Posts in Category: Fermentation

Making the Rounds

Last weekend, I made bread and cheese. The bread is a whole wheat loaf and I tried making a smaller round than usual. I have a large and small Dutch oven and cooked this one in the small one. I used the basic recipe from Tartine Bread cookbook but instead of forming two large loaves I made three rounds. The smaller loaf is better for a two-person household.

The cheese is the second time I’ve used the mild goat milk from local Felton Farms. The curd formation was much better this time, which was due to my paying more attention to stirring in the rennet thoroughly. The curd formed a solid round when previously it formed stringy layers that separated. The taste was the same but the shape of the resulting cheese was smoother this time.

The cheese makes a nice spread on this bread so the two go together well. In the previous batch of cheese, I added minced garlic and integrated into the cheese. I made it and then went on a trip. It was all gone when I returned so I’ll take that as a “thumbs-up.”


Not for human consumption

I bought some goat milk from a friend and it came labelled “not for human consumption.” She has to put the label on it because she is not a registered dairy. It was just fine and fresh for making goat cheese, which will also go unregistered but not unappreciated.




Fermenting Hot Peppers

This year, I’m trying out fermenting peppers to make a hot sauce. Last, year, I created a vinegar-based pressed hot sauce, which I liked. Hot sauces like Tabasco are fermented.

I started with a variety of hot peppers. I cut off the stems and then mashed them in a food processor. TIP: Wear gloves while cutting peppers and keep your nose back from the food proessor when you open its container at the end – the fumes will knock you out. I added salt to the mash and put it in a container meant for fermenting sauerkraut or kimchi. The liquid from the peppers, which the salt helps to produce, rises to cover the pulp. About four to six days later, you can begin to see the fermentation get started. From what I’ve read it takes about a month to finish. Then you strain the sauce and bottle it.

It’s a wonderful red-orange color. I hope it’s really hot.





Bread Sessions

Over past year or so, I’ve been baking bread in various ways. I’ve tried moving from making bread once in a while to making bread more regularly, which is to say, I’ve wanted to get in the habit of making bread so that it could become easier to do and the results more predictable. And I hoped to learn more about the whole process. While making any loaf of bread is really not that difficult, the more you do it and the more recipes you try (and some of the mistakes you make along the way), all are important to understanding what you’re doing and acquiring new techniques that yield subtle improvements. So I’ve had a number of bread baking sessions, particularly over the last couple months, gravitating around a series of three books.

The first book, “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day”, whose title is a bit misleading, has the great virtue of not requiring too much work to produce a loaf of bread. It eliminates kneading from recipes. More importantly, the book encourages you to make a batch of dough and then let it sit in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it. This allows you to break up bread baking (say that three times) into two separate task: the preparation of the dough, which can be done ahead, and the shaping and baking of a loaf, which be done in an hour or so when you want to eat bread. I could prepare the dough on the weekend, and then let it sit in the refrigerator until a night when I wanted to bake bread for dinner. Otherwise, bread baking is an activity that requires you to be around all day.

This book has an appealingly “revolutionary” promise that it is changing the way you can bake bread. There is some sense that the authors have figured out which common practices are unnecessary such proofing yeast and kneading the dough. However, there’s still plenty of techniques to master and get good at. One challenge I had was, prior to baking, moving a loaf from a pizza peel to a hot baking stone in the oven. Corn meal is used on the pizza peel to make it easy to shake the loaf off on to the baking stone but I would nonetheless find that there was some sticky part of the loaf clinging to the peel. At this critical stage, you can disturb the shape of the loaf.

The “5 minutes a day” bread recipes were reliable and the loaves had good flavor. I did find the bread to be dense. Sometimes the loaves didn’t rise as much as I expected, resulting in a flattened, round loaf.

The second book I began using was “Essentials of Baking by Williams-Sonoma”. (The book just happened to be in our house, and had been mainly used for its cake recipes.) I got interested in the book’s sourdough recipe. I acquired a small batch of starter from a friend of a friend and started feeding it regularly. Then I was ready to try my first recipe, using the leaven instead of store-bought dry yeast.

The one technique I learned from this sourdough recipe was forming a loaf and letting it sit in a towel-lined basket for the final rise. This helps the loaf keeps its round shape. When the final rise was completed, I’d flip the loaf on to the pizza peel and then into the oven. I baked these loaves on a baking stone, as I did the previous loaves from the “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” book.

