Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Technique: Seven Tips and Ten Steps to Better Latte
- Get the timing right -- one of the advantages that a good cafe has over most home brewers is an espresso machine with dual boilers. That allows the steam and coffee brewing to occur simultaneously at the different required temperatures so everything finishes at once. But unless you're planning to drop a lot on the mechanics, your machine isn't capable of doing this. What I do is:
- put the porta-filter into place without grounds
- run a shot of water through to warm it
- replace the porta-filter and set the machine to steam
- when the machine is up to temperature, remove the porta-filter and dump the water
- grind the coffee
- dose and tamp the porta-filter
- place the porta-filter onto the espresso machine
- steam the milk
- change the temperature and immediately brew the coffee
- pour the coffee and the milk into the cup
This is not the way purists would do it, because you're letting the grounds sit too long, but I'm reasonably happy with the results, and only a few coffee places I've been to can do demonstrably better.
- Press hard enough on the grounds -- It is all too easy to think you're tamping the grounds when all you're doing is providing enough pressure for a therapeutic massage on an amoeba. Check this site and you'll see that "enough" means upwards of 30 pounds, followed by 20 pounds as you rotate the tamper to smooth out the coffee surface.
- Warm the cup -- Nothing like putting hot coffee into a really cold cup to defeat much of what you've just stood on your head to accomplish. Run some hot water (or the steam wand) inside the cup to warm the surface.
- Be cheap in equipment -- Any purists have just fainted. I'm being deliberately provocative, but serious. Forget all the it-grinds-brews-steams-the-milk-all-on-time-and-drives-you-to-work fancy equipment. I've had a chance to test many machines and keep going back to the Barrista I got from Starbucks years ago. It's one of the cheapest on the market and will give some of the most dependable results. That is, if they still sell it. (It was built by another company.) If you're going to splurge, do so on the grinder, not the brewer. Getting the grounds right is probably the most important thing equipment can do, and a good grinder is far less expensive than a good espresso machine.
- Be restrained on the milk -- One of the biggest mistakes I was making was using too large a mug and adding too much milk. A normal coffee mug is what you want, with just enough milk to bring the mix to the brim. Less milk means more concentrated coffee flavor.
- Get good coffee -- This shouldn't even need mentioning, but it does. Find a coffee place somewhere that does the best latte and espresso you can find and ask what they use. I've tried a few different types. Danesi Gold are good beans, but do come in from Italy in kilogram packages (2.2 pounds), which is a lot of coffee to have on hand. I would keep them in a container that I'd vacuum seal. These days I buy locally roasted beans, which travel less (lower carbon impact) and are fresher, allowing me to buy in smaller quantities.
- Get good milk-- I have it on strong authority that the right milk makes a big difference in texture of foam. High protein milk (locally we have some available from Jersey cows) works best. My food science guess is that more protein molecules means a greater density of bubble-forming material and, hence, smaller bubbles, which means finer foam.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Technique: Using a Pommade in Burgers
In this case, a good pommade is simply bread (one slice per pound of meat) soaked in enough milk to make it soggy, then rubbed into a paste. Mix the pommade with the ground meat, add in salt and any other flavorings you like (a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce per pound of meat is a touch I like), and then make patties without packing the meat in. Cook as you normally would, watching for over cooking.
If you're used to feeling the burgers on top for how well done they are, remember that the pommade will make them feel squishier, therefore less done. I'd use a thermometer the first time or two using this technique. At least, I would have, had I thought ahead. Last week I tried it and the burgers came out medium well, rather than the medium rare most of my family prefers. Guess I'll have to try it again - and not spare the digital readout.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Technique: Beets, Fennel Bulb, and Other Candidates for a Hot Oven
The fennel got the same treatment, and the anise taste worked well with the beets. In addition was some briefly sauteed (until wilted) Swiss chard. There was a roast chicken for which I sauteed chopped leek, threw in flat parsley, and added some stock I made from the chicken innards. I blended the lot for a leek sauce, though I can see now that it's a bit mild on its own, and could have used a dash of something hot.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Recipe: Breton Buckwheat Galettes
I'm giving the recipe as it appeared, but indicating a couple of small changes I made. For example, I used less salt and it was still enough of that taste so that an egg folded inside needed no more. Also, we were out of buckwheat flour, so I substituted whole wheat. The kids loved them without filling, grabbing a couple to go with regular scrambled eggs. Notice that there are both advoirdopois and metric; I used the latter and would suggest that cooking by weight as often as possible gives greater control and a higher chance for the recipes to come out.
