Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sourdough Pancakes

It was fat Tuesday yesterday and somehow I got it in my head that as such one should really eat pancakes. Maybe this is a tradition. I don't know. But it's a good excuse to make pancakes anyway.
These were unlike any pancakes I've had before. They were, well, very sourdoughy. They had the slightly sour taste and squeaky texture that I love so much in sourdough bread. At the same time they were distinctly pancake-y and a perfect vehicle for butter, apricot jam, maple syrup and two over-easy eggs.
This recipe requires that you have some sort of sourdough starter going. The pancake recipe I used is from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz while my starters come from Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters. This didn't seem to matter, sours being sours, but I have grown fond of Andrew's use of gram measurements and was thrown by Sandor's reliance on cups. Anyway, your sour should be a sloppy one about the consistency of porridge.

Sourdough Pancakes

Makes 15-20 pancakes

  • 1 cup rye sourdough starter
  • 2½ cups flour of your choice
  • 2 cups water, luke warm
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 1 Tbs. water
  • The night before you're going to make the cakes, assuming you're having them for breakfast, disperse the starter in luke warm water and stir in flour and sugar. Cover and put in a warm place to ferment.
  • About an hour (or a bit more) before you want to eat, finish the batter and start cooking. To finish the batter beat the egg and stir it in along with the salt and melted butter. Dissolve the soda in warm water and fold it into the batter. The soda is added to counter some of the sour flavor. Your batter will look very much alive. I guess that's because it is.
  • Have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet already hot on a burner set to medium. Start cooking the cakes right away, placing them on cooling racks in a warm oven as they are finished. They take a little longer to cook than your average pancake, so be patient or they'll be undercooked in the middle.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hot Chocolate

I now had half a pint of ganache at the back of my fridge and I wasn't about to make another cake. Luckily it snowed all day yesterday, presenting the perfect conditions for hot chocolate.

Hot Chocolate

To serve 4

  • 2 cups whole milk, preferably raw
  • 2/3 cup basic ganache
  • 1 generous pinch salt
  • Warm milk over medium heat. Whisk in ganache. It might look strange at first, but it will come together. Continue to heat until desired temperature is reached. Transfer to a tea pot and serve in small cups (a little of this rich hot chocoloate goes a long way).
Drinking a cup of this hot chocolate will warm the coldest of cockles on even the snowiest Vermont day. It's thick and rich and not too sweet and like a blood transfusion for the weary February soul.

Basic Ganache

That cake was perfectly good. Perfectly deliciouis, really. That doesn't mean I was satisfied with my seized ganache, though, or that I would let it go without trying again. So, of course, I started reading about ganache to find out what I might have done wrong and what I could do differently in the future.
It was Valentine's Day so chocolate was in the air and my search was a quick one. The demo lady at the co-op had photocopied and displayed an article on, what else but, ganache. Greg Case and Keri Fisher of Fine Cooking wrote an excellent article on the subject complete with a fool proof recipe.
It seems my problem was at least two-fold. The first mistake I made was using chocolate with too much cacao bean content (80%). The authors of this article recommend using chocolate with only 55-60% cacao for best results. They say that ganache made with chocolate with a higher cacao content than that tends to seize, which is exactly what mine did. I also made the mistake of melting my chocolate. Once you melt chocolate things seem to get complicated. You get into tempering territory, something I don't know much about. By using their technique--adding hot cream to chopped up chocolate--you avoid all sorts of mess and worry.
I tried their recipe and got perfect results: shiny, spreadable, ganachy ganache.


makes 2 cups

  • 12 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped or broken into pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Place chocolate in the bowl of a food processor and chop until chocolate resembles small pebbles. Bring cream just to the boil over medium heat. Add hot cream to the chocolate and process until smooth, about 10 seconds. Do not over-process or the cream will whip and then you'll be sorry.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chocolate Almond Cake

Andrew Whitely seems to understand that as much as Bread Matters, one cannot live on bread alone. When I came across his recipe for Luxury Chocolate Cake, I had to try it. And since it is the season of people making sweets for the sweet I thought it not inappropriate.
I made two six-inch cakes and stacked them with a layer of ganache in between. While this worked well and the layers sort of melded together in the night, I think next time I might try to make just one thick six inch cake instead. Since there is no flour or rising agent other than the eggs, this cake does not rise very much, so don't be surprised or disappointed when it doesn't.

Chocolate Almond Cake

Makes one large or two small cakes

  • 100 g butter
  • 100 g sugar
  • 100 g ground almonds
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 200 g dark chocolate
  • 60 g whipping cream
  • For the cake: Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks. Melt 100 g chocolate in a double boiler or your version thereof and add to butter mixture. Whip egg whites to soft peaks and gently fold into batter, trying not to knock the air out of them. Butter and flour cake pans and line the bottom with parchment. (I had to make this cake twice because the first time it stuck to the bottom of the pan.) Bake at not quite 350°F (170°C) for 30-40 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
  • For the ganache: Melt 100 g chocolate. Scald the cream (bring it to boiling point and remove immediately from heat) and add it directly to melted chocolate. Beat chocolate and cream with a wire whisk until shiny. Spread over cooled cake(s) with a palette knife.
My ganache, as you can see, never became shiny. I must have done something wrong along the way. It still tastes delicious, though, and doesn't look half bad. Which is to say, I am learning, ever so slowly, that things don't have to be perfect to be perfectly good.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Less really is more: a cultural revolution

You might remember my posts on yoghurt and cultured butter. It is with great excitement that I revise my recipe for both.
I was at a dinner party the other night and somehow or other talk turned to making yoghurt. Someone asked if anybody had had success making it at home. I said that yes, I had and gave her my recipe. Another woman piped up with her views on yoghurt making, but soon the subject was exhausted and we moved on to other things. A few days later, however, the piper-upper showed me a recipe which would take my dairy culturing to a new level. It was from Sandor Katz's book, Wild Fermentation. It turns out that I have been overcrowding my bacteria. He suggests using only one tablespoon of starter yoghurt per quart of milk (I had been using 1/3 cup starter yoghurt per half gallon of milk--about two times too much). He says that the bacteria need room to do what they do and if too many bacteria are present they can't, resulting in runny yoghurt.
Unfortunately, my farmer's cows are running dry and I haven't been able to get milk for over a month, which means I haven't been able to make yoghurt. I did, however, apply the same ratio to making cultured butter with amazing results. I put one tablespoon yoghurt in one quart raw Jersey cream and let it culture for 24 hours in a warm (28-30 degrees Celsius) place. When I tried to pour it into the bowl of my KitchenAid the next day nothing happened. Not a single drop came out. The entire jar of cream had been transformed into this beautiful, thick, slightly sour substance. I had to scoop it out with a spoon. The butter I made from it is the best I've made so far (I expect the butter in Spring to be better, though, because the cows will be eating fresh grass) and the buttermilk actually looked and tasted like buttermilk.
I am completely convinced. More starter does not mean creamier yoghurt, quite the contrary. So, when you next make yoghurt or butter, respect the personal space of your bacteria and you would want your personal bubble respected.