Shortbread

A little background on this

Full disclosure. I’m Scottish, and grew up there for most of my childhood. Consequently there are some foods that are part of who I am, even if I only eat them a couple of times a year. Shortbread is one of them. One of my favorite taste memories is dipping fresh shortbread into custard and letting it all melt slowly in my mouth.

But I’m not talking of your usual christmas shortbread cookies all bejewelled in frosting and seasonal decorations, sweet and buttery beyond imagination, and almost crumbly to the touch.

No. The shortbread I grew up with is almost peasant like. Hard, but breakable, it will melt in your mouth, gently releasing its essential yet understated buttery bomb.

Until a few years ago, I had not been successful at copying what I remember of my grandmother and father’s magical creations. Too hard, not the right texture – not the right taste. I was told it was all in the kneading. There was too little, too much. Somehow I was not nailing it.

The investigation

A decade ago when I visited my parents, I was shown a slim and decaying cookbook: Reliable Cookery by Mrs. Lawrie (I kid you not. We shall never know Mrs. Lawrie’s first name!) This cookbook according to my dad, was published in the early 1900’s and functioned as a home economic textbook for ALL Scottish girls. (Think of the implications: it defines Scottish cuisine of that generation.) It was extremely practical,providing essential kitchen directions for future scullery maids and housewives, and simple recipes intended to provide an essential baseline of cooking expertise. I’ve uploaded and am sharing it here. I wonder what she would have thought of her modest book being shared in this way.

A little after this, I purchased Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty – an amazing book that shows how far we have all come in both embracing tried and true classical culinary techniques with a bold and new imagination. Along with Ratio, it is an essential cookbook by one of America’s most influential culinary teachers.

I then set about to figure out the definitive shortbread recipe. My usual M.O. when I set out to figure out a recipe is to research. I usually start with the print resources I have at hand. In this case I decided to look at the pdf printout I had made of Reliable Cookery and my two versions of the Joy of Cooking- 1949 and 1997.

The JOC versions seemed to me to be fairly typical butter cookies: 100% wheat flour, and also baking soda and vanilla (1949 edition). The 1997 version was more back to basics, with butter, flour, and sugar. Cream the butter and sugar, add in flour, roll out, cut, bake. Reliable Cookery differed in one important element, one I remembered from childhood: it included rice flour. (Strange, isn’t it. Rice is not a Scottish staple. Why would there be rice flour? And no explanation either.) In this recipe, the dry ingredients (including the sugar) are mixed, the butter is creamed, then they are combined, kneaded, rolled out and cut.

I decided to go with this latter recipe as I reasoned it would be the closest to what my Gran had made eons ago. Here it is. The ratio is something to take note of: 1 part each sugar and rice flour, 2 parts butter, 4 parts flour.

6oz. flour (188g)

2oz rice flour (62g)

4 oz butter (125g)

2oz sugar (62g)

Pinch of salt

  1. Mix dry ingredients
  2. Add butter and work in
  3. Roll out
  4. Bake in a ‘moderate’ oven for 1 hour.

Here is how it appears in the book.

With these quantities and process, it did not ‘roll out’ – it was rather a ‘press into the pan’ job. No surprise. After all there is no water to get the gluten going – indeed there are gluten inhibitors. I took the moderate oven to mean 325-375F. In initial experiments I used 375F (175C) following the JOC and watched it carefully but ultimately I prefer 350F.

As it was cooking, I decided to thumb through Ruhlman’s Twenty – looking for new ideas and new things to try. Lo and behold, there it was, his take on Scottish Shortbread. This was definitely interesting- especially as he noted it was a recipe that had come down through the family of a Scottish friend. No doubt a shared ancestry leading back to Mrs. Lawrie’s tome. http://ruhlman.com/2010/03/scottish-shortbread/

http://lethallydelicious.blogspot.ca/2010/06/scottish-shortbread.html

This recipe has a considerably higher ratio of sugar and butter, and uses a lower gluten cake flour. I appreciated the explanation about the gluten: that the unique crumb is achieved through lower gluten. His solution is the cake flour. Mrs. Lawrie’s was to cut in the rice flour.

My final go-to shortbread recipe

There was however a missing element in all of these recipes. The problem with shortbread is how to keep it firm, and not crumble away. You also want it to easily break apart in neat rectangles, approximately ¾” (2cm) in height. The fork pricks are important to release water vapour. The thickness too is important for the integrity of the biscuit. The key is the thorough and even compacting of the dough. If it is at all loose, it will crumble. Here is the solution, and my current recipe, somewhat modified from Mrs. Lawrie but with metric weights and a lot more specificity that should assure success:

Ingredients

180g flour
60g rice flour
125g unsalted butter
65g sugar

Equipment

  • Mixing bowl
  • Weigh scale
  • Parchment paper
  • Empty 500ml salsa or round mason jar
  • 6”x8”/15x20cm (@ 50”2 /125cm2 ) baking dish for this recipe amount. This will yield shortbread that is an ideal thickness – about ¾” (2cm) thick.
  • Knife and/or pizza wheel

