Our bubbly friends

I’ve been meaning to write about our apple cider making experience for weeks now, but it’s late on a Sunday evening and I had part of a beer with dinner, so the complete writeup will have to wait at least for another day, but I’ll share something cool with you now.

In our kitchen, we have two 5-gallon jugs (“carboys”) filled with cider. As the cider ferments, it throws off tiny bubbles of gas. For the first several weeks, those bubbles came out of the tops of the carboys, through rubber tubes, and into a bucket of water. We’d hear little bubbling sounds all day long.

This weekend, Michael “racked off” the cider in the carboys, which means he siphoned off the cider into clean containers so as to separate the cider from the “lees” (the residual particles from the apples that had collected at the bottom of the carboys). After that, he replaced the rubber tubes with little gas traps attached to the carboy caps. Since fermentation is slowing down, these little gas traps are now sufficient for letting the little bubbles escape.

We check the carboys every day to watch the bubbles, anxious to see continuous activity because we really want 10 gallons of hard cider, not cider vinegar, at the end of the fermentation process. So, now that we can’t hear the bubbling the way we could when the gas was escaping into the bucket of water, we just stand and watch — and smile when we see that little bubble escape. It’s alive!

I could take a bath in this stuff

The other day I saw a link to a rhubarb sorbet recipe and I thought, “I have to try this!”.

We have three rhubarb plants (thanks to friends who hate the stuff and wanted it OUT of their gardens) and they’re growing well, but not quite ready to harvest yet. Luckily, the Co-op has it in stock.

The recipe is blindingly simple, and the results so gloriously delicious, I plan to stockpile rhubarb in my freezer so I can make it this summer, when the hot weather will cry out for rhubarb sorbet.

Continue reading “I could take a bath in this stuff”

Rise up singing

A canele rising out of its mold

On the weekend of October 11, 2008, I went to Shelburne Falls, MA, for a two-day advanced cheese making workshop. When I returned home, M had made me a wonderful welcome home dinner of baked chicken wings. He mentioned that the oven seemed a little weird, that it seemed to have taken a really long time for the oven to heat up to temperature — almost an hour-and-a-half. Hmmm.

And that’s how our journey into the workings of Fisher & Paykal customer service started.

I guess we figured it would be a fairly straight-forward process of getting our local service guys (the really patient, good folks at Bouchard-Pierce, where we bought all of our new kitchen appliances after the house move) to come out and replace whatever piece wasn’t working.

In fact, it did at first appear to be that simple. A B-P repair guy came over, watched as the oven temperature slowly crept up to a warm temperature of 79°, called Fisher & Paykel to explain the problem, and proceeded to replace the element. The service guy at Fisher & Paykel didn’t seem to have a lot of advice, but our guy (Jason) figured it was either the element or the main computer board that was causing the problem, and he wanted to try the element first because it was less expensive and they had it on a hand (they’d have to order the board).

Of course, the new element didn’t fix the problem, and Jason was to return at least four more times to replace

the electronic oven control
the clock assembly
the temperature sensor
and the oven mode board (two times)

This process carried us through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years Eve. All along, we had been pretty patient, but that patience was growing so thin you could see a baked lasagna through it, if we had been able to bake a lasagna, or roast a chicken, or make a baked potato, or bake a loaf of bread, or (for heaven’s sake!) warm up leftovers.

At that point, we had hit our limit. We’d made it through all the holidays thanks to the generosity of our grill, cook top, and microwave oven, but we wanted out oven back. I know we have nothing to complain about, but, really, it began to seem as if the oven was basically just taking up cabinet space that could be better used to store microwavable dinners.

While all this was happening, M and I were mentally writing a long, detailed blog entry that described every phone call, every “missing record” of said phone calls, every service visit, every frustration, but now, at this distance, I don’t feel up to it. What I will say is that our local service company did right by us. In the end, it took a cranky customer call (or 2, or 3) to get the manufacturer moving, but the service guys were supportive every step of the way, and charged us nothing for all the visits they made. I call them “local”, but they are actually at least an hour a way from here.

