Questions?

Feb 9, 2016

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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BEFORE ASKING A QUESTION… please see the links below on the most commonly asked questions.  I am not always able to keep up with questions so please also look through the recipe comments from other cooks, or maybe you can research your question online.

Still have a question? Please understand if I am not able to respond. To send your question, click here.

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65 Comments
Apr 22, 2015

No Knead Bread Questions

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Questions about your no knead bread or rolls? These notes should help…

My dough didn’t rise.

  • No knead dough doesn’t rise like standard yeast breads, it only puffs up and gets bubbly. It will be a little bigger after the resting time but don’t look for a much larger volume.
  • Your yeast may not be fresh. Yeast has a short shelf life once a package is opened. Even with the small packets, once it’s opened, yeast should be tightly sealed and kept in the freezer, not refrigerated.
  • Your water may have been the wrong temperature. For the faster method, hot tap water is usually around 125 to 130°F. Anything hotter than that is too hot. And boiling water is definitely out. For the overnight method, cold to room temperature water works.
  • You changed the recipe. It’s best to follow the recipe exactly for the first time. That way you know it works. Don’t change the recipe the first time, paying attention to every detail. You can get creative later on.

My dough was too dry.

  •  You did not aerate your flour before measuring. Flour always settles in the bag or container and must be aerated before measuring; otherwise, you will be using too much flour. To aerate flour, using a large spoon or spatula, stir the flour around to incorporate some air.
  • You measured the flour incorrectly. To measure flour, use a flat-topped measuring cup, gently spoon the aerated flour into the cup until it’s mounded above the rim and level off the excess with the back of a knife. Do not tap the cup or the container of flour.
  • You changed the recipe.

My dough was too runny.

  • You used too much liquid or not enough flour. Use a cup specific for measuring liquids, have it on a flat surface and view it at eye level to make sure your liquid is at the correct line.
  • You sifted the flour before measuring, which would cause you to use less flour than required.
  • You changed the recipe.

My bread wasn’t cooked inside.

  • Your oven (and pot) were not preheated long enough. Use an oven thermometer to make sure your oven has reached 450°F. It can take over half an hour.
  • You sliced it too soon. After bread is removed from the oven, it will continue to cook inside. It’s best to let it cool completely before slicing (I know it’s hard to wait!)

My bottom crust was too hard.

  • Your pot was too close to the heat. Try raising the oven rack so the bottom is not as close to the heat.
  • Your oven may be hotter than you think. Use an oven thermometer to assure your oven is the proper temperature.
  • Try a slightly lower temperature by preheating to 450°F but lowering the temperature to 425°F to bake.
  • If using a black cast iron pot, try another one that is not black.
  • Do not bake any longer than indicated.

Don’t  you need sugar to feed the yeast?

  • No. You do not need sugar to activate the yeast. This is a half-true old wives tale left over from when yeast wasn’t preserved as well as it is today.

Doesn’t hot water kill the yeast?

  • No. Hot water does not kill yeast. Today’s yeast is more sturdy and accommodating than years ago and can tolerate water or liquid up to 130°F. The killing point for yeast is 140°F. (average tap water comes out at about 120-125°F – my tap water is 127°F)

I don’t have a Dutch oven.

  • I have only made my bread in an enameled cast iron Dutch oven (Le Creuset) so I can not recommend something I have not tried.  But I have researched online and other people claim to have success using: a glass pyrex dish with a lid, a stainless steel pot with a lid, a clay baker, and a pizza stone with a stainless steel bowl as a cover. Several people posted here that they used a black cast iron pot with a lid. With a little research, you may be able to find more options and you can also look through the comments below the recipe for other ideas. Keep in mind that any lid must be tight fitting because you need to create steam inside the pot and the lid should have an oven-proof handle (not plastic). Your pot will need to hold at least 3 quarts but 5 to 6 quarts is most common.

A Final Note: If you have followed my recipe exactly with no changes at all and it doesn’t look right before baking, don’t make adjustments to try to “fix” it. Trust the recipe, don’t change anything and continue as directed. You may be surprised that it turns out after all.

Apr 21, 2015

Problems with Yeast Baking?

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WITH BAKING, IT’S IMPORTANT TO FOLLOW THE RECIPE EXACTLY, RIGHT DOWN TO THE SIZE OF THE PAN.  EVEN THE SMALLEST CHANGE CAN CAUSE A RECIPE TO FAIL.

Dough Didn’t Rise

  1. Your liquid may have been the wrong temperature. Using an instant read thermometer is the best way to know it’s correct.
  2. Your yeast may not be fresh. Yeast has a short shelf life once a package is opened. Even with the small packets, once it’s opened, yeast should be tightly sealed and kept in the freezer, not refrigerated.
  3. You used the wrong size pan. Using a larger pan than is noted lets the dough spread sideways instead of rising upwards.
  4. You changed the recipe. It’s important to follow the recipe exactly, paying attention to every detail.

