Teach a Man to Bake
Monday, March 23, 2015
I’ve already written about my wonderful experience with Pete Merzbacher of Philly Muffin and the Fair Food Farmstand’s Food School. I won’t repeat (much) of what I said there other than this one point: baking, real baking, with local flour is all about the feel of the dough - measurements be damned.
This was a point that Samuel Fromartz first clued me into in his book, but Pete was able to communicate that with actual dough in front of him, dough that I could touch. The tactile advantage of Pete’s lesson, in turn, gave me the confidence to pursue this on my own. It has allowed me to improve my baking overall and even apply this to wildly divergent recipes.
Such was the case with this soda bread. Although forewarned in the recipe (found here), I ended up using far more flour than was originally called for. In the past, I would have baked the wet, gloppy mess I had rather than push on with the additional flour until I achieved a better texture. This could easily have been a flat, dense brick. Thanks to Pete, it was anything but.
It’s Not Snowing at the Flower Show
Thursday, March 05, 2015
For those of you who, like me, depend on the PHS Flower Show to remind them that someday soon spring will come, today might be the perfect day to visit. The show was wonderfully uncrowded, and we walked around with cups of PHS Horticulture Cider, brewed locally by Wyndridge Farm, and popcorn. Did I mention there were no crowds? A couple other local highlights:
The W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences, who run the Henry Got Crops CSA with Weaver’s Way, had an Alice in Wonderland theme to this year’s display that featured a funky fountain.
And our very own elevated park has a name - Rail Park. Construction on the first phase begins this year.
Posted by Donna on 03/05 at 04:26 PM
Loafing in School
Sunday, March 01, 2015
Two hours; two beers; two pounds of freshly milled flour; one sourdough starter; more cheese, pizza and focaccia than I could eat; and a lot of knowledge. It only cost me $35, but I think I ate, drank, and learned a lot more than the price I paid.
On Wednesday, I attended the Fair Food Farmstand’s “Food School” class dedicated to sourdough bread baking with Philly Muffin’s Pete Merzbacher. Although I have been baking sourdough bread for some time, I still came away from this having learned some very important things that have already improved my break baking:
- The tight, even “crumb” of a typical sandwich loaf or the airy, irregular crumb of a ciabatta are functions of gluten development. The more developed the gluten is, the more uniform the crumb.
- My greatest weakness in bread baking, loaves that spread out rather than spring up, is most likely a result of the dough being too wet.
- Because a home oven loses so much heat when the door is opened, preheat your oven higher than the temperature at which you are going to bake. Then, reset the temperature once you have actually put the bread in the oven.
Pete is not a believer in using spray bottles or pans of water to “steam” dough in home ovens. Pete is a believer in baking in a cast iron pot (a la Jim Lahey’s no-knead method). The pot serves two important functions. One, related to the previous point, it will maintain a consistent heat for your bread. Two, by trapping steam released from the dough as it bakes, it will function in very much the same way as a professional baking oven that injects steam. In fact, Pete said that while he can easily tell a loaf baked in a home oven using a pan of water as compared to a professional oven, he would be hard-pressed to do so when comparing a loaf baked in a cast iron pot as compared to a professional oven.
Throughout the class, the good people of the Fair Food Farmstand plied us with PBC beer and tons of local cheese with pizzas and focaccia at the end. Pete was personable and patient with a class of students with extremely varied levels of experience. Most importantly, he tolerated my incessant questioning about my own issues and about using local grains. The sourdough starter came from his own bakery, as did the whole-grain flour he had milled himself that day.
If you have any interest bread baking, I can’t recommend a class with Pete highly enough. The same goes for anything hosted by the Fair Food Farmstand. I feel very lucky to have had such good and generous people share their knowledge - and, of course, food.
Posted by Kevin on 03/01 at 05:51 PM
Cod and Potato Ravioli
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Bear with us on this one. We were looking for a filling for ravioli that wasn’t ricotta, but still had a creamy texture that could incorporate another ingredient. The cod was leftover from a huge filet from Shore Catch, simply poached and pureed with the boiled potato and some parsley. We made a slightly sweet tomato sauce from our canned tomatoes and added black olives and more parsley. We had enough dough and filling to make two batches.
We use an old metal ravioli tray of my grandmother’s, which along with the Kitchenaid pasta attacment makes short work of it.
