She walked in carrying two recycled grocery bags. As I greeted the sprightly tiny woman, she explained that she did not have Internet access so could not e-mail me, and she didn’t text either. She thought the best thing was to bring in what she had baked to show me because she needed help right away. She politely inquired if I had time to look at what she had brought in – and, of course, I did.
I will admit, I was more than a little intrigued as I guided her to a table to discover what was in her mystery bags. As she opened one, these were her questions:
Q. I made this loaf of gluten-free bread for my niece. Here’s the mix I made it from, and here’s the pan I baked it in. Look at this bread. It’s very crusty and way too dark. I followed the baking instructions on the package. Would using the convection setting help?
A. As I looked at the loaf of gluten-free quick bread, the very dark, well-worn pan and the box mix, I quickly determined the dark crust was because of the pan she was using. Dark or black baking pans will create darker crusts. If you want a lighter-colored tender, use a lighter-colored or glass pan.
The convection setting will create even baking but also produces browning as the fan continually circulates hot air in the oven.
Then we opened the second bag and reviewed its contents. She showed me a plastic bag with several examples of hot-cross buns and the recipe. There were some problems here, too.
Q. These are hot cross buns that I want to make for church on Easter Sunday, but I can’t take these. I have made them twice, and they are hard. Can you tell me what is wrong? They did rise, but when I brushed them with the egg, they deflated some. Why are they not light? Did it have to do with the egg wash?
A. As I looked at the rolls, they were small, dense, hard and very brown and full of dried fruit.
Why were they so dense? An egg wash would not have deflated them that much. They did not appear to have risen sufficiently. Usually failure for yeast to rise is because of the yeast being old or the liquid used being too hot (above 110 degrees) and killing the yeast, rendering it incapable of rising.
My guest, who was well-prepared for her visit with me, whipped the yeast package out of the bag. The yeast was well within the recommended date to be used. She earnestly assured me she knew about baking with yeast and did not have the water too hot. I believed her.
Next I questioned her about the flour. Sometimes too much flour is added to dough, making rolls heavy. Then she produced her recipe, which I quickly read. Only then did I get a clue: The recipe was not a traditional one for hot cross buns but called for whole wheat pastry flour. I asked her what kind of flour she used. She replied whole wheat flour. Bingo: I now knew the reason. She used the wrong kind of flour. Whole wheat pastry flour is different from whole wheat flour because it is milled from a very soft wheat to a very fine texture. Because it is lower in protein, it will give a very different texture than regular whole wheat flour.
Q. Where do you find whole wheat pastry flour?
A. You may have a hard time finding it in the regular supermarkets, but the local natural food stores sell it.
My visitor gathered up her baking examples and tucked them back into her bags and left smiling, ready to make hot cross buns for her church’s Easter breakfast.