This One Time I Heard A Superman Trumpet Play The National Anthem

On and on we bake! We bake and bake and bake.

So, first of all, english muffins aren’t really worth it. I mean, maybe they could be, but, honestly it’s a lot of work and time and Thomas english muffins taste better. I think sourdough english muffins might be better and worth the effort but I’m not there yet.

Secondly, scones! Holy shit, I’m rocking the scones. I took a scone recipe from The Bread Bible, slapped it around a bit, took out the cream, added sour scream, showed it pictures of naked ladies and went from there. I make them with crystallized ginger, with Heath Bits, with pecans, with candied tangelo peel, with anything really. They are rich and layered and puffy and delicious. So, english muffins are meh, but the scones are in the regular rotation. The real exercise is keeping everything, especially the butter, as cold as possible (this is the same thing with the biscuits, keep it all so cold!). I can see a definite difference in the bake when I pull them out of the oven.

When I pull them out of the oven Mary Berry tells me they are ‘ab-so-lutely lovely’. Paul Hollywood thinks they’re a bit of a mess but I don’t care.

Speaking of candied tangelo peel… all the bread baking reminded me of jam making. It’s been years since I made jam. Made a large batch of strawberry smartass (strawberry with candied ginger). It didn’t set as well as I would have liked but my pectin was a bit old. As I pull a jar from the pantry I’ll cook it down a bit to thicken it up. Next week I’ll thicken some up with ClearJel and fill some doughnuts and live the happy life. And also also! Tangelos were on sale so I made up a few jars of tangelo marmalade. I did cook it a bit too long and it’s caramelized, Tangelo Caramalade!

Brioche. I am doing the brioche. The brioche and I are friends. If I could die drowning in brioche dough I would. If I could, I would. Made a loaf of brioche and then I made some baked french toast (I like this recipe because it’s a bit sparse, not overdone, but also I threw a mix of apples, walnuts, raisins and brown sugar on top before baking). While it was baking I made an apple buerre monte to drizzle on top (2 cups apple juice to 1 stick of butter). EDIT: cook the apple juice down to about half a cup. Should have mentioned that. If you don’t cook it down you’ll just have a pan of buttery garbage.

One of my big issues with baking is timing. Mostly, everything takes longer than I expect it to. There are a couple reasons for this. First and foremost, the temp in my kitchen isn’t consistent, things just take a long time to rise. Except when they don’t. I can remedy this by MacGyvering a proofing box with an old cooler, a lightbulb and a thermostat. Since summer is coming up I’m hoping the problem will alleviate itself for a few months. I get impatient. I know I should wait until it’s risen properly to bake it, but damn, it’s already been like 5 hours longer than I thought!

Timing is also hard because the recipe will say at the beginning that it’s 5 or 6 hours rising time, but that’s the bare minimum. And, this is weird, so you know how I can’t tell time on a digital clock? I have to make a round clock in my head and put the hands on it? Figuring out how long something will take is made ten times more difficult because I can’t just add or subtract minutes. I have to keep making these clocks in my head and moving the hands all over the place and then I have to account for variables! Do you know how hard it is to account for variables when you need a method of time keeping that is pretty damned concrete? I’m working out some sort of worksheet that I can use every time I make bread.

So, timing and brioche? Brioche takes forever. For. Ever.

Speaking of cooking and canning. I canned up 11 quarts of chicken stock. This left me with a goodly pile of chicken meat. Made chicken stew and the butter biscuits from TBB. Later this week I am going to try the Angel Light biscuits for biscuits and gravy. The Angel Light biscuits are yeast leavened, I don’t think I have had yeast leavened biscuits before. I’ll tell you how it goes.

Basic hearth bread

Basic hearth bread plus sourdough cheese crackers

This is my basic hearth bread. I got a pretty good crust on it, crisp but with a definite chew. I found the crumb to be a bit too dense for my taste but David actually liked it a lot. Next time I’m going to try a few things to lighten it up just a bit while still keeping some of that denseness that David likes.

Next to the bread are my sourdough cheese crackers. I make them with the sourdough starter discard and they’re definitely a work in progress. I do them with spicy red pepper flakes or caraway seeds and the sharper the cheese the better.

But what is the big new project? 2018-1020 is all about Big Projects!

My charcuterie adventure begins

Oh yes, we’re stepping into charcuterie. Sausages and hams and bacons. Looking into buying a piglet when Kristen does hers and paying in for the feed and going up to help raise it and ‘harvest’ it. The pigs are slaughtered relatively young and they don’t have a chance to accumulate too much lard, so I’ll probably still be buying fatback separately. I am also eyeing this season’s new lambs, merguez is delicious. As it stands, I’ve got the entire rear leg of a pig, some shoulder cuts and a slab of pork belly all waiting for me to molest them up with some curing salt and bad intentions.