We didn’t miss the meat. Or the ricotta, for that matter.
Posted by Donna on 02/22 at 07:06 PM
More from In Search of the Perfect Loaf
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Having already recommended Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf, I will refer you to my earlier comments as to why. However, I can already identify two benefits from reading Fromartz. One, it has given me the confidence to experiment with recipes and tailor results. Two, should those experiments fail - or, more accurately, fail to meet expectations - I now have a better sense of why. Both applied in this instance.
The first time I made this loaf, Jim Lahey’s. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that; it’s just not my preference. This time, I felt confident enough in my baking to use a different temperature and cooking time, based on Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Modena Mountain Bread. This involved not only a lower temperature, but also retaining steam in the oven. This variation was, unquestionably, a success.
Unfortunately, as you can see here, the crumb is anything but light and airy. It’s dense and chewy, which is fine, but that wasn’t what I was going for. What went wrong? Fromartz’s recipe calls for letting the dough rise in a pantry that’s roughly 55 degrees. Given the absurdly low temperatures last night, I am guessing our pantry was significantly lower than 55. However, that wasn’t the real mistake; the real mistake was not trusting my instincts when I pulled the dough out this morning. I was following the recipe exactly, but I should have known it needed a longer rise.
Having written that, I now realize a third benefit of reading ...The Perfect Loaf: rather than discouraged by this disappointment, I will simply try again.
Summer in a Freezer Bag
Saturday, January 31, 2015
Every summer my mother-in-law very generously visits one of the farmstands near their house and buys us about 10 pints of blueberries to freeze. The first time we did this, we carefully froze them in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment before storing in a freezer bag. No more. Blueberries are waxy skinned enough they don’t freeze together at all, and I can reach into the bag and scoop out however many cups I need whenever I want to make muffins, pancakes or smoothies. The bag easily lasts us until the next blueberry season, although we might finish this year’s up much sooner after making Smitten Kitchen’s Blueberry Crumb Cake. We did adapt it a bit - using Daisy Flour’s Whole Wheat Pastry flour and maple sugar from Fair Food Farmstand - to justify our eating it for breakfast. The picture above is what’s left of our freezer stash for future cakes. I could say Smitten Kitchen’s lovely photos left no reason to take one of the cake itself, but frankly we ate it too quickly. So will you.
Posted by Donna on 01/31 at 05:16 PM
Perfect Winter Scallop Dish
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
We very nearly overload on scallops in the summer. Easily grilled, seared or as used for ceviche, they work beautifully with light summer cooking. I tended not to think of them as much in the winter before Shore Catch started offering locally caught seafood both at Headhouse Farmers’ Market and through Winter Harvest. This recipe might change that. As the name suggests, it is both Ina Garten’s and traditionally French, so it’s by no means light or summery. But it’s perfect for a winter’s night waiting for the snow to arrive, as we did last night. Not much snow, but with a creamy dish of mushrooms and scallops with a breadcrumb crust, we didn’t mind at all. We ate it with a butter lettuce salad from Winter Harvest and Galen Glen’s Gruner Veltliner - the entire meal as local as we’d have made in midsummer.
Posted by Donna on 01/27 at 04:52 PM
Mini Cornmeal Muffins with Jam Filling
Saturday, January 17, 2015
I blame my library card. Ever since the Free Library started offering free downloads from Zinio, I’ve had access to an unhealthy number of magazines full of pretty pictures of things I’d like to have - well, mostly to eat. Somewhere, probably in Saveur, I first saw ebelskivers - little round Danish pancakes made in a special pan, the use of which has been adapted about a thousand ways all over the internet. So here’s one more.
While I’m eager to try making proper ebelskivers, we weren’t really up for their light, sweet, almost pastry like consistency this soon after the holidays and one too many Christmas cookie breakfasts. So I made up a batter using Castle Valley Mill’s cornmeal, with Rineer Family Farm’s Mixed Berry Jam as a filling. The result was more like a tiny, jam filled cornmeal muffin. The cornmeal seems perfect for savory versions using crumbled sausage or cheese, and hopefully it goes without saying that they made the perfect breakfast to eat while reading magazines. Just try not to drop the jam on the IPad.