Instructions

  1. Let butter soften to room temperature
  2. Heat Oven to 350F/175C
  3. Weigh out and mix dry ingredients
  4. Add room temperature butter and knead until the dough is fully integrated
  5. Loosely press parchment paper into the baking dish
  6. Press shortbread dough into all corners of the pan – compact it as much as possible
  7. Lay another sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough and find a round jar that can fit into your pan (i.e. a 500ml mason jar or salsa jar) to use as a mini rolling pin.
  8. Roll out and compress the shortbread until it is even. You will also need to press in dough that creeps up the sides with your fingers.
  9. Using a knife or pizza wheel, cut it into desired sized pieces then poke holes with a fork all over. You can also sprinkle sugar on top.
  10. Bake 35-40 minutes. It should be a little brown on the edges. As soon as you begin to smell it, it’s probably ready.
  11. Allow to thoroughly cool before gently removing the parchment paper with shortbread from the pan. It will break cleaner if it is chilled.
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Biscotti

Anytime is a great time for biscotti, but I’m doing this in December, and so it’s part of my holiday baking. Biscotti recipes are easy to come by, and so my purpose in presenting yet one more is to get across a couple of important and cool cooking ideas:

  • Setting up a recipe
  • Using a potato (yes, truly)

Setting up a recipe

People who know me know that I have kept an ever growing spreadsheet of recipes for over a decade now. Essentially there’s a number of tabs – like baking, dessert, vegetable mains etc. and within each tab, each recipe has its own column. This is really useful as most online recipes are all in a column format and if I want to send someone a recipe, its copy and paste ‘text only’. You can also easily expand or contract the column so it fits conveniently into your cell phone window. I’ve noted to my son that since just about everything he has eaten at home is on this sheet, it is in a way his culinary DNA.

Also those who know and follow me know that I always use weight measurements. The first thing I do with someone else’s recipe is to weigh each ingredient and slot that into my sheet.

Ingredients

In the case of the biscotti, there are 4 separate ingredient preparations, and they must be added in order. The original recipe here is from Healthy Home Recipes. Its here: Cranberry Almond Chocolate Biscotti. The ingredient list is ordered in no particular way – left up to the cook to sort it all out.

I prefer to see it carefully ordered by clustering similar ingredients together and ordering them in the order they are used in the recipe. In this recipe, there are four sets of additions: eggs & vanilla, butter, dry ingredients, and flavoring mix. What follows are my version of the ingredient list, followed by the original. In my spreadsheet, the groups of ingredients are colour coded as well.

3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla 4 g
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted 50g
2 1/2 cups flour 220g
3/4 cup granulated sugar 120 g
13g baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt 2g
1-1.5 cups of whatever flavorings you want: cranberries, currants, slivered almonds, chocloate nibs. This can go as high as 2 cups, but at the risk of the dough not fully covering it all and them breaking apart easily.

Here’s how the original ingredient list is laid out. Note the apparent randomness:

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup sliced almonds
8 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped

Here is the resulting mise en scene for a double batch:

Instructions

The instructions are not much changed from the original. What’s key is to precisely follow the mixing directions. As this recipe uses baking soda as its rising agent, the resulting batter must be minimally worked and shaped.

Here’s my version of the directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a stand mixer bowl, hand whisk together 3 eggs and vanilla.
  3. Melt 50g butter.
  4. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Prepare the 1.25 – 1.5 cups of nuts/fruit chocolate you want.
  6. Put the mixer bowl on the mixer and turn to MIX or stir. Add the melted butter then the dry ingredients and finally the nuts/fruit mix. Mix only until well combined. If you don’t have a stand mixer it really is not the end of the world for this recipe. It can all be done by hand.
  7. Turn the dough out onto parchment paper on a baking tray. Shape the log so that when cut diagonally it will yield biscotti of the shape profile you want. Use a potato cut in half for this. Keep in mind the log will double its width in cooking.
  8. Bake 25 minutes or until firm and dry to touch. Remove from oven.
  9. Reduce oven to 325°F.
  10. Transfer baked log to a cutting board. and let cool for about 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut the log diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices (or however thick you want your biscotti).
  11. Place slices on their base so that both sides are open to the air, on the baking sheet.
  12. Bake about 15 minutes or until dry and dark.
  13. Transfer to racks to cool.
  14. If you want them to be chocolate dipped: Melt the chocolate (white or real chocolate) in the microwave or over a double boiler. Dip each biscotti into the chocolate, at an angle, coating the end. Return to a cooled baking sheet and chill about 20 minutes or until chocolate is set.

Original instructions

Here is the original recipe text: Beyond the obvious change to using a numbered list, I’ve also prepared the ingredients in the order they appear in the recipe.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat liner. In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. With an electric mixer, beat the eggs and melted butter into the dry ingredients. Stir in the cranberries and almonds. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Flour your hands so that the dough won’t stick to them, and divide the dough into 3 equal 8x2x3/4-inch logs. Place one log on the baking sheet and bake 24 minutes or until firm and dry to touch. Remove from oven. Reduce oven to 325°F. Transfer baked log to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the log diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place slices, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake about 10 minutes or until dry and dark. Transfer to racks; cool. Repeat with the other two logs. Melt the white chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler. Dip each biscotti into the chocolate, at an angle, coating the end. Return to a cooled baking sheet and chill about 20 minutes or until chocolate is set.

The potato??

This idea was presented on Food 52’s Chocolate Crocante recipe. This looks like a pretty amazing confection that is harder than it seems. The big idea here is that the potato’s moisture and starch provide excellent lubrication for sticky sweet bakes that would easily frustrate a spatula. Just cut the potato in half and use it to shape your log.

