Archive for the ‘Aesthetics of food’ Category

The Pays de Caux is an area encompassing much of the Seine Maritime in Haute-Normandie in Northern France. It is a part of France that I have not visited but, if this desert is an indication of its beauty then, it must be amazing. The Tarte Cauchoise is one of the traditional tartes of this region, thus its name.

I’ve looked for a good recipe for a long time. Finally I have one courtesy of the family who owns and runs the Saint Honore Boulangerie in Portland. Because I’m a total amateur mine looks nowhere near as gorgeous and the one I was taught to make. Further, since the recipe comes from the family bakery in Normandy and I don’t know if I have permission to share it I won’t give you the exact proportions. But I will tell you the basics and show you the photos of my first, delicious if imperfect, attempt.

Basically, a Tarte Cauchoise is an apple tart that uses a puff pastry shell and an almond meal and creme fraiche based custard. The other ingredients are .eggs, sugar, corn starch, milk, and a bit of Grand Marnier. It’s traditionally made with golden delicious apples but, as you will see from my photos, I used several varieties of apple that I picked at my friends farm in Oregon.

So… here we go!

Start by taking a 10″ tarte pan and lining it with puff pastry dough and then parchment paper. Fill it with pie weights and bake it at 375f for about 15 minutes. If you are an actual competent baker (like my wife) yours will look a hell of a lot better than mine. None the less, here’s what I came out with. (Hey! You come make in for me next time!).

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For a single tarte you will need 3 large apples. I selected mine from this wonderful assortment.

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Whisk 2 large eggs in a large mixing bowl.

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Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar.(I like mine a bit less sweet but that is also less authentic)

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Add 1/4 cup of corn starch.

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Add about 1 1/2 cups of almond meal.

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Mix it all up.

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Now add 3/8 cup of creme fraiche. (I make my own from whipping cream, a couple tablespoons of buttermilk, and about 12 hours of sitting out on the kitchen counter)

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And 1 1/4 to 1 3/8 cups of whole milk.

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Mix it again so that you have a nice almond custard.

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Leave the custard alone while you peel and core your apples.

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Cut each apple into 8 slices.

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Remember the pre-baked tart shell? If the dog has not eaten it by now go grab it and fill it with the apple slices.

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Add your custard.

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Bake at 330f for 40 minutes and…

VOILA! You have an amazing desert from the glorious culinary history of Normandy!

Processed with Snapseed.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I neglected to mention the Grand Marnier. That’s because I did not have any when I was taking my photos. (No the dog didn’t get it). You can add it to taste while adding the milk and that is what makes it authentic. I considered adding some Grappa but feared by oven would explode. 🙂 I considered some Cognac but did not want to start a civil war 🙂 I considered buying some Grand Marnier but I don’t think it comes in 1/8 cup bottles 🙂 I decided to just leave that up to you!

Bon Appetit!

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Merry Christmas friends.

This morning I made the best pancakes I have ever made. I was just experimenting. The result was wonderful. Because it’s Christmas, and I am a nice guy, and all of my followers deserve the very best 🙂 I am sharing this recipe with you.

For me, this recipe made about 16 pancakes. I think I made them too big. But you can decide how big your pancake should be. The reality is that this will make between 15 and 20 pancakes, so, it should fill you up nicely.

For you who do not celebrate Christmas, I only call these Christmas pancakes because of the day I made them. There’s nothing religious and nothing sacred about them. Eat them anytime just be prepared for a little breakfast oral orgasm of sorts. Not all of my experiments are worthy of sharing on my blog but try these out and I think you’ll be happy.


Here goes:

INGREDIENTS

1 cup white flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup teff flour

1/4 cup brown rice flour

1⁄4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons baking powder

3⁄4 teaspoon salt

2 tbsp almond meal

1 cup nonfat milk

1 cup buttermilk

3 egg yokes (mix with all other ingredients

3 egg whites, whipped to fluffy white peaks

1⁄3 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 bananas
PROCESS

Combine all dry gradients into a large mixing bowl and mix well.

Add the milk, egg yokes, oil and vanilla and hand mix to create a smooth batter.

Put the egg whites into a stand mixer (or whatever tool you use to beat egg whites) and whip ’em good 🙂

When the egg whites become fluffy and peaked slowly fold them into the batter. Be careful to fold them lightly so as not to release air.

Cook the pancakes on a griddle, at 350°. Before flipping the cakes place 3 slices of banana on each. Then flip and finish.

Enjoy!

