So in addition to being an amazing piano teacher and partner, my wife Emily also tends to act as my editor. She doesn’t just proofread my work, but tests it for readability. IS what I’m writing actually coming across? IS the blog post actually meeting it’s purpose?
Sometimes this comes out by her asking follow-up questions. While she was reading through last week’s post on yeast and fermentation, she got to the part about the different sugars and starches present in wheat.
“Why does the yeast have trouble with starches? “Why isn’t there enough alpha amylase in the wheat, and why does malted grain provide it? “Is this why there are different kinds of flour? What’s the difference between bleached/unbleached/enriched/bread flour/pastry/cake/all purpose? Hey, you should write a blog about that!”
So this week, let’s do a deep dive on the science of flour!
After last weeks post about the basic science of bread, I figured it might be a good idea to keep going on this rudimentary road trip through the land of yeasted loaves and carbs. For this post, and most of the posts coming up, I pulled out one of my old culinary school textbooks as a reference, and the memories came flooding back.
A few years back, Emily and I were checking out a candle shop in Collingswood, NJ. The place (predicatably) smelled almost overpowering. Besides candles there was a lot of incense, Wicca, natural- healing, and- what I have been told is an accepted term- “woo-woo stuff.”
The proprietress was behind the counter, and she asked what we did as she rang up our purchases. I told her I was a baker, and the following exchange happened:
“Oh good! I’ve always wanted to ask a baker this! Okay, so what’s the difference between wheat, yeast, and gluten? Like I’m trying to go gluten free because it’ll help my chakras align, but I’m also vegan and I REALLY like nutritional yeast, so like, is there gluten free yeast? Isn’t yeast alive, so isn’t it actually not vegan? And I was also wondering bzzzzzzzzzzz…..”
To avoid anyone from having to deal with this shenanigans again, and to answer a couple questions that have been pitched to me by other non-baking pros, here’s a Crash Course on Bread.
Given that my last few topics have been a little heavy, I figured it was long since time to talk about something that I love and that fascinates me, inspires me, confounds me, and frustrates me in equal measure.
To quote my wife, “Cooking with a cold must be like being a musician that can’t hear.”
This may or may not be because we went out to dinner once when I was dealing with some nasal congestion and couldn’t taste anything. My favorite beers, deep-fried brussels sprouts, and smoked ribs were utterly tasteless. It was frustration bordering on heartbreak.
The senses of smell and taste are obviously deeply connected- informing and influencing each other in one of our most primal survival mechanisms- when something smells off, it probably IS off.
When you’re a cook, though, not being able to taste things is not an option. You might know the recipes by heart, you may measure and cook everything perfectly- but if you aren’t tasting (or able to taste) as you go, it’s like driving down the highway with only one eye. Yes, you can do it- but you wouldn’t unless had to, and there are a LOT of things that can mess with your ability to detect flavors.
Here’s some of them:
Supposedly, when his hearing loss was nearly total, Beethoven would put a pencil in his teeth and press the end to the soundboard of his piano so he could feel the vibration of the notes. Nothing quite like that for taste though.
Back in culinary school, I quickly learned that the single most useful tools a student can have on them at any given time is a pen and a notebook.
Especially in my Soups, Stocks, and Sauces class, a.k.a. Hot Foods 101.
My chef for that class was a fun and pleasant guy, but tended to have something of a short temper and a dry sense of humor. When we got into the kitchen for the practical half of the day’s class, he would have EVERYONE’S production scrawled up on a chalkboard.
He would then rattle through it, top to bottom, along with recipe specifics that group must know. Then he would erase the board- and he wouldn’t answer ANY questions for the rest of the day that amounted to “What else was I supposed to do again?”
I learned VERY quickly how to jot down notes, written in my own flavor of shorthand, and to create mnemonics for myself each day to make sure that- once the board was erased- the only thing I had to say was “Yes, Chef.”
The little flip notebooks I filled didn’t just help me that day- I often used them to scrawl down recipes and procedures my chefs described, or later on to sketch quick plating ideas. Those saved ideas and recipes got compiled in a little bound notebook with a magnet closure- and never got too far from my knife roll or chef uniform.