Finally, the pictures here show a double recipe. In one case I added currants and the almond sugar mix from my failed crocante recipe. In the other I went with semi sweet Camino chocolate nibs and dried cranberries, with a sprinkle of cocoa on top.

Final thoughts

When you first see a recipe that you know you want to make, I’m guessing the first thing you do is find the ingredients and assemble them all together. Does the order and how you set them up make a difference to you? Is there not some peace and satisfaction that comes with not only having all the ingredients, but having them set up in such a way that your procedure is logical and consecutive? Whenever I see a recipe where the ingredients are not clearly laid out and sorted, I make changes to it. I could also operate with an unordered layout – but prefer not to. Mis en scene: French for ‘put in place’ is a critical part of cooking preparation. It helps to ensure you do your recipe properly, and helps the cleanup too. Just as the physical layout helps my culinary piece of mind, I like it reflected on paper (or my cell phone) as well.

Perhaps this is a reason I pop all my recipes onto my spreadsheet. If they are worth doing, they are worth doing well, and worth repeating. Being able to retrieve them easily, and having them make immediate sense in its own way promotes great kitchen karma.

Homage to Mollie Katzen

Homage to Mollie Katzen

I’m fine doing a recipe, even creating and adjusting one. Where I fall down is that initial spark of creativity to figure out what to do in the first place. Unlike what seems to be the norm these days, I don’t head over to Pinterest and dial up some assortment of interesting recipes to browse through. Boringly I start by looking in the fridge seeing what is there, and figuring out something that can be made reasonably quickly.

My wife has other ideas. Not exactly heading to Pinterest – but pulling 30 year old fav cookbooks off the shelf she hasn’t looked at for a long time. It was essentially a message to me: “I’m getting a little tired with the same same. You need to broaden things a bit.” My reaction was “Sure, tell me what you would like.”

Three of the books were by Mollie Katzen: The Moosewood Cookbook, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Still life with Menu.

Mollie Katzen first came to prominence in the 1970’s with the famous Moosewood Cookbook – one of the best selling cookbooks of all time. It’s a vegetarian classic with pretty much any go to vegetarian dish that is out there. My humus and babaganouj recipes are right out of it. Back in my vegetarian days, her books were a constant go to reference.

Its interesting looking at the recipes now – 30-40 years later. So much has changed: all recipes show volumes – no weights. There’s a lot of cheese happening, and there is no mention at all of fermentation. These books were developed before the internet too. Moosewood is hand written and hand drawn. Over the years, our well used copies are getting very dog eared, with notes and stickies everywhere.

If you do not already have these two books, I would strongly recommend buying them. They are still unique, and still relevant in these faster moving times.

My idea here is to do something of an homage to Mollie and her superb work from a generation ago. Still life with Menu has an interesting concept: instead of a series of recipes categorized by type, a set of menus are presented. Also, she presents options for preparing parts of each meal several days ahead of time – the idea being that you are not scurrying about on the day the meal is served. Finally, each menu is accompanied by a watercolour showing some or all of the menu as a classic still life painting. So my project here will be to try out a number of these menus, and recording my thoughts in this blog.

Light tomato soup, Jewelled Rice Salad, and Yogurt scones

I didn’t have to prepare this one several days apart. It was pretty easy to pull together and I did take some short cuts. I’ll present the original recipe on one side and my variation and notes on the other: Generally I am cutting the recipe in half as there are but three of us eating.

Original ingredients: Light tomato soup My variation
3 lbs ripe tomatoes in chunks 750 ml of my home made tomato sauce
4 cloves garlic, chopped 2 heaping tablespoons of homemade pesto
6-8 fresh basil leaves
2 tbs brown sugar 1 tbs brown sugar
1 tsp salt ½ tsp salt
Pepper to taste Pepper to taste
Parsely and/or dill as garnish. Parsely and/or dill as garnish.

Next up: Yogurt scones

These are, as promised, very light and airy scones. They are more like baked pancakes than anything else. This makes them quite tempting – they were definitely all consumed. As with other recipes I made a half batch, and converted volumes to weights. The instructions are as expected: mix wet, mix dry, & combine stirring as little as possible, bake – 400 12-15 minutes.

I made one addition to it: I added some sourdough starter, and left it all on the counter for about an hour.

Original Yogurt scones My version (approximately half the recipe)
1.5c white flour 110g all purpose flour
1.5c whole wheat flour 70g whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder 1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt 3.6g sal. This is 2% of the flour weight and a much higher % than in the original.
6 tbs cold butter (unsalted) – interesting – back in the day salted/unsalted was not distinguished 45g unsalted butter
2 tbs packed brown sugar 13g brown sugar (when you weigh it, you do not have to be concerned with it being packed or not)
½ c packed raisins 35g currants
1 ¼ c yogurt .75c yogurt
2 eggs (1 egg in mix, 1 beaten and brushed on top) 1 egg + egg white to brush on top
I also added 2 tbs of sourdough starter

After an hour on the counter the sourdough was beginning to work its magic.

I think you will be able to read the original instructions in the photo below.

This recipe worked out quite well, and really was exceptionally easy. As usual I could not help weighing things. The scones turned out a little like pancakes as well – hardly a surprise as they are a batter dropped onto a cookie tray. One change I would recommend is to use parchment paper. This will guarantee nothing sticks. Was parchment paper a thing 30 years ago? Perhaps not.

