Cake Enhancers in Bread

I usually try to avoid becoming reliant “dough enhancers” on principal, but I’m always up for trying something new. I periodically peruse the offerings from King Arthur and came across their Cake Enahncer, which the King and his followers say is also useful for breads. This mixture of rice starch, polyglycerol ester, and fatty acids are supposed to improve texture and prolong shelf life.

I decided to give them a try in my breakfast buns, since this recipe has become a platform for many of my baking experiments. As per the instructions on the package, I added two tablespoons for about two cups of flour. The buns looked fine when baked, but the bread tasted like a supermaket roll. The texture became soft and lost its gluten-driven chew. It was a Phineas Gage-like transformation: its personality was all wrong. Maybe it’s the name influencing me, but it did make the bread seem more cake-like.

This may be worth a try in a cake batter, but I’m steering clear of using this in bread dough from now on.

Kix Treats

Rice Krispies Treats are popular with pretty much everyone. Sweet and light, they are a classic childhood snack and a good way to use up extra Rice Krispies. But let’s be serious: how many people actually like Rice Krispies? They are not offensive, but they are bland and quickly become inedibly soggy. I can’t think of any time in the past decade that I’ve bought them for any reason other than making Rice Krispies Treats. So why not try applying the same treatment to another cereal?

My daughter eats Kix, but the boxes it comes in are huge. It usually goes stale before we make it all the way through. It’s crunchy and dry, so seemed like a good substitute for Rice Krispies. 

I melted 2 tablespoons of butter and half a bag (140 g) of marshmallows over medium low heat. Off heat, I stirred in 3 cups of Kix and transferred the sticky mess to an 8×8 inch pan. 

The verdict? I found it a bit too sweet and buttery, but the kids loved it. The texture is a bit different from RCTs, more reminiscent of sweetened popcorn than a bar. It’s a fine use of Kix, but not at the level of the original. I’ve seen variations where these are Kix are mixed or topped with chocolate,  and that might help. 

Bagels: Changing the poaching liquid

One of the defining characteristics of bagels is that differentiates them from other forms of bread is that they are boiled prior to making. This poaching liquid is usually alkaline. Historically, the strong base sodium hydroxide (lye) was used, though most home cooks rely on the milder sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) because it is more readily available. Both will help to develop the surface sugars that create a brown crust, but I’ve found that lye-poaching yields more flavor and a crust allows toppings to adhere better.

My current bagel recipe and cooking strategy is based off of that from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, except that I use a 0.5% (25g/5L) lye solution instead of baking soda. In Artisan Breads Every Day, Reinhart takes a different strategy to the preparation and cooking of the bagels, including use a more complex poaching solution that includes baking soda, malt, and salt.

For the last batch of bagels I made, I poached half in 5L of my usual lye solution, then added 3 tablespoons of barley malt syrup and 2 teaspoons of salt. The solution quickly turned dark brown and then a murky black. I was a bit apprehensive, but went ahead and prepared the second half of the bagels. On the left in the image below, you can see that the bagels poached in the malt-based poach came out considerably darker prior to baking.

IMG_0661I baked both trays at 500 °F for 5 minutes, swapped and rotated the trays, then reduced the temperature to 450 °F for 6 more minutes. I was expecting two sets of drastically different bagels, but aside from a slightly warmer hue for the malt-poached bagels, they looked almost indistinguishable.

IMG_0664The taste? Even knowing which bagels were which in advance, I found the malt added only a subtle sweetness to the crust which the traditional approach lacked. There was no obvious difference in texture. My sense going forward is that it’s not really worth it to add the malt and salt, and that the alkaline bath alone is all that’s needed.


Three steaks

Thursday was steak for dinner. I decided to do a little experiment. I bought one dry-aged rib eye and one tenderloin. I cut the rib eye in half and then applied a liberal drizzle of kosher salt and pepper to each about two hours before dinner. One half of the rib eye went back into the fridge while the other half got a quick sear in an oil-coated cast iron skillet along with the tenderloin. The seared meats were then vacuum sealed and tossed into a sous vide bath (I started the tougher rib eye earlier than the tenderloin, which I put back in the fridge after vacuum sealing and cooling in an ice bath. Cooking time at 56° C was about 1 hour and 45 minutes for the rib eye and 45 minutes for the tenderloin, each about 1-1.5 inches thick.

