Biochemist in the Kitchen

Biochemist in the Kitchen

Shirley Corriher’s book, Cookwise, is one of the cookbooks in my collection gifted to me by C2.  I was flipping through the section on bread baking recently and noted that in nearly all of her recipes, Shirley calls for using ¼ of a vitamin C tablet along with ¼ of a cup of crushed ice chips into the bread making process. I read her bio and learned that she is a trained biochemist and consults with major food companies to improve their recipes.  She is very specific in her instructions too which is so helpful especially if you are just beginning to learn to develop bread.  C3, home recently for Father’s Day, made her first loaf of bread from scratch following one of the Cookwise recipes and it turned out soft and yeasty.

The results reflect her attention to detail.  For example, instead of stating that we should stir until combined, Shirley tells us to mix on low-speed with a mixer for five minutes.  She tells us if the flour should be chilled or room temperature. She teaches us why to use vitamin C in our dough.  I learned from her that vitamin C is a natural dough conditioner. It is the only enhancer allowed by 100% organic bread makers and even the rigid French bread laws allow for a little bit of vitamin C. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, improves the qualities of rustic loaves, making them lighter in texture while, at the same time, helping to marginally decrease the overall mix time, which is a good thing for dough.

Next month,  C3 and I are headed to Norwich, Vermont, to take a week-long pastry class from the professional bakers at King Arthur Flour Baking School.  We expect to hone our skills at pastry and learn more about the science of cooking.  Maybe we will start a pop-up business of our own.  All I can say is — BAKE!

Here is an example of one of her bread recipes using the secret ingredient, vitamin C and rice.

Rice Bread

  • 1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
  • I T light brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup warm water (115 degrees)
  • 1.5 Cups and 1 3/4 Cup bread flour
  • 1/4 500- milligram vitamin C tablet, crushed
  • 1/4 cup crushed ice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 cup cooked long-grain rice (white or brown)
  • 1 T oil for bowl
  • Nonstick spray
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Stir the yeast and brown sugar into the warm water in a bowl of a heavy-duty mixer.  Let stand for 2 minutes, until foam appears, indicating yeast is alive and well.  Add 1.5 cups bread flour.  With the paddle blade, beat on low-medium for 4 minutes to beat air into the dough.  Let the sponge sit for 30 minutes to 2.5 hours for improved flavor and texture.

Remove the paddle blade and insert the dough hook into the mixer.  Add vitamin C, crushed ice, salt, oil and remaining 1 3/4 cup bread flour.  Knead on low-medium speed for 5 minutes, until the dough is very elastic.  Add parmesan, cayenne, and rice.  Work into dough by hand or in the machine.  The dough should be very soft and slightly sticky.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat with the oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until slightly more than doubled in volume, about 1.5 hours. To keep the plastic from sticking to the dough, spray the side of plastic touching the dough with cooking spray first.

Punch dough down with a closed fist.  Reach to the back of the bowl under the dough and pull the bottom of the dough up and over the center.  Repeat the same action at the front of the bowl, then turn the dough out onto the counter.  Using both hands with a gentle cupping and tucking action, shape the dough into a smooth, tight round.  Grab the sides of the round and stretch it sideways into an oval.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave on the counter for 15 minutes.  The dough is now ready to shape.

Cup the dough with both hands, fingers spread out behind the loaf on either side and thumbs in front of the loaf.  Press your thumbs into the dough and down against the table.  Then pull or tuck in part of the bottom half of the dough.  At the same time, pull the top of the dough tight and forward with your fingers.  Now move your thumbs down slightly and press down and in again to knead and tuck again.  Repeat this motion two or three times.  The ends of the loaf go down in a slight taper,  Tuck them under, then pinch the ends and bottom seam together.

Spray a 5 x 9 x 3 loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and place the loaf in, seam side down.  Brush with beaten egg. Let the dough rise until slightly more than doubled, about an hour.

About 30 minutes before the dough is fully risen, place a baking stone on a shelf in the lowest slot of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees for at least 30 minutes. About 5 minutes before baking, turn the oven down to 375 degrees and carefully place a shallow pan with 1/2 inch of boiling water on the oven floor.

Brush bread again with the egg and place the pan directly on the hot stone.  Bake for 45-55 minutes.  Remove the loaf from the pan.  The loaf should be very brown and sound hollow when thumped from the bottom.  If using an instant-read thermometer it should read at least 200 degrees in the middle of the loaf.


Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?

Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?



Just days after RM and I were hitched for life, we moved to the City of Angeles so that he could embark on his early career as an aerospace design engineer in beautiful Burbank. The first month, we searched for a suitable place to live.  The one major requirement made by RM was space for a woodworking shop to accommodate his budding interest in furniture making.  This desire was fueled by his recent purchase of a Shopsmith Mark 5 multipurpose tool.  Fond of your Swiss Army Knife and its potential uses?  Then the Mark 5 is a tool for you.  It is a sander, a drill press, a router, a lathe, a table saw and more — all in one Inspector Gadget inspired machine.  But it needs ample space to operate.

I had envisioned an apartment or condo in a complex with a nice pool surrounded by palm trees but instead we made one of the many compromises over the years in our marriage, and signed a lease to a small apartment near Los Feliz Boulevard in Glendale next to Griffith Park and just a hop and skip over to Hollywood.  I liked the location, he got a shop.

Our apartment was located over a garage in the back of a residential home occupied by another renter. The place was well-maintained, clean, in a low to middle class neighborhood, and had a back lot for a small garden which included a lovely lemon tree. RM voted for this living arrangement because he had the rights to the garage below the apartment for his wood shop. Of course, our cars parked outside in the elements as they continue to do so to this day due to his hobby, along with his propensity for collecting parts and raw materials.  I am not complaining as our home is filled with his lovely work but just stating facts to emphasize his need for space.

When we signed the lease, we didn’t realize the proximity to a very busy Taco Bell that was located just on the other side of the cement wall.  We also didn’t realize how thin the walls were in this apartment.  Not only did I get to hear the sounds of a busy woodworking shop below –  that Mark 5 could put out some white noise – but the fatal malady to our happy first home was the amplified voices of the fast food orders coming through the speaker at the Taco Bell discussing options like Nachos Bell Grande or “do you want a drink with that?” at all hours of the day and night.  I have to give the staff at the Bell credit, they were consistent with their greeting of “Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?” or “Would you like hot, medium or mild sauce with that?”  The sounds of the orders and multiple options over and over again was akin to the annoyance one gets with lots of repetitive noise like a person chewing loudly, a workmate snapping gum, water dripping in your sink or the constant clearing of a loved ones throat.

We both developed the condition which I later learned is called misophonia or literally, hatred of sound.  Not much research had been done on this sickness but the sound of fast food ordering through the loud-speaker even to this day triggers the condition and continues to bug us both. When we hear the echoing voice through the speaker, it triggers anxiety, our heart rate goes up, we might sweat a little and then our usual tendency is to just get away from the noise as quickly as possible.

Today, we avoid ordering through the drive-thru and instead opt to park and go in. We never eat at Taco Bell. It is the amplified voice that still sends us both up the wall even thirty or more years later.  So my advise to you all is to be sure you sleep one night in any place you pick to rent or buy before signing a contract, so that you avoid a morning greeting of “Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?”