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Dec 29, 2010 09:34 PM

Sweet dough bakers, can you help me out with this recipe?

Here's the recipe:

Here's my question: why is the method so damned precious and can I simplify/shortcut creating the dough?

My experience is with conventional breads and I like a dough I can boss around. I get that this needs to be a tender dough but the other favorite sweet dough I make does not have me adding flour a tablespoon at a time in 3 different operations. Of course, that dough is full of fat and that probably insures the tenderness in that case.

Any ideas why this recipe is written the way it is? It almost sounds like the world would fall apart if any gluten were accidentally formed.

I've already mixed the dough. It's in my fridge overnight so I won't bake this up and see what my results are until some time later tomorrow.

Thanks for helping me understand this method.

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  1. It looks to me like they're trying to prevent you from adding more flour than is absolutely necessary. I would simplify by adding slightly less flour than the recipe calls for, kneading with the dough hook on my stand mixer, and doing a cold rise overnight so the dough can be handled. That's how I do my doughnuts and pumpkin cinnamon rolls.

    1. Flo Braker is a bit of a perfectionist with a excellent baking reputation, and very thorough when it comes to recipe writing, and I think she would hate it if your dough was tough from the addition of too much extra flour or gluten formation because her recipe wasn't clearly and almost annoyingly delineated. I trust that you have the experience and expertise not do that to this dough; just feel your way through and ignore the author's OC precious tendencies. Less flour is obviously better for a sweet dough, and the author makes that quite clear by her flour adding technique. So just chalk this up to Flo Braker's recipe writing style; her involved explanation is great for bakers with less sweet dough or other baking experience, and can be a bit tedious for those with more, like yourself. Did you follow the recipe to a T?

      The addition of those two tablespoons of flour at the end of the instructions seem to be a "maybe not necessary" addition, or just silly, rather than completely necessary; the author doesn't mention why she chose to break it down into that extra step, how it affects the product outcome, why is it just two tablespoons more of flour, etc.; the instructions in general are quite rigid (not in a bad way,) written more for novice bakers.

      The rest of the dough recipe seems fine, and is certainly clear. Ah, well, I hope the coffeee cake comes out well, it sounds terrific.

      Happy New Year!

      2 Replies
      1. re: bushwickgirl

        Yes, I sorta did it her way. I thought first time out I should see what she was getting at. I'm sure she's a MUCH more experienced pastry baker than I. But, after reading the comments, I felt a little more empowered to use my own sense of what a tender sweet dough might be like and added considerably more flour in order to be able to roll and laminate the resulting dough.

        Still don't have my own results as I just took the dough from the fridge to finish and assemble it later this morning. But it really does sound good. What has lemon and butter and yeast and fails to be? ;> I'll post again when I know more.

        Thanks for your expert take on it. I wasn't familiar with her style or work.

        1. re: rainey

          Ok, I would have produced it according to the recipe the first time out as well, to see what's up. You're right, can't go wrong with lemon, butter and yeast. And a little sugar...

          Flo Braker has published three books in the last decade, The Simple Art of Perfect Baking being her best known. Her books get consistently great reviews and she is highly respected in the field. She writes in a modular approach, and her books are teaching works, similar to books by Rose Levy Beranbaum and maybe Sherry Yard, whom I'm not that familiar with, but would like to be.

          So there you go, and that's why her recipes are so precise. Maybe not the best choice to purchase for an experienced baker, but ultimately a great reference work to have in any baking library.

      2. OK. So Ms-I'm-Too-Cool-for-School-and-I-Know-So-Much-Better had only a qualified success.

        The flavor is terrific and the texture was tender and had good structure within each layer but the layers just fell apart when I removed the loaf from the pan. It looked nothing like Flo Braker's and there's no way on this green and blue planet it ever could have been sliced.

        Where do you think I could have gone wrong?

        Here's what mine looked like:

        Egad! It's now 150% larger than it was in the pan and both ends were lapping over the sides of the pan and even dropping off during baking. Not the pretty compact freestanding loaf with laminated leaves that could be pulled away that Braker developed.

        Here's as close a pic of the crumb as I could get:

        As I said above, I was pleased with the texture so I guess the flour ratio and gluten production were more or less on target. I'm thinking I need to get more of the dough into the depth of the pan so that there's more compression as it undergoes the oven spring and probably cut back significantly on the butter that inhibits the merging. That, and make my cuts more precisely during the laminations of the dough. But one of the problems I experienced with such a soft dough is that it stretched like CRAZY when I handled it. I wonder if rolling out a colder dough would help with that. Or if additional flour was needed for a dough that was substantial enough to hold it's shape when it's lifted from the rolling surface to stack.

        Thanks, bushwickgirl, for further insights.

        3 Replies
        1. re: rainey

          "I need to get more of the dough into the depth of the pan so that there's more compression as it undergoes the oven spring and probably cut back significantly on the butter that inhibits the merging"

          I think that might be a big part of it.

          A colder dough would facilitate easier handling if the dough is soft and stretchy. Flour is drier in winter than summer, although your flour might be quite moist, considering the weather you've had lately. I wonder if more flour would be better; was the dough sticky or just very soft?

          Did you use weight or volume measurement? I seem to remember from older posts that you prefer to weigh ingredients.

          2 oz melted butter for brushing is really not much and it should merge with the sugar to form a sort of glue for the layers.

          I now have to make this, to see what the panning technique is, as I'm having trouble visualizing her instructions "Fit these layered strips into the prepared loaf pan, cut edges up and side by side." I have some difficulty interpreting written instructions for shaping and visualizing them as a whole in my head; I could never be an architect. I need to do it to work it out.

