04 November 2011

Principia Cerealis

In my infinite wisdom, I decided it was time again to derive a recipe by first principles. This time: breakfast cereal. I thought this would be a non-trivial undertaking, and my first experiment has reinforced that notion. Though, the non-trivial bit is not what I expected. My first desire was to make, roughly, Captain Crunch (or one of its more natural cousins: Panda Puffs and Peanut Butter Puffins). That seemed difficult as I would be playing around not only with flour ratios, but also with peanut butter ratios. Better to stick to something even simpler - Barbara's Shredded Oats (Cinnamon). Here is what I ended up with; it looks atrocious and tastes edible.
My process was to start with the ingredients on the box - this reduced down to, roughly, five parts: flour, liquid sweetener, flavoring, leavening, and processed food stuff (preservatives, coloring, etc). I didn't need the last one, as I don't intend on putting this stuff in boxes and shipping it across the country. To begin with, I measured out 50g of flour and added what I thought were good amounts of the other dry ingredients, giving me the following base:

Flour: 50g whole wheat flour
Flavor: 2g salt, 2g cinnamon
Leavening: 2g baking soda

You'll note an immediate disparity here between my base recipe and that on the box - I am using whole wheat flour, not oat flour. This was a rash decision, prompted by the grocer being closed and my desire to start the process that very night, and one I hope to rectify with the next batch. Ignoring that and moving forward, I separated this into two piles - one of ~23g and one of ~33g. I added several ingredients to these:

23g batch33g batch
Liquid sweetner5g molasses3g molasses
Liquid15g water15g water
Extra flour5g whole wheat flour

Note the extra flour - I poured in too much molasses and tried to recover. The consistency of the 23g batch (which ended up at about 0.8 liquid) was sticky and hard to work with, while the 33g batch (about 0.6 liquid) only came together after hand-kneading with wet hands, which most likely bumped the liquid ratio to around 0.7.

I pressed the two batches into rectangles a cm or less thick, coated them in cinnamon, and cut them into cereal-sized pieces. These were placed in a 350 degree oven for, roughly 35 minutes. The next morning, there was no obvious difference between the two different batches other than the shape.

My tasting notes are rough, but go something like:
  • wow this is bitter but hey it is edible.
  • oh, it looks nothing like cereal and has the consistency of a dog biscuit." (don't ask how I know what a dog biscuit feels like when chewed)
  • salty salty salty aftertaste
  • no notable sweetness; hard to tell if the bitterness has erased it or it simply isn't present
Based on those, the plan for next time is a multi-pronged attack with a roughly 1 : 0.7 flour to liquid ratio. Firstly, no molasses. Honey instead. Whole wheat flour + molasses + cinnamon is far too much bitter. Secondly, the switch to oat flour which seems most prevalent in cereal brands. Thirdly, instead of pressing it flat and cutting it, I think I will press it flat, lightly bake it, then cut it in half and layer it, as cutting it into squares when double-layered should add a bit of air inside and hopefully get me closer to cereal (or far away from dog biscuit).

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