The Dangers of Under-Mixing
So I probably don't talk about my life as a baker enough. Gosh knows that in the past half year, I've made my fair share of mistakes (well not that much), but I definitely learn from them. I think part of honing in on your craft is really doing the exact same things - making cookies, making biscuits, making muffins - over and over again every single day. You get really good at doing it, but still sometimes, mistakes happen. Either you stirred it differently, or maybe under-measured the flour or...well, it's something like that. And I guess that is what I also find tricky about baking. You can make as many mistakes as there are components to the baking - it could be an issue with ingredients or in procedure and technique or even oven temperature. I mean, you think about making muffins or biscuits, and it's like "duh, that's pretty easy stuff"...but sometimes it's NOT!
Well, that's just a little bit of ranting before I go onto the actual rant. So, the bakery I bake at are sticklers for not "over-mixing" their product. Every extra turn with the paddle or spoon makes your product tougher...and to an extent, that is true. You overwork flour and you get a tougher product because of the gluten development. And that is especially important with things like biscuits and muffins, which you want tender. Only - I think some people take this over-mixing mentality WAY too far.
Last Monday, when I was making blueberry muffins, I must have heard the pastry chef say, "Remember not to over mix that" at least 3 times during the process. Now I respect my chef a lot, but I just wanted to say "yes yes I get it, but I need to mix this darn thing a bit more!"
Well, this Monday, I had to make those darn muffins again and made sure that during the whole process, I never over-mixed. I saw streaks of flour in my batter the whole time. (Keep in mind I make about 3 1/2 dozen muffins at a time, so there's a lot of batter). Now, I finished folding in the blueberries and flour via hand, but if the batter itself isn't really mixed at the beginning - especially with that amount, you can't really just hope that a few folds at the end will do what you didn't let the machine do.
So what I ended up with - and I had found this out as it was baking (so basically when it was too late)- was that little pockets of un-mixed sugar were spewing up through the top making this weird white crust on the muffins. The picture above doesn't look too bad, and I guess if you asked a non-baker, the muffins looked okay...but still, I had to throw away (well, I took home)about 10 of the muffins, which is never a good thing.
So this is sort of what I have to say about the issue. I think if you are a person that understands the dangers of over-mixing and how your product can become tough, then you WON'T over-mix things. One or two additional folds or spins will not change your product, at least to the extent where it becomes even remotely noticeable. I think the problem with most bakers is that over-mixing has become synonymous with hard and tough and hard and tough are not good things when it comes to pastries. But what people forget is that when you work something that contains flour, that working of the gluten also gives the baked good its structure - something that is also very important unless you're ok with flabby and flat looking muffins and biscuits.
So my tip is use your common sense. Experience definitely helps because when you make a recipe over and over, you understand the intricacies of each component. But with the issue of over-mixing, I say be aware of it, but also know it is mixing that gives your pastries structure.