the bao were an absolute disaster.

First thing’s first, it does not take four hours largely unattended. It takes four hours if you completely discount the time spent working on the dough in between each rising and you have a very large steamer. It has multiple risings, and you have to manipulate the dough fairly heavily between each one, and then you have to steam each batch for 6 to 10 minutes while not crowding the batches in the steamer, and the recipe as written makes 30 buns which you then have to shape and steam. It took me ten hours, all told, from start to finish, and then the bao were awful. I choked one down for dinner, but most of the tray was tossed.

Full disclosure: I did not have actual bread flour, and I used a little white whole wheat mixed with AP. This has worked before in place of bread flour just fine (it was fine in the pretzels!). There’s no reason it shouldn’t have worked here. Except, of course, that bread flour has no place in bao in the first place. Having since looked up several bao recipes online, none of them call for bread flour, and one had a discussion about Asian versus American bread flours; apparently Asian bread flour is a very different beast, and most American flours are too high in gluten to properly make bao. If it’s a food product that explicitly doesn’t want high gluten (and the consensus of the internet is that it indeed doesn’t), the recipe has no business whatever calling for bread flour– it doesn’t say anything in the book about Asian bread flour versus American; just calls for regular bread flour. If I’d known anything about bao, I’d have known to be suspicious of the recipe right there.

I may well try to make bao again, but not from this book and not while my partner is around. (He’s understandably burned out from the ten hours of holiday spent on this. Also, I have a proper steamer and he does not.)

I suppose two out of three ain’t bad. And so very much more cookbook to go…

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One thought on “Kit Bakes Everything: Brownies, Pretzels, and Bao

  1. Ten hours… oh. my. word. I’ve got you bookmarked now (I post comments very occasionally on Ana Mardoll’s blog, that’s where I found this from) because I cook enthusiastically and am trying to decide whether to similarly tackle Marcella Hazan’s Italian cookbook or keep my life a little simpler than that. The bao experience. . . bread flour… I’m whimpering in sympathy.

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