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February 2007

February 23, 2007

bethCookies (and other weighty subjects)


How much does a cup of flour weigh? Seems like a simple question, but it is actually anything but:

  • What kind of flour: all-purpose, cake, bread, pastry? (Whole grains just complicate this equation so we are not going there…not today anyway.)
  • Sifted: before measuring, after, or not at all?
  • Scooped from a container or spooned into the measuring cup?
  • Measured while hopping on your left foot or right?

(Okay, I made the last one up, but you know what? It might actually make a difference because the shaking would make the flour settle…in which case, more would fit in your cup! Determining this, however, would require a complex equation taking into account your weight, the structural integrity of your kitchen floor, and how often heavy trucks drive by and shake the flour before measuring. Too much work.)

In any case, depending on who you ask, and how they measure, a cup of flour can range from about 3 ounces to about 6! Even the mid-range is 4 1/4 – 5 1/2, which is a huge difference when you are baking. One article I came across said: "I can make a cup weigh almost anything I want."  Now, isn't that helpful?

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February 19, 2007

TV, training wheels, teaching and trashing...

I think I figured out what's up with those two food tv shows that many of us don't understand. It's all a matter of framing. This is cooking for beginners. Just maybe not the beginners you are thinking of.

What do you think of when you think "beginning cook"? For me at least, I think of children (and adults too, but always children) who are not only unskilled in the kitchen but too young to do many basic things on their own. No sharp things. Limited use of appliances: microwave instead of range, toaster oven instead of standard oven, etc. There is often a focus on assembly of ingredients rather than actual cooking.

You can see this clearly in old cookbooks. I learned to cook as a young child, and while I didn't use many children's cookbooks, I did have a few. Having not done too much shopping for such books in the last decade, I'm not sure if they have changed all that much since then. (other than having TV personalities on the covers) While there have been some notable additions since I was a kid, I bet that the books that have been in print for decades (and many of the newer ones) still use their tried-and-true approach. Duh. Tried and true sells.

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February 16, 2007

wcb: cats too lazy to find a host

Clare and Kiri from eat stuff organize weekend cat blogging to provide us with an excuse to bring on the cute...and we're all happy to oblige... Clare's been MIA for a bit so the WCB home has been floating around, this week nobody seems to have claimed it so I am... leave links here...   ...the only link i have seen so far is at Kitikata-san's place... so feel free to drop your links here or there and we'll figure something out...

Almost fell off!

This is what today has been like around here. Sort of lazy and sleepy. Trubble can only be bothered to awaken when it appears that she might fall off her chair. That would be Trubble, she who we call 'the special baby' because she's just a bit spoiled. Has to do with being smaller. At least that's my excuse.

Dargo snoozin'

Pulling back just a bit, Dargo has his own darned chair because he's big...or maybe just his hair is big. And look there in the background, Trubble seems to be settling back in...

the picture of contentment

Look! It's slinky cat! Doesn't she look innocent?

Trubble and her special pillow

Mr. 'ssouri Bowtie (aka Farmgirl's virtualCat) is the best big brother ever. Or at least the most tolerant. They slept like this for at least two hours.

Schedule for next few weeks of WCB

February 13, 2007

Help! My very first Burns Supper

Ever eager to explore new cultural traditions (except, in this case, for maybe the main course) I've happily accepted an invitation to my first ever Burns Supper this coming weekend. This is later than traditional for some reason, perhaps it took a while to type up the three page single-spaced invitation/instructions/tourist guide that we also got. Mandatory tartan, bring single-malt scotch, assigned speeches...all in all it looks like it should be quite the event.

Not being the least bit Scottish myself, I have done some research and feel like I have a handle on the public/common knowledge. I have my work cut out for me: must buy the tartan (and spin a tale about the clan connection...should be fun) and some single-malt scotch, and then prepare some Burns to read. What I would like is personal input from anyone here who has any experience with this thing, particularly:    

  • Suggestions of which Burns to read (there are two of us so we need two things, or something for a couple)    
  • Something to show we went to the effort to learn something, like a traditional greeting or toast.    
  • Good single malt scotches? I don't drink Scotch so I am clueless here. (Can I take Drambuie or is that too chi-chi?)    
  • Things to avoid doing/saying so as not to look like the neophyte I am.    
  • Good original Scottish yarns.

Thanks for any and all help you can offer. I'll post about the bash afterwards, at least what I can remember after the Scotch tasting.

