This weekend I strayed from leavened breads and fell into an abyss of discard recipes. I aimed for the moon and I got t-boned by an asteroid.
Chocolate Chip Johnny Cakes
First I made chocolate chip Johnny Cakes. This recipe is from Ford’s blog, not his book, and I’ve been saving my discard for weeks waiting to make them.
The Johnny Cakes come together quickly and without complications. The recipe doesn’t call for any sugar; the only sweetness was from semi-sweet chocolate chips. I cut the size down to ~65g each. These were plenty large—a cake double the size would have been a bit much.
Comments on the blog noted that many bakers’ cakes didn’t cook through in the allotted time. To give them a fighting chance I made sure to pat each cake down and stab it thoroughly with a fork. These baked very nicely. They had great flavor and texture, and I can’t wait to eat them again with a cup of coffee.
Pão de Queijo
For my NWS excursion, I attempted pão de queijo. In my limited research, pão de queijo is presented as a foolproof, simple snack. The variety of recipes remind me of recipes for hard boiling eggs—everyone has their own way of doing it, and they all pretty much work. After a string of successful bakes, with no yeast to worry over or gluten to build, I arrogantly assumed these Brazilian cheese breads would be a cinch.
At first the uncommon ingredient list made me excited. Garlic? Red pepper flakes? Tapioca flour? What fun! My stomach dropped a tad when I noticed tapioca flour has the consistency of confectioners sugar, but I was relieved to see a recipe for pão de queijo on the bag of flour itself. All signs indicated that I was on the right track. How wrong I was.
The dough was crumbly after 16 hours in the fridge, but I had nothing to compare it to. I formed them into balls, pressed them slightly flat, and put them in the oven without a care in the world. They immediately melted into flat discs. They smelled great and tasted good (since they are essentially cheese and butter), but they had the consistency of a thick balloon.
I spent the next evening and morning puzzling over what went wrong. I read other recipes and watched a couple how-to videos. Here are my concerns and the answers I came up with:
Did I leave out an ingredient?
- Ford’s blog has an errata page for the cookbook, which directs bakers when to add water in this recipe. I dutifully measured and added all ingredients as directed, including this step.
- Other recipes include milk and oil. The only fat in Ford’s recipe is butter, and he adds water that others don’t.
- Unlike the semitas de yema’s cubierta, this recipe calls for a specific amount of additional whole wheat flour and unfed starter; I added no more and no less.
Should I have worked the dough more?
- The recipe says to simply mix the ingredients until combined, and other pão de queijo recipes say the same.
- Tapioca flour has no gluten to build, so kneading is needless.
- The extra whole wheat flour is added to reduce wetness and give the buns strength. The starter is added for flavor. Neither are meant to provide gluten structure.
Was the dough in the fridge too long?
- The book says to refrigerate the dough for 12 hours. Mine was refrigerated for closer to 16. Even true sourdough breads can be proofed for 12-48+ hours in the fridge without negative effects.
- Since there is no rising agent, I don’t know why the dough needs to be in the fridge at all. It couldn’t have been overproofed if there’s no proofing to do.
- Other recipes (with substantially the same ingredients) go directly from mixing to shaping to baking.
Did I shape them incorrectly?
- Ford says to roll them using a tabletop technique that pulls the dough taut into a ball. My dough was far too crumbly to even attempt that, so I just mushed it together in my hands.
- My mind still on Saturday’s Johnny cakes, I worried that a round roll wouldn’t bake through, so I patted them down a bit.
- In the oven the rolls melted immediately. No amount of shaping could have prevented this level of implosion.
Armed with new tricks to try, unbounded determination, and leftover tapioca flour that I would never otherwise use, I decided to make another batch the next morning.
I reduced the ingredient volumes to match the amount of tapioca flour I had. I added 1/4-1/2c more whole wheat flour, which transformed the gloopy mess into a workable dough. I completely skipped any “proofing” time in the fridge, going straight from mixing to shaping to baking.
This batch kept its shape, and outwardly looks like a proper pão de queijo. Unfortunately, the inside is thick and unpleasantly rubbery. My guess is that they are underbaked. To save oven power/time/heat I used my janky old toaster oven and didn’t verify the temperature. Amateur hour.
I am out of Parmesan cheese and tapioca flour, so my experiments are on pause. One day will return to pão de queijo. I dream that I will crack open one of those little cheesy rolls and see a light crumb, melty cheese, and rays of angelic light pouring through the steam. ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.