Serendipitous Huckleberries

Columbus, OH.: Clintonville.

I've been frequenting Glenmont Avenue in Clintonville lately (secret reasons you know) and happen to think it's one of the nicest steets in all of Columbus. I was there yesterday taking a walk and came across a sign "Vegetables" in front of a well-kept bungalow. I eagerly ran up the steps hoping for some late-season tomatoes. None. Darn.

I did however see many jars of Huckleberry Jam, an empty tin for cash and a pricelist. I knocked on the door and a woman came out to show me some of the huckleberries she had used for the jam. I never saw one before. They look a lot like blueberries. I read they don't ripen after they're picked so they're actually quite delicate. As I contemplated getting a jar of this jam (the only thing that held me back was the intense color; Frankie could make one heck of a mess with it) the woman ran in the house to get me a Ritz and and a sample of the jam. It was so good. A bit like blackberry jam. And only 3 bucks! What a deal. It was good jam and pleasantly unexpected.


Viewer Mail: Dense Bread - Part 1 of 2

An occassional series here at the weber_cam is when we answer the mail in the form of a post because of its general significance. This is directed to the baking community. This person will remain anonymous but let's just say the mail is from our north; the place with cheap prescription drugs - but that's all I'm saying. It's just a Q&A regarding what I believe to be one of the best beginning books for making artisan loaves, Dan Leader's, his poolish recipe for "Country Homestyle-Hearth Loaf".

Her initial message (I lost, unfortunately) said her first attempt came out kind of dense. She needed some pointers. Here's the exchange:

First I gave some general comments (that I believe to be useful):

1. Baking even as much as once a day, you and I could never get the reproducibility that a baker gets who bakes hundreds to thousands of loaves a day. I say that only before saying something as painful as "just try it again".

2. Generally, let's go quickly through the steps and I'll make some pointers to keep an eye on:
  • The flour. Dan Leader uses a flour composed of 80:20 white:wheat. I use a smaller fraction of wheat and it's often mixed with rye. I don't like most wheat flours but wheat and rye make for very healthy fermentations. Your loaves made from a poolish should always include at least a little wheat and/or rye. The other flour recommendation I have is I absolutely HATE King Arthur unbleached white. I tried for years to like it and still don't. It just has bad flavor. Don't know what to say. ANY other unbleached white should be fine.
  • Poolish. The observations and procedure in the book are spot-on. Your observations at the point of the poolish should be the same.
  • My difference from Leader is I simply use a larger fraction of poolish in the final dough. Leader uses around 120 grams poolish, 300 grams water and 500 grams flour - I use 300 grams poolish, 300 grams water and 500 grams flour. I think this is actually a small variation.
  • The first rise. The poolish is done, toss in the rest of the ingredients and let it rise. If you let one rise go long, it's this one. Four hours isn't too much. It may appear to be nearly unrisen too. Its appearance at this stage is deceptive.
  • The second rise. This doesn't have to be more than 30 minutes but is pretty flexible on time.
  • The final rise - called the proof. This is the most critical part of the entire proccess. You form it into a loaf and let it rise. When it's risen ENOUGH, it's docked (slashed on top) and tossed into the oven. If it rises too much, when it hits the oven it will get no "oven spring", deflate and the result will be a tad dense - sometimes cakelike. If you bake it too early, it will get better oven spring, it won't deflate in the oven, but will come out a tad dense - again, cake-like and tight crumb.
  • During the first rise, I mentioned it may look like a slack limp lump. When you punch it for the second rise (the more brief one) you SHOULD notice it rise significantly more in that 30 minutes than it did in the previous several hour period. IF YOU OBSERVE THIS, things are going well. If this is indeed the case and until you become more comfortable with the final rise - do the final proof for 30-40 minutes. Slightly underproofing is a far better mistake to make than over proofing.
3. Addressing your specific concerns:
"I just bought the book and tried to make the Country Homestyle-Hearth Loaf, but it didn't quite turn out as I'd hoped. It was delicious, but it didn't rise much."
See above general comments.
"I prefer my bread light and airy"
I do too. That is always what I aspire for - even artisan wheats should be light rather than the earthy crunchy and dense. Those are vile.
"Did I not knead it enough, or did I overknead it?"
I can say with confidence you DID NOT overknead. My machine kneads a loaf for a full 30 minutes. I don't think so much is necessary and you don't need a machine - it's just something I find handy.
"Should I have added more yeast, since I'm just starting out at the bread making thang and probably don't have enough wild yeast cells in my kitchen?"
A little extra (1/4 t) can never hurt. But for the poolish, stick to the recommended 1/4 teaspoon. For the final dough boost to a teaspoon. Could help quite a bit.
"One other thing - Dan's straight-dough method. In Chapter 7 he says that all of the recipes in Chapter 6 can be made the straight-dough way without the poolish, and says to just mix them all together. Does that mean you are only supposed to use the "final dough" amounts in the Chapter 6 recipes, or should you also add the amounts (yeast, water, and flour) given for the originally intended poolish?"
He means add the poolish ingredients and dough ingredients. A note of caution though. Straight doughs that are unenriched (little/no fat or sweetener) are exceptionally challenging. The baguette recipe linked on my sidebar is something I've worked on for about 10 years and it's absolutely awesome but can fail - and the lack of reproducibility kills me. I'll work on it till I die. I think the easiest and most reliable loaf I make "American Style Wheat" also linked on my sidebar.
"Thanks alot if you get the time to respond to this."
I LOVE talking bread. I will never be too busy to respond to questions, just give good detail and we'll take it from there. I may take a while to get back but I'll definitely get back when I get a chance.