My levain is now nearly 9 months old. Because of my business travel schedule it has sat in the refrigerator for 5 weeks. Ken Forkish says it can stay there for “about a month” so I was starting to worry. I still don’t have time to bake bread now; but I decided that I’d better spend a couple of days feeding and refreshing Monsieur Blob anyway. After all, 5 weeks is definitely more than “about a month”.

Last night I removed Mr. Blob from the fridge, tossed all but 100 grams, added 100g of wheat flour, 400g of white flour, and 400g of 95 degree water. By this morning, I had a very active culture. Even after 5 weeks in the fridge, Mr. Blob has been resurrected with no problem!

When I opened my levain tub to feed my reactivated culture just now, I stuck my nose in and took a deep whiff. Holy shit!!! Mr. Blob has been hitting the bottle big time! My hyperactive levain nearly bowled me over with the smell of alcohol. Not only has Mr. Blob again reincarnated but he is totally KICKING ASS!

Bread makers, Forkish fans, levain lovers of the world unite! I can tell you conclusively that, at least in my refrigerator, a Ken Forkish levain will happily refrigerate for at least 5 weeks. Whohoo!

 

Here is what you need to know about bread:

Basic Topics

FLOUR – Without flour your bread will be too wet.

WATER – Without water your bread will be too dry.

SALT – Without salt your bread will rise too fast.

YEAST – Without yeast your bread will rise too slow.

Advanced Topics

PRE-FERMENTING – Preferments make your bread’s flavor more complex by extending ferment time.

POOLISH – Mellow preferment

BIGA – Rustic preferment

Graduate Studies

LEVAIN – Makes your flavor most complex (see also “Mr. Blob”)

Appendix: Electives

PIZZA – Make your bread flat, put stuff on it, bake really, really hot

FOCACCIA – Make your bread flat, work in a ton of olive oil, put stuff on it, bake not quite as hot. (see also, Pizza)

Coda

COOKIES – For the hell of it bake some cookies.

THE END

References

Needless to say “Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast” by Ken Forkish is my favorite baking book. Read it.

When last we left “Mr. Blob” he has helped us to create a Pain de Campagne that I’m pretty proud of. The problem is that he needs daily feeding. Unfortunately, I need to lose weight, not to gain it, so I simply can’t bake bread every day. On top of that, I kind of owe the nice people who pay me for my broadcast expertise 50 or 60 hours of my time every week and who am I to piss off the boss. So, what can I do with my pet blob to make everyone happy?

Glad you asked! It’s actually surprisingly easy to keep up a levain culture when you don’t want to worry about it every day. Here’s the deal:

First, after you’ve made a bread (or just decided that you are burned out on baking; or stood on the damn scale and know exactly what happened to your once shapely bod; or, whatever) grab your levain bucket, scale, and a unperforated ziplock bag. Weigh out 300 grams of levain, toss it in the bag, zip it up, and label it with the date. This last part is important because it will only store in the fridge for around a month, max. If you find it 6 months later, ya ain’t got culture anymore – all ya got is a dead blob. So date it and do what I say at least once a month.

DON’T RINSE YOUR LEVAIN TUB! THAR’S GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS! You don’t want to rid yourself of any of the work you did to build the culture. (Special Jewish note to keep with the blog theme: When Passover comes, treat it like the rest of your leavening but remember, if you sell it to some Rabbi, he may just not give it back!)

A couple of days before you are ready to bake (right, you need to know 2 days in advance that you need bread, ha!) pull it out of the fridge and it should still have some nice spongy bubbles in the bag. Like this:

Old refrigerated levain

Measure out 100g of whole wheat flour and 400g of white:

100g wheat 400g white

Put 200g of the levain into your (un-rinsed) levain tub, add the 500g of flour your just measured, add 400 g of 95 degree F water, and stir it all up. Cover the levain tub and what you’ve got should come to somewhere near the 1 liter line on the tub. This is a terrible picture but here’s mine:

Newly Mixed Levain

24 hours or so later, just like when we first grew Mr. Blob, our high-culture dough Golem – lo and behold! It has grown back up to its old self; bubbly, frothy, and right around 2.5 – 3 liters. I was pretty darn excited when it worked, to be honest. But, ta da!!! Here he is.

10 hours later

A quick look from above reveals a beautiful sponge just like the original culture.

reserected levain

All of that was just “day 1”; but I said you needed 2 days. On the morning of day 2, feed the levain just like you do with any other daily feeding: keep 100g, throw away the rest; add 100 g wheat and 400 g white flour; mix in 400 g of 95 degree water; stir; cover; store. Seven or 8 hours later, you are all set to bake!

Try it.

