Bakers like to talk to each other. We’re slightly odd creatures, after all, and it’s good to know we’re not alone in thinking about different hydration levels in artisan breads or the effect of baking soda on muffins that have been refrigerated overnight. Baking is a solace for so many of us. But baking is also an interesting mix of mad scientist geekery and June Cleaver lifting warm cookies from a baking sheet as the kids hit the kitchen after school. We deal in butter and sugar. Or coconut oil and honey. Or shortening and maple syrup.
We make cookies. And people like it.
The other day, our friend Kim Boyce stopped by our cooking studio with her kids, her best friend, and her two kids. They were on a spontaneous road trip for spring break and wrote to ask if we had time to see them if they decided to take a ferry trip to Vashon. Yes. We always have time for Kim.
Do you know Kim’s marvelous baking book, Good to the Grain? It has been one of my favorite baking inspirations for years now, a celebration of good whole grains like amaranth, buckwheat, and teff. She blended wheat all-purpose flour with those whole-grain flours to make maple cakes, shortbread cookies, and berry scones. I substitute our gluten-free all-purpose flour in nearly every one of her recipes and those baked goods come out of the oven warm and enticing. They’re not good for gluten-free. They’re just good.
Start with a great recipe, use our gluten-free flour in place of the wheat flour, and you have a baked good people like. That’s why we worked on this blend for years. We wanted to make it easy for you.
And for Kim. She’s been starting to play with gluten-free baking lately (yay!). So we talked about all this, about raw buckwheat instead of the toasted stuff, about the sweetness of millet, and the cookie dough we had in the refrigerator. Time to bake.
The kids were a tumble of wonderful people drawing at the long table or taking photographs of the pond outside with my old Polaroid land camera (with my permission). I made them wait to eat the salted oatmeal cookies. I wasn’t being mean. I needed to photograph them, of course. After 10 or 12 considered shots, I called out, “Go!” These disappeared quickly.
Everyone loved them. You know cookies are good when the kids of a world-renowned baker come up to you spontaneously to say how much they liked them. (Sophia suggested that kids might like the cookies a bit smaller, and with less salt on the top. Duly noted.) These were a hit.
Kim loved them too, especially the crisp edges that tasted a little like caramel, something like a florentine cookie. “No one could tell these are gluten-free, Shauna.” I grinned. My work for the day was done.
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We want to share our gluten-free flour with you. (We’d love if you wanted to buy some, of course.) But we would also like to share with you some of the lessons we’ve learned about how best to bake with it. So we’re going to give you a few tips over the next few weeks, to make sure you have success with the baked goods in your kitchen.
Today, I want to talk about hydration.
The best cookies come from dough that has rested in the refrigerator before you bake it. Why? If you bake a cookie just after making the dough, the flours and liquids and fats haven’t had time to mingle and dance together. If you are desperate for a cookie and make up a dough to bake one right away? You’re going to have a very cakey cookie. It also won’t taste like much.
Wait an hour, or three, or overnight to bake that cookie, and you’ll have a dry crumbly dough that is fully hydrated. It bakes up with a chewy center and crisp edges. This is my ideal cookie, not a little disc that’s a cake-in-training.
Plan ahead. Fully hydrate your cookie dough before you bake.
(Here’s a great little post on why you should refrigerate your cookie dough.)
Did you know that you can refrigerate muffin batter overnight before baking those muffins? Again, the flours and liquids mingle fully when you do this. Some homemade muffins taste too much of raw flour for my taste. The ones that wait never do.
(And the ones that contain frozen blueberries, like the ones we made for this post, sometimes have a lavender-grey batter from blueberries that burst in the stirring. It doesn’t seem to matter in the final muffin.)
Better yet, you can set up a muffin batter, scoop it into liners, and put them into the tin, then slide them into the refrigerator. The next morning? Put that muffin tin right into a heated oven and bake them. Warm muffins for breakfast.
Some people seem to feel that refrigerating muffin batter overnight makes the muffins a little dense. Do the leaveners dull in the hydration time? I haven’t found that to be true. This conversation on egullet, mostly from professional bakers, seems to bear that out. Danny remembers refrigerating large batches of muffins in his bakshop class in culinary school for baking the next morning. And I know many a professional baker who does this.
