Spent Grain Musings, Again

The second spent-grain experiment is going to take two weekends to accomplish. Many people apparently dry the spent grain and then grind it into flour, so I’m giving that a try. The drying process takes most of a day–you spread the wet grain out on trays and put it into a very low oven (in my case, 170 degrees F is as low as it will go), stirring it around once or twice so it all dries and doesn’t scorch. I froze batches of the wet grain last week, for adding directly into bread recipes, but I still had a big pile left, so I dried two pans yesterday and I’ll do the rest today when I get back from Pilates. Then you’re supposed to grind it in a flour mill, but I do not (yet) have a flour mill, so I’ll try the food processor and/or the coffee grinder and see what they do. For the small amounts I’m grinding, that should be fine.

I can tell that there won’t be much flour out of the whole enterprise, but it’s also true that I wouldn’t want to attempt a bread (or many other things) using only spent grain, at least not if the grain is barley or rye. Barley is most the common grain in standard beer brewing, but it doesn’t have much gluten in it (neither does rye), so you couldn’t do a loaf of bread using only that flour, or you’d have a brick. Oats have no gluten at all, so you also can’t do a 100% oat bread and have it be anything other than a brick, at least not without a lot of eggs or some other leavener. I remember talking to a brewer about wheat beer, and the opposite is true for beer. It turns out that the thing that makes for great bread–the gluten in the wheat–also makes it impossible to do a 100% wheat beer; the gluten clogs up the brewing equipment.

I think I’ll try some spent grain in the Amazing Crackers recipe and maybe in a chocolate recipe of some kind; as we know from malted milk balls (not to mention milk stout), chocolate and malted barley flavors go together nicely. And possibly in some kind of pretzel thing. This means I will continue on my quest to get a steady supply of spent grain–a quest that was inadvertently aided on Friday night in an unexpected way. We stopped in at Temperance, in part to taste the newly released IBA and in part so I could share loaves of the spent grain bread I’d made for them. As I was sitting at the bar, a woman came up to me and asked if I was me–turns out that she had lived in my dorm my first year of college, and we shared a circle of friends. Of course I remembered her, though we haven’t seen each other in at least 30-plus years, and her husband is a brewer as well and offered his spent grain to me.

All of these experiments remind me why I wanted to open a bakery. The work of a bakery is brutally difficult: long hours on your feet, lots of lifting and carrying of heavy things (50-lb sacks of flour; full sheet pans of laminated dough; 125-pound containers of bread dough), and, unless you’re the owner (and possibly even then), low pay. If you’re working with yeast, and I obviously am, that also means you have to obey the demands of the yeast. You can tweak it a bit by tweaking the temperature at which fermentation is taking place, but that requires expensive equipment, and space, to do it well. Because the product you sell is so small, you have to sell a lot–of cupcakes, donuts, loaves of bread, pastries, cookies–and you have to manage the production schedule so you have enough of everything but not so much that things go stale. The production itself requires that you work when others are sleeping; an overnight shift is almost necessary. So, yes, there are a million reasons not to do it.

But I love the experimentation. With the spent grain, I love the idea of taking what is essentially a waste product and finding a way to make it not just useful but a feature of a new product. (Most brewers find a farmer who will take the grain to feed it to cows or, presumably, pigs; a brewery in Alaska uses their spent grain to power the brewery, because shipping the grain is too expensive.) Even last week’s lime and coconut cookie experiment was born of having some ingredients on hand that I hadn’t used before and trying to figure out how to make them work.

In order to make this work in a bakery setting, though, you also have to be able to produce the same product every time. If you develop a line of spent grain baked goods, then you will need to have those goods taste the same every time the customer walks in the door, within a fairly narrow range. You would have to figure out a time when you can use your ovens to dry the grain, except that there’s no time when the ovens aren’t being used–the number and size of the ovens are two of the major rate-limiting factors in a bakery. You’d have to be able to adjust for the different roasts–a dark-roasted grain from a stout is going to give you a different flavor profile than a lighter roast from a pale ale. You have to store the ingredients.  And so on.

All of these are problems that can be solved, of course, but they have to be solved while you also run the business, which is a problem to be solved on an ongoing basis. There’s a part of me that still fantasizes about it, mind you; the complexity of the factors is one of the things that appeals to me, actually. But short of winning the lottery, I don’t see how it happens, and if I win the lottery, I don’t know that starting a business with very low profit margins is the way to go.

