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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Patisserie - Making healthy pastries

Isn't it a pleasure to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee along with a cake or biscuit. Shop bought biscuits and cakes have so many additives it makes you sick just reading the back label. So you make your own, fresh and with the best ingredients, organic if possible.

We weaned ourselves off the sickly, sweet sugar loaded treats and use a modicum of sugar if for some reason we can't substitute raw honey. And we restricted our quantities by having the item at morning tea only. Restraint is followed by weight control. On a day out in the real world we would try something if it looked fresh, interesting, unpreserved and not too sweet.

Then one day we came across Icky Sticky in Lorn outside of Maitland. This is a patisserie in what we would call the French tradition. You know, all those fresh fruits covering the pastry. It was inspiring and the coffee was excellent.

Then came the desire to do it yourself. How hard can it be? Not hard when you're passionate. Richard Bertinet's books Crust, Pastry and Dough are three books we explored. He made it easy, especially as there were DVDs and YouTube sessions. Sweet dough was a piece of cake and despite ineptitude by the cook the Puff pastry a roaring success.

Different toppings, mango, Rockmelon, Frozen Cranberries, Frozen Raspberries and Blackberries. All on a wholemeal Puff (unpuffed) base

Fresh home grown Apple topping, straight forward minis with Crème de Patisserie or creme d amande

Some things we learnt:

  •  Your own fresh fruit picked ripe is just so good and the shop bought stuff is rubbish i.e. picked too early and lacking flavour.  Shop bought Mango is good. We tried our Rockmelon and that worked. What that means is that your toppings will be seasonal. By the way a light cooking of fruit adds some health benefits. It releases some locked up goodness.

Wholemeal Puff pastry ready for its 12 hours resting in the fridge

  • Frozen berries are fine but obviously not as good as your own. Defrost them first so that you don't get excess liquid. But keep the liquid to make a reduction glaze.

  • We substituted our honey for any sugar. one gram of sugar equals one gram of honey. We also used the oldest honey some of which had crystallised. Probably good timing as we robbed the hive again last week for the third time yielding another 35 KG. Too much honey and nowhere for it to go.

  • The fillings are really easy and healthy. Creme d amande and Crème de Patisserie are two we have tried. we have also invested our life savings into a KG of Pistachios for yet another filling next time

Crème de Patisserie. The little black flecks are the vanilla pod scrapings.

Crème d Armande

  • Use Vanilla pods. A bit more expensive but makes a flavour difference.

  • Don't use wholemeal to make Puff Pastry. It will not puff although it didn't taste all that bad so we used it as a pie crust with leftover fillings and it turned out a real gem.

Recycled wholemeal puff crust with a mix of fruits and filling

  • Use organic butter. It requires heaps and don't worry about the misinformation that butter is bad for you. And butter does make it taste good. We keep a stockpile in the freezer.

  • The pastries freeze well. And because we got a bit excited and made too many we also shared a few with friends. This sharing also helps because we asked for honest feedback. Never too late to learn. The friends were also the suppliers of some of their freshly harvested fruit. Everyone wins.
There are a lot of different doughs to work through and then each one makes a whole series of different cakes, biscuits and tarts. This will take a long time to explore. Ahhh another new hobby.

Another Batch

Monday, January 5, 2015

Making Bread - 100% Wholemeal Flour, 100% Sourdough Starter

What in the past have been rock solid bricks requiring only the most passionate devotee to begrudgingly consume are now gone forever.

Seed Loaf

Parmesan and Pepper

Thank you Josie Baker and your book Josie baker Bread for solving our problems of technique.

But also thanks to Richard Bertinet and his book Crust with its DVD on handling dough.

Josie's book is structured to lead you through a series of breads starting with simple loaves using bakers flour and yeast. Each new recipe adds a degree of complexity as you move to wholemeal and other flours and then making and using Sourdough Starter in place of commercial yeast. This gradual process builds confidence as success follows success.

Sourdough Starter

 Richard Bertinet publishes his videos online here. We were lucky to have our local library stock two of his books.

BUT there are a few things to remember from our experience:

  • Start with a sloppy wet dough which is what you get when you follow Josie's recipes. Use the weight measurements in the recipes which are deadly accurate as opposed to the volume measurements where cup sizes vary.

