Saturday, October 22, 2011

No Knead Pain Au Levain

Lets talk about Jim Lahey's no knead bread. I have made it a few times in the past, and thought it was alright..but only recently realized how good it really is. As much as I love the entire bread making process - it can be a bit of a pain to do on a regular basis at home. So I have been playing around a bit with the no knead recipe because it is practical to make regularly at home. I want to see what I can do to improve on it. First things first - get a weight measurement rather than volume - which is what was printed in the New York Times. Easy enough. I think my third time making the bread I weighed everything and this is what I got (and have been using since).

472 g Bread Flour (I use King Arthur)
1 g Instant Yeast
8.3 g Salt (8 g is fine if you dont have a scale that measures less than 1g)
370 g Water (Filtered or Spring. 24 degrees C)

Simply to combine everything, let it ferment 18 hours, turn out onto a bench & fold a few times. Rest. Shape. Proof two hours - when you start proofing turn your oven on to 450 & put a dutch oven in it. Once the bread is ready to bake, put the dough into the hot dutch oven, cover and bake 30 mins. Remove cover and bake until done, 15 - 30 additional minutes. 

With that down, what is the next step I can take to improve the bread? 

Use a poolish. 

There are...different interpretations of what a poolish is but in the interest of brevity and ease (remember I want a bread that is a breeze to make often) I would recommend using one that I learned from this man. What you do is start with your water in the container that you plan on fermenting your dough. Sprinkle your yeast on the surface of your water, and then add your flour. No need to mix, just let it sit as is. Put your salt in a small well on top of the flour. Let this sit at room temperature a minimum of 15 minutes - and then proceed as normal (mix everything together, ferment, and so on)

How much does this improve the flavor? Marginally, if at all. So what else is there?

Pate fermentee. 

This is what I was doing for a while, with consistently good results. You start as normal, mixing everything together and letting it ferment 18 hours. Immediately after folding your dough, that is after turning it out onto your bench, cut away a fist size piece and put it into a container. Keep this in your fridge until you are ready to make another batch.  The next time you make the bread, add the (couple day) old dough to it. After the bulk fermentation, cut out another piece and save it for the following time you make bread.  Keep doing this every time you make bread. I felt that this helped the flavor of the bread quite a bit. 

And now the pain au levain, or pane levan, or whatever you want to call it. This is naturally risen bread. Made without the use of commercial yeasts. If you are looking to make this bead I can only imagine that you have a starter that you maintain. I keep mine refreshed at a 1:1:1 ratio. So if you want the bread you see in my should too. But its not that important. If you have a liquid starter or a firm will all work so long as it is alive and active. 

Here is the recipe that I use - as you can see it is a modified version of the regular recipe. 

475 g Flour
370 g H2O (24 C, filtered or spring)
8.3 g Salt
190 g Levain 

Measure the water, add the levain and mix until it is pretty much dissolved. Then add the other ingredients and mix until they form a dough. 

Put the dough in a large container & ferment for 18 hours. As you can see below, my dough had expanded to about 2.5 Q.

After fermenting 18 hours, turn your dough out onto a floured bench. Fold it a few times until it feels manageable. Let it rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Shape however your heart desires and proof for two hours - on a floured couche or silpat if your using the dutch oven. I use a banneton/bratform. It all depends on what shape youre going for. In the end you should bake it at 450 for close to an hour. Its a big loaf (if your not using the dutch oven you could divide it into two loaves). 

This is what you get. Beautiful crust & crumb. Lovely sourdough flavor. Just a great loaf of bread. And easy enough to make every day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How Wet Is Your Dough or A Visual Representation of the Effect of Dough Hydration on Hearth Baked Bread

Left to Right: 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%, 110%
So I wanted to give a visual representation of the effect that water has on your bread.  The hydration level of your dough is directly related to the amount of flour in your dough. To figure it out you  divide the water weight by the flour weight. For example if you have 100 g of water and 200 g of flour, your formula would be: 100/200 = hydration level or 100/200 = 0.5 which means you have 50% hydration. Simple enough, right?

I seem to have 'misplaced' my notebook where I wrote the specific recipe that I used but the ratios were based off of Jim Lahey's 'No Knead' recipe (which I translated to weight measurements a while ago). I just scaled it down to have smaller loaves and - of course - I changed the water measurement. 