On the other hand, running a small bakery next to a brewery, thereby supplying the baked goods for the brewpub and using the spent grain from the brewery, would be an interesting business model . . . if I win the lottery.

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Help Me, Rondo

So last night I settled in to watch “It’s Complicated,” which I had not seen. (I will watch Meryl Streep in just about anything except possibly that ABBA movie.) I liked it quite a bit, but that’s not why I’m here today. (Mild spoilers if you haven’t seen it.)

At one point, Meryl makes chocolate croissants for Steve. The great part about this scene is the two-way dough sheeter that makes a guest appearance. I worked one of these (the rondomat is probably closest to the model I used) every day for two years, and it was entertaining to see someone using one in a movie (okay, to see Meryl Streep using one in a movie!). You do, in fact, use that machine to laminate your croissant dough (you use it for many other things as well, but that’s its primary use).

Another thing that was awesome was when she showed him how to roll up the dough. It really does take a certain touch, and it takes more time to get that right than you would think, though I suspect I could still do it in my sleep, despite not having done it in five years (has it really been that long?).

But. (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

Two quibbles. First, the whole process was WAY too short. She pops into the bakery and whips up some croissants? In order for that to happen, she would have had to have had some dough already fermented and ready for lamination–which is possible, of course; a high-production bakery likely would be making the dough nearly every day, so some would be around for the next day’s production. The lamination process would still take a considerable amount of time, however, because the dough needs to be cold enough when you start such that the butter doesn’t just melt into it (and the butter needs to be pounded out and shaped, and also cold enough for lamination), and the dough really needs to rest between folds. The whole process of lamination and folding would be several hours. It was already night when they got to the bakery, so we’re talking the wee hours of the morning just to get it laminated. Then it has to proof. To the movie makers’ credit, they did show her putting the croissants in a proof box, but that part also takes time. In short, what is portrayed as a kind of spur-of-the-moment maybe-hour-or-two process would, in actuality take more like four or five hours, with a bunch of that spent sitting around waiting for something to get cold or waiting for the yeast to do their thing.

The second quibble is that the chocolate croissants were made in a crescent shape. No.  Just no. The crescent shape is for plain croissants. Google “pain au chocolat” under images and see what you get. There are a few crescent shapes there, but by and large? No.  Or “non,” as the case may be.

All that said, I liked the movie and I particularly liked that the croissant scene was even in there, and even made nods to verisimilitude, even if there were mistakes (mistakes, I tell you!!).

At the moment, I am sitting around waiting for yeast to do its thing (the brioche for tomorrow), so I am perhaps a bit sensitive on this subject. What I would much prefer is baking the damn things and getting ready for bed, but that is not going to happen soon. The yeast will take as long as it takes.

Third Time Charms

I have found a way to manage the turnips: if I combine them with the wild turkey gumbo that my friend made, the turnips add vegetation to the gumbo but the flavor is no longer overwhelming. Nevertheless, eating them more than two days in a row is a bad idea.

When I worked at the bakery, the owner used to say that it took three tries to get a formula right, and I find that he’s correct. The first time, I’m usually following a recipe of some kind, or at least basing what I’m doing on a formula, and it often is edible at the very least. The second time, I might be tweaking it in some way–changing a few of the ingredients; possibly playing with quantities, proportion, or finishing method (e.g., temperature of the oven; how thin it’s rolled out; the quantity of filling in a crust; how much of the fat I can swap out with flax or pumpkin). The third time, I combine what I’ve learned from the first two efforts and try to settle on a final version. If there needs to be a fourth time, I try to refine whatever I was doing in the third effort that didn’t work the way I’d hoped.

At the bakery, the goal was to settle on a production method that was reproducible and not too finicky, which is important if your goal is, in fact, consistent production. If you have customers coming in for a croissant, those customers want that croissant to be consistent from one day to the next, one week to the next. They want today’s miche to taste like last month’s miche. To manage that, you have to settle on formulae and then use those formulae. Even then, of course, there are variations–I was always a little amazed how some days the dough was really perfect–beautiful lamination, just the right feel, etc.–and other days were more of a struggle. It’s all relative, of course; once I got the hang of it, the range was pretty narrow, all things considered, but the more you do something, the more you notice small variations. (Thus, Filoman, who is an extraordinary baker, could always tell when the flour changed, i.e., when the batch we were using was the first of the new crop.) And, of course, there are always mistakes–something gets left out, say. That happened less frequently (especially if I remembered to taste the raw dough before putting it in the bins–it’s a good way to realize you forgot the salt or the sugar, for example), but it still happened.

