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Levening Agents

Suzette - www.suzette.nu

Levening is what we do make dough rise and become much less dense.  This actually involves somehow incorporating air into the mixture.  Yeast, baking soda, baking powder and egg whites are the four most common mechanisms for levening dough.  The secret is to cause a chemical reaction in the dough that will result in the creation of carbon dioxide.

Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, reacts with the acid in a dough to produce the gas.  Typically, buttermilk, vinegar, or lemon juice provide the acid.

Baking powder, however, carries its own acid with it, thus avoiding unwanted flavors.

Here are several baking recipes Jerry has used at Schola Cooking School.

Irish Soda Bread


4 cups + ¾ cup all-purpose flour, divided

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons salt

½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into squares

1 ¾ cup buttermilk

1 large egg

1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (from 1 medium orange)

1 cup raisins – hydrated in ¼ Irish Whiskey + ¾ cup water for 30 minutes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with a silicone mat or a piece of parchment paper, or coat with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, mix together the four cups flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

Add the butter and with a pastry blender or your fingers, squeeze and mix the butter in with the flour mixture until the butter is about the size of peas.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and orange zest. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon just until the dough starts to come together. Strain any remaining liquid from the cranberries and add them to the dough. Fold in the cranberries until just combined.  The dough will be wet and sticky.

Spread some of the remaining flour onto a flat surface and turn the dough out onto it. Sprinkle a bit more flour over the bread and begin kneading, adding more flour as you go, until the dough is smooth and uniform. Do not over mix!!! Form dough into a round loaf and place on the baking sheet. With a sharp knife, cut an "X" into the top.

Bake for 45 - 55 minutes, or until golden brown and the bread sounds a little hollow when you knock on it. You can also try using a cake tester just to be sure - when it comes out clean, it's done. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, then slice, butter, and serve. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap; keeps at room temperature for up to 3 days.



2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2 to 4 cups high gluten flour
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Cornmeal, for dusting

Fleur de Sel or other coarse salt

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, proof the yeast by combining it with the warm water, olive oil and sugar. Allow the yeast to become active, approximately 5 to 10 minutes or until foam starts to develop. Combine the flour and salt. Turn mixer on low and slowly add the flour to the bowl. When the dough starts to come together, increase the speed to medium and allow the dough to knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Add more flour as necessary to form the dough and prevent it from sticking to the sides of the bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold over itself a few times. Form the dough into a round and place in an oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire ball with oil so it doesn't form a skin. Cover with plastic wrap or damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Sprinkle a copious amount of corn meal on a bread peel. Punch the bread dough down and turn in onto a floured work surface. Stretch or roll the dough out into a rectangular shape approximately ½ inch thick. Transfer to the peel and sift a light coating of flour over the top to help keep the dough moist. Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes. Preheat an oven to 400°F fitted with a large pizza stone on the center rack. Dimple the bread with your fingertips and brush the surface with olive oil. Sprinkle a generous amount of Fleur de Sel on the bread and transfer from the peel to the pizza stone. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Use the peel to remove the baked bread from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Parker House Rolls


1 1/2 cups milk
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for brushing
1/2 cup sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 cups all-purpose flour

Place milk in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and sugar and let cool. Dissolve yeast in warm water and let sit until foamy. Combine milk mixture, eggs, yeast, salt, and 1/2 of the flour in a mixer with the dough attachment and mix until smooth. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and stir until a smooth ball forms.
Remove from the bowl and knead by hand on a floured surface for about 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 60 to 70 minutes. On a floured surface, punch down the dough and shape into desired shapes. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cover again and let rise until doubled, about 30 to 40 minutes. Preheat the oven 350°F. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush with melted butter before serving.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.