Popovers (again)

These little loaves turned out to win my desire like no bread has in quite some time.  But they are fussy.  The most common snag is the collapse.  While I can't claim to have the most robust preparation nor a systematic experimental design, I think I have a few critical parameters ironed out:

1. Ingredients should be at room temperature.  I went to the extreme on this.  I blended the ingredients (eggs 100 g, flour 135 g, salt 5 g, milk 240 g, butter melted 12 g ==> 8-10 popovers) with an immersion blender, poured the batter into an empty soda bottle and let it sit out overnight.  A few minutes before dispensing, I gave it a shake.

2. Baking temperature.  I went nuts on this.  I tried a bunch of dual temp modes and still feel it's unnecessary.  Currently I'm at a constant 425°F in a preheated oven for 30 minutes; I might move to 400°F for a final run.

3. Baking time. Bake LONG enough.  The collapsing popover is inevitable if it's not just shy of being burnt.  This is another reason I'll go with a longer time and lower temp, the popover structure is delicate until fully cooled.  But, 425°F worked well and it's where I'll hang my hat a while.

4. The pan.  Despite my spiffy clean aluminum pans, popovers still stuck and the death knell of the popover puffiness is a tug to get it out of the pan.  I bought a Chicago Metallic mini popover pan, (don't worry, the mini is the equivalent of a standard 2.5/3.0" cupcake pod's volume) and the popovers almost leap from the pan - no sticking at all.  Worth the investment.

5. To preheat or not.  Preheating the pan is common but not always done (Alton Brown doesn't preheat, Ina Gartner preheats exactly two minutes, ...).  A more reliable starting point is room temp, with each cup lubed with a ca. 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.

That's the current state of popovers in our kitchen.  A few more runs and I'll be ready to try some nifty additions: cheese, bacon, etc.


clean your pans - with power tools

When you do venture to popovers, your muffin tins gotta be clean, really clean.  Hot pan, add oil, no stick - I think Jeff Smith (Frugal Gourmet) said that whenever he cooked on cast iron.  It's true.  Once you learn to clean a pan, you may never have to buy a new one again, the thrift store is overflowing with them.  I use a circulating rough wire brush on my drill and go nuts, the pan can take it.
Before / After - this is a real case, out of our cupboard this morning.

click to embiggen, it's pretty impressive

popover time lapse

When baking something infrequently, I need to practice a little before game day.  The staff here at weber_cam love popovers, so I thought we'd make some in the near future and decided to practice a bit.  Their preparation is often described with a batter, e.g., egg (50 g),  flour (60 g), milk (120 g) and salt (3g), some add butter too (melted, 6 g), whisk, let sit at least a half hour and pour into preheated and lubed muffin tins at a high temp for 20 minutes and finish off with a low temp for 20 min to harden the surface, so they won't cave in.  Incidentally, this prep is everywhere, the earliest I've seen is in Better Homes and Gardens, but I'm pretty sure it's as old as the oven itself.

I HATE preps with two temperatures.  Nothing is more irritating in a busy kitchen and no more likely to fail than two temperatures during a 40 min window.  I tried these at 410F (instead of 425/375) for the whole cook time, worked pretty nice.  No cave-ins at the end.  The batter described above makes about 4-5, and I lubed the muffin tin with a small pat of butter.

ps, Ina Gartner, who, like most Food Network stars I can do without, does have a nearly identical prep with good tips.


On a grand unified theory of tater tots and latkes

If history has taught us anything, the latke and tater tot share a great deal: ingredients, process and cooking.  Cooking the potato before mixing, processing and frying is too much, like nuggets of mashed potato.  When shredded raw potato is used in my latke with sparing amounts of flour and egg, a nice - almost rösti is obtained.  In both cases texture is off.  In the tater tot, too smooth, in the latke, a little lacking, closer to a hash brown, still missing the soft potato-ey inside.

What seems logical for the potato pancake/nugget/courgette/fritter is something between cooked and raw.  Partially cooking a potato is tricky, most methods are trade secrets of Ore Ida.  That almighty potato god has specialized equipment and may even possess genetically modified animals who poop partially cooked, skinless potatoes.  We cannot compete with such a force, we can only try to find a tasty facsimile.

Last night, another step closer, this application directed to tater tots.  I shredded Yukon Gold potatoes (w skin) to a coarse shred, put the shreds in a potato ricer to squeeze out the moisture; observed is a starchy liquid pouring from the shreds, it's cool to watch.  I let the suspension down the drain, but it's common to let it settle, decant the water and use the sedimentary starch (for gluten free). The shreds were then chopped a bit so the long shreds wouldn't ruin the appearance of my tots.

 The chopped and squished shreds, very dry.  These were weighed (300 g) and placed in a bowl and mixed with raw scrambled egg (30 g) and flour (15 g, can use potato starch or matzoh, ...), salt and pepper and 1/2 t of baking powder.

When I tried to scoop some of it into a #60 scoop, it didn't hold together well.  I would've added more egg and flour but instead took out my immersion blender, resisted placing my fingers near the spinning blade (that hurts let me tell you) and blended it in several spots to get it more mushy.

 It seemed to hold together better.  Out to the deep fryer, at 350-375°F I placed little balls of the mix in the oil:

Removed and blotted, very low oil retention, clean blot on paper towel.

Were they perfect?  No.  But much better.  Lots of conclusions and directions to go.
1. The only real difference between the tater tot and latke is method of frying; tots are small and need deep frying whereas the latke looks just fine in a layer of oil, frying one side at a time, but the inside texture isn't so different (imo).
2. I might try to try to use more immersion blending to get a little mushier before frying, they were still on the verge of a hash brown.
3. Good friend Becky is a great latke maker and I feel I may have simply discovered what she's done every year at her latke party, so I feel a little stupid now, but the experiments were fun and tasty.  I still can't wait for her party - hint, hint Becky if you're reading!
4. I need to look up some "How It's Made" episodes on potato processing for clues.
5. This is pretty easy, I like the method.
6. Even though it's not perfect, and may never be, I'm ready for other roots, flavors, additions (bacon!), etc.
7. I really need to figure out how to use semicolons.