Mini Cornmeal Muffins with Jam Filling
1 1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar (we used maple sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
5 teaspoons jam
Mix the dry ingredients together and set aside. Whisk the wet ingredients together, then add the dry to the wet and stir until smooth. Heat ebelskiver pan on medium for about 5 minutes to be sure it is consistently hot, then add a tiny dollop of butter in each well and brush around. Drop one tablespoon batter into each well, add 1/2 teaspoon of jam, then another tablespoon batter for each well. Cook until you see the batter pulling away from the pan, then flip using chopsticks. (I found I didn’t even need to grab the chopsticks - I made sure the batter was coming away cleanly by skimming the edge of each well with the tip of a steak knife, then used the knife to flip the batter.) Cook for another 2 minutes or so, and serve warm.
Posted by Donna on 01/17 at 08:07 AM
Book Recommendation: Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf
Saturday, January 10, 2015
If there is one aspect of cooking where I feel my results are not proportional to my efforts, it would be bread baking. It isn’t for lack of trying: I’ve worked my way through the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Whole Grain Breads, the Metropolitan Bakery Cookbook, and My Bread to name just the bread-centric cookbooks I’ve tried. Too often, my loaves would be flavorless, overly dense, underfermented, and even undercooked.
Granted, I have been handicapping myself by both insisting on locally grown and milled wheat and on incorporating as much whole wheat flour into the bread as possible. Still, this is how I eat, and I want the bread I eat (and bake) to be reflective of that.
Therefore, when I opened Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf, I was skeptical. I didn’t see how this book could succeed where so many others have failed. However, Fromartz did succeed with me - and brilliantly. I suspect the reason for this is that Fromartz approached everything from the vantage point of a home baker, translating the lessons he learned in professional bakeries to the home kitchen. Cookbooks typically follow the opposite trajectory. He discusses at length the variations in flour, temperature, and humidity that affect dough, ultimately concluding that the best baking is done by feel. Far more than a cookbook, Fromartz provides an appealing narrative of his evolving technique and growing knowledge, and I found myself reading the book in its entirety before even attempting a recipe.
My first success was a wild yeast starter made with whole wheat flour, honey, and water. Somehow, Fromartz’s method succeeded where so many others had failed. I used the resulting starter to make a version of Lahey’s no-knead bread, which had an excellent sourdough flavor.
So, on these brutally cold winter days when you are drawn to the warmth of the fire for reading or the warmth of an oven for baking, I’d recommend a copy of In Search of the Perfect Loaf to accompany you.
P.S. Samuel Fromartz also maintains the very cool Chews Wise Blog
Posted by Kevin on 01/10 at 06:19 PM
High Street on Market’s Pannettone
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Here’s one final slice of holiday excess for Epiphany, Three Kings’ Day, Twelfth Night, or what you will: High Street on Market’s panettone, made with local flour. It was quite a bit for two people, but we managed.
Posted by Donna on 01/06 at 09:55 AM
Saturday, January 03, 2015
I’d first read about Unionville in reading about the Judgement of Princeton and, of course, through Carlo De Vito’s East Coast Wineries blog. This reading prepared me for the quality of wine. What it did not prepare me for was the gorgeous countryside adjacent to the Sourland Mountain Preserve. This is some of the most idyllic wine country we have seen in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
Unionville is actually four separate farms making wine under one moniker and winemaker, Cameron Stark. As a result, the wines vary greatly in style, from dry whites to ports. Each tasting constitutes eight wines, so we were able to sample a large portion of that variety. The tasting room is a gorgeous, bi-level, repurposed barn, and our server was knowledgeable and amiable. It is so nice, and more rare than it should be, to have a conversation about the wines we were tasting. We came away understanding the particularities of Unionville wines as well as a better understanding of winemaking in general.
Everything we tasted was of excellent quality, and if I didn’t leave with more bottles, it was only because there are so many excellent local wines and so few square feet in my house. Therefore, I am always looking to take away the bottle or bottles that were most unique to that winery. To my tasting, the Unionville’s chardonnays were the distinguishing wines: they had the most subtle hints of oak I have yet tasted, and the most prominent citrus flavors. However, I wouldn’t want to reduce my description to only those terms; there is far more to them. The Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, which came home with us, is so complex and varied that it deserves a long, slow sipping (and savoring) over a multi-course meal.
