1. What’s your personal favorite dough to make?
I probably like something like a flaky, buttery biscuit the best. For that kind of dough, the type of flour will be either all purpose, possibly with some cake flour (which has a lower protein content, so therefore less ability to make the biscuits tough by developing gluten). The butter will be cold, and in visible pieces when the butter is cut into the dry ingredients. The liquid will also be cold, but could range from buttermilk to heavy cream or milk, and the liquid will be added all at once. These factors contribute to a very flaky biscuit – especially when you don’t overwork the dough as it comes together or roll in too much flour. Roll in just enough to keep the dough from sticking to your countertop and rolling pin. Your oven should definitely be pre-heated for the water in the butter and the liquid to form steam – and help rise the dough (along with any baking powder in the recipe). It can be a bit tricky to tell when biscuits or scones are done – and they overbake and could become dry. I take one out and peek inside – if it’s a baked crumb structure, they’re done, take them out of the oven. If it looks a bit raw, give it another minute or two. With these types of biscuits you’re the “designer.” If you prefer them soft – keep them very close together on your sheet pan. If you like more of a crust, space them out about 2” apart for the heat to get to all the sides. It’s also fun to brush the tops with the buttermilk, cream or milk before you bake for a bit of a shine. If I’m using them for dessert like with sliced peaches and ice cream or whipped cream, I might sprinkle some granulated or turbinado sugar on top of the brushed milk. I don’t do that if the biscuits are savory, like to eat with eggs for brunch- although then I like to eat them with honey or jam.
2. Seems like everyone’s into their sourdough these days. What’s a common mistake home chefs make while making their own sourdough?
I think people panic. I know they panic – students do and my sister in Vancouver just did. They start by building the sourdough or building it from someone else’s starter and feed it flour and water daily. But they will get very active, especially in warm summer weather. They may rise more than you expect in your jar or bowl – even if the starter is established long enough to store it in the fridge. Sometimes a mold will grow. If it’s red, orange or pink it’s very unusual but dangerous and then I would throw it out. Otherwise the sourdough starter can get pretty funky and people panic because it’s liquidy, grey, etc. That’s just normal. Feed it again and keep going. If you’d feel better, wash out your jar or bowl and then scoop the fed starter into the clean container.
3. What’s the best flour for pizza dough? What about bread loaves? Or sourdough?
For pizza dough you will find recipes for 00, all purpose and/or bread flour. Bread is the highest protein content, with the greatest ability to develop the gluten which gives a loaf of bread it’s 3-dimensionality. Use bread flour for bread baking, including sourdough baking, unless your recipe asks for all purpose, whole wheat, rye, spelt, etc. All of these have the gluten forming potential – just less than for a bread or “high gluten” flour. But when it comes to pizza, I’d use a lower protein content flour – and prefer 00. 00 Flour is from Italy and the weather conditions in Europe are generally milder than the North American for growing wheat – our flour has higher protein the all purpose and the 00 has less. The 00 has just enough to hold the dough together as you kneed it – and then typically a pizzas recipe will then need to rest 1 hour (to overnight) after it is kneeded. This resting period lets the gluten that was developed relax. The relaxation (and any olive oil in the dough) is what will let you stretch your pizza dough out into a pizza – hopefully without tears or breaks in the dough after it’s relaxed.
4. What tips do you have for making sure your bread loaves are perfectly baked?
If you bake the same size loaf of the same recipe of bread in your same oven all the time, you can tell when it’s done by color and smell. But every bread dough recipe, with varying sizes of loaves, and different circumstances if different ovens, will help create darker or lighter crusts so for new recipes that’s a poor indication of doneness. If it’s a new recipe for something small like hamburger buns, you can pick up the loaf and give it a “thump” for the does-it-sound-like-a-hollow-drum test. The dough, when baked, will sound hollow because the water baked out of the dough. However, if you decided to make an enormous braided loaf or something it can be way to hot and dangerous to pick up to thump. Stick in a calibrated digital instant read thermometer (available at Kerekes) to check the doneness. If you think your loaf is done, stick the thermometer in somewhere where it won’t show a hole in your Instagram photo (like from the side). A lean bread such as one without fillings or a lot of sugar, butter and eggs will be done at 180F and certainly by 190F. For a rich yeast bread such as a frangipan-filled brioche or a braided babka, I would cook it to 200-210F.
5. What types of pans do you prefer for baking bread?
In the baking industry we use steam injected ovens for baking bread. A lean loaf (with a low percentage of fats like butter, oil or egg yolks in the dough) will hold a crust if the bread is baked with some steam in the first minutes the dough is still rising in the oven. When the yeast in the dough gets too hot (at 140F), the loaf stops rising and then you want to remove the steam so the loaf will start to brown and not be pale and anemic in color. Home bakers sometimes have to brush a loaf with water pre baking, or stick a tray of water or ice cubes in the oven for the initial part of the loaf baking and then remove it. These procedures are all done for the same purposes – to a) allow the bread to fully rise (called ovenspring) and not prematurely form a dry crust before the bread is finished expanding) and then b) to permit the browning of the crust while the bread finishes baking to its final internal temperature (see above). A rich yeast bread with a lot of fats and sugars in the dough will not hold a crust, but may still benefit from steam forming around the dough as it finishes rising before browning. This browning is called the Maillard Reaction, and it’s the same browning like for grilling a hamburger because flour is protein. I think the best procedure to bake a loaf of bread successfully at home is to use Jim Lahey’s procedure from Sullivan Street Bakery to preheat a Dutch oven in the oven, and then carefully brush the bottom of the proofed loaf with a little oil on the bottom and water on the loaf before placing your dough in the pre-heated Dutch oven and quickly cover the Dutch oven with it’s lid. The lid will remain on to allow the steam to form around the loaf while the dough rises – and then you will remove the lid after the dough rises to allow it to start browning.
Check out more of Chef Kathryn’s work at @chef_kathryn_gordon on Instagram and Facebook, and at kathryn-gordon.com.