I won’t be able to make cured sausages or salamis in this place. BUT! But, salami curing calls for the same environment as cheese aging. So once we get in the new place I can set up a cheese and salami cave.

Tomorrow I am back to working on my hearth breads. Also, it is goat milk season and I think it is time to make a batch of chevre.

The future is now

Eating the last ginger scone for breakfast and thinking it was pretty damned good. I cut them open, put a bit of butter on each side and spread on the mango curd. They’d better be good, a stick and a half of butter went into the scones and half a stick of butter went into the curd and still I am slathering butter on them. It’s a heart attack on a plate.

Talking on the phone the other day with my grandfather. He gave me some advice, told me to not grow old. Said it wasn’t worth it. So, there it is, I’m taking his advice to my little clogged up heart.

Later today I will make the heath chip scones and hopefully some cheddar sourdough crackers.

It’s about doing the thing that is made up of lots of things.

I like projects, I especially like projects that have me learn something new. But ‘projects’ is vague and could mean climbing all the way to the top of Windley Key (I drove by it once) or finding trash bags that fit in my kitchen garbage can (I’ve tried, I can’t). I’ve had projects where I dye up wool, spin it into yarn and crochet it into sweaters. That’s a good, solid project that lasts many months. I actually have a couple more of those projects in the queue, but the flyer on my spinning wheel is shot and needs to be replaced. Also, I will do a thing where I make every single part of dinner from scratch. Like making a falafel dinner where I grind the chick peas and make the falafel, make the pitas, the yogurt, the feta, the tabbouleh, the hummus and everything else from beginning to end. But those only take up a day or two of my time. After I pull my food coma’ed ass out of bed the only project I face is cleaning the kitchen and then I’m as directionless as a high school student who thinks he understands Camus (but Sarte is smartre).

Well, my next big project is bread. I’ve never particularly cared for baking. There’s a sort of precision that makes me shy away from it. But I love bread and I do really need to have a project, so what the hell. Did a little noodling, asked my friends for advice, got a hell of a lot of advice! I also got some sourdough starter from a friend. I think that’s my favorite part, using a starter from a friend who get hers from another mutual friend.

New Mega Project

I want to learn about bread in general and sourdough specifically, so that’s what I got. I literally read The Bread Bible from cover to cover. It sounds a bit tedious but all that repetition smashed all kinds of techniques right into my brain. This is a good project because I’m thinking it will be a solid 3 years from now until croissants. That’s the goal, croissants and I want to get there the long way around. I want to understand every damned aspect of what I’m doing.

How am I doing now after about 8 weeks? I am a bread weenus.

First sourdough

First sourdough

Well, there’s my first sourdough. I was so proud. And oh holy shit did it suck. It was terrible. It had a nice crust and the inside was a bit tight but mostly okay. But it was so sour. It was inedibly sour. It was as sour as your mom when your dad tries to use fart jokes to flirt with the waitress. My guess? I think at some point between making the starter sponge and one of the rises I ended up killing the yeast and the lactobacillis took over. It wasn’t even good for croutons. It sucked and it had to be tossed.

Soft white sandwich bread

Soft white sandwich bread

That’s the soft white sandwich loaf from The Bread Bible and it was awesome. It was so damned perfect and we made sandwiches on it. It was soft without being mushy, the crust to crumb was balanced just right. I loved it, David loved it, Ted, the guy that lives in my attic and spies on us, liked it! I think even Paul and Mary would have liked it.

Sour cream and ginger scones

Tonight it was sour cream and ginger scones with mango curd (seriously, make this. I make it all the time and use the leftover egg whites to make meringues but this time I didn’t feel like futzing with meringues so I gave the egg whites to Chester and made scones instead). They’re a tad dense but not too much and I could just keep eating them. To be fair, there’s a lot of stuff I could just keep eating including off brand cheesy poofs and Necco Canada wintergreen lozenges. I’m not picky.

A friend told me that my flour budget is going to go through the roof and she was right. I need a few different flours for different things and they get used up so damned quickly. But also my butter budget is creeping up there. Our new grocery store is 47 miles round trip (it’s a short, stupid story that isn’t at all interesting) so I end up having to buy a lot at once.

Next up, sourdough cheese crackers made with discard starter, popovers, brioche and another sourdough loaf. I will make a good sourdough loaf or die trying.

It’s good, I’m there. I’m making bread.