A couple of times in the past year I’ve taken the opportunity to share my newly found love of bread making. This, you know well, is thanks almost entirely to my new friend Ken Forkish, his perfect baguettes, and his James Beard Award winning book “Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast” ( ISBN 978-1607742739 – Ten Speed Press – http://amzn.com/160774273X). Here is a post to add to the collection!

(Non Sequitur # 1: I had an interesting conversation with another friend on New Years Eve. He thinks that Ken’s doughs are a bit high on the hydration front and he has not fully bought into the value of autolysis. Well, I’m not a bread guru (yet) but on the subject of hydration, Ken has adapted his recipes for the home kitchen. They do tend toward slack but they also ferment in a way that normal, ordinary cooks can time them. As for autolyzing, well it works for me and I get the concept when you are limiting the amount of time you ferment. So, I’m not smart enough to argue about it.)

Back from non sequitur land now:

Having become relatively competent in terms of making dough with commercial yeast, and having expanded my complexity to include Poolish and Biga, I decided it was time to take the plunge and to dive into Levain. I’d like to share the experience with you in the hope that you’ll be inspired to try your own culture. So, here goes. (by the way, to avoid infringing on Mr. Forkish’s copyright, I’m not going to give you the exact recipe or the exact process and all the photos below are of my own Levain culture, taken in my own kitchen, with my own iPhone. What specifics? Buy the book. It’s worth it).

It takes about 5 days to grow a mature Levain culture. What blew me away was not how easy it was (which it was) but how much flour you throw out. It also completely astonished me to see how little mature Levain is required to create a very cool result. Basically, you just start with flour and water. Every day you throw most of it away and add more flour and water. After the first day, little has happened. But by day 4 it is a really beautiful leathery, alcohol(ish), bubbly sponge. By day 5 it just grows and grows. By that time you either use it daily or you throw the majority of it away and just hold back 100 grams to keep the culture growing. So, to keep your culture alive you take a few minutes every morning to throw most of the Levain away and to add another 500 g of flour and 400 g of water. That’s a lot of wasted flour. But, to watch the culture expand each day is really amazing.

At the end of day 1 the Levain looks like plain ol’ dough. Not all that exciting. But remember, it did rise all by itself just based on the natural flora in the wheat. That, in itself, is cool. Here is what it looked like after about 26 hours.

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(SUPER CRITICAL NOTE: Look! It rose! It did NOT need any commercial yeast to get it started. Take that as day 1’s most crucial lesson” YOU DO NOT NEED ANY COMMERCIAL YEAST TO GET IT STARTED. In fact, even adding a fraction of a gram of commercial yeast will ultimately ruin it because commercial yeast is far more vigorous. It would be like planting some nice weeds to help your petunias get started. DON”T DO IT).

Look down into the tub and, even at the end of day 1 you will see some nice bubbles forming.

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By day 2 it is starting to look a bit different. it has more bubbles and the texture changes to a little more of a “sponge”. Until they add the “smell-o-vision” feature to WordPress I’m sorry to say you won’t get to experience the real change unless you do this yourself. But, by day 2 it has a relatively pronounced leathery and almost pungent aroma. Here it is on day 2.

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On day 3, the mixture is almost like a slurry. The aroma is very strong. Keep throwing stuff away, it keeps growing back! Kind of like “The Blob” but without Steve McQueen 🙂 In my day 3 picture here, you can see a lot of color fluctuations. This is not the result of the process. You see, for the first couple days, after tossing some of the culture and adding new flour and water you are supposed to let it sit uncovered for an hour or two. (I THINK that is to expose it to some ambient airborne yeasts but I really haven’t got a clue – if you know why, comment on this post and let us all in on it!). In this picture, I’m sharing my one mistake. I left the house without covering it and left it uncovered for 4 or 5 hours. You can see the areas that dried out. That said, big deal. It certainly did not stop “Mr. Blob” from growing! (For that, Steve McQueen needs to dump the beast into the arctic ocean, or something). Here is Day 3.

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Day 4 is the last day of building your culture before you just put “Mr. Blob” into maintenance mode. You’ll be throwing away almost all of your Levain. You will only keep about 150 grams (and it ain’t much). The easiest thing to do is to start out by knowing how much your tub weighs when it’s empty. So, before you even start with “day 1” weigh and label your tub. Here’s mine:

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Then everything else will be easy. Zero your scale and put your tub on it. Then just start throwing away Levain until the scale reads 150 grams more than the tub weight.

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See…. 568 minus 418 is, you guessed it: 150!!! Here’s my day 4 culture. That little 150 grams of sponge grew up (again!).