Finally, a jewelled rice salad.

This was one recipe I did make some significant changes to. I’ve been making grain salads for years now – they offer almost endless variety with the array of grains to choose from and all of the wonderful stuff you can put into them. But in the ‘80’s they were a new idea, and in my opinion we owe a debt of thanks to MK and her collaborators for bring them to our tables.

That said, we have definitely pushed the envelope by 2018 s you will see when the original and my recipe are compared. We want a bigger bolder taste, and this was achieved with a ponegranate half. As in other recipes I cut the original in half.

Jeweled rice salad (original) My version (half the quantity)

I did not weigh these ingredients.

Rice: 2c rice, 3 c water I had brown rice already cooked, so I used 2 cups of that
⅓ c olive oil ⅓ c olive oil ( felt it needed more oil)
6-8 tbs lemon juice 3-4 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp salt 1/2 tsp salt
1 large clove garlic 1 clove garlic
1 tbs honey 1/2 tbs honey
4-6 scallions cut fine 2 scallions cut fine
½ c finely minced parsley ½ c finely minced parsley. I thought it deserved more parsley
1 c toasted pecans 1 c toasted pecans. Likewise. I did not halve these
Fresh ground pepper to taste Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 c red or green seedless grapes I did not have these. Too bad. I substituted soaked raisins.
1 cup chickpeas ½ cup chickpeas
Toasted pecan halves. Toasted pecan halves.
I thought the whole dish at the end needed some additional strong flavors. I added in addition
⅓ cup chopped granny smith apple
2 tbs pomegranate seeds.

Directions

  1. Cook the rice. MK has some very specific directions for the rice (which I did not follow as I already had some available):
    1. Bring to a boil
    2. Lower heat to lowest simmer for 35 minutes
    3. Transfer to a shallow platter and spread to let steam escape. This prevents it overcooking in its own heat
  2. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, salt, garlic and honey
  3. Add parsley, pecans and pepper.
  4. Mix well in its serving bowl, add garnishes – pecans, scallions, parsley

And there is my first revisit of Still Life with Menu. Both it and Moosewood are still readily available, and I would strongly recommend getting them. They may easily become your go to sources for all that is vegetarian.

I hope you give these recipes a try – and as you can see, they are quite amenable to variation.

Pork Tenderloin

Last weekend we had the pleasure of our son’s company for a couple of days. Its always a pleasure to see him – he brings such an air of freshness, optimism and vitality that helps us to refresh ourselves.

I was thinking of what to do for dinner, and I had kind of thought along the lines of a raclette, but there were other options as well. I suggested these, thinking of what I had brought back from the market.

I had to go a little late to the market – and sometimes one risks the vendors running out of food. Sure enough when I got there, the meat counter was devoid of all roasts steaks and chops. There was however a single pork tenderloin – quite small – under 400g but enough.

That was what he wanted – and said ‘leave it to me/we’ll do it together’.

Very well then. I took the precaution of salting it as dinner was clearly headed in this direction.

Here is the story of how it transpired. The lesson in it is how a good cook can get the general idea of the dish, and make it something new yet their own. In this case simplicity prevailed; the desire to bring out the best in the meat with the least amount of work.

He started off his search with Gordon Ramsay – a fav go to of his ever since I showed him the Hash Brown video. So he searched out his Pork tenderloin video. Its quite delightful watching Ramsay cook – such high energy, but also he is so exact about what you do when.

It was clear to us that our sad little 400g piece was nothing like the succulant 1 kilo fat enshrouded piece Ramsay was working with. To begin with, our piece was completely lean. It was, however all in one piece, and thick enough that it could be cut open.

The big idea about this recipe, so it seemed, was to prepare a stuffed tenderloin, but it didn’t have to be all that was in Ramsay’s recipe.

So he started cutting open the meat, and layering in his filling: apple, garlic, pepper. This was followed up with preparing a glaze, a technique picked up from making Christmas turkey. I just happened to have some pork stock on hand, to which was added some maple syrup and apple juice. 

Next was what I felt was a genius move: wrap the whole thing in bacon. That would serve to nicely intensify the taste. Finally, as the Ramsay video shows, tie it up with butcher string.

 

Since our piece of meat was lacking a few things, we wanted to keep it moist. So instead of putting it directly in the oven, we decided to bake it in a dutch oven on a trivet (made of mason jar lids) with the glaze providing the moistening.

With an accompaniment of green salad with viniagrette, braised turnip and parsnip, a warmed grain salad, sauteed mushrooms, broccoli, beer bread as a side and rhubarb apple pie with homemade vanilla ice cream, it was a delicious weekend dinner at the cottage. Were we to do it again, we would have added a good hit of rosemary, but as it was, the apple and garlic truly served to bring out the taste of the cut. Simple, and delicious.

Here is the tenderloin recipe:

Ingredients

450g pork tenderloin

half a granny smith (or other tart apple) apple sliced thin
1 large clove garlic sliced thin
5 rashers of bacon
pepper
salt

Glaze/broth

3 tbs broth
about 6tbs apple juice
2 tbs maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Salt the tenderloin for several hours – but at least 60 minutes.
  2. Oven to 400F/205C
  3. Slice open the tenderloin.
  4. Thinly cut apple & garlic and insert into the cut tenderloin.
  5. For the glaze heat the broth, apple juice, and maple syrup.
  6. Tightly roll up the tenderloin then wrap bacon around the meat. Tie off the roll with string – one string on each bacon rasher.
  7. Put the wrapped tenderloin on a trivett in a Dutch oven.
  8. Pour the glaze over the tenderloin, cover, and bake for 45 minutes – more if your tenderloin is bigger.