And a shout out to David. He made a new dog bed for Chester and it also doubles as a good backdrop for my pictures. Thanks David.
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Other big projects on the horizon…..

Stick Figures

Caramels is now my Christmas thing. The old lady that makes all the cookies or pralines or fruitcake for everybody for Christmas? That’s me, I make caramels for Christmas. It’s a bit of a cheat out for me, making it so I don’t have to try to find the perfect gift for everyone every year. You know what’s perfect? A great big box of caramels! Totally perfect.

Let’s back up a bit. This is my base recipe for caramels. I’ve made a few changes, I don’t know which of the changes really made the difference but these caramels this year were my best ever. I am actually going to brag about this. This was my best year ever for caramels.

I made most of the changes together without doing ‘control’ batches. I just said, hey! this might help!

I dropped the finishing temp from 248 to 245, and I am using a digital thermometer instead of a regular thermometer. I made sure to use regular pasteurized heavy cream instead of the ultra-pasteurized, this does actually make a difference. I do have access to raw, unprocessed cream but that doesn’t make a difference since I bring the temp higher than the 162 degrees used for pasteurizing. I started using only 100% cane sugar. I know there is debate about this and mostly I don’t care. I don’t know for sure if the cane sugar made the difference or if bumping the temp down changed it. I don’t know but I do know that this year I was strict about these factors and it worked beautifully.

This year I made butter pecan, gingerbread, chocolate orange and dark coffee chocolate caramels. The coffee chocolate caramels where the best of the bunch. I used a much richer and darker cocoa powder. It had a much deeper and darker flavor than the cocoa powder in the grocery store. I had a bag of really terrible coffee, so dark it seemed burned. It was perfect in the caramels, so much dark coffee but choco-sweet. The orange chocolate caramels were not quite as I had hoped. I didn’t quite know what proportions I needed for orange and for chocolate. They were orangey good but there wasn’t much chocolate flavor. I cut the caramels and tossed them in the unsweetened cocoa powder. On first bite your mouth fills up with unsweetened dark chocolate, it’s almost too much. But then you chew and the sugar sweet rolls in and on the tail of that is the orange. Not my best but I think they worked out okay. The butter pecan caramels were solid and good, exactly as expected. Butter, vanilla and roasted pecans. Took some notes about how make them better for the next time.

Gingerbread caramels were my favorite. Okay, the coffee chocolate caramels were my favorite favorite in terms of flavor and chew, but the gingerbread caramels were my pride this year. I worked a perfect balance of ginger, molasses and spice. Not too strong one way or another, good flavor, good chew. I ended up making a double batch of them because I dumped 2 bottles of corn syrup into the pot instead of 2 cups. I still have some leftover gingerbread caramels in the kitchen. I can’t eat anymore!

I’ve started to feel a bit possessive about my caramel recipes. I like them, I am proud of what I make. I want to leave a little mystery in there. Maybe I’ll pass on my caramel knowledge to one of the noogles and they can expand on the recipes and pass them on.

The hard part of all of this is experimenting. Making caramels isn’t cheap and it certainly isn’t calorie free. I can’t just whip up a batch to see if an idea works. If it doesn’t work out at all then the money is lost. If it sort of works out and I make something that can be easily tweaked into better form it’s a good deal but also it is a jelly roll pan of sugar and cream that needs to be eaten. I wish I could email caramels to people, so much cheaper than postage. You wouldn’t download a caramel, would you?

I’m still trying to get a good chocolate orange caramel for my grandfather. Rumor has it he likes a good chocolate orange treat. Also might work on an orange creamsicle flavor and revamp my apple pie caramels. Coffee chocolate will always be on the list, people love them and gingerbread feels like a solid holiday flavor.

Caramels

Pillow talk

I have a hand crank pasta roller that I thoroughly loved but I cannot use it anymore. Two surgeries on my wrist have caused their damage and cranking that machine would leave my hand numb for 2 days. I love my roller but it did not love me so much. A friend had the attachment roller and the 2 cutters for the Kitchen Aid and she was getting rid of them. I promptly bought them! Much excitement!

I used it a few times and then it was time to practice my ravioli skills.

So, first we have the cheese. If you recall I did try to make ricotta from the whey of the mozzarella I made. My intention was to use the ricotta for the raviolis and that would have been some sort of hardcore food ownership magic something something. But it didn’t work. So, what was I to do? I definitely wanted that specific ricotta texture, it was the mostly correct filling. So, I noodled on it and had an experiment idea.