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You can begin baking bread, using your amazing new Levain, on day 5. Here is a photo of the ready to use 4+ day old culture. It almost has the consistency of sticky, thick, stretchy pancake batter. It has a strong aroma and, to my nose at least, it smells of alcohol, leather, yeast, and wheat fields. That description does not really do it justice because it actually smells a hell of a lot better than that. In any case, it’s awfully cool if you’re a bread loving foodie like I am.

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The next thing you need to remember is that once you’ve grown your culture you have to keep it alive. You can sort of think of it as your new pet, Mr. Blob. Every morning, like feeding the dog, you need to feed your Levain. This means tossing most of it away, as should now be unsurprising. Seriously, it’s hard to do. You need to throw everything in the trash except for a paltry 100 grams. Believe me, when you look at a tub with only 100 grams of Levain it looks almost like you dumped it all and just forgot to scrape the bowl. It will barely coat the bottom of the tub and you will think that Mr. Blob is dead. But don’t be fooled!

The morning Levain feeding is really very simple. Reserve 100 g of the Levain in your tub, To it add 500 g of flour (I use 400 g white and 100 g brown but that’s just how Ken Forkish tells me to – you may have your own ideas for substitutions). Then add 400 g of water at 85 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit, mix it by hand until it’s just incorporated, and toss it back on the shelf. Seven or eight hours later your Levain will be back up to it’s good old aromatic, bubbly self and you can use it in your breads any time between then and the next day’s feeding. If you don’t use it for 24 hours, feed it again. If you don’t want to feed it daily, take about 300 g of the Levain, put it in a nonperforated plastic bag, and store it for up to a month in the fridge.

Because I’m a traditional French bread freak, I wanted to start using my Levain in a traditional French bread. I chose Pain de Compagne because it’s chewy, crusty, and relatively complex. It also uses both Levain and a bit of commercial yeast so you don’t have to wait 12 or more hours for it to bulk ferment. So….. FANFARE….

Here is my first Pain de Compagne. Check ‘er out!

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Notice those perfect holes, the lovely color, the relatively thin but wonderfully crisp crust, and the nice shiny crumb. No, I’m definitely not a bread guru. But, this is a pretty darn good result for an amateur 🙂 If I can do it, you can do it. So give it a try!

Love to hear your thoughts, advice, and experiences. Feel free to comment!

By the way, here’s to a 2014 of some great new culture! Happy New Year.

It’s well established that I’m a “foodie”. You probably don’t know it unless we are personal friends, but I’m a pretty good cook, too. What I’m NOT, is a knowledgeable baker.

I know a bit about the chemistry of bread; and I buck the American trend of looking for things that are “gluten-free” because I think that the role that gluten plays in the organic chemistry of  bread is so cool. But, my bread making has been limited to pizza crusts, challah, and a few other breads in my, dare I say it, bread machine. (I swear I never let that damn machine bake anything, just prep the dough, but still…). Other than that, I really have no idea what I’m doing.

That’s why, until now, I have relied on bakeries and have searched for my favorites. I’ve said before that’ Ken’s Artisan Bakery is my favorite bread maker here in Portland and that Ken’s baguettes are my favorite outside of France. That’s why, when I decided to take a shot at making traditional artisan bread, it was Ken’s (James Beard Award winning) book to which I turned. And, because I am so proud of what happened with this first attempt, I want to share the experience.

If, after reading about what I did, you want to try it for yourself, the best advice I have is to read, memorize, and internalize Chapter 4 before you try a recipe. It’s easier to know exactly what the specific techniques are before you try to  autolyse, mix, and fold the dough than it is to do what I did and to try to flip around in the signed copy of the book with your elbows while your hands are caked with flour or pre-autolysed dough-goo. Best to study first. If you do that, then the recipes – or at least the one I tried – Saturday White – is remarkably easy.

I began, as one would expect, by measuring and setting aside my ingredients. I weighed everything as a good baker should and I found HUGE value in doing so. My wonderful wife helped me by pre-measuring the salt and yeast. Ken’s recipes give both volume and weight measures. Patt did the salt and yeast by tea- and tablespoons. When I cane to weigh these items, they were under weight by close to 20%. What that tells you is that there are a lot variables and, just like in your high school algebra class, your should minimize them. So, my real-world experiences as a novice confirms this: WEIGH THINGS!