Sourdough Bagels

Imagine: Fresh tangy  bagels right out of the oven for breakfast. Ones made by YOU. 

Sounds great?   You can do this and it’s not that hard.

This blog tells you how – and in particular bagels of the sourdough persuasion.

There are a few sites that will teach you about making bagels, but they are usually done by professional bakers, thinking of larger scale production. They also are yeast based.

I’m a home baker, not making any more than between 4-6 at a time. This is important as I am interested in both freshness and efficiencies of both time and ingredients. And sourdough is my baking medium of choice.

This blog is  associated with some of my other blogs on sourdough:

 but bagels are a particular kind of baking process that requires a different treatment.

There is one really excellent instructional video you really ought to view before doing your own – Breadtopia’s bagel video http://breadtopia.com/how-to-make-bagels/ This one is a yeast based recipe, is considerably bigger scale, and with respect to the water in the oven, a tad complex for my liking. But its the one that made the most sense to me when I was developing my own technique.

Sourdough bagels can either take a really long time to pull together, or they can be relatively fast. The relatively fast version means that you already have a bag of dough ready to go in the fridge. The slow version means you begin with a starter, refresh, refresh again, make a bulk dough, THEN put the bagels together. I will describe both, beginning with the fast version.

The Fast Version

To do this version, you need to have at least a .5k or 1lb of sourdough bulk rise dough in the fridge.  Check out my Making sourdough easy and ‘just in time’ blog for the backgrounder on how you can set up a truly efficient sourdough regime. 

The night before  (best done when preparing dinner.)

Time : about 20 minutes

You need

  • Bulk rise dough
  • Weigh scale
  • Parchment paper
  • Plate or baking tray
  • Wet (rinsed wet) cloth
  • cornmeal
  • Dry malt extract or sugar

Instructions

  1. Check your dough’s hydration. You should already know this. Bagels require a 60% hydration. If your dough is different than that you can use my hydration change calculator to make the adjustment. If this is still a tad confusing and you just want to get on with it, bagels need a stiff dough – however you get there. 
  2. Assuming 110g or 1/4lb per bagel, take out the dough needed to make the number of bagels you want.
  3. Also add some sugar. This can be in the form of regular sugar, or dry malt extract. For these small batches I add about a tablespoon or so. The sugar encourages more yeast action in the bagels. Maple syrup or honey can also be used but if you do, you have to treat them as liquid and add flour to keep the hydration at 60%. For our small batch I would suggest 30g honey/maple syrup and 50g flour.  Knead the dough, the sugar and (if needed) extra flour or water until it is a well kneaded ball.
  4. Separate the dough into balls of dough – one per bagel. Weigh them so they are all the same weight. Vigorously knead and roll the dough as you would plasticine to make each dough ball into a long sausage shape. [photo showing the rolling and twisting] 
    Bagels can be anywhere from 100g to 150g

      Bagels can be anywhere from 100g to 150g

    Bagels rolled and twisted in a sausage shape

    Bagels rolled and twisted in a sausage shape

    bagels-6

  5. Twist the sausage shape working to stretch the gluten in the dough as much as possible. Form it into the classic bagel shape crimping the ends together.
  6. Prepare a parchment paper with a thin layer of corn flour, place the bagels on the flour, leaving lots of space between them. Cover with a damp towel and put into the fridge overnight. [photo of bagels ready for the fridge]

    Bagels ready to go in the fridge (with a wet towel of course)

    Bagels ready to go in the fridge (with a wet towel of course)

In the morning…

Time: 40 minutes in all, 10 minutes of active work

You need:

  • Cornmeal
  • Baking soda and sugar
  • Baking stone
  • Widest frying pan you have, but should be at least 2” deep
  • A slotted spoon
  • A tablespoon measure
  • Pizza peel
  • Parchment paper
  • Bagel toppings (egg wash, poppy seed, sesame seed, flax, other grains and nuts….)

bagels-12

 

