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Chat Leftovers: Dough that's on the money

Here's what's so nifty about Wednesdays: (1) You're halfway through the workweek, and (2) it's time for another Free Range chat, when you can toss questions to Food section staffers and hope we toss some answers back. Our guest chatter will be David Hagedorn, whose Real Entertaining column today lays out plans for a fabulous fall brunch for eight. And as usual, there'll be free books for any two of you who manage to impress us with your perceptiveness and intellect. Or maybe just with your excellent grammar and spelling. Whatever.

We're also hoping readers will weigh in with opinions on our redesigned section. So plan to be there at 1, won't you?

And now, down to business. Here's a leftover chat question from last week we just couldn't get to:

I tried making Nancy Baggett's Slow-Rise, No-Knead Cinnamon Raisin Bread (but minus the raisins) and it turned out terribly. Before the first rise, the dough was almost soupy, like a cake batter, and it never properly rose. I checked and re-checked all my measurements, and I think I got it right. I hoped it would improve during the second rise, but it didn't. I baked it for a long time and at a lower temperature to try to dry it out, but of course it was a lost cause. What happened? I'm assuming the problem was at that first stage, when the dough never became an actual dough. Would it have been okay to just keep adding flour until it looked right?

Here's how that dough should have looked near the end of the mixing process.(Charlie Baggett)

We went right to the source for this one. Cookbook author Nancy Baggett, who wants everyone to be successful with her recipes, was distressed about your experience. She did a lot of double-checking and pondering, and she's convinced that if your measurements really had been correct, you wouldn't have had a problem with the recipe. We agree, because one of our Washington Post testers baked that same bread, with great results. "Clearly the reason it didn't rise right was that it was too soupy," Nancy said. This dough definitely should be stiffer; check out how it's coming together for her in the photo above.

So here's her tip for you and other bread bakers. If your dough is soft and you know it should be firmer, "you can add enough flour to make that happen. It doesn't generally throw off the balance of the recipe."

Unless you weigh every ingredient so it's exact, she points out, there are many variables that could affect the accuracy of your measurement. Maybe you sifted the flour or somehow fluffed it up beforehand. Maybe you picked up a 3/4-cup measure by mistake. Maybe you counted wrong. The important thing is achieving a dough that feels right, even if it means departing from the recipe, and then a better loaf will follow.

Why not try it again and see what happens? Though because you don't want to use raisins, Nancy warns that you'll need to add extra flour no matter how carefully you measure. "The raisins should sit in the egg mixture and rehydrate," she says, "which means they will absorb a good deal of liquid." To compensate for the fact that they won't be doing that, "just mix in enough extra flour to yield a hard-to-stir dough. Adding extra flour usually works well because there is already plenty of gluten development as a result of the long rise."

If you do decide to give it another shot, let us know how it goes: send feedback here.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  October 21, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
 | Tags: Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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Or, what kind of flour did the reader use?

Posted by: reginak | October 21, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

This is a comment on today's chat, but might be worth noting.

Regarding curry leaves, you can find them at some of the big Asian supermarkets in the area (H-Mart, Grand Mart and others). You get quite a few, so I keep them in the freezer and use them for curries.

Regarding demiglace, I received a very strong recommendation from a local chef for More Than Gourmet. I haven't tried it yet, but need to pick up some. I occasionally make chicken stock or vegetable broth, but never have the bones for beef stock.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | October 21, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

In last week's chat, someone suggested natural dyes in response to a question about red velvet cake. I've used natural dyes (from MOMs) but they don't hold their color when you bake them, so you just wind up with brown velvet, really. Would love to know if there's a natural brand out there that does hold up to baking.

Posted by: ColleenFoodieTots | October 27, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

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