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The scent of freshly baked bread wafts through Carol Stine’s kitchen, an airy space flooded with gentle sunlight. She has laid a pan of gooey brownies on the countertop to cool. It was barely past noon, but such flurry in her home in Simpsonville is not just for Thanksgiving. It is an everyday process for Stine, a professional cook and recipe developer who has won blue ribbons at the Kentucky State Fair and recently had her photo on the back of Hodgson Mill Apples and More Muesli. “My grandsons took that box to school and said, ‘My grandma’s famous.’ I said, ‘No, honey, I’m not famous,’” Stine says with a laugh. This exciting moment marked more than 20 years of Stine’s making a living doing what she loves. In 1988, several ingredients came together to set her cooking career in motion. Her husband, Philip, recently had learned he had high cholesterol, so Stine was searching for healthy foods he would enjoy. Oat bran was all the craze then, she said, and she remembers buying some Hodgson Mill oat bran and working that into breads. “I said to my husband, ‘I want my recipe on the back of a box,’” Stine recalled. She contacted the company, and shortly thereafter, the president of Hodgson Mill called to see if Stine would be interested in co-authoring a cookbook to include some of her state-fair-winning recipes, plus some new ones. From the publication of Blue Ribbon Breads in 1989 -- a book no longer in print -- Stine continued to work for Hodgson Mill, consulting and developing recipes and products. “I love baking. That intrigued me,” she said. “When we got married, and I tried bread, they were like doorstops. It takes some practice to get them nice and light.” The challenge is part of Stine’s passion for baking, and as recently as this year, she has worked through a real baking conundrum: developing gluten-free products for people with gluten sensitivities. Simply put, gluten is naturally occurring in many flours and helps bread have the elasticity to rise. If you’ve ever had a loaf come out hard and flat, a likely cause was that you didn’t knead it well enough to warm and incorporate the gluten. So making breads with gluten-free flours, such as brown rice or buckwheat, meant Stine had to find an alternative. She used a polysaccaride called xanthan gum, which is fermented from a byproduct of corn and acts a lot like gluten, though she warned the texture’s always going to be different. “The challenge has been to get all of these gluten-free products to have structure and not taste like cardboard,” Stine said. The pancake and waffle mix wasn’t too hard, but the bread was tough -- literally. “Being a good housewife, I made bread croutons out of it. I didn’t throw anything away,” she said. Salvaging experiments was one of the many cooking tips Stine was happy to share. Also, she said she is constantly forgetting to bring eggs to room temperature, so she found a shortcut by placing them in a measuring cup of hot water. And her electric bread knife is a staple. “I’ve probably sliced a zillion loaves of bread in the last 20 years,” she said. “I’m on my third electric knife.” She thrives on encouragement from her husband, who, by the way, is a pretty trim man. And the nature of her work doesn’t tie her to the oven. She has plenty of time for teaching 4-H sewing, the homemaker’s club and exercise classes. As Stine works in kitchen, she takes copious notes, which she later will organize into a simple, fluid recipe for the Hodgson Mill test kitchen to try out.
“I’m fussy, so I won’t even submit it to them until I’m really happy with it,” she said. “I’m a grandma on-the-go. As long as they want me to develop and work for them, I’m interested. I love to fool around in the kitchen and bake, I just love it.”