When the Farm Stops Coming to You
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Despite the ever expanding selection offered with Winter Harvest, it’s hard not to miss Headhouse Farmers’ Market once it wraps up for the season. Seems like as good an excuse as any to visit one of the many nearby farm stores. We went to two of our favorites on Monday: Griggstown Market and Cherry Grove Farm Store, both a few minutes away from one another in the Princeton area.
Cherry Grove Farm creates an amazing array of cheeses, the making of which you can often view right through the window at the Farm Store as you buy. We took home a Full Nettle Jack - worth it for the name alone, but also herby and creamy. The Farm Store also carries Cherry Grove’s own pasture raised meats and eggs, and dozens of products from local and regional farms and producers. The beeswax candle scented with lavender essential oil would have made a wonderful gift, but we were content to keep it for ourselves.
If you haven’t had a Griggstown pot pie, you’ve got a long, cold winter to correct that. My very favorite is chicken, but they do beef, turkey, vegetarian and Shepherd’s pies, along with whole and ground chicken and poussin, and a variety of meatballs and sausages. There’s even a prepared food counter, soups and chili, local milk and eggs, fruit pies and seasonal produce.
Both stores are open seven days and easily provide one stop dinner shopping.
Posted by Donna on 12/31 at 01:40 PM
A Day of Wine in the Lehigh Valley
Friday, November 28, 2014
Several weeks ago we had the opportunity of visiting four very different wineries within the span of a week. It was highly effective (not to mention enjoyable) in learning how different wine can taste - and by that I mean how different wines made from the same grape can vary year by year, vineyard by vineyard within the same area, and microclimate by microclimate.
I was particularly impressed with what we found during our day trip to the Lehigh Valley, following a route similar to Craig Laban’s. Our first stop was Pinnacle Ridge, where we focused on tasting their dry red wines. This was the first (and likely only) time I actually enjoyed a chambourcin, but more importantly I understood clearly something that Luca Turdo explained to me this summer: cabernet franc does best in colder climates. The cabernet francs I had tasted from warmer microclimates were thinner, less interesting stuff than what Pinnacle Ridge is making here. In fact, it was quite nearly the quality of Roanoke’s cabernet franc from North Fork, Long Island.
After a quick and delicious lunch from Wanamaker’s General Store, we wound our way up (quite literally) to Galen Glen winery.
This was not my first tasting of Galen Glen, but this was my first visit to the winery. It may be the most picturesque tasting room I have seen on the East Coast. Even more impressive were the wines. The Stone Cellar Gewurztraminer had an incredibly floral bouquet and palate of tropical fruit. The dry Stone Cellar Riesling was bracingly so, with a taste of citrus. However, my absolute favorite was, and is, the Stone Cellar Gruner Veltliner. Delicious, complex, and refreshing, I have a difficulty imagining that I would ever tire of this wine. I am still kicking myself for only buying two bottles. Thankfully, they do ship within Pennsylvania.
After our week of wine tastings, and an additional one since, I have a newfound appreciation for the number of truly unique, excellent wineries within an easy drive of the city. We have had consistently and reliably good wineries for some time, but we have not gone even further with some truly exceptional ones as well.
Beyond Red Gravy
Saturday, November 15, 2014
We’ve tried a few types of Vera Pasta over the past few months and have loved their variety and seasonality. Their beet linguine was a unique starter to Easter dinner with soft goat cheese melted in, and we inhaled their kale and lemon linguine with a walnut sauce. This time, we tried their crab cake ravioli and were a bit stumped for a sauce until I saw the Delicata squash in the fridge. Cut into small cubes and sauteed in olive oil, it was ready faster than the ravioli.
Posted by Donna on 11/15 at 06:06 PM
Wyebrook Farm - Honey Brook, PA
Friday, November 07, 2014
To celebrate the end of Daylight Savings Time, we took a beautiful drive last Sunday morning to Wyebrook Farm, a little more than an hour from Philly in Honey Brook.
Wyebrook raises cattle, pigs and chickens, all to meticulous sustainable standards. Their meats, milk and eggs, some vegetables and a large selection of local cheeses and other products can be purchased at their market, while the cafe and restaurant serve lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.
The brunch omelet, with fresh made sausage from the farm, was delicious, as was the “bread basket” full of beautiful little pastries and quick breads.
We took home fresh ground beef and chicken along with various other local items from the market. Definitely better than an extra hour of sleep.