Good luck and be persistent.


Kettle Corn Fine Tuning

Like Prison Pete, Martha Stewart is publishing from the slammer. Her recipe for popped corn simply uses 1T oil (she uses olive oil, this is wrong) and 1/2 cup kernels. I just tried these relative amounts with the addition of 1T sugar and it worked wonderfully. I used a 3 1/2 qt. non stick sauce pan as in a recent post. I think a big part of it is: let it go. Don't remove the heat source till the popping nearly stops; it's tempting to stop early. Not exactly disasterous but this results in many unpopped kernels. So if you're not having good runs, keep trying, it's worth it. Martha's publication, Everday Food is linked on the sidebar and it's great for fast preps.

ps: I now appreciate Martha more than ever. It's just lousy she's in the slammer and the rat bastards of Enron still are walking the street.

Master Recipe for Kettle Korn
1. To a 3 1/2 qt sauce pan (I use non stick, don't think it matters, cast iron is not right, retains too much heat and can burn some of the popped corn) add 1T vegetable or soy oil.
2.Place 2 "test" kernels of popcorn in the oil (I use generic white) and place pot over highest heat, covered.
3. While waiting for the test kernels to pop, prepare 1/2C of kernels and add to it 1T sugar and wait for the test kernels to pop.
4. Just after both test kernels pop, remove lid and pour the kernels and sugar into pan and quickly cover with lid; maintain high heat throughout the entire process.
5. When popping starts (within about 30 seconds) jostle pan approximately every 15 seconds to make sure unpopped kernels sift to the bottom of the pan (to the heat). It's tough to say how long this will take because everyone's stove is different. I use a 14,000 btu burner and it takes about a minute for full popping to occur.
6. Once popping has almost completely ceased, remove the pan from heat and dump in bowl.
7. Lightly salt and enjoy. The 1/2 cup kernels just perfectly filled the 3 1/2 qt saucepan I used.


So Long Our Baby

It took me about a month to write this one.

Conspicuously absent from this site is anything about beer making. It's not a mistake. I'm an opinionated chemist with manufacturing experience and I brew my own way and have no desire to share (damn it). I'm an extract guy; I'm process-oriented and make some darn good ale and I don't have the energy or desire to combat the all-grain naysayers. So I don't. My family, friends and I like the brew and that's all that matters.

When Francesca Rose came home from the hospital, I brewed a batch of ale. It was a ridiculous act conducted in a fit of sleep-deprived mania to convince myself things would still be the same.

I have never been more wrong in my entire life.

Life has changed for us and it's much better than it was. A bit more challenging but better in ways we couldn't possibly have imagined. The sad part is the batch is just about finished and I can't bring myself to take the last sip from an almost empty keg. The ale in the keg is just about gone and she's not a baby anymore.


My Newest Food Find - FoodNerd

Food Nerd is the newest food blog to catch my attention. The particular post, Escarole and Cannelini Beans (which we bulked up a tad with chicken and paired it with crusty bread and a few slivers of reggiano) was unbelievable. We had it last night. I never realized escarole, with its relatively soft leaves would do well when cooked. I thought it would sog-out like spinach, but it's robust. It's the simple recipes like this one, that keep me coming back to food blogs. The little guy does have something to contribute. We now have a new staple meal. Something we can make easily, quickly and still have time to play with the kid. Thanks Food Nerd (and she's from Boston).