February 10, 2007

thoughts on the no knead bread

two loaves of no knead bread

Ever swimming against the trend, I only recently got around to trying that no-knead know the one...Lahey's bread, Bittman's article, all the cool kids are making it...or is that soooo last month? grin Like I said, I'm not so hot on following the trends...

In looking up those links, it's obvious that the recipe got a lot of people talking, and baking. That's so cool! As a long-time bread baker, I think it is marvelous that there are so many people making decent bread - many for the first time. Anything that gets people who have fear of yeast (FOY), as many have confessed, baking bread is a step in the right direction.

That the bread people are baking is a crusty, open-crumbed rustic bread, which is often seen as a more 'advanced' bread is particularly sweet. Then there is the personalization; every baker seems to use a different style baking pot and people are adding all sorts of tasty stuff: sourdough, whole-wheat, olives, herbs, and even chocolate-cherry. Even new bread bakers are experimenting with a bread recipe. That's pretty amazing.

        round of applause to all the new bread bakers!

I've been working with this sort of bread dough for a number of years: wet dough, long ferment, just without the covered pot in the oven. (I used to bake bread under a cloche, which provides much the same effect when combined with a pizza stone, but even without one, I am happy with the crust my bread gets.) This lack of novelty probably accounts for my failure to hasten to the kitchen when I read Bittman's article. I looked at it as another recipe that used techniques in which I was already conversant. From that perspective, there wasn't anything revolutionary. No need to rush the barricades.

Besides, I am annoyed. Not at the popularity of the bread or anything like that. I have similar recipes I like, I don't particularly need this one right now. What gets me is that there is no movement to let the FOY go, just to shift it to kneading. Come on kids, this isn't tough stuff. Grab the bread dough, smoosh it around for a minute or two, rest it for 20, smoosh for another minute and it's done. Nothing to be scared of and it doesn't even take much time. 

Yet, I still felt the tug of possibility: what if I was missing something? When even experienced bakers, bakers I respect, said good things about it, I decided I had to give it a whirl.

So, what do I think? Well, truth be told, it is great food blog bread.

sliced no knead bread

First, it is very pretty, no doubt about that. Visibly crisp crust. Beautiful open crumb. Yep. That's some gorgeous bread. Photographs beautifully, too. You could take shots of this stuff all day long. Trust me, people have. Heck, I have a few of my own. (Hi. My name is kitchenMage and I am a bread pornographer...)

It is also dead simple to produce bread that pretty. The slack dough, long ferment, and baking method combine to make a very forgiving recipe. Served still warm with a slather of butter, it's an impressive loaf, especially for someone who seldom, or never, bakes.

Well, except in one aspect. It tastes like...not much. It's not even bad enough to be notable. Flavorless, gummy, and an hour out of the oven the crust starts to toughen. Bread to make you believe in the Atkins diet. This is revolutionary?

I made two batches -just in case I screwed up the first - refrigerating the second one while it fermented to see if it made any difference in flavor, as it does with pain la ancienne., not so much.

There was a moment of self-examination, second guessing my baking skills (is it just me, everyone else seems to love this bread...did i just leave out the salt? both times?) But you know what? David Lebovitz agrees with me. And so does the lovely bird-kisser at Food Migration whose name I can neither recall nor find. I also found this at Food Migration: "...if you don't knead it with your own two hands, how do you get the love into it?" Many of the mages at whose floury elbows I apprenticed would totally agree!

Yet I was determined to find something of value in this experience, because there must be something useful to pass along. So here you go, two things about no knead bread.

no knead bread shaped

The dough on the left was fermented on the counter, the one on the in the refrigerator, something that usually improves flavor. Not so much here. What it did do, however, is make the dough much easier to work with. I weighed ingredients for both batches so they are within a few grams of each other, but look at the difference between them!

no knead bread shaped

The loaf on the left is this oozy ball of wet, while the one on the right let me fold it (also good for gluten development) and 30 minutes later you could still see the fold! There was no visible difference in the texture of the bread or how much it rose...and they tasted the same, for whatever that's worth.

The other thing that was helpful was letting the dough rise on the parchment paper it was to be baked on. Yes, even inside the dutch oven. I simply placed a parchment sheet inside the basket I put the dough in to rise and put the dough on top of that. When I was ready to bake, I lifted the parchment and put it directly in the preheated dutch oven. No deflated bread from moving it off the rising surface and no sticky mess to clean up. Now, that is, even if not revolutionary, a simple change in the recipe that would make it less hassle. Maybe you could use the two minutes you save on cleanup to do something else bread knead it.

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