- 1 3/4 cups/225 g buckwheat flour (I used wholewheat, and suspect you could substitute almost any type, as gluten content isn't a big issue)
- 1/3/4 cups/225 g unbleached white flour (I used all purposed)
- 2 tsps salt (I used 1 1/2)
- 2 cups/500 ml milk, more if needed
- 2 cups/500 ml water
- 1/2 cup/110 g butter, clarified
Equipment12-inch/30-cm flat, round griddle pan or 7-inch/18-cm crêpe pan.
Yield12 12-inch/30-cm or 24 7-inch/18-cm galettes to serve 6
- Sift both flours into a bowl and add salt. (NB: I didn't bother to sift, and it seemed to come out well enough.)
- Make a well in the center and pour 1 cup/250 ml of milk into the well. Whisk, forming a smooth paste. Whisk well for 1 minute, then add remaining milk in 2 batches, stirring well after each edition. (The paste was more like cement when I did it, so I added the remaining milk and whisked everything together.) Cover and let rest at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes. (I've seen a Jacques Pépin recipe that did not require a resting period, but I think it's necessary here. As in baking, the whole grains can absorb water over some minutes. By letting it sit, you can eventually adjust the thickness without a problem.)
- Stir water into batter and then beat again for 1 minute. If necessary, beat in more milk until better is consistency of light cream. Stir in half of the clarified butter
- Warm pan over medium heat at least 5 minutes, or until very hot. (If you are using an electric range, as I did, you might have to start on high and then shift between that and medium high throughout the gallette-making process.)
- Dip a was of paper towel into the remaining butter and rub it over the pan. (I tried a technique that worked far better - pour some of the clarified butter into the pan, swirl it so that it evenly coats the pan, and pour the remaining back in with the rest of the clarified butter - best to put the butter into a glass measuring cup with a spout to facilitate the pouring. This will keep the paper towel from absorbing butter and possibly leaving you to clarify more.)
- Heat the pan 2 minutes longer and test with a few drops of batter; they should set at once. Wipe pan clean with the paper towel wad and then rub it again with butter.
- Ladle batter onto center of pan. Using a palette knife or pastry scraper, spread it with a turn of your wrist so the pan is thinly and completely covered, tipping the pan to discard excess batter into a bowl. (I couldn't get that to work, so used an old-fashioned technique - pour in the batter and then tip, swirl, and jerk the pan about to coat it, which also saves another item to clean.)
- Cook the galette quickly until lightly browned on the bottom, 30 to 60 seconds. (I found it to take at least a minute, and often longer.) Peel the galette off the pan and flip it to color the other side. Note that a galette should not be browned too much, as it will be reheated with the filling. Transfer to a plate.
- If the first galette seems heavy, thin the batter with a little milk. Continue to cook the gtalettes, wiping the pan clean with paper towels and reubbing it with butter as necessary to prevent sticking. Pile the finished galettes on top of one another to keep them warm. They may be tightly wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
FillingsBefore I go inot each, there's a basic pattern here. You heat the pan again at least 5 minutes and coat it with clarified butter. The "dark" (only slightly browned side) of the galette goes down and the filling tops the center of the galette. You let it cook or melt or heat, and then fold the four sides of the galette up, leaving a space that shows the filling. The result is a square package.
Galette à L'Oeuf (egg galette)Break egg into center of galette. For scrambled (brouillé), quickly mix and spread the egg over the galette with a spatula, leaving a border at the edge. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and leave over heat just long enough to cook egg slightly, about 30 seconds. Fold in edges of galette on 4 sides to make square with a gap in the center showing the egg. Slide onto a warmed plate, top with a pat of salted butter, and serve hot. (Good luck with the spatula scrambled egg. I eventually lightly mixed an egg in a mixing cup with a fork and poured it on. Also, you have to keep shoving the egg back into the center so that it doesn't spread everywhere. If someone doesn't like runny eggs, consider cooking them a bit in a separate pan.)
For an unbroken egg (miroir): spread only the egg white on the galette and leave yolk whole. When egg yolk starts to set, fold galette up and around the youlk so it is still visible. Slide onto a warmed plate.
Galette au Fromage (cheese galette)Heat and butter the pan as above. Spread galette on pan, browner side down. Brush lightly with butter and sprinkle with 2 TBS grated Gruyère cheese (or any other type you like). Leave it for a few seconds to heat the galette and melt the cheese, and then fold the galette as with the egg galette, showing the contents. Slide onto a warm plate and serve.
