Friday, March 27, 2009

You know you've been baking too much sourdough bread when...

...when you wander around IKEA examining any container made from plastic or glass and assessing whether it would make a good container for a starter or not.

You also start to think of whether there's something you can do with that stuff you throw away everyday, when you feed the starter - and today Ronny whipped up some 'American' pancakes which were delicious, because they smelled a bit yeasty and had a slightly crispy surface, but were somewhat fluffy inside. I say 'American' pancakes because 'pancakes' in Europe are like crêpes, but maybe they're not American at all...and are Samurai Viking pancakes.

Ronny's Sourdough Pancakes


2 1/2 dl All Purpose Flour

2 Tsp Baking Powder

1/2 Tsp Salt

1 Tbsp Sugar

2 1/2 dl Whole Milk

2 Tbsp Melted Butter

1 Medium Sized Egg

4 Tbsp Starter (from the stuff you were going to throw away at feeding time)

Step 1: Mix the dry ingredients inside a bowl.

Step 2: Melt the butter.

Step 3: Crack the egg into the dry ingredients. Add the milk and beat-it.

Step 4: Add 4 Tbsp of your starter and beat it some more.

That's all you need to do. Now cook it like regular pancakes.

The pancakes will have a faint yeasty smell to them, will be a bit fluffy inside and slightly cripsy on the outside. Enjoy!

Note: For those of you who'd like to make more 'serious' sourdough pancakes click here please.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Second Attempt: Sourdough Bread (WIP)

Our second attempt at making bread with wild yeast yielded better results visually, but I think we let the batter ferment for too long and well, the bread ended up tasting like San Francisco Sourdough Bread.

Ronny and I don't really like 'sour' and we prefer the sourness to be more on the level of pain au levain, but let me tell you - the crust was fantastic!

We'll have to experiment a bit more but I do remember reading somewhere that the sourness of the bread can be controlled by the amount of time you spend 'proofing' it.

Anyhow this is what we did:

Step 1: When the time came to feed my starter again at 17:00, I poured 50% of the contents of my jar into a plastic bowl and we used 75 g of this, throwing away the rest of it.

Step 2: We added 3 dl water and 250 g AP flour and mixed it to form a runny batter.

Step 3: In a separate bowl we mixed 350 g AP flour with 2-3 Tbsp salt and 1/2 Tbsp honey.

Step 4: Then the dry mixture was sprinkled over the wet mixture so that it was resting on top of it like a blanket.

Step 5: We covered this with plastic wrap (leave a little space) and a cloth and left it for 18 hours (!). *

Step 6: Mix all the contents inside the plastic bowl for about 1-2 minutes, and then let the dough rest with a cloth over the bowl for 20 minutes.

Step 7: Mix it again for 7 - 8 minutes, and then let the dough rest with a cloth over the bowl for 1 hour.

Step 8: Ease the dough out onto a well-floured surface and shape it into a rectangle with your hands, then fold it like an envelope.

Step 9: Put the dough back into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a cloth and let it rest for 1 hour.

Step 10: Repeat Step 8 & 9 and let it rest for 2 - 3 hours. The dough should double in size. If it doesn't you need to give your dough more time to rise.

Step 11: Ease the dough out onto a well floured surface and knead it lightly.

Step 12: Then line the interiors of a colander with a cloth and dust it with flour.

Step 13: Put the dough into the colander and cover it with another cloth and let it rest for 3 - 4 hours or until you press the dough and it doesn't spring back-up. This is a sign that the bread has risen properly.

Step 14: Preheat oven and oven tray to 250C and make sure you have lots of ice cubes ready.

Step 15: Ease the dough onto a sheet of oven paper and put this onto the tray and then quickly put a casserole dish full of ice under the tray and let it bake for 15 minutes. Don't open the door during this phase.

Step 16: After 15 minutes, remove the tray with ice in it and lower the temperature to 225C and bake for another 30 minutes.

Step 17: When you hit the bottom of the bread with a wooden spoon and it makes a clunky noise - your bread is ready.