Dough Too Dry

  1. You did not aerate your flour before measuring. Flour always settles in the bag or container and must be aerated before measuring; otherwise, you will be using too much flour. To aerate flour, using a large spoon or spatula, stir the flour around to incorporate some air.
  2. You measured the flour incorrectly. To measure flour, use a flat-topped measuring cup, gently spoon the aerated flour into the cup until it’s mounded above the rim and level off the excess with the back of a knife. Do not tap the cup or the container of flour.
  3. You used a different flour than stated in the recipe.

Dough Too Sticky

  1. You used too much liquid or not enough flour. Use a cup specific for measuring liquids, have it on a flat surface and view it at eye level to make sure your liquid is at the correct line.
  2. You sifted the flour before measuring, which would cause you to use less flour than required.
  3. You used a different flour than stated in the recipe.

Don’t  you need sugar to feed the yeast?

  • No. You do not need sugar to activate the yeast. This is a half-true old wives tale left over from when yeast wasn’t preserved as well as it is today.

Doesn’t hot water kill the yeast?

  • No. Hot water does not kill yeast. Today’s yeast is more sturdy and accommodating than years ago and can tolerate water or liquid up to 130 degrees F. The killing point for yeast is 140 degrees F. (average tap water comes out at about 120-125 degrees F – my tap water is 127 degrees F)

Click here for my Flour Basics.

Click here for ideas on where to rise dough.

Click here for the difference between baking powder & baking soda.

Apr 21, 2015

Tortilla Tips

If your tortillas are not soft there can be several reasons:

  1. You did not use all purpose flour.
  2. You did not use a cast iron pan.
  3. Your pan was not hot enough.
  4. You did not roll them thin enough.
  5. They are not stored properly.
  6. I store mine by placing them, while they are still warm, in a zip top plastic bag – air tight –  with all the air removed. They are always soft.
Apr 21, 2015

Flour Basics

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“Which flour do I use for bread, or muffins, or cookies?” “Can I substitute one flour for another?” “Why is my flour mixture so dry?” I hope this helps clarify any questions you have about flour. By the way, with all baking the amount of protein in flour matters. The lower the protein, the softer the baked goods. So here is my simple guideline to baking with flour:

How to Measure (& Aerate) Flour
Flour must be aerated before measuring because it often settles in the bag or container making it heavy  and compact. (Aerating basically means fluffing it up) If you dip into flour without aerating, you will be getting too much flour and your dough will be too dry. To aerate flour you simply stir it around with a spoon before measuring. To measure, be sure to use a flat-topped dry measuring cup like in my photo. You can see how I aerate flour in my Easy One Bowl Chocolate Cake video: http://mobiledev.jennycancook.com/recipes/easy-one-bowl-chocolate-cake/

After aerating, there are two ways to measure the flour: 1) Scoop & Level – Gently scoop the flour up with a spoon and sprinkle it into your measuring cup until it’s mounded above the rim. Do not tap the cup or the container of flour. Finally, level off the excess flour with the back of a knife. 2) Dip & Level – Gently dip your measuring cup into the flour until it’s mounded above the rim and level off the excess flour with the back of a knife. A properly measured cup of flour weighs 4 1/4 ounces.

The Difference Between Flours

Whole wheat flour (about 14% protein/gluten)
Whole wheat flour is not the same as whole wheat pastry flour and should not be substituted for whole wheat pastry flour. Whole wheat flour is milled from hard winter wheat and is best used only for yeast breads. A loaf made entirely with whole wheat flour will be a dense and somewhat heavy loaf. For a softer loaf, it is often combined with some all-purpose or bread flour. Whole wheat flour is not suitable for other baking like cookies and cakes. *Since it contains the germ of the wheat which contains oil, once opened, this flour should be kept refrigerated in a tightly sealed container.

Whole wheat pastry flour (about 10% protein/gluten)
Also called whole grain pastry flour, this flour is good for most recipes that use all-purpose flour when you want to add fiber. Whole wheat pastry flour is milled from a soft summer wheat and is best for baking cookies, brownies, pancakes, waffles, quick breads, and some cakes. Results will not be as light and soft as using all-purpose flour but you can also mix part whole wheat pastry flour and part all-purpose flour for soft baked goods with added fiber. (I use this flour the most in cookies, brownies, even pancakes & waffles for extra fiber) This flour is not a good substitute for whole wheat flour and is not suitable for baking yeast breads. Don’t have whole wheat pastry flour? Regular whole wheat flour is not a good substitute – your baked goods will be dense and heavy. Look for whole wheat pastry flour at health food stores or you can order it online. Once opened, it should be kept refrigerated in a tightly-sealed container.