I decided on making doughs with 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%,  and 110% hydration. In order to eliminate as many variables as possible I did not knead any of the doughs...seems appropriate for using the no knead forumla. Anyway - I also skipped over some techniques that bakers use to make higher hydration doughs more...friendly to work with. I did not score the doughs. I did not use steam (pitching ice cubes). I baked everything for the same amount of time at the same temperature regardless of how 'done' it was.

The actual process went as follows: 
1. I scaled everything
2. I mixed all the doughs
3. I fermented the doughs at 24 degrees C for exactly 18 hours. This would provide adequate time for gluten to develop without kneading the doughs. 
4. I folded the doughs 2 times
5. I rested the doughs 15 minutes
6. I shaped the doughs into 'boules'. (I am using that term loosely)
7. I proofed the dough at 24 degrees C for exactly 2 hours.
8. Everything was baked for exactly 45 minutes and then cooled on a wire rack until room temperature. 

Clockwise from the top right: 60%, 80%, 70%, 50%
The 50% was not extensible at all and was rather difficult to shape. Things got progressively easier as the hydration level went up (go figure).

Clockwise from top right: 100%, 110%, 90%
This is where the hydration started to make shaping the dough more difficult. The boules are a bit larger because rather than holding a nice shape, they spread out.

50% - Notice the tight, round shape & fluffy, sandwich bread like crumb.

60% - Shape still holding pretty well, crumb starting to have larger bubbles. This looks like a store bought loaf of 'french bread' to me. 

70% - Maybe a bit more open structure than 60% but still pretty similar

80% - Losing its shape a bit, noticeable change in the crumb.

90% - Not sure why this one held its shape better than the 80%. 

100% - Less round shape, crumb looks moist, chewy crust.
110% - Flattest shape, open structure, moist interior, chewy crust.

Lets take another look at the first photo:
Left to Right: 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%, 110%
Here you can see pretty clearly that the crumb progressively became more and more open and moist - as well as the fact that the dough held its shape better as the hydration level went down. 60 - 80 were a joy to work with. 50 & 90-110  were not so much. I had a batch of 120% but it was more like a batter and...well it didn't survive. It could have though, if I was more prepared for it. Ill give it another shot sometime soon.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sous Vide Coffee ..?

A few days ago I was trying to figure out what temperature I should try my first round of sous vide coffee at...I sat on the web for hours trying to find any bit of information on making coffee this way and...well I didn't find any. Ive already talked about how crappy my googling skills cut me some slack here. This caused me a bit of stress because there were an infinite number of variables...any temperature (above say...4.5 C) for any amount of time. So there I was trying to think of other things...similar enough to coffee that I could try to find some times and temps for. As I was doing this I was sipping a cup of coffee and I realized that it was a very nice temperature. Not super hot, still I stuck a probe in it and took the temperature....51.5 C (124.7 F for my fellow Americans). And with that I had my starting temp. 

For this round, the brew was the same for all cups - the variable was the time.

Brew: Standard, Sous Vide
Room Temperature: 24.7 C
Water Bath Temperature: 51.5 C
Grinds: 10.6 g, room temperature
Water: 171 g, filtered through a Brita, room temperature

Brew Time(s):
Bag A: 10 minutes
Bag B: 30 minutes
Bag C: 60 minutes
Bag D: 120 minutes
Bag E: 180 minutes
Bag F: 240 minutes

(*some bags stayed sealed at room temperature for a few minutes while I filled and sealed the other bags)

Bag A:
As you can see this brew is pretty clear. I decided on 10 minutes as my first pull because the water temp was...about half what a normal brew would be so...therefore it would take twice as long (logical, right...ugh). Really, I was having a particularly groggy I wound up guzzling the entire glass before realizing I should save some for a comparison at the end of the test. Oh well.

So what did I think of the 10 minute brew? Not bad, actually. It was a little...watered down. That is, the flavors were not very intense yet. It was mellow, nutty, roasty - had a sweet middle and was definitely not very acidic. 

Bag B:
Maybe a shade darker than Bag A? 

This brew had a slightly stronger flavor. It was actually a really good cup of coffee. Not very acidic, lots of darker flavors, the perfect amount of bitterness. I also drank this entire it was not present for the comparison at the end. I suspect this was my favorite brew but it may have been...

Bag C:
Getting darker..

Very similar to Bag B. Enough so its difficult to describe their differences...but I think this one was just a tad better. The finish seemed a little more bitter...and it was just slightly less sweet overall.