Galette au Jambon (ham galette)Heat and butter pan as above. Spread galette, browner side down, onto the pan. Brush lightly with melted butter (I didn't find that necessary) and spread a thin slice of cooked ham in the center. Leave for a few seconds to heat the galette and the ham, and then fold the galette as above. Top with a pat of butter and then slide onto a warm plate.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Technique: Bread and Freestyling Baking
But the concept is obviously older. The idea is to grasp the essentials of some area of baking - the relationships of salt to flour, flour to water, percentages of sugar, and so on - and then to improvise. While writing the Complete Idiot's Guide to Pizza and Panini, I had to develop a lot of dough recipes. The exercise became one of bringing together what I knew and using basic relationships to develop new breads. Here are some principles that should help, if you have an itch to try:
- Necessary Versus Optional Bread baking traditions going back thousands of years point out that for a yeast dough, all you need is flour, water, salt, and yeast. (And the Tuscans, for one, sometimes omit the salt.) You don't need sugar, oil, or any other additive.
- Know What Additives Do I'm talking about optional additions. Fat helps preserve a moist texture and softens crust. Milk (in the form of dried skim milk - no need for the liquid, just add the right amount of powder for the volume of water you've used) adds a richness to taste and also softens crust. Sugar boosts the activity of the yeast and adds flavor and maybe a little color to the crust. (Honey or other sweeteners are fun substitutes.)
- Flour to Water For a loaf, I start with two cups of water and figured that I'll need about five to six cups, maybe a bit more, total of flour. Ultimately, I'll want the dough to come away from the sides of the bowl and stick lightly to the back of my hand when I press it, but it needs to come away cleanly. Some types of dough, like a ciabatta, are far wetter and stickier. In general, the wetter the dough, the more open the crumb and the bigger the holes you'll find in the bread when it's baked. However, I will only start with about 4.5 cups of flour, adding more a tablespoon or two at a time while mixing and kneading to get the consistency I want for that loaf.
- Salt to Flour To get the taste you probably expect, you'll need about a teaspoon of salt per 3 cups (about 1 pound) of bread or all-purpose wheat flour. You can use a bit more salt in volume if you want, particularly if you are using kosher salt (which is less compact than table salt and so you put less salt in if measuring by volume) or using whole grains in the flour mix, which, to my taste, need a touch more salt.
- Fat or Sugar I'll add a few tablespoons of fat to one loaf of bread, though you can go up to a quarter cup to try different textures and amount of moisture. I usually add a couple of tablespoons of sugar when I feel like using it, though have added up to a quarter cup of honey.
- Amount of Yeast You don't need to add as much yeast as many recipes suggest. The yeast will multiple over time. Adding more speeds rising, while adding less lets the yeast and resulting bread develop more flavor. If you have hours available, try using half an envelope of dry yeast (about 1 1/8 teaspoons) and see how it goes.
- Types of Flour Bread flour is high in gluten and will give you somewhat lighter loafs, but you can pretty freely mix all-purpose and bread if you want. I will often substitute up to 40 to 50 percent other flours or grains. For example, last night I used 3 cups of bread flour (the extra gluten helps dough structure when you add whole wheat or non-gluten flours), a couple of cups of whole wheat, and maybe a half cup wheat bran. Sometimes I'll add rye, buckwheat, or rice flours, oatmeal, corn meal - it depends on what I have on hand. When using other grains, let them soak in some water: enough to get the thoroughly wet, but not enough to have a layer of water on top. This will help preserve moistness of the final bread.
- Temperature If you're baking a loaf in a pan, set the oven to about 350 degrees F so it will cook through. For wetter free-standing loaves baked on a baking stone, try 400 or 425.
Friday, August 31, 2007
Technique: Heating Up Those Frozen Chinese Steamed Buns
Ah, but how to cook them? You can set up a steamer, with cabbage leaves on the bottom to keep the buns from sticking badly, but that takes time. Put one into a microwave and you will likely dry it out, transforming the delightfully spongy encasement into a petrified remnant suitable for display cases and archeologists.
However, after years of dealing with these, I finally came across the secret on one - and only one - package. Now, this only works with the steamed buns whose centers are cooked. If you have something that is supposed to be boiled, then you're out of luck, because the centers are going to be raw.
Put the bun on a paper blate or other microwaveable surface. Take a little bit of water and rub it over the top of the bun. You don't want puddles, just a damp sheen. Turn on the microwave for a minute or two, depending on the strength of your oven. (Start with one and see if the bun feels hot on all sides.) Presto, you are done.