Latkes, veering recklessly off the path of the tater tot project

After my first attempt at tater tots, I looked around to see if there was agreement on tater tot recipe and process (Food Network, Smitten Kitchen, NYTimes, Bittman, @foodlab).  Thanks to my attention span being that of middle schooler, I found consensus, for latkes.  The gist: raw potato (1 lb), shredded and squeezed of its residual moisture, shredded onion (ca 1/2 small), 1-4 T flour, 1 egg, salt and pepper, and a trace of baking powder.  Mix lightly and fry patty in oil..

I played with this for several mornings in a row.  I'd shred a potato (yukon or russet) rinse the shreds, then press them in a potato ricer, add the other stuff and then fry.  Usually the texture was off, if they were thick pancakes, the inside was gluey, maybe too much egg and/or flour.  And why did I rinse them before pressing?  That part isn't in a single prep, nixed that.

While my attempts were hardly exhaustive or even systematic, I had a nice run and decided to scribble it down here as a starting place.  It's pretty much identical to Smitten Kitchen's only I recorded more precise measurement and used a potato ricer to squeeze the potato/onion shreds.  Unlike SmittenKitchen's prep, this more tedious version should earn me a trickle of  traffic and virtually zero comments (oh, why can't I be one of the popular bloggers, he wept).

1. 1 medium russet potato and 1 small chunk of onion, shredded
2. squeeze the mixture in a potato ricer, take 100 g of that mixture
3. add raw scrambled egg, 10 g
4. flour, 5 g
5. salt and pepper - too tough to weigh on this scale, when bigger, ca 1/2 - 1% salt by weight of the total food mass
6. baking powder, trace - again too small to weigh, when bigger amount, ca. 2 g / 150 grams starch

Mix lightly and plop pancakes into hot veg oil on cast iron, oil near smoking, ca. 350+F at the surface of the preheated oil (determine this with your IR thermometer gun - and get one if you don't have one),  I flatten em when they hit the pan, gently.  Flip after a while.

These were pretty nice.  Tasty, potatoey, toothsome, crisp.  They are now ready to be anointed with applesauce and sour cream.

From here, I'd like to vary things with: sweet potato and yukon, blanched and pressed shredded broccoli and cauliflower and even cut the shreds into shorter strands and use the same mixture for the infamous tater tot (deep fried for those puppies). Using a pourable scrambled egg mixture makes scaling the recipe easier.  A typical large egg from the supermarket is 50 grams, a useful benchmark number to have (if you're me).


The Spiced Life (.com)

I've been buying and organizing spices in anticipation of preparing Indian cuisine.  I think my chappathi are adequate (I need to build on a good starch) and I now need to proceed to some recipes from The Spiced Life.  I'm not sure if Laura is Indian, I think not.*

The problem with native Indian authors, and it's not their intention, is their familiarity with the cuisine.  They can't help cut corners on the lengthy preparation or list of spices, too often suggesting an untested substitution.  Perhaps they fear the reader will be intimidated of the world of spices essential to Indian cuisine; consequently,  a chana masala can result in an Italian-themed, tomatoey, saucy chickpea dish.

Contrary to that, @TheSpicedLife describes preparations with great intention. There are rare suggestions for substitution which results in instructions that the non-native among us - striving for authenticity and new flavors, will not fall into a rut of using the same 5 spices & herbs.
I'll probably start with: A Pumpkin and Chickpea Curry, Greens in Kheema and this vegetable curry.  There are many more recipes I can't wait to try (not just Indian!).  Thanks Laura and wish me luck,  I'm going in.

* Staff at webercam.com have confirmed @TheSpicedLife is not an Indian native.


tater tots, part 1

And now we take a break from the epic latest Firedome post to bring you my attempt at tater tots (didn't work, but I'm close). I didn't read a thing, I just made this up as I thought it should be, a more substantial potato than a russet, egg, salt, flour, deep fry, essentially a deep fried gnocchi, right? Anyway, I did just that: yukon golds, skin on, steamed and riced, fully cooked 550 g salt, 5 g flour, 75 g egg, 1, shaken not stirred pepper, coarse cracked white mixed all and deep fried just as falafel are using a #60 scoop, some action shots ...

 Here's the riced potato and other stuff folded together with a spatula.

 Canola, about 375F.

Deep fried some with 375 degree canola oil.

Making something like this is challenging.  A food originally tasted in the lunch rooms of our youth have dubious origins; reproducing such substances may require advanced degree in science and LOTS of time.  So, one has to decide if the endpoint of such an endeavor is a duplication of what the lunch lady handed out or a toothsome, tasty, potatoey nugget somewhere between a latke and a french fry.  I'm shooting for the latter. 

I never liked Yukon Gold-derived mashed potatoes.  Although the taste is nice the texture is often not soft and smooth, but sturdier.  That's why I thought they'd make a perfect tot.  However, after steaming them and ricing,  they became very soft.  In the final deep fried tot, what happened is a perfect crust formed around what tasted like a pillow of mashed potatoes.  Tasty, but not a tot.

Having read a few preps online, my next attempt will make use of a raw potato, squished of its moisture and treated like a latke.  I'll use a coarse shredded russet or Yukon, shorten shreds, squeeze out excess water (a ricer works nicely for squishing moisture out of taters by the way), and then all the other stuff, flour, salt, egg (and maybe pancetta??).  Should be fun.  You'll all be the first to know how they come out.