In the end, we found a senior person at Fisher-Paykel who was willing to look at the entire dossier and she saw that everything had been tried and that we had waited a long time for a resolution. She thought maybe there was one more part they could try to replace, but when she learned that the part was backordered, she had the power to just say, “Enough already! Give these folks a new oven!”

And so, on February 13, four months and one day after we first had trouble, Jason and his partner at Bouchard-Pierce (I’m sorry that I can’t remember his name; he was soft-spoken, friendly, and very understanding about an energetic puppy who wanted to lick his face) came calling with this:

New oven - unwrapped

In less than an hour, the new oven was installed. The time it took to get it up to 350°? 15 minutes.

This month’s theme: baking excellence

My idea (today) is to update the header picture for the blog every month. Wish me luck on that.

But I did put a new picture up today and rather than give you a picture of the oven as I threatened to do, I decided to share a picture of recent baking results from the aforementioned oven. This oven can’t even bake crescent rolls that come from a can. Even a toaster oven can make these things.

Someday, remind me to tell you the whole story.

Holiday sweetness

In past years, we’ve put up quarts of jam and gallons of pickles and applesauce during the summer and fall to send to family and friends for holiday treats. For some reason this year, we did none of that. Absolutely none. Our larder isn’t empty because we have leftovers from last year, but it does seem a bit less festive without all those wrapped jars taking over the kitchen this time of year.

Lest you are worried, though, we of course made our traditional candied orange peels.

Orange Peels Cooling

Candied Orange Peels - Plated

Candied Orange Peels - Bagged

This year, because we still have a broken oven and can’t bake cookies or french pastries that shall not be named in this post, I attempted a second candy: sponge toffee. This is thanks to my sister who really knows how to make candy. Me, I’m afraid of boiling sugar, but she’s a brave soul and has ventured further into scalding sugar territory than I ever care to go. Every so often, she gives me a simple recipe, but even just reading the recipes is scary (“What’s an aliquot?” I ask my sister).

Ok, but Mr. Broken Oven pushed me to the edge and I made an attempt at candy and the cool thing is that it was easy, easy enough that I could make several batches in one evening and most of them resembled the candy they are supposed to be.

Boiling Sugar Syrup

Pouring the Toffee

Sponge Toffee

Sponge toffee is a simple but interesting candy. There’s not much to it (sugar, corn syrup, water, and baking soda), and, while it’s sweet, it has a distinctive burnt, almost-but-not-quite bitter, edge to it. The first night I made the toffee, Hyla came by and asked for a taste. This took us a bit by surprise because Hyla usually isn’t keen to try any new food, but she does seem to make an exception for new foods in the candy category. She loved it. Sweeeeet!

Steps two and three

  1. Order the molds for making soft-ripened goat cheese.
  2. While we’re waiting for those to arrive, make another batch or more of chèvre.

It’s been quite a while since we’ve made some real cheese around here, aside from a quick batch of too-salty mozzarella that we whipped together on Halloween weekend and a tasty serving of paneer to go with our Indian food feast with friends a few weeks back (are you admiring my use of alliteration?).

This summer, we made several batches of chèvre and we were getting into the swing of that, but never took it further. In October, I attended a two-day advanced cheese making workshop (and, yes, I’ve been meaning to write about that and post some pictures), which was an incredibly inspiring and overwhelming experience. But have we made cheese since then? No.

Clearly, the only thing standing between us and becoming cheese makers is, um, making some cheese. Honestly, we don’t even need the goats to make cheese. We know where to buy the milk.

In the final analysis

Copper molds do matter:

Canele

This one isn’t baked as long as some of my earlier attempts, but it has a great, crunchy crust and a silky custardy interior. The caramelized flavor of the crust is just right.

This little guy, along with his two buddies, was the result of my third attempt with the new molds. For my first try, I messed with batter recipe by adding more flour to offset the extra liquid from the duck egg yolks I used. Don’t ask me why I thought it made sense to change both the batter and the molds at the same time; I don’t have an adequate answer. It was obvious during the baking that the new molds made a difference, but the results were wrong wrong wrong. The batter rose up high and beautiful in the oven, but the resulting Canelés were uniformly matte brown (vs. glossy golden or dark brown) and very cakey. The flavor wasn’t bad, but all the specialness of Canelés was absent.