Instructions

  1. Make sure you have a baking stone in the oven, more or less in the middle, and enough space below to fit the frying pan with water. Turn the stove on to 480F/250C.
  2. Using the widest frying pan you have, fill it ¾ full of water, add 1 tsp of baking powder, 1 tbs sugar (or if you have it, dry malt extract) and set to boil, lid on. Your timing on these two items depends on how fast your stove and your heating element heat up. Ideally the oven should reach 480F about the time the water is boiling on the stove. What you are trying to avoid is having the bagels ready to go into the oven before it is properly heated. 
  3. Remove the bagels from the fridge and place them next to your frying pan of boiling water. Gently make any final shape adjustments you want (bigger/smaller hole, rounder etc.) 
  4. When the water is at a rolling boil, place the bagels in it. You should be able to place between 4-6 bagels in a 12” skillet. It will initially go off the boil with the fridge cold bagels. Once it comes back to boiling, boil the bagels on one side for 30 seconds at least . Sometimes the bagels stick to the bottom  – if so gently pry them up about 10 or so seconds into this first boil. They should rise to the top once they expand and they must do this before they are turned. It’s important to note that most of their rising occurs in the boiling.  After 30 seconds, flip the bagels with the slotted spoon and continue to boil for another 30 seconds. 20161103_061600
  5. While the boiling is happening, sprinkle more cornmeal on the parchment paper (or you can use new parchment paper if you like) and prepare the toppings and a spoon.
  6. Working quickly, remove the bagels from the pan and place them on the cornmeal parchment paper.
  7. Using a spoon, sprinkle toppings as desired 20161103_061721
  8. Put the frying pan of nearly boiling water in the oven under the baking stone 20161103_061816
  9. Using a pizza peel, slide the parchment paper with the bagels into the oven [photo of bagels ready to go into the oven]
  10. Turn heat down to 450F/233C (it will likely be at that once the water and bagels have  gone in) and bake for 20 minutes. 
  11. Remove and place in a basket – parchment paper and all. 
  12. Enjoy! (and don’t forget to remove the pan from the oven too.)

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So that was the short version: about 20 minutes in the evening and about 45 minutes the next morning. Here’s the longer version for a 6 bagel batch. I use organic whole wheat flour for the starter and a combination of all purpose organic and red fife flour for my dough.

The LONG Version

24 hours ahead (morning)

The timings for these risings are a little shorter than what I would usually do, and the compensation is rising them in a warm location. Alternately you could do the first refresh the night before (2 nights before the bagels are made), plan on about 8 hours per rising, and in a cooler environment of 20C/68F

  1. Refresh 100g of starter with 100g water and 60g flour, and let it develop for 6  hours at a warmish room temperature around 24C/75F (e.g. 6AM-12 PM)
  2. Refresh this starter again with 250g water and 150g flour, letting it develop for 6 hours. (e.g. 12PM-5PM)
  3. Prepare a bulk dough with 120g of this starter, 360g flour, 170g water, and 8g salt.
  4. Let rise for a further 5  hours or so before proceeding to ‘the shorter version’.

The following table shows how you would manage things beginning 36 hours ahead or 24 hours ahead.

Step 20C/68F 24C/75F
  1. First refresh
10 PM (36 hours before) 6AM (24 hrs before)
2. 2nd starter refresh 6 AM (24 hours before) 12PM
3. Bulk dough 2PM 5-6PM
4. Shaping into bagels/refrigerating 8PM 10-11PM
5. Boiling 6AM 6AM

As you can see this is a day long project and a lot of attention to time, detail, and being available all to get only 6 bagels. It’s not even ideal, as it really is best to prepare the bagels around dinner time the night before. To accommodate this you would need to begin your starter refresh in the middle of the night.  That’s why I prefer to do the shorter version  – but you would need to be doing what I note in my “Making sourdough easy and ‘just in time’ “ blog.

Kombucha!

Kombucha is the perfect answer to our craving for fizzy non alcoholic beverages. It is wonderfully flavored, gently effervescent, only slightly sweet, nicely complex, and overall delicious. Although made with black tea and sugar, the bacteria have feasted on these very ingredients, changing them in their wonderful alchemy into more bacteria, yeast, carbon dioxide and a slight bit of alcohol. 

My journey with fermented foods is now well into its second year. Such a lot has happened, and what our household consumes has remarkably changed. Health has also subtly but perceptibly changed too. I now can’t remember when anyone was down and out with a cold or flu, yet we’ve been in contact with many who have. No one has reported urinary infections, yeast problems, or anything like.

My initiation to kombucha had nothing to do with this though. I was aware of kombucha, but had never tried it. One day shopping, I bought a bottle and it was decent if unremarkable. There was a small slimy thing in it I now recognize as a tiny scoby. I set aside a 1 cup jar with the scoby and some mango-orange juice to see what would happen. Indeed in about a week, it consumed all that juicy sugar and now had grown. “Well”, said I, “this is most interesting. Lets see where we can take this.” Long story short I began investigating, joined the Kombucha Nation FB group, started a spreadsheet to chart my initial attempts, purchased a 3 gallon stone crock. By far the most succinct and useful article on it is a Wiley Library online article. I strongly advise readers to click the link for their overview

Initially my family members were pretty skeptical, and in my initial attempts, understandably so. They still kept going for the spritzer, worried the bottles might explode in their faces or that somehow they might be poisoned, or that it would be simply awful. None of that happened, and now our homemade kombucha is the go-to drink. In fact I’m having to increase my bi weekly production by about 50% to keep up.

That all said, they now have their favorites, and just like with commercial products, they expect them to taste consistently similar and be available when needed. My kombucha making is now post experimental and can be said to be in regular consistent production.

Now that I am at this point, I thought I should share what I do. My final ‘push’ came when my butcher to whom I had given a bottle to try really liked it and wanted to make her own. Just passing on the starter and a scoby might not necessarily guarantee the success sought, at least immediately.

But why should I bother to do all this when there are so many other excellent blogs out there? For me, the answer lies in identifying and illustrating a consistent and manageable process that will always give excellent results. Judging by the feedback I have received I know I have an excellent product doing it this way. I look forward to hearing how you have made out with it, and also I look forward to hearing from more experienced kombucha makers than I with your ideas and comments on this process.

Here’s how it goes….

