A Loaf with a Chill
The allure of freshly baked bread too often is tamed by the time it takes to make it. Ashley Potenza, of Los Angeles, wondered whether bread dough could be prepped in advance, then frozen for baking later—and if so, what the best way to do it is.
To see how well bread dough holds up to freezing—and determine the best stage at which to freeze it—we tested three kinds of dough: traditional bread dough, dinner roll dough and pizza dough. We froze each variety at two different stages—immediately after mixing and kneading, and after the dough had been allowed to rise. To bake, we let each batch thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then brought the dough to room temperature before baking. For comparison, we also baked fresh versions of each dough that had never been frozen. In all cases, we found that the frozen doughs baked just as well as the freshly made doughs, with little difference in taste or texture. Despite the delicious results, we did not find freezing to be much of a shortcut when dealing with large amounts of dough, as in loaves of bread and pizza dough. In addition to overnight thawing, it took another three hours for the doughs to come to room temperature. But freezing was a shortcut for smaller pieces of dough, such as dinner rolls, which came to room temperature in just 90 minutes.
Tasting with a Grain of Salt…
Fleur de sel, Maldon, Himalayan pink—today’s supermarket shelves are increasingly filled with a wide range of salt options. This got us wondering: Is it really possible to taste differences in varieties of salt?
We suspected that when cooking with salt, the answer would be no. But finishing salts—coarse or flaked salts sprinkled over a dish as it is served—had potential. To sort it out, we asked Mark Bitterman, owner of Bitterman Salt Co., the best way to taste salt. He says three things determine the flavor of a salt: its crystal structure (size and shape), its moisture content and its mineral profile (the trace minerals from where the salt was harvested). We focused our testing on five common finishing salts: black lava, red alaea, French gray, Himalayan pink and common kosher. We first tasted a few grains of each variety on their own; we were impressed by how pronounced the differences were—from the alaea’s earthy, red-oxide-rich flavor to the oceanic brininess of the gray salt, to the pungency of the Himalayan pink salt. But since we know that the size and texture of the salt can influence our perception of taste, we wanted to see if we could isolate any flavors the minerality might be contributing. Based on a suggestion by Bitterman, we dissolved each variety in two liquids—water and cream—then tasted. In each case, we found that any distinctive flavors the salts might have had were lost, even the markedly sulfurous flavor of the black lava salt. The verdict? The best bet for tasting differences between salt varieties is to use them only as a finishing sprinkle, and only on dishes where they won’t immediately dissolve into the other ingredients.
Is Aquafaba All It’s Cracked Up to Be?
Vegans have heralded aquafaba—the starchy liquid produced by cooking chickpeas and other legumes—as the perfect egg substitute, particularly for baking. When whipped, it traps air and creates a lofty foam almost identical to egg whites. Troy Burke, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Nancy Gold, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, wondered whether aquafaba lives up to the hype, and whether it would hold up in recipes almost entirely reliant on eggs for structure, such as macaroons, meringues and hollandaise.
We’d heard the hype and were eager to see how the liquid from canned chickpeas (the most common source for aquafaba) performed. In our hollandaise test, we found aquafaba produced an excellent eggless sauce when made with an immersion blender. We did need to whip the aquafaba to a foamy consistency before adding the oil in order for the sauce to emulsify. Hand-whisking the sauce also worked, but the immersion blender gave us a better consistency and was far less work. The meringues fared well, too, baking up into pleasant confections that could easily pass for classic meringues. Macaroons, however, were a disappointment. The aquafaba leaked out of the coconut mixture during baking, producing bizarrely misshapen (albeit tasty) cookies. While many recipes use the rule of thumb that 1 tablespoon of aquafaba is equivalent to 1 egg, we discovered it’s not quite that simple. Our tests found that while 1 egg yolk could be replaced by 1 tablespoon aquafaba, we needed 2 tablespoons to approximate 1 egg white.