Bag D: 
Looks pretty dark now

So this one was the first brew that was opaque. As you can see, light was not passing through it completely. It also did not filter as easily as the others. It wasn't bad either...bitter up front that quickly dies into a mellow...sweet flavor..and then finishes bitter. Overall the flavor was starting to seem a little out of balance. Maybe a little too much bitter flavors here.

Bag E:
Hard to tell if its any darker than Bag D, but...well its dark.

This one tasted a bit...chalky. Is that a flavor? Kind of bland. I don't seemed odd.

Bag F:
Definitely the darkest of all the pours

This was...okay. A bit acidic now.

So in the end, I had kept some of Bags C, D, E & F in the fridge to see how they compared to each other.  Here's what I thought:
1: Bag D (120)
2: Bag C (60)
3: Bag F (240)
4: Bag E (180) - I thought this ones flavor was the most similar to the n2o cold brew I was doing, but it had a very strong bitter finish that kind of ruined the flavor.

Now..I drank these cold, and...if you don't already know - you perceive flavors differently at different temperatures. This is why you should always adjust seasoning after tasting something at the temperature you intend to serve it at. Initially, for the hot pours I thought that my favorite was either Bag B or Bag C, but cold I definitely liked Bag D more than C. So...a definitive line up is hard to give. Here's what Katie thought (she only tried the cold pours of Bags C,D,E, & F):

1: Bag F (240)
2: Bag C (60)
3: Bag E (180)
4: Bag D (120)

What does that tell me? We both liked Bag C? Hmm...yeah, but really its the same as before - all of this is totally dependent on flavor preferences...which can change at any time for any reason. If I ran this today my results could have been completely different. 

One conclusion I did make with this though? This middle temperature brewing kind of brought the best of both worlds (as far as I am concerned anyway). It wasn't too sweet, like cold brews have a tendency to be. It wasn't too acidic, like a lot of hot brews are. It had a very nice balance of both slightly sweet (cold brew)  and darker, more roasty (hot brew) flavors. I'm excited to explore it some more.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Town House - Chilhowie, Virginia. The best restaurant in America?

*So after publishing this post I reread it and - while its certainly a love letter to Town House, I'm not sure that I really conveyed how spectacular this meal was. For some time now I have felt...burned out (?) on fine dining or food of the caliber. Too often I get so excited about it and in the end its just okay. I've found that almost without exception chefs today are trying to wow their customers with bells and whistles - that is with new techniques or service trickery (eg: the candle on the table is actually butter for this course) if it is more important than the food itself. And while the food at Town House is certainly contemporary and utilizes many modern techniques..the food is the star, not the technique. Every dish I had...every component, every ingredient belonged and served a improve the overall dish. Every bite was delicious before anything else. Now...with that being said..:

So for a while now I have been drooling over the serious food porn on Town House's blog. I can't quite remember where or when exactly I first heard about the restaurant or the blog but its been some time. I essentially wrote it off as being out of the way enough that I probably would never wind up eating there. Then this past May I was asked if I would be willing to drive some kitchen equipment from upstate New York to Dallas - where my friend Caitlin would be competing at the ACF National Convention. I immediately agreed to do this and knew right away that this was my opportunity to make a pit stop in Chilhowie. This was certainly going to be the only time in the near seeable future that it would be on the way to wherever I am going.

For those of you not totally up to speed with the Town House story... It goes something like this. John and Karen Shields - alumni of such great restaurants as Alinea, Charlie Trotters, and Tru - decide to leave Chicago to take over a restaurant in rural Virginia...aka the middle of nowhere. They're given carte blanche to do as they please...and the rest is ..history.(?) 

 Now since they took over in 2008 (I believe) there has been some pretty steady buzz. Every now and then Id see a write up here and there - almost always from people who I know and/or trust - saying that this place is one of the best restaurants in America and that it is absolutely worth the trip to eat here.  Now that I've had the chance - I can say that without a doubt it is worth every bit of hassle required to get there. I cannot stress how incredible it was - one of the best meals I have ever had...and certainly the best restaurant meal I have ever had. I have been very fortunate in that I have dined at many of the best restaurants in America and I do not hesitate to say that Town House has surpassed them all - by quite a bit. I haven't been able to stop thinking about the meal I had and I am anxiously awaiting the next chance I get to be there.  

