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Culinary Waves: Baking underway can be tricky

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Valentine’s Day is here! So whip out those flours, muffin tins and cake pans – but wait, the yacht is leaving and now the weather has turned not so nice.

What just happened?

Trying to bake on board when the yacht is moving is kind of hard, isn’t it? I have had my challenges over the years and this is one of the hardest tasks you might encounter, especially if you are on a new yacht and not familiar with the hot spots in the oven or the varying temperature ranges. Here are some tips and tricks to help even the seasoned baker pull off the coup while underway.

Just as I would not undertake making a soufflé while moving, I avoid baking based on the same theory: Movement, of any kind, can disrupt the chemical reaction in the baking of a cake, bread or muffins, leaving the finished product flat, inflated on one side, or just batter in the oven.

It’s especially hard to bake when the yacht is in a head sea and being hit from the side. Some chefs use bread machines. To me, that is like serving store-bought bread, only it tastes more yeasty and has that characteristic square shape, which is not appealing. If you can, invest in metal molds for breads; they hold the product in a perfect form, such as banquettes.

Be sure to have cake flour or pastry flour on hand, as well as all-purpose flour and bread flour. The gluten content varies for each, thus resulting in different tastes. The more protein (gluten) in the flour, the chewier it will become. For the fluffiest cakes and pastries, use a low-protein flour. Save the high-protein flours for bread. Pastry and cake flours have 8 percent to 10 percent gluten. You certainly don’t want to have a chewy cake for Valentine’s Day, but you would if you used bread flour, which has 12 percent to 16 percent gluten.

While baking is a molecular-level chemical reaction, it is possible to manipulate the recipes to create a better product, even with Mother Nature throwing her curves at you. Most doughs and batters start out simply as ingredients suspended in water. Water is the heavyweight lifter in baking and allows the structural molecular ingredients such as lipids, proteins and sugars to interact. If you were making bread and there was no water, it would just be flour, yeast, sugar, salt. What kind of chemical reaction would there be? None. Can you imagine putting butter on that and eating it? Nope.

The protein in baking is the gluten. The chemical reaction when gluten is introduced to sugar, yeast and water is responsible for creating the final form and color of the baked product. When baking on board, you want to see these reactions happen with your product:

  • The lift, where the gases expand and the product rises (think nice and fluffy breads and cakes).
  • Maillard reaction, which is the browning of the item’s surface and bottom, such as with cookies.

Be sure to use metalware rather than the new silicone when baking while the yacht is moving. The reason is weight. Silicone is lightweight and, with every bump, can stretch out of shape with heavy batter in it. If that is all you have, you can place metal clamps around it to secure it. (I have actually borrowed some from the engineer before, when all I had was silicone.)

Secure the baked item in the oven so it won’t fly around. Now is the time to use the silicone mats – they are not just for baking cookies on a cookie sheet.

Don’t place glass baking or metal cookware together in one oven. If there is rough weather, you’re asking for disaster. I learned this the hard way in Europe, when glass dishes went crashing into each other in rough seas.

Line the oven if you can so that spills are easy to clean up.

Don’t use the chlorinated water from the yacht to bake with; it can inhibit the yeast. Use bottled water instead.

If you can inject steam when baking bread in the oven, it will help with the rise and texture of the finished product.

There are some no-knead doughs out there that work fine, except that the time lapse is prohibitive unless you think ahead. It usually takes 24 hours for those no-knead doughs to rise.

Even if you have to resort to speed scratch because the weather is rough, do something to make it not so noticeable,  such as adding ingredients or a decorative chocolate topping.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine, and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.

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About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

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