2023-04-20 DAGNABIT! I HATE it when people do this!
What do you mean I do it too?
Have you ever had beignets? They are a wonderful Louisiana treat! Very much like a donut or sopapilla, but square and with no hole cut out of them. They should be light enough they all but float away in a light breeze. Powdered sugar is applied heavily to keep them on your plate. Thanks to Keesha of Keesha's Kitchen for that lovely picture of beignets. (The recipe I discuss below was NOT hers - hers looks better, but I found it too late.)
When I decided to make some, I wanted to make a sourdough beignet (just look at the title of this web page). My starting point was, as usual, to look for existing recipes and make one to get the ball rolling. My search and creative processes aren't done, and I am still working on beignets. When it is good enough for me, and you, I'll be sharing it.
First, it isn't clear why the recipe calls for sourdough starter AND buttermilk, nor why there is no baking soda involved. The various recipes I've found are divided half and half between using yeast or baking powder/baking soda as a riser. The ones that use buttermilk tend to use baking soda as the riser. The beignets I had in Louisiana, including at Cafe Du Monde, didn't have a yeasty flavor. That could be because they were fully risen – yeasty flavors tend to occur when people use too much yeast and let the dough rise too little time. I'm leaning towards using all sourdough, along with baking soda. But, that is still to come.
It is amazing how many people use the name of a famous restaurant, dish, or person and appropriate it. Yeah, Cafe Du Monde made beignets famous in the hearts and minds of Americans, so people use the Cafe Du Monde name but the recipes bear no relationship to one another. I suspect Alfredo, of Fettuccine Alfredo fame, understands! And now, on (FINALLY!) to the real topic of this email.
Since I'm not done with the recipe, why am I writing? In a nutshell, the measurements of one I found bother me. Yeah, it's a minor thing, but it IS a thing. Have you ever seen someone do something which REALLY annoyed you? As you were cursing them and their ancestors you realized that.... you did the same darned thing? Let he is without sin and all that.... so... back to an ever increasingly disjointed story......
The recipe calls for 227 grams of sourdough starter, 361 grams of all purpose flour and 178 grams of buttermilk.
What the what? Can we be more obsessive? Well, actually, yes, we can. Have you ever noticed that someone does something REALLY annoying and about the time you complain about it, you realize you do it to? I just checked some of my recipes and see I call for 23.4 grams of butter in one recipe, and I'm sure there are other places where I am no less obsessive.
When we are looking at major ingredients, like milk, water, and flour the quantities are large enough there's no real reason to be THAT exact. Remember, when you are measuring flour with cups you are guaranteed major errors. A cup of flour should weigh 120 to 130 grams, but in practice can vary from less than 100 to more than 200 grams. Worse, if you scoop flour into your cups, there is as much as a 25% variation between cups. So, the difference between 227 and 230 grams, or between 361 and 360 grams, or 178 and 180 grams just doesn't matter! Since you are weighing, you are already closer to accurate measurements.
With minor ingredients, like salt, butter, sugar and spices small differences can matter. Still, 23.4 or 23 grams of butter? No real difference. Spices can be more problematical. Look at our black bean and chipotle pepper, or Mexicali Heat recipe. We used the bottle of cumin we'd had on hand for decades, ran out, and bought a new bottle of cumin from our food supplier. The new cumin was so much fresher and stronger than the old bottle that it totally dominated the next batch we baked so we had to use less to get the cumin flavor back in balance! Measuring lesser ingredients with smaller numbers may not be a bad thing, and you may have to adjust quantities when you change suppliers.
Many times the weird numbers are due to spreadsheets and conversions. A commercial baker creates recipes, or formulas as they prefer to call them, for dozens or even hundreds of loaves of bread. When it is scaled down to a loaf or two, the numbers can become absurd. If you use the spreadsheet numbers in a recipe without thinking about them, you get 23.4 grams of butter, or 181 grams of flour. The other conversion is between weights and volumetric measures. A cup of flour should weigh between 120 to 130 grams. If a recipe calls for 140 grams of flour it is easy to convert that to “1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon of flour”, which is a very annoying measurement.
A reminder - baking isn't nearly so much of an exact science as bakers like to pretend and if you find a recipe where the doofus who published it uses absurd measurements, like 181 grams of flour, 23.4 grams of butter, or 1 cup plus 1 TBSP of flour, rounding is OK. As Father Dominick used to say, “It'll be OK, it's only bread, it will forgive you!” Still, I'll be looking at my recipes and trying to clean up my obsessive measurements.
Until next time, may your dough always rise, whether you use 180, 181, or even 190 grams of flour!