*18 hours at temperatures above 20 C is way too long unless you want your bread to have a nice sour tang. I recommend you only leave your bread for a maximum of 15 hours during the first stage if it's relatively cool. If it's warm this time should be a lot shorter. I guess as you bake more often with your starter you'll get to know it better and will know how it will react on certain days.

Note 1: I take back some of the 'sourness' comments I made above. When the bread cooled down - the sourness diminished significantly and we had more than a few slices this bread the next day for brunch slathered with a general dose of herbed garlic butter and slices of cured Spanish cheese (cow's milk variety).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pears are in Season

Pears are in season in Andalucia. They may not look picture perfect, but they're sweet, succulent, buttery/grainy morsels of delight, and you can eat almost everything including their paper thin skin. They're also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, copper and vitamin K. These golden green globes of delight, once sacred to Hera, Aphrodite and Pomonoa are dirt cheap too. What's there to complain about?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

And on the 7th day, there was Sourdough Bread...

This was Ronny's first attempt at baking bread with the starter I made. It's a weird looking bread but it had a lovely crust, tasted like a nice loaf of bread...and smelled great. Whatever the shortcomings of this bread - we were both amazed that we were able to make bread at all with the gooey stuff I kept in a bottle for a week, so I have to say this whole process has been a lot of fun.

I won't post this recipe because either we didn't do something right or the recipe itself has a flaw, but I'm not going to blame the yeast because I think they did their bit.

Over the next week, we'll be experimenting with baking sourdough bread a bit more, and if we manage to bake anything worth sharing with you, we'll post or link to the recipe we used.

Note: Only 75 g of starter was used to bake this bread. You know how you throw out half the starter before feeding it? Well, we poured all the stuff that was going to be thrown away into a bowl on my kitchen scale (making adjustments so that the the scale would read zero with the bowl on it) and then threw out all except 75 g.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sourdough Bread Diary Day 6

There was 5 mm of hooch and 2 cm of bubbly froth on top of this. The froth rose a little bit less than 1 cm over the original tape mark I made on the back of this bottle.

From the way this looks, I guess they had one big orgy last night! Thank you Andalucia for your lovely climate. The wild yeasts give you their vote.

My main source says: "When your starter develops a bubbly froth, it is done. You have succeeded. If this sounds brain-dead simple, that's because it is. People who didn't believe the Earth was round did this for millenia." (S. John Ross)

So I'm guessing my starter is ready for some baking...or is it?

Note: There are color inconsistencies from day to day. Just in case some people are wondering the color of the starter does not necessarily change. It's just that I'm neither a photographer nor a graphic designer and don't have the techniques for maintaining this kind of consistency.

Other Very Useful Sources:

Wild Yeast

The Sourdough

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sourdough Bread Diary Day 5

This is what the starter looked like 30 minutes before feeding time.

The temperatures dropped a bit this morning and it was down to 19C in my bedroom. It felt great human-wise, but it was a bit too cool for the yeast and they have been lazy inside their bigger and better new home.

There was a layer of hooch again this morning but no layer of froth on top and I decided to put the metal lid on top of the cloth without snapping it shut to warm-up the interiors of the glass bottle a bit. Due to this or because the day became warmer, the yeast started to dance around a bit in the afternoon and I saw some sparkly bubbles emerging from the mire.

Feed: 1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour + 1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Flour + 1/2 Cup Luke Warm Water

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sourdough Bread Diary Day 4

This morning there was about 1 cm of 'hooch' on top of the food but no frothy layer like there was yesterday. Just imagine the photograph from yesterday without that nice frothy layer on top. I did the same thing as before but this time I put 1/4 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup all purpose flour into the starter along with some warm water.

Since last night the smell has changed from damp flour & water to something else...pleasantly sour and yeasty. I hope the little guys keep partying on.

