Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Converting a Recipe to Match Your Baking Pan

Within the last year or so, I've made some pretty dramatic changes in the way I do business in the kitchen. The microwave is gone, having been replaced with a small convection oven that bakes potatoes, roasts chicken, and is perfect for pizza as well. For the most part, and wherever possible, I've stopped using a plastic zip bag for food storage and for my DH's lunch fixings and instead use these containers (handy, the right size, and safe in any area of the dishwasher). No longer do we "recycle" empty Gatorade bottles to use for filling with our own delicious well water and make our own "bottled water." Even though they went through the dishwasher pretty well, we found that such plastic heating up over and over is probably not good for us to be using to store water. We've been fortunate to find perfectly good stainless steel water bottles at the Goodwill for cheap; they wash well and have none of the BPA issues we were dealing with with the "recycled" Gatorade bottles.

Even something as simple as bread has become a challenge, in terms of price and content. While I long ago abandoned packaged food that lists more than a few ingredients on the label, buying bread for my DH's lunch has been, well, a convenience.  And yet, most commercial bread has so much junk in it that you can't even pronounce that I just can't justify feeding it to my family. I have been overlooking some of those ingredients for the sake of time. But even the "healthier" brands contain either canola or soybean oil, which are plain no good for you no matter what the label says. I have found a local brand that has acceptable ingredients, but it is outrageously expensive, with a price upwards of $5 for 16 slices, and I just cringe. I can calculate how much time it takes my husband to work to earn the money for that loaf, and it's simply not worth it.

So, I turned to homemade bread, which I've made off and on over the years and have certainly perfected in terms of ingredients, taste, texture, and shelf stability. But the problem I kept having was that the slices were too large for the sandwich container I wanted to use. I began searching for a way to "standardize" the bread I bake so that it fits into the container I use for sandwiches to keep them fresh and intact until lunch time. And this is what I found:

It's called a "Pullman pan," and it makes perfectly and uniformly shaped bread. This is closer to the vintage Pullman pan I actually have:

Why am I showing you both of these pictures? Several reasons. First off, notice the lid on the top photo; the back end of it has a lip that hooks around the top of the pan. The vintage pan lid is flat in that regard, which makes the lid not as secure. More on that later. But I also want you to notice that there is an "inner" dimension to the pan, and an "outer" dimension to the pan. The volume of your recipe is related to the "inner" dimension, not the "outer" one. This is important for the calculation I'm going to show you. Finally, the newer pans in almost all cases have an evil nonstick coating on them. If you're going to try this, find one that doesn't, and instead use butter or nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening such as this

So I looked in my favorite bread book and found Mr. Beard's recipe for sandwich bread. Here it is:

Note in the left margin on the first page the notes for "For my pan." I'll show you how I figured that out.

You can see this recipe calls for a "well-buttered 13 1/2 x 4 x 3 3/4 inch pan." I think Mr. Beard would agree with me on the nonstick issue, but I digress. How do you calculate the volume of this pan? Simple. Multiply length times width times height, or in this case, 13.5 x 4 x 3.75, which equals 202.5 cubic inches. This is the volume of the pan that corresponds to this particular recipe. What is the volume of my pan?

At first, I took the "outer" dimensions of the pan and got a somewhat larger volume as a result:  11 x 5 x 3.25 = 178.75 cubic inches. When I first made this recipe, I compared this volume to the volume of the pan used in the recipe, said to myself "Close enough," and plowed forward. Unfortunately, the dough pushed itself out of the pan as it was baking, and I had a somewhat ugly loaf of bread that was not shaped uniformly or sized properly for my sandwich container. So I had to go back to the calculator.

The "inner" dimensions of my existing pan are 10 x 4.75 x 3, considerably smaller than my initial measurements, and certainly smaller than the pan the recipe calls for. The volume on this pan is actually 142.5 cubic inches, or 142.5 divided by 202.5, or 0.7, or 70% the size of the size called for. So I need to shrink my recipe by 70% in order for the dough to properly fit the pan.

Here's how I did it.

2 packages of active dry yeast is 2 x 2.25 teaspoons is 4.5 teaspoons, times .7 = 3.15 teaspoons, which is a slightly rounded tablespoon. Check.

1.5 cups of warm water times .7 = 1.05 cups of warm water which is a cup plus about a bit less than a tablespoon. Check.

2 teaspoons of sugar times .7 = 1.4 teaspoons. A teaspoon and a half is close enough. Check.

6.5 cups of flour times .7 = 4.55 cups of flour, or 4 and a half cups plus almost a tablespoon. Check.

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of coarse salt is 5 teaspoons (3 teaspoons in a tablespoon) times .7 = 3.5 teaspoons, or a tablespoon plus half a teaspoon. Check.

1 stick of butter is 8 tablespoons of butter times .7 = 5.6 tablespoons of butter, which I rounded to six because, hey, I like butter. Check.

So my new recipe looks like this:

a slightly rounded tablespoon of yeast
a cup of warm water
a teaspoon and a half of sugar
4.5 cups of flour
a tablespoon and half a teaspoon of sea salt
six tablespoons of butter

So how did this conversion work out? I got a very nice loaf yesterday, good crumb and texture, but a bit too salty for my taste, so I'll kick back the salt to 2 teaspoons. Since I use sea salt and it's a bit chunkier than the salt called for in this recipe, I think it was a bit much. But all in all, the taste and texture were great.

And with the more accurate volume, I did not have bread spilling out of the pan, though I did take Beard's suggestion and weighted the top with a small cast iron skillet. Worked like a charm. I also did not rotate the loaf pan as he suggests, because I was afraid the lid would pop off, but baked it upright for the time called for, then popped it out of the pan and let it bake directly on the oven rack until it was nicely browned. 

The test was completed when I saw honey's face as he ate some of the warm bread with butter on it. He was very pleased, and said he would like this as his new sandwich bread. After making his lunch this morning, the bread fits very nicely into the sandwich container, and all is right with the world this morning!

Mission accomplished.

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