The squirrels and birds in our yard made a feast of those.

Ok. So for the next try I knew I had to use the standard recipe with no fooling around. I even bought the specified extra large eggs (and, you know, those extra large chicken egg yolks are still a lot smaller than your average duck egg yolk!). That batter went into the fridge to chill for 24 hours.

The next evening, we baked a batch. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I had set the oven on “Aero Pastry” – a mode our oven has that I don’t even know what you use for, except I don’t think it’s for Canelés because they were cooking very slowly. Evenly and nicely, but slowly. About 2/3 of the way through the baking, I caught the error and changed the mode to the one I usually use, “Aero Bake”. As I skimmed the oven documentation, I realized I should probably be using the “True Aero” mode to get the best results. All three of these modes are variations on convection modes. Don’t ask me what the differences are, though. I’d have to read the manual.

Anyway…. it took a little longer than normal, but the Canelés darkened nicely and I unmolded them, waited about 20 minutes and tried one. BINGO! They had the right crunch, color, flavor.

I did a dance.

I had enough batter left for about 3 more, so I tried again last night, this time with the oven set correctly, and again the results were grand, though I admit I was too sleepy by the time they were done to enjoy them properly.

Tonight, I’ll attempt to warm them and eat them – they don’t warm very well, but it’s worth a try.

I think I’m just about ready to serve these to other people…

The molds are in the house

For those of you following the Canelé saga, my four shiny new molds arrived on Friday. I haven’t made Canelés with them yet, but I’ve “seasoned” the molds by washing them, greasing them with vegetable oil, baking them in the oven for an hour, and then letting them cool slowly in the turned-off oven. I also picked up some cake flour over the weekend.

Now, all I need to do is buy some milk and I can whip up some batter. And then wait a day while the batter rests until I can bake them. This is not particularly fast food.

The real deal

I certainly meant to post this last weekend, but somehow forgot. Actually, I’ve apparently forgotten more than once to post about this, but that’s another story. Here’s the subject: Canelés (also written as Cannelés), beautiful, humble little French pastries (originating in Bordeaux). FXcuisine.com describes them this way:

“In essence, it is a vamped-up crepe batter cooked in tiny copper molds until they become brown and crusty outside.”

That’s fairly accurate, though it doesn’t point out that the crusty outside is a deep brown (nearly black) caramelized wonder, while the inside remains moist, chewy, sometimes almost custard-like. They are not particularly sweet or rich (“vamped up crepe batter” is fairly accurate description), but they have a touch of vanilla to them and, as I learned later, a shot of rum. They are small — they fit in the palm of a hand — best eaten warm, and certainly must be eaten the day they are made (they can be rewarmed the next day, but the rewarmed Canelé is a pale, lifeless waste of time, as I imagine are the frozen variety I hear you can buy in France and warm when you like in your own oven).

Nope. These are an ephermeral delight. If you see a fresh one, eat one (realistically, eat 2 or 3) right then and there. You may not see one again for a long time, and the one you save for later will have lost its luster and its crunch.

Back to my story.  One beautiful summer Saturday day last year (and I wish I’d recorded which one so I could celebrate Canelé Day every year), I was shopping at Killdeer Farm Stand and noticed a tray of little pastries. There were maybe 30 of them. The tray was accompanied by a small sign that identified the pastries as Cannelés Bordelais. I’d never seen anything like them before. Dark brown little towers, with fluted edges, golden brown at the top, a shiny crust. They looked interesting, but they were $1.50 a piece. I didn’t really need them. I walked past them. I picked out my lettuce or whatever other vegetables had called me to the farm stand, and went to the check out line, and then I got out of line, circled back around to the tray, and read the sign again. The sign said they had been made by a local baker who was a former pastry chef at Dean & DeLuca (the Washington D.C. branch, I believe).

Something about these little beauties intrigued me. I picked up 3. I bought them.  I went to the car. During the drive from the farmstand to the Norwich Farmer’s Market (that would be less than 1/4 of a mile) I ate my first Canelé. I had to restrain myself from eating the other two immediately. I had to finish my shopping, and then I HAD to get these home to Michael so he could also try one. Why oh why didn’t I go back to the farm stand and buy the lot? Oh, I thought maybe I’d just never heard of these before because I was ignorant – I didn’t dream that I’d never heard of them before because they’re so darn rare!