I've now covered the top of the 'colony' with a cloth snapped into place by a pink rubberband. This is supposed to keep any bugs that want to gatecrash the party uninvited out of there, but who knows what the little buggers can get up to?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sourdough Bread Diary Day 3

After worrying that my starter might overflow and create a cascading trail of yeast down my bookshelf while I was sleeping I woke-up to this:

There was about 1 cm of the brownish liquid which had been a pretty thin line the day before, and a foamy layer had appeared on top of this that looked like this:

I'm going to feed it again at 17:00/18:00 today but I'm going to go to Carrefour to buy a larger glass container first so that I stop worrying about it while I sleep. Last night it must have been worries about this that made me have this rather strange dream:

There were 5 cats on a queen sized bed in one of the houses I used to live in, but when I started to count the cats they had doubled in number and there seemed to be 10. The thing is when I looked again to make sure there were even more 20!

OK, I'm weird. But what else is new?

Note: First Feeding (1/2 cup water & 1/2 cup all purpose flour), Second Feeding (1/2 cup water & 1/2 cup whole wheat flour).

Five Spice Mix or Five Spice Powder

I was reading My Kitchen in Half Cups featuring a Five Spice Baked Chicken and wondered whether it would be possible to put together my own Five Spice Mix since I obviously can't find the prepackaged deal here.

Some sources say that the mix may or may not contain the following spices: fennel, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, cassia, ginger, nutmeg and licorice. Another source mentions Chinese cinnamon, the ground bark of the cassia tree, powdered cassia buds and cloves in addition to the aforementioned ingredients.

In other words, there are probably as many versions of the Five Spice Mix as there are family names, as far as the detailed proportions of how much of what spice goes into it and at the end of the day one can modify and experiment. After all cooking is all about controlling taste, right?

That said it's always a good idea to start out with a good basic recipe from a source you can trust, and I asked Yohanna of Yohanna's Culinary Journey if she could give me a recipe for putting together my very own Five Spice Mix and here it is. She uses 7 spices in her mix and it's not just grinding and mixing them but you need to toast some of them.

Once you've made her version of lovely Five Spice Mix and know what it's supposed to taste like more or less you can make small adjustments on making one of the elements stronger or weaker should you wish to. Spices being natural products will vary from batch to batch so like a good Barista you will probably in all reality have to make small adjustments to get the exact same taste every time.

That said there's no need to be this fussy - so I'd just go ahead and make it the way Yohana does every time, which is what I'm going to do!

Some recipes using Five Spice Mix:

Five-Spice Roast Chicken

Five Spice and Orange Duck

Peking Chicken with Steamed Buns

Five Spice Powder Frosting

Chinese Spicy Beef Lettuce Wraps

Disclaimer: I haven't actually tried making any of the above yet, even though I might at some point because they sound interesting. If you make any of these - please let me know how it turned out!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Vegetable Garlic Omelette

When we feel like eating lots of vegetables but also want to have some eggs, we make a vegetable omelette that looks like scrambled eggs due to our mediocre omelette making skills.

Ronny first chops up some onion and garlic up finely and sautees it a bit in extra virgin olive oil. Then he throws in diced vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms,zucchini, bell peppers, etc. After these have softened a bit pour in the beaten eggs and fresh herbs (mint, oregano, thyme, parsley etc) and emmenthal cheese and cook it some more, and your reasonably healthy brunch or lunch is ready.

Sourdough Bread Diary Day 1 & 2

Yesterday, I boiled 1 cup water from my Brita and let it cool down until I could stick my finger inside it and poured it over 1 cup whole wheat flour inside a glass bowl. I stirred it with some wooden chopsticks and poured it into a glass jar. I put a cloth over the top and let it sit on the upper deck of my book shelf overnight. In the morning there was a dark layer of liquid on top. This looks like 'hooch' but I'm wondering if everything is OK because 'hooch' is something that's supposed to appear later on in this process.

In either case, something is happening inside my glass jar and I'm going to go get more whole wheat flour or unbleached flour so I can feed the jar at around 17:00 - 18:00 today.