I make paneer pretty regularly, it’s cheap and easy and pretty foolproof. Half gallon of whole milk heated to a soft boil (make sure it is a soft boil, not just simmering or scalding and certainly not a hard boil) add 1/3 cup lemon juice. Stir gently, watch the curds come together. Strain it through butter muslin, rinse, suspend and drain. But…but what if I added flavors to the cheese between adding the lemon juice and draining the cheese?

I don’t know, let’s find out.

For the ravioli I wanted to make an orange and parsley flavored cheese filling. I zested and squeezed a fat orange, finely chopped some fresh parsley and added salt.

Orange zest, orange juice, parsley, salt

Heated the milk, added the lemon juice, waited about 30 seconds and gently stirred the mixture into the cheese.

Paneer with orange zest, orange juice, parsley and salt

It worked! It actually turned out better than expected. It was pretty dry but we can deal with that. Off it went into the fridge for the night and I went to bed visualizing rolling pasta sheets.

The Science of the Best Fresh Pasta. I sat down with this and read it through a couple times. I’ve made pasta a lot with varying degrees of success and I figured it was time to come up with a solid plan based on knowing things instead of always sort of winging it. I had to futz a bit with the recipe because I suddenly found I did not have the number of eggs I thought I did and also it is just David and me and I didn’t want some huge amount of leftover pasta (and, yes, I know dry it or freeze it or whatever…). I cut the recipe in half and there was not nearly enough moisture in there at all (sometimes egg sizes are not consistent here). It was just crumbles so I added another egg. That helped but it was pretty stiff dough. I could make it into a ball but it was never springy or elastic, just stiff. And though I had the pasta roller to save my hand from the cranking pain I did not have enough pasta dough volume to be mixed together in the stand mixer. I had to knead by hand and that was not awesome, my hand ached. A friend pointed me to mixing the dough in my food processor and I will definitely do that next time.

Still life with flour

I let the dough rest and then I rolled and rolled and rolled and I paid attention and I took notes in my brain. I was serious about getting this into the smart part of my brain, not the inattentive and winging it part of my brain. The first few sheets were okay but as I went through they got better with more consistency and cleaner edges. I rolled 8 sheets from the dough. I didn’t have a good idea at all what size wrapper to cut from the sheet to make a balanced dough to cheese ratio for my raviolis. I ended up cutting them way too big. Lesson learned and noted in the smart part of my brain. I rolled the pasta down to level 6 on the rollers and I think next time I will only go to 5 and see if I like that better.

Sheet o'pasta

You will notice that there are no pictures of the actual ravioli. They were ugly, insanely ugly.

For the filling I threw the orange and parsley paneer into the food processor with the egg whites leftover from making the dough. That worked out well, no extra egg whites shoved to the back of the fridge never to be found until we need that one mustard that we never use and we find it and see the egg whites and feel sort of bad about them. So, cheese, egg whites, more salt and some black pepper. Zoom the food processor and then what came out was really exactly what I wanted. The texture was actually even better than what I had imagines, and the fat in the cheese drew some of the orange flavor from the zest and it had an excellent orange flavor. Needed more parsley and salt though.

I was not going to sauce these in spaghetti sauce. Instead…

I chopped up half a green cabbage, a big apple and a sweet potato
Cabbage, sweet potato and apple

Then I toasted up a bag of walnuts in obscene amounts of brown butter. I cook up brown butter a pound at a time and keep it in the fridge along with the fatback, bacon grease and leaf lard, I do a lot of fat type experiments.

Walnuts toasting in unhealthy amounts of brown butter.

Then I added sage, rosemary, cinnamon, allspice, ground coriander, garlic…um and some other stuff I don’t remember right into the hot butter and let that cook a bit with the walnuts. I emptied that into the big bowl of veggies, mixed it up and threw in onto a jelly roll pan and roasted it in the oven until it got suitably crispy. Boiled up the ravioli and served them with the roasted cabbage mix.

The filling in the ravioli was perfect, it was even better than ricotta (in my own wienery opinion). It was creamy and not sticky and the orange flavor was evident without being overwhelming.

There was not enough cheese for the amount of pasta that I made, I ended up cutting the leftover pasta into fat noodles and boiled them up with the ravioli. The individual raviolis had more noodle than they should for the amount of cheese in them. So, this means next time I do this I will double the cheese and cut smaller wrappers.

The whole thing could have used more salt in any of the components. I fear over salting things but I pull back too much sometimes. Also, a good dose of red pepper flakes would have been welcomed somewhere in there, but I am out of red pepper flakes (but my Penzeys order just shipped today.)

And here is Maddie in her special underpants!
Maddie in her special 'nunders