I went home, I shared one with Michael, I devoured the other one. I started reading online about how to make them myself. I learned that the batter was a closely guarded secret, but many pastry chefs had figured out how to do it, and it really wasn’t complicated at all – just took a little time and patience (for one thing, to get the right texture, the batter really needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, preferably 48). The real complication is that, for authentic Canelés, you require special little copper molds that give the pastries their shape as well as the perfectly-textured crust. These molds are not easy to find, and are fairly expensive considering you want at least 6 of them to make half a batch a day (enough for one each for a small dinner party, or enough just for me if left alone with them for an hour).

Luckily, it turns out that someone makes a silicone version of the pan, which contains 8 little molds in one pan. And that version is much cheaper. I ordered one fairly immediately. And while I waited for it to arrive, I stalked the farmstand every Saturday, hoping the Canelés would be there. They never were again, at least not any Saturday I visited.

I guess you can tell that I’d now become a little obsessed with the things. I think it’s entirely my fault for just buying 3 that first time – just enough to get a taste without the satisfaction of gorging on them.

The next step was to find a good recipe, so I spent a lot of time searching online and finally found some incredibly detailed discussions about making Canelés on the Egullet forums, so I was pretty confident I had a good recipe in hand.

Next, I had to make the “white oil”, which is a mixture of melted beeswax and vegetable oil that you use to grease the molds. When you’re using the copper molds, this mixture has at least two purposes: it greases the molds so that the Canelés will be released from the molds more easily after baking, and it allows the crust to caramelize at a very high heat without burning (unlike what would happen if you used butter or plain oil). The Canelés bake at a high heat for about 2 hours (less if you use a convection oven) and they’re small (about 2.5 inches tall, maybe), so they’re taking a lot of heat for a long time. In reality, I’m not positive that using the white oil is necessary when you’re baking in silicone molds, but I do believe the wax contributes to the carmelization and flavor, so I use it. Besides, it’s cool.

The pans arrived. I made my first batch. You know what? They turned out really really good. Here’s what mine looked like:

Caneles

(If you want to see the full set of “making of” pictures, you can find them here.)

They had the right texture. They had the right flavor. I had 8 to eat (and share). I was happy.

I made them again several times. Some came out better than others. I experimented with cooking times, oven modes (our oven has a few different convection settings), batter resting times, and even tried making a batch with duck eggs since one of Hyla’s teachers keeps me in supply of those incredibly rich items in the spring (let me tell you how delicious homemade vanilla ice cream is when made with duck egg yolks!). For the holidays, Michael gave me two tiny, copper Canelé molds (he both understands and enables my obsessions). I used those and I liked the results, though they were smaller than the silicone molds, so it was hard to figure out the timing for baking.

All the while, though, through all the trials and tastings, I had my doubts. Were these as good as those “original” Canelés? It had been nearly a year and I hadn’t tasted another one aside from the ones I’d baked myself. I thought they were close, but maybe I was deluding myself.

Well, this year we signed up as CSA members of Killdeer Farm and one of the big benefits I hadn’t counted on is that we get a friendly email every early Saturday morning that describes what will be on offer at the stand that weekend, including any special baked goods contributed by local bakeries and home bakers who are friends with the farm’s owner. Last Saturday morning I got the announcement I’d been waiting for: Canelés would be at the stand at 10.00 am on Sunday. Did I go? Were they there? You bet.

I bought 6 this time. I wanted more, but experience has taught me that they don’t last, so I didn’t want to buy more than we could reasonably eat in a day or two. I drove them straight home, displaying a degree of restraint I didn’t know I was capable of. We ate one each as soon as I arrived home. And you know what? They were great, but they weren’t many times greater than the ones I’ve learned to make. The one difference is that the crust was thicker and crunchier on these than on mine. I’m attributing this to the molds. Here’s what the four remaining ones looked like:

Canneles by Rosemary

And here’s the interior of one:

Canneles by Rosemary - Interior

I ordered 4 full-size copper molds this week. I figure I’d waited long enough.