Every 10 days or so I do a Kombucha brew day. I start a new batch and bottle (second ferment or ‘2f’) the old. I process about 4-5 litres at a time and the method I have worked out gives me reliable, delicious kombucha every time.

Materials:

Mise en scene

  • 6 litre (or so) pot
  • 3 gallon crock
  • Bottles – beer bottles, or flip lid bottles. The shape of the narrow necked beer bottle encourages natural carbonation. This is because the fermenting yeasts do not require oxygen, whereas the bacteria involved do. The narrow neck in a sealed bottle reduces the oxygen available, encouraging the yeast to continue fermenting, converting the sugars into carbon dioxide. Once everything is added in you will need about 6 litres worth of bottles. You can use anything technically, but unless you use a narrow necked bottle of some kind, it won’t carbonate as well. 
  • Bottler and caps if you are using old beer bottles. 
  • Measuring cups – 1L, 500ml
  • Funnel
  • A strainer that can nest in the funnel
  • 7-8 1L mason jars
  • Thick kitchen towel
  • Weigh scale
  • wooden spoon

Ingredients

  • 4-5L Good quality water – not flouridated or treated tap water
  • 20g loose tea: It can be a variety of teas – I have used Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Kukicha, and Green tea – any will do
  • 200g sugar
  • 1L of kombucha starter (from previous batch)
  • 1 SCOBY (from previous batch)
  • A variety of good quality juices – about 1.5L in total
  • 1L Sugar syrup (weigh a bag of sugar in a pot, add an equal weight of water. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, yielding a 1:1 syrup. Pour into jars for a variety of uses. )

The very first time

You need to find a scoby – most people get one from a friend, or someone you know.  Anyone who makes kombucha can peel off some of their scoby and give it away. If you are truly in need, take one of the tiny scobys from a commercial Kombucha and put it in a 1 cup jar with a little juice. Leave it out, covered, on the counter. It should grow. As it gets bigger, feed it more juice, and work up towards the container you will be fermenting your kombucha in. You also need to get a litre of kombucha as a starter. This can be from said friend, or can be bought commercially.

Make a tea with 2L water, 20g loose tea and 200g sugar. Boil for a few minutes, cover and let cool down.

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Loose tea works well – you are trying to extract as much as possible from it.

Once cool (under 100F) pour in the crock, add 2L water, 1L Kombucha starter, the Scoby.
Cover with a thick kitchen cloth and let it ferment in a coolish dark room (60-70F) for about 8-10 days. (Note – fruit flies love kombucha too, so you will need to both cover the kombucha and tie it tight with a string or elastic if you have these bugs around)

First ferment ready to do its thing.

First ferment ready to do its thing.

Brewday! (your Kombucha is initially fermented)

This quantity will make a total of 7 litres of kombucha.

  1. Make a tea with 2L water, 20g loose tea and 200g sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, cover and let cool down while you do everything else.
  2. Gather all your materials and ingredients together.
  3. Remove the scoby from the crock and set it in a bowl with water.

    Scoby in water - but if fruit flies are about, cover it up.

    Scoby in water – but if fruit flies are about, cover it up. In the jar beside it is the 1L starter kombucha for the next batch.

  4. Pour 1L of kombucha from the crock into a mason jar, and cover. This will be the starter for your next batch.
  5. For the 2nd ferment, or 2f, the kombucha is flavored and bottled in such a way that it naturally carbonates. Pour the rest of the kombucha into the remaining 1L mason jars with 650 g (or ml) of kombucha in each 1L jar.

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    The reason for the 1L jars is to make the whole process efficient, predictable and manageable. The jar is filled with 650g of f1 (first ferment) kombucha.

  6. Pour 100g of the sugar syrup in each jar. For kombucha, 5% sugar is an ideal fermentation ratio. Since your sugar syrup is 1:1 sugar to water by weight, you are therefore adding 50g of sugar to your 1L (1000g) of 2f kombucha – or 5%.

    About to add 100g (=50g or 5% sugar)

    About to add 100g syrup (=50g or 5% sugar). The sugar syrup is easy to make ahead of time. It’s also a good base for desserts.

  7. Pour 250ml of the juices you have for your batch of kombucha into each mason jar, filling them to the top. You now have about 6-7 litre bottles comprising 650ml kombucha, 100ml sugar syrup and 250g juice. Stir to mix thoroughly.
    20160823_084211

    Be careful of the sugar content of the juice you use, since you are already adding sugar for the f2. The juice should be as natural as possible. Juicing your own is even better, and since it flavours the kombucha with only 25% of the total content, it goes a long way.

    20160823_084828

    I like to sort out how much of each kind of flavor I want. Using the 1L base quantities helps in this process. Note the pot of tea/sugar brewing and now cooling for the next batch.

  8. Pour each jar into narrow necked bottles, using either a funnel or a 1L measuring cup. If the juice or the kombucha has any sediment you may wish to use a tea ball in the funnel to filter this out. If you are using 344 ml beer bottles, you are looking at 3 bottles per litre. If you are using Grolsh style flip top bottles, its approximately 2 bottles per litre. If your bottle comes up a little short, top it up with more juice.

    A fine mesh teaball inside a funnel to filter out juice sediment.

    A fine mesh teaball inside a funnel to filter out juice sediment.

  9. Bottle and label

    Bottled and labelled. It will be ready in a few days.

