I remember when I was first starting to learn how to cook and was struggling with a few dishes that came out less than successful. It made me mad and frustrated. My mom, because she’s very patient and quite a great cook herself, told me that I was getting worked up over nothing and that it would be fine. I just needed to get a grasp on a few fundamentals. By fundamentals, she meant some basic cooking techniques and methods, and most importantly, the flavor of specific spices. Once I understood and grasped the ‘basics’ of cooking techniques and what specific spices/ingredients ‘do’, I would be comfortable enough to improvise and be able to make just about any dish and make it my own.
She’s a mom and a very good one, so of course she was right.
If I had to give advice to inexperienced cooks to where they should start if they do want to cook, it’d be my mom’s: learn the basics. Very little is worse than bland food; get comfortable with spices. VERY comfortable. Learn which ones ‘do’ what. (Your nose is a great resource for this: how they smell is very similar to how they will taste) Start with a basic, easy to follow recipe for what you want to make. Make it. Make it again. And again. Then, when you’ve started to feel comfortable with both the technique and the ingredients you’re using, start adding on & altering it to fit your own style and tastes.
Making adaptations and adding personalization to one’s cooking is one thing but I will say that doing it when it comes to one’s baking is another. It isn’t impossible, but it is different.
The simplest answer is that baking is a scientific reaction. Baking scientific reactions happen based upon individual elements that combine together and react to one another. If you alter the combination, it’s very likely that you’ll alter (or in this case ruin) the reaction. However, I have found with some practice that my Mom’s advice for cooking can work for baking as well.
I’ve found that when it comes to baking, you can get away with personalizing it so long as you don’t mess with the basic chemistry and ratio of wet ingredients to dry ones. That ratio is what mainly determines the chemical reaction that results in the dish itself, so unless you’re a food scientist I wouldn’t go messing around with that too much. Most of what I do when personalizing in baking has to do with two things: flavors, and shaping. The flavors are something you can adjust in just about anything: cake, pie, cookie dough, biscuits, scones, whatever. The shaping is something I’ve learned to play around with in my bread making.
Once I understood enough of the basics and got comfortable with making bread, I started branching out to want to make more than just a standard loaf or round balls of dough I baked in cake pans. Most yeast based bread dough is flexible enough to where once you get it past it’s first rise, you can shape it into just about anything you want and it will turn out fine. If you guys have been following my blog for a while then you’ve seen some of the ways I’ve been practicing my bread shaping skills with other flexible dough (Cinnamon Star Bread, Cornflower Yeast Rolls, Golden Santa Bread).
I’ve been using today’s recipe for a while now. It was one of the first bread recipes I tried. I was impressed with not only how easy it is to make, but how delicious the bread is. I’ve already said how much I like the combination of honey and whole wheat and these have a good amount of both honey & whole wheat flour in them, so that flavor isn’t lacking at all. Instead of shaping them into basic rolls though, I decided to do something a bit different: rolling them into scroll shapes. It was for no particular reason; I just wanted to see if it would work.
It did. It’s always nice when that happens.
Honey Whole Wheat Dinner (Sc)rolls
- Vegetable oil, for coating the bowl
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 2 teaspoons fine salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), plus 1/4 cup reserved)
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- About 1 tablespoon water
- 2 tablespoons rolled oats
- 1 teaspoon yellow cornmeal
Combine the flour, yeast and salt together in the bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk or a fork.
Melt 8 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the milk and honey, stir together until combined and allow to warm to a temp between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, about 2 to 5 minutes.
Pour the milk mixture over the flour mixture and add the beaten eggs. Use the dough hook attachment to stir together on low until just combined. Then, increase the speed to medium high and continue kneading until formed a smooth, elastic dough—about 10 minutes. It’s okay if it’s sticky.
Scrape the dough out of the bowl and set aside. Grease the bottom of the bowl with vegetable oil, then place dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and damp kitchen towel. Allow to rise until doubled in size.
Melt the 1/4 cup of butter in a small bowl. Deflate the dough and roll out to a rectangle, about 11 x 15 inches. Brush the melted butter evenly over the dough. Using a bench scraper or knife cut the dough into individual rectangular strips. Roll the strips up into scrolls.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the scrolls onto the sheets, then cover with plastic wrap and a damp paper towel again. Allow to rise until double in size, about another hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl combine the beaten egg and water. Brush over the scolls, then sprinkle with the oats and cornmeal. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the bottoms and tops are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for about 1o minutes before serving.