Why knowing the basics of cooking is important

Sep 5, 2018 | Cooking Tips

Last night I was talking to a friend and food, as it inevitably always does, became to the topic of the conversation. He mentioned how recipes he has gotten off the internet have disappointed him in the past. Essentially, they were complete garbage. He was talking specifically about a bread recipe that he had used some time ago which ended up being total dumpster bait. I don’t exactly remember what was wrong with the bread but it was a complete disaster. So, how would knowing the basics of cooking have changed the outcome of this shitty bread?

Okay, to fully understand why knowing the basics is important we need to first learn some basics.

Bread

There are two types of bread. Lean and enriched. A lean bread is best represented by a classic french baguette. The classic baguette, with its crisp exterior, and chewy bubbly interior is made with only four ingredients. Flour, salt, yeast, and water. There are many breads made with only these four ingredients and they all taste and look different based on ratios, temperature, fermentation time, and a whole bunch of other things.

The second type of bread is enriched. This makes up the bulk of our bread. This includes things like sandwich bread, brioche, croissants, and focaccia. An enriched bread is one that has had fat and or sugar added to the dough. These tend to have a softer crust, and a more compact interior. With me so far?

The differences in these two breads goes further than just the additional ingredients. The ingredients are incorporated differently and the bread is baked differently. Let’s look at these differences separately.

Enriched Bread:

When making an enriched bread, generally the first step is to dissolve sugar in a small portion of water and then activate the yeast. This is assuming you are using active dry yeast. Once the yeast is activated it along with the remaining water, fat, and salt are added to the flour and mixed thoroughly. Once the ingredients are fully mixed the bread is then kneaded until the proper amount of gluten is developed. This gives the bread structure.

The bread is then bulk fermented. This means that the dough is left in one batch to rise. After the first rise the dough is then divided into separate loaves or whatever the case maybe and then it is left to rise a second time. We call this proofing as the yeast is proving that it is alive and doing it’s job. The bread is then baked on a moderate temperature, between 350°F-425°F until cooked. The time and temperature depends on the size of the loaves.

Lean Bread

Lean bread often starts not with yeast but with a mother or a starter. This is not always the case but is very common. If you are using yeast here is how the process would go.

Combine a portion of the flour with the yeast. Add warm water and allow the yeast to activate by feeding on the sugars naturally present in the flour. This is known as the sponge method as the result of the yeast activation along with the flour resembles a sponge. From here the remaining water and flour is added and the mixture is kneaded. It is common to add the salt, halfway through the kneading process. The salt retards the yeast and so adding it too soon will prevent the dough from rising properly. The fermentation process is essentially the same as with enriched dough, but may take slightly longer due to the lower sugar content in the dough.

After the initial bulk fermentation the dough is formed into desired shapes such as baguettes and allowed to proof. The once the bread has proofed it is baked in a hot oven at temperatures ranging from 400°F-500°F. Usually, steam is added to the oven for the first few minutes to slow crust development which will cause a thicker, crisper crust to form through out the bake.

Knowing the difference

Knowing just these few differences allows you to look at a recipe and figure out how it should be mixed, what temperature it should baked on, and what you can expect from the finished loaf. This allows you to pinpoint errors in recipes.

A lot of people on the internet who write recipes have no real experience and don’t actually know what they’re doing. This is unfortunate because when someone makes one of their recipes and it doesn’t work, that person just lost money on ingredients, and time. Educating yourself about the basics of cooking allows you to wade through the bullshit and recognize what’s good and what’s bad before you waste your time and money.

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