When It’s Sticky, Does It Taste Icky?

When it’s sticky, does it taste icky? Your first response is probably, NO! Who doesn’t love a sticky bun or maple syrup or a toasted marshmallow? But I don’t really mean the food itself. I mean the weather. Due to high humidity and hot temperatures, we have lots of sticky days here in the summer. And humidity, whether low or high, affects both the making and perception of food.

If you’ve always lived in a humid region, there’s no reason to notice this. The same is true if you’ve always lived in a dry climate. But those of you who have moved around may have seen the results of your baking change.

You can use the very same ingredients and technique but find it impossible to exactly duplicate the results you got in your previous home. When the humidity is high, you may notice that it’s easier to prepare soft breads than crusty breads or that baking takes longer.

Humidity level also affects our perception of taste. The ideal humidity in a house is around 50%. In my house, it ranges from 50 – 60 percent in warm weather. It can even climb higher if I don’t use the dehumidifying feature on my air conditioner. At this level, food tastes good.

When you fly in an airplane, the humidity drops under 30%. At that level, your perception of taste will not be as acute. Airline food vendors may attempt to compensate for blandness, but few of us have every had a satisfying meal on board. Fighting both low humidity and high altitude makes it difficult to create the ideal culinary experience.

Commercial bakeries often employ humidity control devices to improve the consistency of their product. At home, there are a few things you can do to prevent icky food:

  1. When it’s too humid, turn the air conditioner to a lower temperature before you begin to bake. You can also use a fan to dry the air.
  2. Make sure to use your exhaust fans.
  3. Store ingredients in moisture proof containers with a good seal. For more extreme conditions, place the containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
  4. Reduce the moisture in your recipe slightly.
  5. Use the convection feature if your oven has one.
  6. Make sure there’s a vapor barrier over dirt basement floors.
  7. If conditions are often extreme, purchase and use a dehumidifier or humidifier or explore alternate heating and cooling systems.
  8. Don’t use the drying feature on your dishwasher. If you need more humidity, open the dryer door while it’s hot and the dishes are wet.
  9. You can also increase humidity by simmering pots of water on the stove or making soup.
  10. An indoor dryer vent will pump moisture (and heat) into your home.

If conditions are not extreme, go with the flow. Experience will help guide you to add baking time or increase liquid in the batter.

Enjoy the slightly altered density or moisture in a muffin or cake. Savor the differences in your experience of each food. As long as it’s not icky when it’s sticky, it’s all good!

Two Wrongs Can…Make Delicious Breadcrumbs!

This week’s recipe tests proved that two wrongs can…make delicious breadcrumbs! Periodically, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen creating new gluten-free recipes. I cook, record what I think I’ve done, and then prepare the recipe again to see if I’ve gotten it right. If I have, the recipe is ready to be sent to out for a final test. If I haven’t, I try again. I think biscuits took about 9 tries, but the result is definitely worth it.

Anyway, this week I was concentrating on a new yeast roll and sandwich bread. The first batch of rolls went a little long in the oven, so I tweaked the baking time and the second batch was delicious! Confident, I started on the bread.
I wanted a really wet dough for the sandwich bread. I was happy when I poured it out of the bowl into the baking pan. Unfortunately, I filled the pan too full. It rose beautifully, but once I put it in the oven, began to rise over and drip down and around the pan. The good news is, the stalagmites formed by the dripping dough were incredibly good. The bad news is, the bread would not hold together when sliced thin.
At the end of the day, I had 10 rolls and a loaf of bread that were less than satisfactory. As you know, gluten-free flours don’t come cheap, so I wanted to put the mistakes to good use. I thought about making bread pudding, but decided I wasn’t in the mood for dessert. After exploring other options like croutons, I landed on bread crumbs as the thing I would use the most. I freeze them for later use in tuna croquettes and stuffed mushrooms or to top casseroles. I can also use them in meatballs or meatloaf.
With my bread crumb plan, I let the bread sit for a couple of days, then crumbled it into a flat pan and placed it in a 200º oven for an hour, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes. I then let them sit out on top of the stove for the rest of the day. Sometimes, I’ll let the crumbs sit uncovered in a cool oven for an additional day.