In case you're wondering. I'm trying to make a 'starter' so I can eventually bake sourdough bread. I've followed the instructions on this page. S. John Ross is a writer for role playing games, but he has also written a step-by-step guide on how to grow your own yeast from scratch and I'm hoping the mild climate in Andalucia will help my new colony of yeast thrive.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ugly Flourless Chocolate Cake made from a Recipe that David Lebovitz Found in the Men's Room

This chocolate cake isn't meant to be ugly, but I'm neither an experienced baker nor do I have the tools to remove the chocolate cake from its pan without destroying it - which is why you only see half of it in this photograph. I assure you, that when, you, an experienced baker make this cake - it will look as beautiful as any other chocolate cake.

I first read about this recipe on David Lebovitz's site. He said he found this recipe scrawled on the wall of the men's room at Racines.

The original recipe was traced to Pierre Jancou and is called LE GÂTEAU DE ZOÉ SANS FARINE.

When the cake first came out of the oven it was more like a chocolate mousse surrounded by a soft ring of chocolate cake, but the morning after it spent the night in my refrigerator, it became more like a cake.

It's moist, very chocolatey and decadent. I was going to put 300 g of chocolate instead of 200 g as I always take Mr. Lebovitz's recommendations seriously but I had a moment of blindness where I couldn't see my own handwriting scribbled on the printout and made the recipe with 200 g of chocolate instead.

Note: Next time I'll bake it for 25 minutes instead of 15 minutes. Even though delicious, the cake was so soft you couldn't remove it from the pan without destroying it so I think it needs to be baked a little longer.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Paper Chef #38: Fig Tart with Jamon Iberico, Anchovies & Mint

It's a bit early but I'm going to send in my entry for Paper Chef this month because I have a guest arriving tomorrow and I've already spent two days looking for some dried figs when I should be cleaning our extra bedroom.

When the ingredients were announced by Mike of Spikey Mikeys I wasn't too concerned about using anchovies in the same recipe as figs, polenta and mint but I was worried whether I could find any figs at all. You see in this small town in Andalucia, we do get lots of nice fresh juicy figs while they're in season and you'll see the dried variety whether they're just plain dried figs or fig bread in the period leading up to Christmas, but after that they kind of disappear almost completely until the next season. If you do find some dried figs they won't be looking so dapper - so I have to say that this was the most difficult thing for me this round: Simply finding some dried figs.


9 tablespoons (110g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup (100g) sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1/2 cups (190g) flour

1/2 cup (70g) polenta

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

325 - 400 g Dried Figs

1 Small Filet Anchovy (washed and dried)

Mint leaves (a nice bunch of them)

2 Tsp Demerara, Cassonade or Turbinado Sugar

100 g Jamon Iberico (Bellota if possible)

Step 1: I made the pie crust from David Lebovitz's Easy Jam Tart recipe without the almond essence. This uses polenta. I had wanted to make something that brought polenta more to the fore but couldn't think of anything I could do without some nice fresh juicy figs so this was my default option. This needs to sit in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, so start preheating your oven to 190 C when you put the dough in to cool.

Step 2: I used a mortar and pestle to make a sauce out of 1 mint leaf, 1 small filet of anchovy and 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Wash the anchovy filet well and dry it before you pound/grind it into the olive oil. The anchovy should be barely noticeable and you'll only be able to detect a faint hint of it. If the smell of anchovy is strong, then there's too much anchovy. The anchovy in this recipe plays the role of a flavor enhancer and is a secret ingredient. When someone takes a bite out of the finished Fig Tart, nobody's supposed to be able to tell there's anchovy in it except you!

Step 3: Chop the figs up into two if they're small ones. If they're big figs, chop them up into bite sized chunks.

Step 4: Pour the anchovy, mint and olive oil sauce onto the figs and then sprinkle 2 teaspoons of demerara, cassonade or turbinado sugar over this and mix.

Step 5: Lay the pie crust down into your pan, using your fingers to flatten it against the pan. Follow David's directions. I chose his recipe not just because it contains polenta but because polenta gives the pie crust this extra crunch that's important for this recipe. Everything else will mostly have a mushy texture so you need some crunch to jazz it up.

