January 27, 2005

More Food

If you know me, you know I like cooking. You might also know that I think Alton Brown is one of the best sources of info about cooking.

I haven’t watched every one of his TV show episodes, mainly because I’m just not that diligent about TV. However, I do own two of his books. I’ve read one (“I’m Just Here For The Food”) all the way through and it was excellent.As a viewer of the TV show would expect, it’s full of surprising facts, tips on improving your cooking and precise advice. I highly recommend this book for beginning cooks and experienced cooks alike. It’s a really fun read.

For Christmas, I got his latest book — a volume I eagerly anticipated.

“I’m Just Here For More Food” specializes in baked goods, an area I love! SO I was happy to see it appear under the tree.

But this book just became available, meaning it is a first printing. I noticed something odd about it.

Even thought I haven’t had time to read through the whole thing, I was eager to jump around from recipe to recipe and check out ones I could try. I wanted his advice on crepes, focaccia, and a food I have long been familiar with, pizza dough.

There was nothing strange about his crepes recipe. However, the first time I made his focaccia, I wasn’t paying too much attention and my dough started to come out a little wet. As I kneaded by hand, I found myself adding more and more flour. I wasn’t keeping track of how much. Eventually, the dough came out great.

The same thing happened the second time. This time I’d suspected that I’d forgotten to add one of the cups of flour. So I compensated later on. I figured it was my mistake.

Slow to catch on, even the third time I was not wise to the fact that there was something wrong with the recipe. Again in the kneading process I used my experience in baking to compensate with yet more flour until the dough felt right.

I feel like a dope now, but to be fair to myself, the focaccias came out excellent, so it is no wonder I didn’t question his recipe. I generally assume I am at fault.

I wanted to make pizza as well, so I looked at the pizza recipe. Here is the list of ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cups water
  • 25 mg children’s chewable aspirin
  • 11g salt
  • 5g sugar
  • 8 cups of flour
  • ¼ oz instant yeast

Notice anything odd? The aspirin, right? Yeah, that threw me for a loop as well. But a note in the sidebar says “for the vitamin C.” OK. I guess Alton knows something I don’t. You see, children’s aspirin contains aspirin, and not much else. And since I know people who are allergic to the stuff, I wouldn’t put it in food. Even this small amount.

But, believe it or not, that’s not what raised the biggest flag for me when I went to make this recipe. It was the number of cups of flour involved. 8 cups. The ratio of water to flour in familiar dough recipes is roughly 1 wet to 3 dry — 1 cup water to 3 cups flour. This ratio was roughly 1 to 6.5 — more than twice as dry.

I’ve seen variations on flour. There ought to be no way this recipe would work. Not the kind of pizza I was familiar with. Could I have been so far off all these years in making pizza? When it came time to try the recipe, I couldn’t even bring myself to do it. I modified the recipe, changing it to about 5 cups, then adding a bit more water.

Only after that did it occur to me that something was very, very wrong.

A quick net search confirmed it. Lookee here. If you scroll down to the bottom of that page there are a litany of corrections for the first printing. Among them:

Page 238, Pizza Dough
25 mg of vitamin C should be substituted for chewable children’s aspirin; the correct volume of all-purpose flour is 4 cups. The first sentence of the recipe instructions should read: Dissolve the vitamin C in the warm water, then add to the work bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.

Well, whaddaya know. And that was just one correction among many. So I spent a chunk of Sunday going through the book making the changes, lest I be fooled again. In one case, I even needed to reprint a couple of pages and paste them in, the brownie recipe was so out there.

Maggie is now making fun of Alton whenever I mention his name. We watched “Good Eats” last night and when he’s say “2 cups” of whatever, Maggie would say “Or 8 cups.. or 10 cups… maybe.” Maybe she’s peeved because she’s the one who paid for the book.

I’m giving the man more slack. It was a first printing. And the corrections were on-line. No real harm done. However, it means that you can’t really trust that focaccia recipe I posted earlier, because I didn’t keep track of how much flour I used to compensate. I’m going to either have to try his recipe straight, or make up my own variation. I liked how my focaccia came out. So I need to make it again and weigh the dough to figure out how much flour I end up using.

Despite these errors, AB’s books are really good. Even not having read through this baking one, I’ve learned a lot.

But, where the hell did the children’s aspirin come from? I want to know.

Posted by James at January 27, 2005 8:23 AM
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Can you exchange it for a newer printing that includes the corrections? Seems only fair to me!

Posted by: Cousin Bob at January 27, 2005 12:18 PM

Since aspirin is quite acidic and most people would be more likely to have it laying around the house than a 25mg vitamin C pill, I assume that the purpose was simply to include enough acid to help the reaction along in some way. I wonder how that would translate into other acidic ingredients, such as Tang or vinegar.

Posted by: Julie at January 27, 2005 4:40 PM

The aspirin was a mistake, though.

It turns out that Vitamin C does help yeast, so that much makes sense. I don't think acid does. Never heard that one. It's possible that the yeast does like an acidic environment, but I can't imagine that you could put enough acid in there to change the PH of the dough in a way that would make a difference to the yeast but you wouldn't taste when you ate it.

Again, I may be wrong.

Posted by: James at January 27, 2005 4:54 PM

It disturbs me that aspirin might be in a food recipe, since many people are allergic to aspirin, like myself!

Posted by: Chuck S. at January 27, 2005 5:08 PM

And worse, that many people are not as net savvy as our host. They may never twig on to the corrections.

Posted by: briwei at January 27, 2005 7:54 PM

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