15 Dec

2017: The Year in Sugar and Gluten

Time for the ritualistic year-end baking review!

I’ve been doing keto on and off this year, so the volume of new and exciting baked goods is less than it could have been. (For the record, nothing “substituted” for baked goods traditionally prepared with wheat flour and cane sugar is in any way an adequate substitute. If you’re really desperate, you might be able to find a half-assed brownie, but it’s less depressing, ultimately, to either accept bread and dessert are off limits or have an occasional dietary indiscretion and eat something that actually tastes good.)

I already mentioned the croissants here and English muffins here, both from The Model Bakery Cookbook, as are the sticky buns. After making croissants, I am fearless in the kitchen. People were awed when I made bagels the other day. Dude, I have made CROISSANTS. Bagels are child’s play.

The povitica (swirly bread with, in this case, apple filling) was delicious but more cakey in texture than I think it should have been. (Not that I’ve had it from another source, but when I’ve seen it on TV, it looks like a glutinous, stretchy bread dough, which this recipe didn’t produce.) Next time, I’ll try it with the doughnut dough I use for cinnamon rolls and see if I can get closer to what I imagine.

I got a picture of only one beignet (that trusty doughnut dough again) because people will repeatedly burn their fingers snatching up dough fresh from the fryer. I’m not wasting any more time making round doughnuts with holes in the middle, which get squished and misshapen with handling (say, for instance, getting them into the oil). Squares are much lower maintenance, and people think they’re super exotic because they’re French. Anything that’s better received when it’s easier is a win-win.

I keep meaning to make the cheese coffee cake with doughnut dough, too. (I should just use that dough for everything. It’s amazing.) I suppose then it would be more of a danish? Whatever you want to call it, tender, chewy dough stuffed with sweet cream cheese and covered with sweet, buttery crumble can’t be bad. The coffee cake is pretty boss as it is, but coffee cake tends to be on the dry side, and how is that not a design flaw begging for improvement?

Although rye flour technically makes it rye bread, the taste is all caraway. I bought a coffee grinder solely for caraway seeds so I can get my fix. (The smell never goes away, so don’t try grinding coffee or cinnamon after it unless you’re going for a… unique flavor experience.) While I’m used to dense commercial rye bread, my homemade loaves are soft and fluffy, so it doesn’t seem “right” to me, but man, is it tasty with salami and cheap yellow mustard, or lightly toasted and heavily buttered.

I used my new pasta maker for plain noodles and spinach noodles, and then I manually cut plain sheets into ravioli (which is why they’re deformed) and stuffed them with sausage, spinach, mushrooms, garlic, and homemade ricotta, then just tossed them with butter and parm. The dough is MUCH thinner than commercial ravioli, which is the only kind I’ve ever had before, and I like ravioli MUCH better when there’s less gummy shell to chew through. I might have to invest in a ravioli gadget to make them faster and tidier in the future.

The jasmine green tea ice cream was the biggest failure (other than the no-wheat-no-sugar-cane desserts, which were universally crappy and don’t bear mentioning). I love jasmine green tea and can imagine how it should taste in ice cream, but that particular recipe was overwhelmingly strong and abused the tea with too-hot liquid that gave it a sour note. (I had reservations on both counts before I followed the directions, but I have this dumb habit of saying, “No, no, I’m sure this person knows what they’re doing. I should just follow their recipe.” One day, I will learn to trust my own experience, knowledge, and instincts.) If I make it again, I’ll use half the tea leaves and let the boiled cream cool to the correct green tea temperature before steeping.

I bought The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes when it was on sale earlier this month. That’s right, THREE HUNDRED BREADS. I can make a different bread six days a week for almost an entire year if it pleases me (and it would, but consuming that much bread on a daily basis would be problematic). The Cinnamon Raisin Bagels and Orange Swirl Bread (which deserves to be made six times a week for a year all by itself because OH. MY. GOD—it will be reshaped into rolls and smothered with cream cheese icing soon in order to evolve into its final form) came from there. I’m reading it like it’s a novel because bread is my love language.

I don’t want to dwell on anything else that happened in 2017 (put a stake in its heart, chop off its head, set it on fire, and salt the ashes), but the baking retrospective makes me feel good for a few minutes. Even the disappointments are learning experiences, and failures are never of sufficient magnitude to be discouraging. Life would be magical if every experience was so forgiving.

Until then, THERE WILL BE BREAD.

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