On Bread Aesthetics

Several comments from readers expressing amazement that the tangzhong method isn’t more widely known. If this method really does all these amazing things, why don’t more bakers in America employ it?

All I can say is that it’s a matter of aesthetics. Crusty, chewy breads with elastic, uneven crumbs have been all the rage for almost twenty years now. At least in America, where a romance for Old World peasant breads runs very deep. …

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On Chocolate Macarons

Reader and macaron lover Susan writes:

Hi, Joe. I am obsessed with making macarons. I have tried hundreds of recipes and yours is the only recipe that consistently produces perfect macarons. I’m attempting to make chocolate macarons. When I add in cocoa powder, do I then reduce the amount of powdered sugar that your macaron recipe calls for so the ratio of almond flour and powdered sugar remain 3.8:7.0?

I’m very pleased that the recipe is working so well for you, Susan. That’s an excellent question about the cocoa powder…a little too good, actually. The main problem you’re going to have with cocoa powder is the fact that it’s so absorbent. It’s going to soak up a good deal of water from the egg whites. Currently the recipe calls for about…

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Lightning Strike to Chicago

I blew town Friday for a quickie trip back home, hence the radio silence. The good news is that I scored a ten-pound box of Vienna Beef hot dogs which should see the Pastry family through the grilling season. The bad news: Mrs. Pastry bought a new tarantula. If you met Mrs. Pastry you’d never peg her for an arachnophile. However she’s owned a spider consistently since her days in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, where she learned to love the things. I can’t say I understand how that happens to a person. Maybe it’s all the time in the Caribbean sun. Her last spider, Spanky, died over the winter. She’s been quietly mourning him ever since. But now…

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So what is the tangzhong method?

Anyone who’s ever made a pudding cake has, for all intents and purposes, employed the tangzhong method. It’s the same basic idea: you add a pre-prepared starch gel to your batter/dough and what you get in return is a finished product that’s higher and lighter than it would otherwise be, that retains more moisture and that has a very tight and even crumb. The big difference of course that in a tangzhong (essentially “soup starter” in Chinese) there’s no sugar or flavorings in the mix — just flour and water combined at a ratio of 1-5 and cooked to roughly 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

But then what does the tangzhong gel do in the bread dough? It’s a very good question since baked bread is already a starch gel to some extent. But let’s back up a bit. Flour (white flour) as you’ll recall is nothing more than the finely ground endosperm of the wheat berry. Think of the endosperm as a dense pack of very long and stringy starch molecules all packed in together. Grind it and you get endosperm granules, which I think of as tightly bound bundles of sticks.


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Who Knew?

Today in Murcia it’s Murcian Meat Pie Day. Who knew there was such a thing? I guess the Murcians, who evidently found my recent posts on the subject via Google search. (And the internet grand?). So I’m told they consumed 10,000 meat pies and washed them down with plenty of beer, which is my idea of a festival. Wish I’d been there to see it. Oh well — next year in Murcia!…

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Next Up: Asian “Tangzhong” Breads

“Tangzhong method” a.k.a. “water roux” a.k.a. “soup method” breads have been around for about 15 years now. There’s a debate on about where they originated, either China or Japan. I’m not sure that matters much. The upshot is that breads made via this method are extremely soft and fluffy with a very tight and consistent crumb. All that flies in the face of bread trends here in the US where everyone seems to be trying to get back to hard crusts and inconsistent, open crumbs. Still there’s enough reader interest in this technique for me to want to give it…

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Making Italian Easter Bread

Talk about great decorative breads for Easter brunch, these are it. Italian Easter breads are sweet and fluffy with some very welcome surprises baked in. Little Joan Pastry would eat hard boiled eggs all day long if I let her. I don’t know what she’s looking forward to more on Easter morning, chocolate eggs and jelly beans or these breads full of eggs.


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Hard Boiling Eggs

A lot of requests for a tutorial on this. It makes sense given that most hard boiled eggs end up sticking to the insides of their shells, and/or with that blue/green film around the yolks which signifies over-cooking. The first problem is best solved by time. Sticky shells result when you boil very fresh eggs. Easy-peel eggs can be had by either aging the eggs in the fridge for 10 days or longer, or letting the eggs sit at room temperature for about 24 hours. The aging loosens the membrane that surrounds the white from the inside of the shell, and that does the trick. Note that before you hard boil your eggs they should be chilled again, at least for this method, which assumes cold eggs.


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When Calendars Collide

Reader Chana writes:

A few years ago there was a very strange situation where Easter actually fell before Passover. Someone explained the whys and wherefores to me, but the truth is that I didn’t understand it at all. I mean, huh? Your explanation above is so clear (really), I thought maybe you’d like to tackle this one as well.

That’s a bit of a toughie, Chana. The year was 2008 and everybody — Christians and Jews alike — was confused. Only an astronomer can properly explain how it happened that way, but suffice to say that the Catholic Church has revised its timekeeping methods since 325 A.D. when Christians and Jews were more or less on the same calendar, a lunar one, meaning a calendar that’s dictated by the cycles of the moon.


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Why is this night different from all other nights?

Holy Thursday is the day when Christians celebrate a Passover Seder. Not in the strict sense, we wash and awful lot of feet, but it’s the night we celebrate the Last Supper, which three of the four Gospels depict as a Seder meal. If you’re a Christian and you’ve never celebrated a proper Seder, try it sometime. Any understanding of Christianity is really incomplete without an appreciation for the faith’s Judaic foundation.

Which brings me to the question this post inspired: reader Lori wants to know why in most other languages Easter is called “Pascua”, “Pasqua”, “Pascha” or something similar. The answer…

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