Cooking Bread with Steam

Bread dough doesn’t have to be baked. In Chinese cooking, for example, it’s often steamed to make buns. Commercial western-style bakeries also use steam to bake larger loaves with shinier, crisper crusts, an effect home cooks replicate with Dutch ovens. In this post, we’ll compare three methods of cooking bread dough using 花卷 (huājuǎn, literally “flower roll”), a type of Chinese steamed bun speckled with scallions. We’ll compare the traditional steaming method to baking and to baking with steam.

Starch in the Kitchen: Choosing a Starch

In the last few posts, we discussed starch’s different roles in baked goods and other desserts. But some starches are better than others for certain applications. Cornstarch, for example, is useful for gelling custard pie fillings, but if we refrigerate a cornstarch fruit filling, it gets cloudy. Tapioca starch, on the other hand, won’t gel into a solid you can slice, but it remains clear once refrigerated. In this post, we’ll explore the molecular differences between different starches and their consequent effects in our desserts.

Starch in the Kitchen: Stabilizers and Thickeners

In the last post, we focused exclusively on flour and the role of its starch in baked goods. Today, we’ll explore how starch’s chemical properties make it useful in desserts such as buttercream, meringue, and custard. We’ll also consider how other ingredients affect starch in these recipes. Starch is a drier. As we discussed inContinue reading “Starch in the Kitchen: Stabilizers and Thickeners”

Starch in the Kitchen: Flour

In the last post, we discussed the molecular details of starch: what it is, where it comes from, and how it changes with water and heat. Today, we’ll apply those concepts to baked goods with a focus on the starch in wheat flour. Although flour is often noted for its gluten, it actually contains 68–75% starch. So when we consider the chemistry of any baked good that contains flour, be it cake, bread, or cookies, starch always plays a role. And in foods cooked in steam or boiling water, starch helps create textures as diverse as soft skins on steamed buns, chewy crusts on bagels, and crisp shells of choux pastry.

Starch: An Introduction

As bakers, when we think of starch, we often think of its function as a thickener in custards and sauces. Although starch is indispensable for pie fillings and pastry cream, it also plays a role in the pie crust and choux that hold them. Starch is as important as gluten for structure and texture in baked goods. It feeds yeast and interacts with proteins, sugar, and fats. We use it to form thin, crisp crusts on bread, chewy crusts on bagels, and tall shells of choux pastry. So let’s dive into the science of starch, starting with a description of what it is and an understanding of how it interacts with heat and water.

Leavening in the Kitchen: Baking Soda and Baking Powder

Baking soda and baking powder are used in all sorts of baked goods including cookies, cakes, and muffins. They can be used independently or in conjunction. And although they both contain the word “baking” and produce carbon dioxide to help leaven our bakes, there are differences that are crucial to understanding how they work in a recipe.