Bread flour (about 14% protein/gluten)
This flour is designed for yeast baking. It helps create more gluten for a better rise in yeast doughs. Use it for yeast bread and pizza dough for a chewy texture and good structure. However, all-purpose flour works almost as well with yeast. From my experience, if you don’t have bread flour, all-purpose flour can be used as a substitute in yeast bread and pizza dough.

All-purpose flour (about 10% protein/gluten)
The name says it all. Use it for cookies, cakes, quick breads, yeast breads, pies, pancakes, etc.

Pastry flour (about 9% protein/gluten)
This flour falls between all-purpose flour and cake flour and can be used in pastries, cookies and cakes. This flour is not suitable for baking yeast breads.

Cake flour (about 8% protein/gluten)
This very fine grain flour is good in light and airy cakes like angel food cake. However, if a recipe does not call for cake flour and you decide to use it, you would use more (2 tablespoons more per each cup). Conversely, if a recipe calls for cake flour and you don’t have it, you can make your own: For one cup of cake flour, measure one cup of all-purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoons of flour and replace that with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. I do not use cake flour – I don’t find it necessary. This flour is not suitable for baking yeast breads.

Self-rising flour (about 8 % protein/gluten)
This soft flour is similar to pastry flour but has salt and baking powder added. Many southern recipes call for this flour in biscuits and pancakes but if the recipe calls for all-purpose flour and you substitute self-rising flour, you will need to adjust any added salt and baking powder. (one cup of self-rising flour contains 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder and ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt) This flour is not suitable for yeast breads.

I hope these simple flour basics are helpful. – Jenny Jones

Feb 12, 2015

Where to rise dough

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Most doughs rise faster in a warm  and humid environment. Here are some ideas on warm places to let your dough rise:

1. Oven –  a) Turn on the oven for about one minute and turn it off. Place dough in the warm oven. b) Place a pot of boiling hot water in a cold oven. Place the dough inside with the hot water. These will only work until you need to preheat the oven to bake. If you have a second oven, you can keep the dough in there longer.

2. Heating Pad – Set the dough on top of a heating pad and set the pad to low or medium temperature.

3. Lamp – Turn on a reading lamp and set the dough under the bulb.

4. On Top of Fridge – Your refrigerator generates heat so it’s usually warm on top of the fridge so you can place the dough there.

5. Microwave – Bring a cup of water to boil in the microwave. After it boils, put the dough in the microwave with the cup of hot water and close the door right away. This creates heat and humidity.

6. Neck Wrap – If you have a neck wrap that you heat in the microwave, you can heat it up and wrap it around the container that holds the dough.

7. Bowl of hot water – Fill a bowl with very hot water and put a flat top on it like a plate or pizza pan. Place the dough on the plate and drape a towel over the dough and bowl to keep the heat in.

8. Window – If the sun is coming through a window in winter, place the dough next to the window in the sun.

9. Hot Car – If your car is parked in the hot sun, put the dough in the car.

Did I miss any? If anyone has other suggestions, please post them below.

Feb 12, 2015

Substitutions

Don’t have whole wheat pastry flour? Regular whole wheat flour is not a good substitute for whole wheat pastry flour.. It will give you a heavier and more dense product. Whole wheat flour is usually ground hard wheat that is high in gluten and best for baking bread. Whole wheat pastry flour is a much finer grind and is made from a soft wheat low in gluten. It is best for sweets like cakes, muffins, and cookies. If whole wheat pastry flour is not available in your area, you can try 1/2 whole wheat flour + half all purpose flour. It won’t be as good as using whole wheat pastry flour but it’s a way to add fiber. If you use my recipes regularly it’s worth looking for whole wheat pastry flour – most health food stores will have it. It can also be purchased online and should be kept refrigerated.

Don’t have buttermilk? You cannot substitute milk for buttermilk. There is no perfect substitute for buttermilk, especially in baking. Due to its acidic nature, buttermilk makes baked goods lighter and fluffier so it’s worth using the real thing. My preferred method is to combine yogurt with milk, using 1/2 yogurt (2% low fat Greek yogurt) and 1/2 milk (1% or 2% low fat milk). A common solution in baking is to add 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or distilled white vinegar to 1 cup of milk (any kind but not fat-free) and let it stand for 5 minutes to mimic buttermilk. For the best results, try to use real low fat buttermilk if you can, but not fat-free. You can freeze unused buttermilk in portions the size you will need for future recipes. It will separate when frozen but when you thaw it, just stir it back up.