The other half of the rib eye got a traditional sear on a hot grill, then was placed in a 400° F oven until it reached an internal temperature of about 135 °F/57° C.

While the traditional rib eye was resting, I removed the sous vide steaks from the water bath and patted them dry. I heated up my cast iron skillet and added a tablespoon of butter after the oil started smoking, then quickly seared the sous vide steaks for about 2 minutes total.

The rib eyes were close. The grilled version had a bit more charred flavor, but was tougher and not as evenly cooked. The tenderloin was hugely improved from my prior attempts, largely due to the sear in butter at the end. The sous vide technique was far easier and less finicky overall, and yielded a largely superior result. I was nervous about overcooking the butter, but I think the steaks could handle an even hotter sear next time – the butter can be truly smoking without making the steaks taste burnt.


Buttermilk Banana Bread

Banana eating in our house is somewhat unpredictable, and it’s easy to end up with old bananas quickly exceeding their lifespan for eating plain.  Fortunately, these can always be turned into banana bread, which is best when bananas are past their typical prime (with heavy, dark splotches covering their peel).

One problem is that most banana bread recipes call for 3-4 bananas (1-1.5 cups) and you may have more or less than that amount. Fortunately you can just freeze the extra bananas and thaw them when you have the right amount. They will look terrible and develop a thick soupy texture when thawed, but cook up just fine.

Many banana breads are dense and dull, but buttermilk helps to lighten the texture and flavor. This is a recipe I modified from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe:


  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 300 g sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (about 3 bananas)
  • 60 g buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 250 g AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)


  1. Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray or (better) butter and dust with flour.
  2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, until incorporated
  4. Add banana, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix until smooth
  5. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and baking soda, then slowly mix mixture into batter (using the mixer at low speed or a spatula)
  6. Pour batter into pan and bake for 50-55 minutes for an internal temperature of about 190° F.


Breakfast Bun Variations: French

In my quest to simplify baguettes, i decided to see if I could give my breakfast buns a French twist that was more successful than my water wash.

I adapted Cooks’ Illustrated latest baguette baking technique (which, incidentally, has been the most successful at yielding the appropriate thin and crispy crust). I took my usual breakfast bun dough and added diastatic malt:

  • 250 g 00 flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon diastatic malt powder
  • 185 g water

I mixed everything together, let it sit for 30 minutes in after transferring to a lightly oiled bowl, then folded the dough over itself 8 times, rotating the bowl 1/8 of a turn between folds. I repeated the folds every 30 minutes for a total of four sets of eight, leaving the dough to rest covered with plastic wrap in between. The dough then rested in the refrigerator for a few days.

I took out the dough, split it into four pieces, the rolled each into a ball on a floured counter top. In then elongated each into a batard by rolling back and forth. Each piece went on to a cornmeal dusted silicone baking mat on a half sheet pan. I rested them for about 1.5-2 hours covered in oil-sprayed plastic wrap. I preheated the oven to 475° F and slashed the dough with a lame.

 I replaced the plastic wrap with a loose covering of aluminum foil, which j removed after the first 5 minutes of baking.

I continued cooking for a total of 20 minutes then took the rolls out to cool.

The results were surprisingly successful. There was the baguette-style thin and crispy crust with a light airy crumb. The airy texture meant the rolls were considerably larger than usual despite using the same amount of dough.

Breakfast Bun Variations: Water Wash

After trying a series of enriched doughs (with milk, then egg, as well as sugar), I went back to my original breakfast bun recipe, but this time changed my baking technique. Having recently made baguettes, I attempted a more crusty bun by brushing the dough balls with water prior to baking, and spraying water into the oven a few times during the first six minutes to create steam.

The buns came out great, with good color and flavor. The crust had a bit of resistance, but they were not truly crusty after 15 minutes at 375 °F (with convection). I wasn’t surprised: this temperature is probably not high enough and my relatively large oven probably requires more aggressive measures for introducing steam. Adding a bit of sugar or malt powder may also help.