Theres not much I have to say about the food beyond how incredible it forgive me for my...lack of words here (as well as my redundancy) because...for the most part I sound like a baffling idiot:

It was a pretty hot day so I started with a nice cold beer; Starr Hill Northern Lights IPA - recommended to me by sommelier Charlie Berg. Like everyone else in the world I love IPA's and this was a great example - Id love to try more brews from Starr Hill.  

My first course, or amuse, or whatever:
 Oyster leaf - Ive read a bit about these guys but this was my first opportunity to try one...and it was pretty awesome. The texture is that of a hearty green but the flavor is identical to an oyster. Awesome.

Course 2: 
 Flowers - An absolutely stunning salad of flowers and crispy fried artichoke - with an artichoke emulsion poured table side. This is when it really hit me that I was in for a treat. This was so much more than a plate of flowers -  it was a delicately composed salad with a beautiful play of flavors and textures. Everything on the plate served a purpose and nothing was there to just look nice. This was delicious.

Course 3: 
 Zucchini Gazpacho - Razor clam ice, green tomato, green bean, pickled coriander, zucchini...just amazing. Another essentially perfect dish that captured summer in ways that I hadnt imagined possible. Green, fresh, briney, crunchy, refreshing...just unbelievable. 

Course 4:
Barbecued Eggplant - Lemon, basil, black garlic, ashes of smoked mussels. If I were force to pick a favorite dish of the night this would probably be it. But...thats like picking a favorite movie or song...or child. Its just unfair. This was served chilled - which I was not expecting and was simply an explosion of flavor. SO good. 

Course 5:
 Sweet Corn, Chicken, Lovage - Crispy chicken skin, corn silk, chicken liver, chicken reduction. This was incredible.

About this time bread and olive oil were brought to the table. I was told the bread was ciabatta, which I have always thought of as being an airy, chewy, high hydration bread with irregular crumb structure. This was not the case here. Because of this I looked into ciabatta a bit and came the realization that it - along with pretty much all Italian food, is a very regional thing and can vary greatly ..from a dense, tight loaf to what I just described...and everything in between. ANYWAY - the bread was very nice!  

Course 6:
Lobster in Brown Butter & Butter Whey - Spring onions, shellfish cream, lime, crisp scallop, pork stock. Well this was every bit as good as it sounds.  

 Course 7:
Squid 'Risotto' - A risotto made without any rice or diary..Among the very best risottos I have ever had. Ive read a bit about the process of making this dish and was very excited to finally try it and...well like I said, it was incredible. Perfectly toothsome, runny, sweet...great. I feel bad for whoevers job it is to prepare the squid to look like rice!

Course 8:
 Beef Cheek Pastoral - Cows milk skin, toasted garlic, horseradish, grasses, hay, tongue, crispy tongue. Seriously awesome. The meat was all perfectly cooked and hugely flavorful...the accompaniments all provided wonderful contrast...and get it? grass - hay - beef - about 'what grows together goes together'...brilliant. 

Course 9:
 Border Springs Lamb Shoulder & Wild Blackberry - Glazed in black malt, barbecued beets, licorice, black olive, caramelized yogurt...While it was not as beautiful to look at as the other dishes - it certainly made up for it in flavor. This was without a doubt the best lamb I have ever had. 

Course 10:
 Liquid Chocoalte Bar - Burnt ember ice cream, sour yogurt, milk, sugar, chocolate soil. A very nice dessert - the highlight of which was the burnt ember ice cream. I would kill for this recipe. It was most similar to a smoked ice cream I had at Boka - but not nearly as overwhelming in the smokey flavor department. Man I would love to have some now...

Course 11:
 A Curd of Sour Quince, Olive Oil, Black Pepper - Dill, pine ice cream, pine shoots, toasted meringue, blueberries. Just look at this dish:
 It was so beautiful it hurt to eat it. 

Course 12: 
 Broken Marshmallows - Cucumber (slush), softly whipped cream, preserved green strawberries, geranium, lemon verbena. My favorite of the dessert courses. So light, so delicate, and beautiful. Just wonderful. 

Course 13:
Cocoa and Black Sesame Chewy Meringue with Wasabi and Lime - Just awesome. 

I also want to acknowledge Charlie Berg and Jeannie Barrett who ran the front of the restaurant with such warmth and care...and were so genuine about everything..its really rare to come across people like this in this industry. This place is something special and I cannot recommend it enough. Go here now. Seriously...You will thank me later.