Don’t have bread flour? You can use all purpose flour. Bread flour has more protein than all-purpose flour and that helps with gluten development, which is helpful when working with yeast. With bread flour pizzas may be a little crispier and breads may be a little chewier and have more body but it’s not a huge difference.

Don’t have instant yeast? Regular active yeast can be used wherever I use instant yeast. But be sure to check the package directions for the required temperature of the liquid. My brand of instant yeast calls for 120 degrees F while my regular active yeast calls for 110 degrees F.

Don’t have 1% milk or low fat milk? Use a mixture of 3 parts water to 1 part whole milk. For example, to make the equivalent of one cup of 1% milk: combine  3/4 cup water + 1/4 cup whole milk.  (For 2% milk the mixture should be 50/50, i.e. half water and half whole milk)

Don’t have baking soda? Do not use baking powder instead. Baking powder is not a substitute for baking soda. Baking soda reacts with acidic ingredients in a recipe to make baked goods rise.

Don’t have extra light olive oil? For baking you can use canola, safflower, or any vegetable oil.

Don’t have a dutch oven? I have only used an enameled cast iron dutch oven but I have researched online and other people claim to have success using: a glass pyrex dish with a lid, a stainless steel pot with a lid, a clay baker, and a pizza stone with a stainless steel bowl as a cover. You can also look through the recipe comments for other ideas. Keep in mind that any lid must be tight fitting and have an oven-proof handle (not plastic). Your pot will need to hold at least 3 quarts but 5 to 6 quarts is most common.

Don’t want to use eggs? I’m sorry to say I don’t know of any good substitute for eggs. For anyone with egg allergies, rather than change a recipe and risk being disappointed, you can find many eggless recipes the are already proven online. If cholesterol is a concern, all my research has shown that egg yolks may contain cholesterol but they are low in saturated fat and they do not raise serum cholesterol in the blood. Eggs also contain nutrients that may help lower the risk for heart disease, including vitamin B12, riboflavin, and folate. Besides providing protein, iron, phosphorus, iodine, and vitamin E, eggs are also one of the few natural sources of vitamin D.

Feb 11, 2015

The Difference Between Baking Powder & Baking Soda

Baking powder and baking soda are NOT THE SAME. They can not be substituted for one another. They are both leaveners but they are chemically different.

Baking Powder:Baking SodaBaking soda is used in recipes that contain acidic ingredients like buttermilk, brown sugar, yogurt, lemon juice, honey, vinegar, or chocolate (except Dutch process). The acid in the recipe reacts with the baking soda, allowing your baked goods to rise. Baking powder is generally used when there is no acidic ingredient in the recipe. Bottom line: baking soda needs an acid; baking powder does not. – Jenny Jones

Feb 11, 2015

Can’t Print a Recipe?

I assume you are using a desktop computer. For some reason, in some browsers (like Google Chrome), the “print menu window” appears to load faster than the actual recipe page you’re trying to print. To address this problem please close the print window and then click the Print button again. I hope this helps.  You can also use the “Share” buttons at the upper right of each recipe to share any recipe or to email it to yourself.

Jan 10, 2015

Cake Strips to the Rescue

If you bake a lot of cakes there are two issues that need fixing. One is that they rise too much in the center and the other is that the edges get over-baked and dry. A cake strip will fix that. Here is my yellow cake baked with no cake strip. It’s domed in the middle and the edges are overdone and dry.

IMG_6051And here it is with a cake strip – perfectly flat and the edges are soft and evenly baked.

IMG_6091 copyA cake strip is easy to use. You just soak it in water for about 15 minutes, then press out the excess water and wrap it around the pan just before baking.

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It protects the edge of the pan from getting too hot and the cake will bake evenly. If you can’t find one, you can fashion your own using fabric. I have never done that but you can find lots of how-to’s in the internet. They’re also called baking strips for cakes.

While working on this recipe I was surprised by something I learned about cake pans. It’s about the color. I always knew that a dark pan absorbs more heat so baked goods will brown more than in a light colored pan. But I baked two cakes, both with cake strips, in two different pans that I considered light colored. But look at the difference…

Cake Pans1200_6284The pan on the left is my more expensive Williams-Sonoma Gold Touch pan that I never thought of as dark. The pan on the right is a cheaper silver colored pan (with no brand name so I don’t even know where I got it) but the cake in the cheaper silver pan came out perfectly. The edges were velvety soft and the cake didn’t brown too much. The one on the left was okay but the edges pulled away a bit and it browned a little more. Bottom line: use a silver colored pan and a cake strip for a perfect, soft, yummy cake.

Speaking of cake, this simple yellow cake is one of my easy-to-make healthier cakes and it’s my go-to cake for all kinds of frosting and filling. It’s soft and not super sweet… and it’s made without butter. I’ll be posting the recipe soon, so get your cake strips ready! – Jenny Jones

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