One of our well used bread tins
Oiled and floured ready to take the final rise dough

  • Being lazy we use the bread machine to do all the mixing but it is pretty easy by hand or in an electric mixer.
Final Proving rise

  • After the bulk rise, shape the loaf and put it in the refrigerator overnight before its final proving rise the next day. Miracles occur with the dough. Don't forget to wrap it in plastic wrap to stop the top drying out. And always use plastic wrap during the rising phases. Although it is only an option to refrigerate and come back to making the bread is in every recipe (before the bulk rise or after shaping) we found it a key element of the success to perform either one of the refrigeration's. Yes, that means it takes two days to make bread. In fact three days if you include prepping the starter.
Protected from drying out - reusable many times

  • Always use the tinfoil tent cover for the first part of the baking. This one of the keys to success. Other than protecting you from aliens this is best use of tinfoil hats.
Tin Foil covering - reusable many times

  • Use a pizza stone or a granite tile as the heat sink in the oven. This requires heating the oven well in advance. We use an overly thick granite tile which takes a lot longer to heat through but it really pays off.
Granite tile on top of a pizza stone

  • The bread will keep for weeks in a freezer bag in the refrigerator.

Our favourites are the Parmesan and Pepper Loaf followed by the Seed Loaf.

The seed mix soaking - about 6 or seven different seeds

Coarse ground Pepper

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Dill Pickles - The Authentic Method

This is Summer in Australia. The time when there is so much produce in the vegetable garden that it is impossible to keep up with the quantity maturing each day. Friends and visitors are always offered all the surplus. There is a mental list of people who don't have their own gardens and who need to be kept onside such as our dairy farmer. This group is showered with only the finest produce. The chooks and the cattle get their fair share. Every year we promise to plant less or at least try to stagger the planting. Each year we get a little better but fail to achieve perfect harmony.

Tomatoes are drying in the dryer. In desperation sliced Zucchini is also drying. It is a bit leathery but it might work as a Winter Pizza topping with a bit of a soak and chop. Tomato puree has reached the 23 x 750 ml bottle stage and we still have bottles from 2012 and 2013.  No drying of Tomatoes has occurred for some years as we had such a stockpile. Now that that pile is down to 2 x 3 litre jars the drying has commenced with a twist. Rather than go for the completely dry format they are being pulled out and placed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil when they are still just that little bit moist. Taste wise these are lovely - no need to soak out the excess salt.

Dried Tomatoes and Zucchini

But what to do with the Cucumbers? A decade or so ago we tried salt and vinegar but they really weren't all that great unless chopped finely and used as a garnish on smoked Salmon in place of Capers. Bread and Butter Cucumbers although tasty have sugar which is the last thing needed in a healthy diet or at least kept to a minimum and it is the sugar that dominated the flavour rather than the Cucumber.  A couple of times we purchase Dill Pickles from the wholesaler. These were Kosher pickles made in Israel and they were fantastic, crunchy without vinegar - just a little salt. This year after some research we found a purer form of making Dill Pickles and tried the recipe. Wow what a success. Flavoured with Dill seed (no Dill plant available), Garlic and Chilli. Just like Sauerkraut these whole Cucumbers fermented over a few days and tasted magnificent. The salt was balanced, the Cucumber crisp and just a little hint of chilli and the lovely overtones of Dill.

Just started, notice the bright green colour

An older batch losing that bright green

The first batches repackaged

BUT the story doesn't end there. By chance, amongst the batch of books in the last foray to the Newcastle University Library a copy of "Microbiology of Food Fermentations" by Carl S. Pederson found its way into the house. It has a great section on making Dill Pickles backed up with the science. How much salt, how it works, temperatures, times and much more. And don't worry about the cloudy liquid as that is a sign of quality. The longer the ferment and the less salt the better the end result.

The tip of the century was using a plastic sheet across the fermentation vessel mouth which is filled with water to exclude air but still allow gases to escape. The experimentation continues with salt levels and cucumber sizes. You all know how it is when you overlook a cucumber in the patch and the next day it is a foot or more long and just not as tasty as those young immature ones. This recipe could be the solution for those oversights.

Plastic cap with water

This is the recipe online which we tried first Real Kosher Dill Pickles.

From Pederson's book a few tips:
  • 3-6 weeks for ferment to cure
  • Cut off the the tip where the flower was i.e. opposite end to the stalk
  • 5% or less salt in the brine. 5.3 -6.6% will yield 3.3 to 3.6 % salt in the pickle
  • DO NOT USE VINEGAR it will kill the good bugs
  • Brine will become increasingly cloudy for the first few days and foaming occurs
  • Darkness is required
  • Will keep for extended periods if pasteurised at 165 F or 74 C for 15 minutes and rapidly cooled
  • Storage temperature is ideally 35-40 F or 4 C
  • Cloudiness is a good thing
  • The less salt the slower the ferment and the better the quality of the pickle