Step 6: Put the figs into your pan and let this bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

Step 7: Tenderly lay some slices of Jamon Iberico over the figs and put it back into the oven for another 10-15 minutes. The Fig Tart is done when the edges of the crust are golden brown. The fat from the Jamon Iberico will have melted onto the figs sharing some of its acorn scented nutty flavor, and their edges should be crisp to add a little more crunch to the whole experience.

Step 8: Serve with some fresh mint leaves. In the photograph the mint leaves look like a garnish but this tart really tastes better if you have a little bit of all the elements, including the fresh mint - so pile the mint leaves on. I promise the fresh mint leaves will make the Fig Tart come alive with a subtle touch of vibrance that wasn't there before.

Note 1: You'll have leftover Jamon Iberico because you'll only put a few slices to cover the tart. You can either eat the rest or you can save them for eating with the rest of the Fig Tart. Ronny and I both ate 2 slices each which was a little less than 1/2 the tart in one sitting.

Note 2: Remember that log of dough you put into the refrigerator from David Lebovitz's recipe? Well you can slice it thinly, sprinkle some demerara sugar on them and bake them in the oven at 190 C for 12 minutes or so and you'll have some cookies. Makes around 50.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Artichokes are in Season...

We had a fire in our apartment block today. I was grappling with proof reading a math paper when the sirens started going off. The police first arrived, then a fire engine arrived.

We could see smoke coming from an apartment located to the left hand side of us one floor below us and the air was quickly getting permeated with the smell of burnt plastic among other things. Neighbors were out on the road inside the community gates and outside and there were lots of people staring-up at the foul dark smoke coming from the offending apartment.

Then we saw water cascading from the balcony of this apartment and pouring down onto the newly cleaned terrace of the ground floor apartment below this one. I guess these neighbors won't be happy when they come home later on and find sooty water all over their terrace but hell...the fire was in the apartment right above them so I'm sure they'll be relieved that the fire didn't spread to theirs.

Anyhow after so much unwanted excitement Ronny headed for the Torremolinos mercadillo while I sat down to finish my work.

Ronny came home with these. Artichokes are now in season and cost only 99 centimos/1kg so it's something you don't want to miss just now - unless you hate artichokes.

So how do we eat our artichokes?

Ronny washed the artichokes, cut off the tops of each one, and let them float on water inside a large pot. He then poured the juice of one lemon into them, let the water come to a boil and then left them simmering for 25 minutes. We then removed them from the pot, drained them and just dipped the petals in melted butter and soy sauce and ate them all. The heart? We just shaved off the 'beard' and ate them in the same way as the petals.

Back in California in 1978 when I had my first artichokes, my mom served them with melted butter and lemon. Mixing soy sauce into the butter was something we stumbled on across accidentally, but since it tasted good this way, we've been doing it ever since.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Paper Chef #38

Just a short reminder that it's that time of the month again for Paper Chef! If you have any good ideas to add to the list of random ingredients, now's your chance to make your suggestions. Keep tuned in for more information on this up-coming event.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

In Memory of Dr. Samae Hayashi

This is an Inuyama-yaki tea cup that the late Dr. Samae Hayashi (1932 - 2004) who was an authority on the history of tea in Japan and used to work for the Imperial Household Agency gave me as a gift, and I've been using it carefully, as he told me that the cup had to be 'used' to 'come alive'.

When I first poured some fragrant Taiwanese oolong tea into it I soon found out what he meant. The pale interiors of the tea cup suddenly transformed into a pale rosy color and the cup became more beautiful than ever. I later on found out that the glaze changing color was typical of wabi-sabi aesthetics, but I have to tell you that finding this out first hand was an entirely different experience from understanding this in an abstract academic way. I was delighted and have taken it out of its wooden box and used it very carefully a few times since.

Dr. Hayashi would probably have smiled gently and said that it didn't matter if the tea cup broke and that I should use it for a lot of things.

"You can put Miso soup or rice in it. The important thing is to use it."

I'll try to remember this if this tea cup should ever break.