          Did you measure the dough rectangles or just eyeball it?

          Your results photo is a quite a bit different from hers. It really looks like a compression issue to me. Your crumb looks wonderful, though, just right for a sweet dough.

          I now need to make this to see what's up. Oh, your pan appears to have very angular short sides, is that true? I think a more straight sided pan might be better for widthwise expansion. That's just a theory.

          The bottom line is really taste; I've had some attractively present food that was a real disapointment in the mouth. I'm glad to hear that it tastes terrific. Beyond recreating taste and crumb, sometimes it's a matter of doing something a few times to work out the structural technique.

          So, are you going to try this again? How tenacious are you? I bet the author made it more than twice before she had a perfect ready for my closup now cake.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            Bushwickgirl, that particular recipe has had a lot of attention. Here is a photo essay
            it almost looks like a larger pan is needed. Another here

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              I used the weights she supplied up to the point when I decided it needed a significant additional amount of flour. Then I threw first tablespoons and then a small handful on the board and kneaded until I was happy with it. It could have been as much as an extra 1/4 cup but I am just making a visual estimation of a memory at this point.

              The dough was extremely sticky and, at first, per her measurements, as much like a batter as a dough -- to the point that I could knead it with a bench scraper but not my hands. That's when I added the extra flour and got it to soft and still very moist but no-longer-sticky-on-the-outside consistency.

              I also, because of the time line I was working on, let it have its first rise in a sealed Cambro tub in the fridge overnight. I took it out first thing in the AM and let it sit a couple hours to come up to room temp before rolling.

              I rolled to what I guessed was about 12x20. I measured to see how close I was and I was a bit over with somewhat irregular margins. I might have just trimmed off the excess and that would have helped with the random-to-the-max look.

              I also eyeballed the cut lines. They were pretty close to regular until I tried to lift the dough. Then the first length I picked up stretched like CRAZY and I had to sort of coax it back to some semblance of the same contours of the length it was sitting on. I was more careful to be deft with the subsequent layers and had more success with some than others.

              I used the 9x5x3 pan called for but you're right, my pan does have a flair while hers seems to be a 90˚ vertical. And I take your point that I might have used a bigger pan. That was one of my first thoughts but I also needed more compression and there would have been less in a larger pan. What's a girl to do? ;> If there had been a taller pan with the same perimeter that would have been ideal. I wish something like a souffle's collar were up to holding back dough...

              It has the flavor that it promised. I would rate it first rate for flavor and crumb. And I wouldn't call it difficult so much as fussy by my expectations from working with conventional bread dough. If I had been meticulous I would have had better results. The biggest prob is probably my impatience and preference for a down home rustic way of working. Bottom line: I would certainly recommend the recipe to others even if it will take more practice for me to get it right. And, tho I don't see myself turning around and doing another muy pronto, I will try it again and again as the right occasions present themselves. I have no doubt based on the results I've gotten thus far that it will be well worth the learning curve.

              One other small note, I think the icing volume could be halved. Or even cut back by 2/3s and drizzled on. It has such nice fresh flavor I think it's a mistake to overwhelm it with all that rich sweetness. I made a compound butter of sieved raspberries with a tiny amount of confectioners sugar and served it with that and offered the icing as an alternative on the side.

              Oh, and the construction. Fortunately, Bangor Din has pointed us at a photo step-by-step (which I intended to do for myself before I got distracted by handling stretchy damp dough). The very first comment in the original link I provided was most helpful for me. It was someone saying to read through and visualize it before beginning to manipulate the dough. Basically, what you're doing is not folding the dough to laminate it but cutting slabs and stacking them. Then the long laminated strips are cut in shorter pieces and stacked in the pan.

              Another commenter suggested placing your prepared pan vertically on your work surface on it's short side and laying each laminated unit on top of one another against that side. That suggestion worked well for me. you can well see from my attractive results. ;>

              But, really, if you read it through a few times and visualize the instructions, when you have the dough rolled out in front of you it makes perfect sense and is not unduly complicated. Just think laminated dough (with much thicker layers) cut and stacked in one tall column and then laid on its side rather than folded.

          2. I tried it again and learned a few helpful things.

            1) When I forced myself to, I could work the dough with ONLY the flour Braker specified. It was a VERY sticky dough and I never thought I could roll it but after it rose I managed to

            2) I rolled it onto a sheet of parchment. When I made the first cuts, I passed on the pizza cutter Braker recommended and used a straight razor I use to slash my conventional dough. I deliberately sliced through the parchment and used the parchment to lift and position the dough in the stack. Worked like a dream.

            3) I still got something that only a mother could love until I gave the top a minor trim and plated it upside down

            4) I still got an unintended separation of the layers but it's a single one this time. Not out of control like the last one.

            5) It's very nice with a filling of streusel in place of the citrus if you haven't used up the last juice you had left over.

            6) You really want to judge the doneness of this loaf/cake by temperature (about 195˚) instead of the browning.

            This pan is an inch wider than my last attempt. I didn't have a deeper loaf pan but I have discovered that King Arthur has a 9"x4"x4" pan that I am considering.

            And here are a few photos of the construction in case they're helpful:


            1. For anyone who's interested in this, I got my best results so far with a pan that was 4" deep and really, really careful placement of the stacked layers of dough and then stacking those stacks in the pan.


              And here is the pan I had my best success with: It's more straight-sided than it appears in the largest photo. The one below it on the left with the loaf in it is a better representation.