Sunday, March 18, 2012

Don't You Hate Failure?

I hate it when I try a new recipe and it fails - whether it's user error, baking conditions (I am at altitude), or just a bad recipe. Not only is it a disappointment because I won't enjoy eating it, but it wastes my time and perhaps most importantly in my mind, it is a waste of ingredients.

As most of you probably realize, gluten free ingredients are more expensive than traditional flour. I can get cheap rice flour from my local Vietnamese market or in bulk at the health food store but the rest are more pricey. Almond flour, while delicious and nutritious, is REALLY expensive. Other gluten free flours and flour blends also come with a steep price tag.

When a recipe fails I have wasted the various flours plus the eggs, sugars, oils and other ingredients put into the recipe. I wouldn't throw away $10 or more in cash yet that's often what I end up doing when a recipe fails and I throw the resulting item away.

Yesterday's failure was Irish Soda bread. I have made this in the past using a recipe from Elana's Pantry. The first time I made her recipe the center didn't cook well but the edges were yummy. The second time I made it I made two smaller loaves and it turned out great. Note: In general, I have determined that most gluten free baked items do better when sized smaller (e.g. cupcakes instead of cake, mini loaves instead of one large loaf, etc.)

This year on St. Patrick's Day I decided to try a different Irish Soda bread recipe for something new. I landed on a recipe created by Shauna Ahern from Gluten Free Girl. I love Shauna's writing and have relied on her for several recipes so it was natural to turn to her recipe for the bread.

As is often my habit, I decided to halve the recipe. This helps me avoid wasting so many ingredients if I don't like a recipe. This recipe was a bit unusual in that it called for between 2 and 4 cups of buttermilk. I thought that was a huge range but decide when I split my recipe in half, I would add one cup and then adjust up from there.

I am 90 percent certain that I measured out all of the dry ingredients correctly as I was using a kitchen scale. But when I added that cup of liquid my batter was soupy, like pancake batter. There was no way I could form that dough into a ball shape and score it like the recipe directed. So, I decided to add the other half of the recipe and better watch the liquid. The resulting batter seemed more appropriate after I added just a few more tablespoons of liquid - for a total of just one cup and a few tablespoons -- a far cry from the 2 to 4 cups the recipe called for originally.

I baked the bread and it cooked just fine. Looked lovely in fact. But I hated it. It was dense and flavorless and grainy. I looked back at Elana's recipe and realized that hers called for apple cider vinegar, giving the bread some acid. In addition, it had a little sweetener in it. I think the recipe I made needed both of those things.

Lovely Shauna responded to my post on her site and said that the recipe called for so much liquid because gluten free baking requires a lot of liquid to keep it from being dense. I can't necessarily disagree because I am not an expert in this area. So, perhaps my bread would have been lighter if I had added more liquid. Maybe it wouldn't have been as grainy. But I fear it still would have been tasteless to me without the acid and sweetener.

Others on Shauna's blog raved about her recipe and I am glad there are people that like it and enjoy it. The world is an interesting place because we are all so different. I have a friend that loves, loves, loves spicy food. I can only tolerate a little spice. I love her because she's different than me and our differences make for interesting conversations, and a few jokes.

So now I move on, knowing that next year I will be making Elana's Irish Soda bread for St. Patrick's Day. Now if I can just forget the partially eaten loaf of this year's bread that is now in the trash!

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