Next I prepared to incorporate the flour and water. Ken’s recipes have you mix just these 2 items, by hand, and then to let them sit and autolyse for 20 – 30 minutes. (Autolysing is just the process of letting the flour and water sit long enough for the flour to become as hydrated as possible – who knew?). I got LUCKY. When I went to measure my water I discovered that my cooking thermometer had a dead battery. Fortunately, because I swim and, thus, know what an 80 degree pool feels like, I could guess at 90 – 95 degrees pretty well. Actually I don’t know that except for the fact that everything did what the book said it would do. So, I must not have killed the yeast 🙂 I waited 30 minutes just in case my house was a few degrees cooler than expected, and because I saw no downside to making sure the flour was fully hydrated. After that, I sprinkled on the yeast and salt (that I WEIGHED) and incorporated them as directed. I probably made a few more folds than necessary but I was just learning the pincer method of mixing so I was not sure when to call it done. Because the gluten strands are still pretty robust at this stage I figured that, if I was going to risk overworking the dough, it would be better now than later when the gluten strands are more delicate. Again, I must have done it close to correct since it worked.

The total first rise took about 5 hours. I folded the dough twice: once at 10 minutes and the second time at 1 hour 15 min. When it had tripled in size, it looked like this:

1-First Rise

I took this as a pretty good sign. First, it has RISEN! (NO… not He has risen! I’m not THAT good). Second, because it’s very obvious that some nice gas bubbles are forming. In other words, I got the volume Ken said I should have. So I could move on to the next steps. Even though I have never made bread by hand, I do know how to divide and shape the loaves. I was probably too anal retentive about my stretches because I did not want tear the gluten strands and I’m really not very experienced. The way I understand things is that stretching, but not breaking, the gluten strands is a key to chewiness and over all structure. Some people have said that they stretch the bread in only one direction. Ken has you stretch and turn until you have gone completely around the loaf. This makes most sense to me (not that I have any real knowledge) because I figure that if stretching strengthens the bread’s structure then stretching in multiple directions strengthens the bread the most. (I just made that up but I’ll bet I’m right). Here is what my first shaped loaf looked like:

2-Divide and Shape

Next I proofed the loaves. Ken teaches that you can tell when a loaf is properly proofed when you can stick a finger into it about 1/2 inch and it will spring back slowly and almost (but not quite) completely. If the dough doesn’t pop back out, it’s over proofed and you probably blew it. If it pops out immediately, it is not proofed enough. Here is my attempt at the  “finger dent test”.

3-Proof check

Now for a couple of super-hip tricks.

1. Ken does not have you put slits in the top of your breads before baking. He gets a far cooler and more rustic looking crust by having you insure that you put your proofed loaf into the oven seam side up.

2. To replicate a commercial oven, Ken has you bake all the breads in the book inside a dutch oven. You heat your oven, with the covered dutch oven in it, for 45 minutes. Then you put the loaf into the dutch over, cover it, and bake for 30 minutes. After that, remove the cover. At this stage, my first loaf looked like this:

4-Uncovered after 30 min

Yes, that is a crappy picture. I was so astonished that it had actually worked, even for me, even on a first attempt, that I was too excited to take a proper picture 🙂 In any case, after removing the cover from the dutch oven, you bake the bread for another 20-ish minutes. Then you remove the loaf from the oven and cool it for 20 minutes. Mine came out looking like this:

5-Out of the oven

Here is what the final breads came out like. The inside was perfectly airy and chewy. The crust was so perfect that even if I had bought the loaf from a specialty baker, I would have said is was amazing. This essentially proves nothing about me except that I can measure properly and follow instructions. Alternatively, it says a tremendous amount about the ability that Ken Forkish has, to properly develop and articulate home baking instructions and to adapt commercial baking practices to the home environment. Not everyone has the kitchen skills I do. So, I’ll give myself a little credit. But, remember, I had NO baking skills and yet I make a perfect bread. So basically, if I can do it, YOU can do it. Here is my end result for both loaves:

6-2 finished loaves

I’m pretty darn proud of myself for making this perfect bread. I admit it. But I’m also pretty darn happy that a guy with the skill of Ken Forkish is willing to share some secrets with we amateurs. This bread was easy but time-consuming. Yet, most of what made it the latter was my own lack of technique. So, although I will most assuredly do this again and again my pals at Ken’s Artisan Bakery will still see me often: The 5 minutes and three bucks it takes to get a baguette is still the quickest way to perfect bread. Although…. if the dudes need an apprentice this would be a pretty rewarding thing to get good at. To my American gluten-o-phobic friends, all I can say in closing is this:

LONG LIVE THE GLORIOUS MAGIC OF GLUTEN!

P.S. Congratulations to Mr. Forkish on winning the James Beard Award for “Flour, Water, Sale, Yeast“! Well deserved!