If you’re worried about the muffins not rising high enough, you could add just a touch more soda to the recipe before you refrigerate it. (Try another 1/4 teaspoon.) But here’s a tip I love. Bake the muffins at 425° for the first 10 minutes, then drop the temperature to 375° after. The oven spring that comes from the cold muffins meeting the heat of the oven can be pretty spectacular.
Also, a tip I learned from Kim: when the muffins come out of the oven and they’re cooling, turn them on their sides in the tin. It allows the bottoms to cool more fully, immediately.
Pancakes always seems to rise up higher and bake more evenly if you make the batter the night before and put it in the refrigerator.
Besides, who wants to make pancake batter on a Saturday morning? Pull it out and start cooking while the kids are watching cartoons. Breakfast!
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There’s much more about hydration I could say, especially when it comes to gluten-free breads.
Instead, I’ll leave you with this thought. When you start baking with our gluten-free flour, or whatever one works for you, you might find as I have that it changes you as a baker. For the better.
When I was first diagnosed with celiac, I threw out all my baking books and cleaned out my pantry of any baking supplies. I was never going to bake again.
You never could have told me that nearly a decade later I’d be talking with a friend who happens to be a tremendous professional baker, in our cooking studio on Vashon. Or that I would be feeding her blueberry muffins and salted oatmeal cookies, gluten-free. Or that as we said our goodbyes, I’d be offering her a couple of boxes of the gluten-free flour that my husband and I developed together to make baking easier for everyone.
Baking can change your life.
Salted Oatmeal Cookies, adapted from Lecia Phinney
I’ve always loved Lecia Phinney’s writing: spare and taut, generously open without being too confessional. It’s possible I’d like to be Lecia when I grow up. She also has incredible taste in recipes, choosing dishes that are artful and unexpected yet accessible for kids. Her blog is a wonderful source of inspiration.
When Lecia posted a recipe for salted oatmeal cookies recently, I jumped up to make them. I adore the homey simplicity of a good oatmeal cookie. Don’t they seem like the perfect after-school snack for a rainy day? But these have the added touch of a pinch of flaky sea salt on the top. Sign me up. These came out so well that we’ve made two batches this week, handing them out to everyone who came to the studio. If you bake them just long enough to let the center set a bit, then a minute or two longer, the edges go crisp like a florentine cookie. It’s pretty easy to imagine making these again and again.
250 grams (about 1 ¾ cups) gluten-free girl all-purpose gluten-free flour
235 grams (about 2 cups) certified gluten-free rolled oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
220 grams (just shy of 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup coconut sugar (or light brown sugar)
½ cup organic cane sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
coarse sea salt, for sprinkling (we love Maldon salt)
Combine the dry ingredients. Whisk together the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder, soda, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter for a few moments on medium speed until it is fluffy. Scrape the down the sides of the bowl. Add the brown sugar and cane sugar and mix until they are beautifully combined with the butter. With the mixer running on low, add the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla and beat until it has disappeared into the dough.
Finish the dough. With the mixer running on low, add the dry ingredients. Let the mixer run until the flour and oats are incorporated. The dough should be mixed together well but not too wet. Scrape down the sides of the dough.
Hydrate the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Ideally, let the dough sit in the refrigerator to hydrate fully overnight.
Prepare to bake. Heat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pull the dough out of the refrigerator. It might feel a little crumbly. If you can pinch together some of the dough and it sticks, then you’re good.
Form some of the dough into a golf-sized ball and roll it in your hands. Put it on the parchment paper and flatten it, just a bit. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt over the top of each ball of dough. Repeat with 5 more balls of dough, leaving about 2 inches of space between them.
Bake the cookies. Bake the cookies until they are starting to turn golden and the centers are just setting, about 12 minutes. If you want, you can bake them a few minutes more to get the edges lacy brown and crunchy. Do not overbake the cookies. You want the centers still soft, with the edges crisp.
Take the cookies out of the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.
Makes about 18 cookies.
Feel like playing? We haven’t made these dairy-free yet, but I imagine that coconut oil would work well in place of the butter here. A little nutmeg in place of the cinnamon might be great too.