Breakfast Bun Variations: Egg

The addition of powdered milk to my breakfast buns buns had gone so well, I was convinced that swapping the milk for egg would be similarly excellent. I kept the butter and sugar amounts the same at one tablespoon each, but added a whole egg. Because the egg is accompanied by a fair amount of water, I cut the water by 60 mL based on some online research.
This left the final formula for four buns as:

  • 250 g 00 flour
  • 120 mL water
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter

I miss the simpler ingredient list from the original version, but such is the price of progress. After a series of folds over the course of an hour, I let the dough rest in the fridge for 36 hours, then made the buns as usual, adding s simple egg wash.

The buns browned quickly and were near 210° F after 11 minutes in my 375 °F oven. Surprising, they were a bit disappointing. They were a bit dense and dull tasting compared to both the plain dough and the milk dough.

Possible culprits:

  • too much egg: the recipe is similar to my go to burger buns, but has a whole egg instead of half. The extra protein load may be overkill.
  • not enough sugar: the egg dough really benefits from sweetness, and the egg lacks the additional sugar that comes with the milk. Sugar would have also helped retain moisture.
  • overcooking: even though I stopped the cooking earlier than usual, this recipe seemed less tolerant of the time in the oven

Breakfast Bun Variations: Milk

My go-to breakfast buns have solved many of my breakfast dilemmas. Why not eat fresh bread if you can?

My go to recipe is:
* 250 g 00 flour
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 instant yeast
* 180 g water

I mix the dry ingredients together, add the water and stir to combine. I let the dough rest and overnight in a plastic wrap covered bowl. The dough is split in four; shaped into buns and rested for 1–2 hours before baking at 375° F for 15 minutes.

What could make me want to mess with perfection?

That nagging feeling that perhaps they could be something greater, that an untapped potential lay hidden beneath the…crust.

Ever since learning how to make banh bao, I been drawn to the idea of using milk to transform the dough into one that can produce a pillowy cake-like bread. If I were to apply the same approach to the buns, could make a softer roll that was less rustic than my usual buns?

I took baby steps for my first attempt. I added one tablespoon of powdered milk, one teaspoon of sugar, and a tablespoon of butter. I doubled the yeast since I wanted the dough to rise in the fridge instead of at room temperature because, well, leaving milk at room temperature seemed like a bad idea (and caused an odd taste with my previous attempt). Two days later, my milk buns were ready.

They were good, softer and smoother than the plain rolls. But they needed something more. So that’s what they got. More milk powder (doubled to two tablespoons) and more sugar (one tablespoon). These were good. Soft, without the mushiness of a fast food burger bun. The sugar added a golden caramelizarion to the crust, but it remained soft. A nice change when your jaw doesn’t want to work so hard for each bite.

Next up: eggs

Success by a thousand cuts

In many initial reviews, the Apple Watch was criticized for being an unfocused product, trying to do too many things without a clear purpose. It’s natural to ask “what is it for” and “do I really need this” when a new product category emerges. Having used the Watch for nearly a month, I’m struck by the similarity to the iPhone. I have found the Watch to be an invaluable addition, but it’s not any one particular function that elevates it to a core piece of technology in my life. It’s rather that it combines a host of useful functionality in a single piece of technology.

I stopped wearing a watch years ago. While it may have been more convenient to glance at my wrist than pull out my phone, it wasn’t better enough to warrant wearing something additional. A traditional watch might display the time and the date, which my Watch will do as well. I also get a timer display, the temperature, and my next appointment (and could choose different pieces of information to use as watch face “complications” if it suited me). Add to this the activity monitoring and workout tracking that integrates with HealthKit, providing superior tracking, heart rate monitoring, and other functionality when compared to competing fitness trackers like the FitBit. This combination would be worthwhile in and of itself, but quickly the watch starts seeming like those late night infomercials (“but wait, there’s more!”). Order now and the Watch also will offer you a more convenient way to use Apple Pay, easier access to important notifications, a convenient speakerphone, and a quick way to reply to important messages.

It’s the opposite of “death by a thousand cuts”. It’s combining functions that in and of themselves are minor conveniences and producing a product that is greater than the sum of its parts.