Sen no Rikyu who probably had the most profound influence on the Japanese Tea Ceremony used very tiny rustic tea rooms in his later years and preferred simplicity over ostentatiousness, so it's in keeping with this wabi-sabi spirit that tea cups should be used casually and not treated like some treasure that can be only used as an ornament.

I couldn't find any information on Dr. Hayashi in English except for some references to a book he published years ago, but I'll always remember him as a good natured, cultured, well-educated gentleman who was a good friend of my family. It's sad but when he passed away I was caught in the bureaucracy of getting my residency permit issued in Spain, and I was unable to return to Japan for his funeral. Because I couldn't go to his funeral, somewhere in my mind I still believed he had never passed away and I'd ask myself from time to time: Has he passed away or hasn't he? I think this is why I had to write this post so that there could be some kind of closure and I could accept with some finality that he was no longer with us.

My Espresso Machine

Yesterday I cleaned out the espresso machine (BRIEL ES35A) I bought from Harrods. Yes you heard me right. I bought an espresso machine from Harrods! It's definitely an idiotic thing to do but I had just arrived in London and the few people I knew were not helping me at all with their suggestions on where I could buy things - normal things like Melitta paper filters and non-electric Melitta coffee makers.

I didn't want to buy a generic coffee machine because those things have random grooves on them that make the coffee filter too quickly and you end-up with coffee that tastes like mud. A lot of people don't seem to realize this but you can make pretty good coffee with a paper filter if you have the right contraptions and pour the hot water over them with some sense of 'craft'. Depending on the type of ground coffee you can get your hands on, i.e. the type of beans, how they've been roasted and how coarsely or finely they've been ground - it can even taste better made this way than with an espresso machine, because an espresso machine also performs optimally with certain types of coffee beans roasted in a specific way and ground in a certain way.

You need to pay attention to detail when making coffee but since I can't be bothered to be on a mission from God to make the ultimate brew, I almost always settle for a coffee that's drinkable by my standards (which means it doesn't taste like mud) and this can be made via a Melitta non-electric coffee maker or my espresso machine.

Back in Tokyo I found purely by accident a funny little coffee/tea shop near Inadazutsumi Station on the Nambu line, that was owned by a former captain of the Honda motor racing team. Unlike me, he was on a mission from God to make the ultimate brew and his beans were picked, roasted and ground (or you could buy the whole beans) to perform optimally with a Melitta non-electric coffee maker and filter. This man imported blue mountain peaberry beans which he personally sorted out by hand and had a coffee manufacturer roast them to his specifications and sold them in his little store - just so he could drink it himself.

Because he wasn't making this coffee for commercial purposes and the store was just a way for him to help him indulge himself in this expensive habit of his, he sold his coffee beans for I'd say rock bottom prices considering what you were getting.

For years I only bought his coffee and made them with my Melitta contraptions but when I went away to London I ended-up buying an espresso machine because I couldn't for the life of me find a non-electric Melitta coffee maker in London and until I found Carluccio's, I bought my beans from Maison Blanc downstairs from my studio in St. John's Wood High Street. The only blend they had I could endure drinking was their Parisienne Blend.

Anyhow my move to Spain was a painful one riddled with 'incidents' and by the time I took my espressso machine out of its box, it wasn't working anymore. It was only a few years later when I found the right kind of limescale remover that I was able to get the machine up and running again.

I made this cup of coffee with a local coffee called Santa Christina and I have to say that although it's drinkable it's not my favorite blend at all. You can't really buy Lavazza here and although Bonka's Italian Blend was kind of nice - at least much better than Santa Christina, Nestlé have replaced most of their coffee beans on the shelf with....Nescafe instant coffee now, so it's back to Santa Christina.

For those of you who have never heard of Bonka, it's a coffee brand that used to be owned by the Spanish government that Nestlé bought-out.

Sometimes I have to say I miss having the extra income I used to have - the kind of income that ensured that it was going to be no big deal to mail order coffee beans from the other side of the world or just walk into Harrods and buy an espresso machine. Oh, well - unless you're a billionaire, you can't have everything and I wanted to live by the sea and this is what I had to give-up to move to this place near the beach...