The issue with using starter is that the process takes longer than a day to make bread. First, I need to start the sponge, adding flour and water to a portion of the starter and letting it sit overnight. Then I start the dough, adding the bulk of the flour to the sponge and kneading it for 5 minutes. Then I let it sit overnight (6-8 hours) for the first rise. (I could do it all on a Sunday, after making the sponge the night before, but I had to get up early to make it all work.) Then I form the loaf, putting it in the basket and letting it rise 2-4 hours. (If I wanted to do it in a single day, I used the shorter time.)

Baking the bread in our oven, I found I had to decrease the heat from 450 to 425 and shorten the duration from 50 minutes to 40 minutes. I really liked the recipe and the bread was always delicious. As sourdough, the loaf has more flavor. Again, maybe a little dense but a good crust and crumb. I used this recipe to make bread for our Christmas dinner, pictured below.

At Christmas, I self-gifted a present of a new bread book, “Tartine Bread,” which is a beautifully designed book with lots of photos. I’ve spent the last month trying to learn its techniques for making a sourdough country loaf. While the basic Tartine recipe differs from the Williams-Sonoma loaf, doing the other recipe was good preparation for learning this recipe, which is more complex and much more hands-on. Time-wise, it’s about the same to make, but I’ve found it easier to do in one day, as long as I start the sponge the night before.

The Tartine bread process is centered on developing the starter, not allowing it to get too sour. I learned a lot about the starter culture from this book, and I can’t help but be amazed by how a tablespoon of starter activates the flour and water overnight.

“When making bread with nothing more than flour, water and salt, aspiring bakers should apply their attention to learning how to control the process of fermentation.”

Another advantage of the Tartine book was its reliance on adding ingredients by weight. Once you get used to it, weighing ingredients seems smart and you can compare recipes more easily. I have a book on bread ovens, The Bread Builders by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott that introduced me to measurement by weight.

The dough produced by the Tartine bread recipe is wet, much wetter than the two other recipes. Wet means sticky. Sticky means it gets on your hands and doesn’t want to come off. However, I think I enjoyed making the Tartine bread because of the ways that you do use your hands to mix and work the dough, although the recipe is technically a no-knead method. The problem I faced with the first few loafs was shaping the dough into rounds. There are some techniques in doing it right and it’s a little hard to see it from the pictures. However, once the loaf comes together, with just enough flour to remove the tackiness, it’s a pretty sweet feeling all around — a light, puffy loaf that seems much different than the dough you’ve been working with.

In the Tartine recipe, the bread is baked in a dutch oven at 500 degrees (dropped down to 450). The main benefit is that the dutch oven holds moisture and steams the bread so that it rises nicely. After twenty minutes, the top of the dutch oven is removed and the bread bakes for another 25 minutes and develops its deeply colored crust.

In 2006, the NY Times published Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe, which I read at the time and tried. I recalled using the dutch oven before, but until I started writing this post, I had forgotten about it. The Lahey recipe shares many aspects of the above recipes.

I’ve really enjoyed the bread I’ve made with the Tartine recipe, and it is a much different bread to eat in terms of its texture and crust. I thought it took following the recipe about five times before I felt pretty comfortable with each of the steps. The photographs in the book are great but even they don’t provide all the information you need. I’ve served the bread at several meals and everyone is pretty surprised that it’s homemade.

One final reason to like the “Tartine Bread” book is that it conveys a love of bread baking and goes into a lot more detail explaining how and why its basic recipe work. You aren’t just following the directions; you are exploring and learning and maybe getting in over your head. Yes, it does take a full day to make this bread but the warm loaf at the end is the reward.

I’ve created a slideshow of the steps I followed, after having already made and added the starter:

Home Cooking, Canning and Baking Over Labor Day Weekend

I got started on the end of summer tasks such as canning and pickling over Labor Day. I also baked a loaf of sourdough bread from a starter I’d been nursing for weeks. I was particularly pleased to get the first batch of tomatoes canned. The tomatoes are coming in late this year. I also made a batch of fresh chevre. Since I had the tomato sauce on the stove, I made a delicious tomato soup, adding fresh corn and chives.

It’s kind of a triple play for the kitchen — pickling, canning and baking.

Watching Fermentation

Ryan sent me a report on the fermention, which he is tending to in Davis (and I’m in Barcelona). It’s good to see Katie helping with the daily push-down. I like the homemade attachment of a blue funnel to the stick to make a push-down tool.