Once the crumbs were dry, I placed them in a food chopper and ground them for a few seconds to make them more uniform. They were then ready to be put in an airtight container and stored in the freezer.

My sister is sometimes hesitant to try new things in the kitchen because she wants all her efforts to turn out well. I don’t worry so much about the first result because my mistakes are often fortuitous in one way or another. This week two wrongs made great breadcrumbs. Who knows what next week’s failings may contribute? I’m looking forward to finding out!

What’s Happening at Cooking2Thrive

Here’s what’s happening at Cooking2Thrive…This weekend I’ve been baking bread. I have new neighbors, so I took them a warm loaf – gluten-free of course – yeasty, hearty, and multigrain. Nothing can make the smell of new paint seem more homey and inviting than the added smell of freshly baked bread.
multigrain bread

Yesterday’s bread didn’t rise quite as high as I wanted, so today I’m going to add a tiny bit more yeast, knead 2 minutes less and allow the dough to rise higher in the pan before it goes in the oven. I’ve baked bread off and on for over 30 years. Today’s exercise isn’t really necessary. I know I can play with the science, get the recipe perfect, and still the bread will vary.

Bread is affected by the temperature in the house, moisture in the air, really everything around it. The best bread is made by feeling your way through the process. Does the dough look moist enough? Should I let it rise a bit more even though I’m past the window in the recipe or does this height feel right? The more you bake, the easier it is to end up with the bread qualities you want even when you change things on the spot. Baking is as much art as it is science.

Nonetheless, we’re dedicated to providing you with recipes that are as perfect as possible. We put all of our recipes through a minimum of 3 levels of testing. The breads and crackers often go through many more rounds to get the taste, texture, and look just right. Of course that means we’re way behind where I’d like to be…way behind where I thought we’d be…in launching our full website.

So, where are we? I’m excited to say that we have several unique products produced and ready for the photo shoot that will give us images for the online store. We’re only 3 recipes away from having or first 2-pack ready to print. Our unique recipe boxes are on the shelves ready to fill with printed recipe cards. We’re designing the electronic version that you will be able to download or purchase on a credit card style USB drive. The educational portion of the site is built. We have several episodes of our cooking show edited and ready to post, and video interviews with a chef, MD, and life coach are ready as well. All of that feels great!
recipe box

And it feels frustrating. I feel like the closer I get to the home stretch, the further away I get. I’m familiar with the process. I’ve been a business owner for almost 25 years, but my other business feels more scientific. My clients originate the projects. All I have to do is finish out a narrow portion of each project in the manner that meets industry standards and pleases my clients. My timelines are based on their deadlines and they are rarely flexible. It is always a juggling act, but with a very routine flow.

This process felt totally organic in the beginning. It evolved naturally almost without effort because we could allow it to grow and evolve away from the public eye. It didn’t feel like a business. Now we’ve hit the point where other priorities enter the picture and I am struggling to get the art and science in balance. I have a vision for how I want things to happen and the sort of work environment I want to create. I know that as long as I keep baking, the bread will turn out fine. I’ll have perfect batches and I’ll throw some in the trash. It’s the process of all things creative.

And while I know that, I feel frustrated and discouraged and annoyed right now because I can’t wait to give you access and I have no idea what the real launch date will be. I feel bad that I’ve been so off on my estimated timelines up to this point. While I believe it’s important to have things working correctly when we launch, I feel like I’m letting you down somehow by taking so much time.

I am grateful for your patience, grateful that I’m excited about what we will offer you from the moment we launch, and grateful for all the hard lessons I’m learning in the process. I am – all foot stomping, silent screaming, frustrated tears included – grateful.

That’s the Cooking2Thrive update for today. How are things going with your endeavors? Feel free to share triumphs and trials below!