    Bottled and labelled. It will be ready in a few days.

  10. Go back to that tea you made that has now cooled down. It should be less than lukewarm. Press out all the tea flavor you can and pour it into your now empty crock through a filter (unless you used a large tea ball). Add 2L of cold water to it, add the litre of kombucha starter, and the scoby along with the water it was in. Cover the crock with dry thick tea towel and let it ferment in a cool dark place until your next brewday 10 or so days away.

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    The next batch of kombucha (about to be covered) in its basement hideaway at a comfortable, dark, consistent 68F/19C along with some beer, wine – and, yes, the household tools.

  11. Let your bottles sit at room temperature for a couple of days – less if your location is warm. After, move them to a cool location or your fridge. This recipe is quite happy for a couple of weeks in a 65-68F environment, though it will get fizzy! Before consuming, put them in the fridge to cool – it tastes better, and the carbonation is less active.

Keeping it clean: If you are using beer bottles, rinse them out thoroughly and wash them thoroughly once you have poured your drink. If you use your crock only for kombucha and are filling it in the same session you are processing your 2f, a rinse with water works fine.

Enjoy your brew! A word of warning though. The first few times you open them, do it in the sink, with your hand firmly over the top in case it is over carbonated. This might happen for example if the juice you decide to use has a higher sugar content than what I am using. To deal with your own variables you would need to make adjustments – either a warmer or cooler ferment for your 2f period.

There are many ways to make kombucha. All of them are fine, and all of them feature tea, sugar, a scoby and starter, and time. This simply happens to be what I have evolved. I hope this can help to both make conversation about kombucha, and also help readers who have been considering making it.

Sooooo………….A quick brewday recap:

First ferment (F1)

  • 2L water
  • 20g tea
  • 200g sugar
  • 2L more water once tea has brewed and cooled down (tea must be at room temperature before the scoby and starter are added.)
  • Into your crock, pour the tea (strained), your scoby from the prior batch, and 1 litre of kombucha from your prior batch. Cover and ferment at room temperature for about 10 days.

2nd ferment (2F)

Per litre of finished kombucha, combine

  • 650 g 1F kombucha (from your crock)
  • 50g sugar (I do a 1:1 sugar syrup therefore 100g of this syrup)
  • 250g juice

Bottle in narrow necked bottles, leave at room temperature for 4-5 days.

Resources

Kombucha Nation FB group  https://www.facebook.com/groups/KombuchaNation.CulturesHealthHealing/ 

is a great resource to see how others do Kombucha. There is a thorough files section to more carefully examine different aspects of Kombucha.

Massaged Winter Salad

Fermenting has been an amazing journey this year. I’ve learned more in one year about food investigating and playing with fermented foods than in any other year – or so it seems.

This is a salad – and its not made with fermented foods, though they could be an ingredient. Its premise is, however entirely rooted in fermenting processes.

Winter salads are going to be a thing we’ll need to return to after a generation of getting accustomed to getting any kind of food at any time  of year at reasonable prices – such has been both the promise, and the pitfall of the planet destroying big agriculture business.

massaged salad1

The foundation of this salad are winter vegetables  – carrots, cabbage, and onion. Simply put, you weigh them, and then massage in 2% of their weight in salt – just like what one does when one prepares a vegetable ferment.

If this turns on that culinary light bulb inside you, then stop reading and go make your own.

But for the rest, here’s what happens. when the salt is actually massaged into the carrots, onions and cabbage, it breaks down the cell walls, drawing out the juice within the vegetables, marinates the vegetables and imparts an ideal gentle saltiness. The result is completely different than if you simply sprinkled the salt over it.

That done, what you do with it next depends on you and what kind of flavour profile you want it to have. Definitely pepper will suit this. Beyond that, garlic, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil provides a Mediterranean flavor. Cilantro and cumin with a bit more heat suggests more Mexican. Working with honey/maple syrup, tamari, sesame and ginger yields a more oriental palate.   You can add other vegetables that are not massaged and happen to be available – peppers, spinach,. celery, tomato, avocado…. and so on.

Likewise the dressing can be very flexible – from a simple vinaigrette to a complex spiced orange or roasted sesame & garlic. For a basic dressing that suits our Canadian winter I’m as often to turn to a viniagrette with olive oil and apple cider vinegar, supplemented with salt, pepper, mustard, and cranberry juice or even cranberry relish.

Here is one specific recipe to try:

1 large shaved carrot (i.e. once you have peeled the skin keep peeling off big peels until nothing is left of the carrot)

3-4 very thin slices of cabbage – approximately 100g

half a small red onion

sprinkle approximately 1/4 tsp of salt, and massage it into the vegetables  for about 30 seconds to a minute. Taste – the cabbages or carrots should taste nicely salted. If they don’t, add a little more salt and repeat. Its important not to over-salt.

Or you can precisely weigh the vegetables and add 2% of their weight in salt.

Add other vegetables. thinly sliced peppers, spinach for example.

Also toasted walnuts or almonds, apple slices spinach leaves can be added – to taste – just don’t include them with the massaging.

For a dressing, a cranberry vinaigrette – though you can use whatever you like.

  • 90g olive oil
  • 30g apple cider vinegar
  • 20g cranberry chutney and or concentrated cranberry juice
  • 1 tbs dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste

Mix thoroughly and enjoy

massaged salad2