Attached are some pictures and a fermentation chart of the Cabernet. The fermentation has been going well up until now. The most important thing is for the ferment to go until dryness. So, we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

Ryan does a great job monitoring everything. The fermentation chart shows the sugar levels decreasing, and the larger vat is a little behind the vat that’s half its size. The yeast are doing their job, though.

We’re one week from having picked and crushed the grapes.

I visited the Museum of Catalonia History today and saw example of a huge double-screw wine press that was used hundreds of years ago. I’ll post some pictures on

Getting a Start on Winemaking

On Saturday, we picked grapes and got started by crushing them to make wine. I have never made wine so it was fun to learn the process, starting out in the field and ending up with gallons of grapes and grape juice that need to be fermented.

Ryan organized our trip to his family vineyard in Kenwood. There were several partial rows of cabernet grapes, ones that ripened later than others that had been picked earlier. The grapes were going to be left on the vine because there wasn’t enough for commercial production. However, it was a perfect amount for a small batch.

Despite the heavy rains of the past few weeks, these grapes were in good shape. Ryan noted that cabernet grapes are small and form in loose clusters, which allows them to withstand the moisture and fight off fungus. These grapes looked like blueberries in size and color. Cabernet grapes are typically the last varietal to be picked.

Ryan, Katie and I went out to pick the grapes on a day when rain was threatening but held off while we were picking. Huck joined us, guarding over the grapes.

We picked 20 bins, which is under 600 to 800 pounds of grapes. Then we brought them back to the Pillow Road barn for the crush.

We rented a machine that’s called a “crusher-destemmer”. It separates the grapes from the stem clusters. There are small paddles on the inside that move back and forth to separate the grape from its stem. This video shows the crusher-destemmer in action with Katie at the hand-crank.

The day’s output consisted of two containers filled with grapes — skins, seeds and juice. One container was 44-gallons and the other was 22 gallons so we have about sixty gallons (roughly) to start with. We tasted some of the juice and it was delicious — surprisingly sweet.

Ryan added a sulfite mixture and later we’ll add yeast. After fermentation, we’ll press the wine to remove the skins and seeds. Our goal is to create a nice table wine.

We also transferred the eight gallons of cider to new carboys. We had a little taste along the way. One batch is made with an English Cider yeast and it seems to be the most interesting. The fermentation is mostly done after about three weeks. Now we’re letting it settle and develop. I’ve heard that letting it sit as long as possible improves the flavor.

So, now like the wine, most of the manual labor is done but we must wait patiently for the final product.

Rancho Pillow Harvest Day

On Sunday was our apple harvest party. Despite it being an off-year for the apple crop, we made enough cider for everyone to have some. We had the cider press going for several hours. I have about ten gallons in a carboy to ferment as hard cider. Joe took a carboy of last year’s hard cider and raised it up to the “next level”.

I made a French-style beef stew (daube), a vast amount of salsa, assorted rounds of goat cheese, an argula salad with cherry tomatoes and lemon cucumbers and pasta with a fresh sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes. In short, the goal was to use as many of the remaining tomatoes as possible. I tapped a keg of American Ale that I had brewed in the spring. Nancy made zucchini bread, congo bars and corn bread — however, we forgot to put the cornbread out.

John stopped by with his house-truck and gave us tours of his nice wooden house built on the bed of an Isuzu truck. He just left Oregon and he’s off for six months traveling around America with his four-wheel residence.

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day. We had lots of young kids around, enjoying themselves, the dogs and the pool. Lots of friends dropped by to share some food and conversation.

I was too busy to take photos. However, the last thing to be made was a pear tart by Chris and Kim Collett. They poached the pears in red-wine then covered it with a pastry crust and baked it. The tart wasn’t finished baking until everyone had left so Nancy and I enjoyed it after cleaning up. Incredible. I had to take a picture of it, although the photo doesn’t suggest how good it was.

Still Life with Goat Cheese

I made a double batch of Goat cheese – starting with 4 quarts of goat milk. The morning light was coming in as I set them to dry on the rack.

Grab A Glass of Beer

Last Sunday, we tapped the American Ale that Ryan and I brewed in March. It has a mild, tangy flavor and good color. Everyone enjoyed it.

This American Ale celebrated Glenda’s coming home from NYU at the end of her second year; Ben’s departure to Puerto Escondido for surfing adventures; Nancy’s birthday; Katie and Ryan’s visit from Davis and the weekend stay of Nancy’s stepmother, Sarie from Duxbury. Plus it was a day that promised a long summer. (Not to mention that Maker Faire is just weeks away.) So cheers to all.