Baking 101 (Part 3)

So far, we’ve gone through the basics of baking equipment, along with some ingenious hacks of making whipping cream and cream cheese at home. This time, we talk about a trio of ingredients which don’t do well with compromise, ingredients you need to specially stock up for the baking pantry and without which you’d miss out on a lot of excellent recipes.

Utsav: So, cocoa, yeast and gelatin. Let’s take these one by one, starting with the chocolate. There’s powders, buttons and bars, there’s compounds and couvertures and what not. What’s the difference between all of these and which application is each one best suited for?

Nodee: For a beginner, chocolate doesn’t need to be daunting. Couverture is too expensive for the home cook, so bars and buttons are your best bet. I commonly use compound bars- usually from Morde.

Cocoa though, i prefer to use Hershey’s over anything Indian. There’s an extra depth of flavour it brings.

Chocolate mousse

U:  What is the difference between regular chocolate, chocolate compound and couverture?

N:  Couverture is the best because other than cocoa solids, it uses cocoa butter and chocolate liquor, so there are practically no additives.

Bars for consumption have a lot of different additives, commonly cocoa butter and flavourings. Compounds are cheapest because cocoa solids are mixed commonly with vegetable oils for industrial use.

U:  Does using compound instead of regular chocolate really make any noticeable difference in the final product?

N:  If you use plain chocolate, not really, other than expense. A 500g bar of compound is about the same price as a 70g bar of regular dark chocolate.

Dark Compound

U:  Let’s say you do somehow get your hands on some premium couverture chocolate. What in your opinion would be the best way to do justice to this expensive ingredient?

N:  Probably truffles. Something that minimally affects the quality of the chocolate, and that you can temper and fill as you wish.

U:  And finally, cocoa. In what scenarios would you prefer cocoa powder to chocolate bars and why?

N:  It’s not a question of scenarios, mostly they are used in different recipes and are not really interchangeable. Most cakes and brownies need cocoa, whereas softer, more decadent desserts like souffles and ganache call for chocolate. So both are a baker’s pantry staple.

Chocolate souffle

U:  Alright, yeast. To be frank, I’ve never tried my hand at baking bread so yeast is foreign territory to me. Which form of yeast should the beginner go for and why?

N:  Yeast is extremely temperamental, and what I’ve learnt from many failures is firstly: store your yeast in cool places, and if unsure always test it before using in your bread. And i don’t really trust too many brands, the best one I’ve used so far is Weissmill which I got off Amazon. It is a labour of love, but baking bread has to be one of the most rewarding things you can do.

U:  Baking bread is certainly one of the most enigmatic transformations that happen in the kitchen. You’ve baked your fair share of breads, what’s your favourite?

N:  I think my favourite is still the humble dinner roll or brioche. There’s something in these tiny pieces of fluffy goodness that is so endearing. You WILL throw portion control to the wind.

Dinner Rolls

U:  Could you just explain what you mean by “testing” the yeast?

N:  So “testing” is a way to check if the yeast is still potent. Add a teaspoon of yeast, a teaspoon of sugar and half a cup of lukewarm water and stir. In about 5 minutes, this would bubble up if still active. I would also like to stress you can get active dry or instant yeast. The first one needs to be activated (the same way i described) before using in your baking. Instant yeast may be added directly to your flour. But always avoid direct contact of yeast with salt or hot water to avoid killing it.

U:  Instant yeast is certainly convenient, but does using active dry yeast as opposed to instant make a difference in the final product? And where does fresh yeast fall in the equation?

N:  No, if used correctly it makes no difference. I’ve never used fresh yeast, but it isn’t very convenient for a home baker owing to storage issues.

Fresh and dried yeast (Courtesy : The Spruce Eats)

U:  Okay so, moving on to gelatin. I’ve used powdered gelatin for making panna cotta but the final product always has a weird flavour. My chef buddy says that they always use gold leaf gelatin in their panna cotta which tastes amazing, but it’s pretty hard to find. Is there any middle ground to this problem?

N:  If you use the right quantity of gelatin and bloom it right, even powdered gelatin should not have an aftertaste. You should always bloom gelatin in cold water, then heat on the microwave for 15 seconds and dissolve well before using.

U:  Is there any good rule of thumb for gelatin to liquid ratio that you use?

N:  The rule of thumb is to use 2 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin per 2 cups of liquid, but it maybe wiser to stick to individual recipe specifications.

U:  Great. Will keep that in mind while making my next batch. What else can you use gelatin for, apart from jellies and panna cotta?

Panna cotta

N:  I haven’t really tried much else, but you can also use it in layered desserts like parfaits I suppose. I prefer to work on favour combinations in panna cotta instead.

U:  Yeah the panna cotta really allows you to go crazy with the flavours. What are some of your favorites?

N:  I’ve tried some classics like salted caramel, Espresso, mango, berry – and also quirky ones like cinnamon earl grey chai.

U:  That last one sounds particularly interesting. Will definitely have to give it a shot.

That’s all the basic hardware and software sorted. Next time, we wrap up our talk as well as baking month with Nodee di’s approach to recipes as well as some of her favourites, so tune in next week.

The iconic panna cotta from Ottimo, Hyderabad

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