At home, the criteria are a little different. Take these crackers: the first time, my sesame seeds were old-smelling, so I used the KAF Harvest Grains instead of the sesame seeds, and I put a little sea salt on top. The second time, I had new sesame seeds, so I left out the Harvest Grains. I think I added some semolina flour, too, though not much; less than 20% of the total flour, most likely. I didn’t put salt on top. I also didn’t like those crackers nearly as much. The third time I made them, I used the Harvest Grains again, and I put a mixture of sea salt and praline pumpkin seeds on top (a KAF product). Those were quite good, especially the sweet/salt mix, but there wasn’t quite enough of the sweet. Today’s batch incorporates some of the praline pumpkin seeds in the mix, as well as some ground barley flakes in place of a little of the flour. (That’s primarily to add a little fiber; I only replaced about 12% of the flour with the ground flakes.) I used a combo of sesame seeds and Harvest Grains. I’m also going to use the sea salt and praline mix on top, and I expect these to be the best yet.

Except.

KAF has the praline pumpkin seed mix on sale (I bought five bags of it), which leads me to believe that they’re going to eliminate it from their product line, just like they eliminated the Bak-O-Mega ground flaxseed flour, which I loved and of which I only have a little left. (Some of that goes in the crackers, too, in lieu of the ground flaxseeds called for by the recipe; that substitution seems pretty minor to me, as ground seeds or flax meal will likely work just fine.) Which means, if I’m right, I’ll eventually need to figure out how to replace the praline pumpkin seeds in the cracker dough. That’s a problem for another day, though.

Today’s other two tasks are a trip to the grocery store–I realize that I have been sadly lacking in green vegetables of any kind, and I am positively craving spinach and broccoli, and I do not want to wait until I get some spinach in the farm share on Thursday–and making some chocolate cookies. I’ve been trying to make some efforts to fit into my clothes again, but I still need my sweets. I’ll probably start with this recipe, but I know that I want to use whole wheat flour (and possibly a little barley flour) instead of all-purpose; add some flax meal to it, possibly in place of some of the butter; and possibly change up the sugar. For example, if I use malted barley syrup instead of sugar, it might get that nice roasty taste of a good porter or stout. I might also add some dried cherries or dried cranberries (have to see what’s in the cupboard).

Are you rolling your eyes at me yet? Because I am, a little. Here’s a perfectly good recipe–based on other things I’ve made from the website, it’s probably an excellent recipe, and it probably produces very good chocolate cookies. So why can’t I just USE that recipe? I ask myself that question a lot, and I even have an excuse answer. For one thing, I want to use whole grains whenever I can. For another, I want to add flax and fiber whenever I can–the whole grains help with the latter, and a little flax is easy to add to a recipe that has an intense flavor of some kind. I’ve been experimenting with malted barley sugar, just because, and I like the chocolate-cherry combo, in general. Each of the little tweaks swaps in something that ups the nutritional aspects of the cookies (except the barley sugar, which is more of a flavor experiment) and provides the treat I want but with a little less . . . damage, I guess, to my overall health goals. It’s still a cookie, at the end, but it’s less of a fat-and-sugar bomb and, I hope, more of a sweet-tooth-satisfying-but-not-crazy-caloric treat. We’ll see; it could fail. But it could also be awesome.

O Joy

Like many people, one of my first two cookbooks–a gift from my grandmother, inscribed to me, so personally meaningful to me–was Joy of Cooking. This was back in the mid-70s, so it was the last version pre-major-revision, and it still has instructions on dealing with small game like squirrels and raccoons, as well as a significant section on freezing and canning. I don’t use it as much as I once did, but it still provides a lot of basic information about specific foods and specific techniques. (For years, I read the description about how to make croissants, and didn’t quite believe it. Is that really how you do it, I wondered? And then I got a job making thousands of croissants a week, and, yes, it’s really how you do it.)

My second cookbook was the first Moosewood Cookbook. I was in college, at a party at the dean of students’, and there was a spinach cheese pie. I asked the food service person about it, and he told me where the recipe was from, and I promptly went out and bought the book. I have at least a half a dozen Moosewood cookbooks, and it is one of my life dreams to go the restaurant to eat. My personal favorite is the Moosewood Low-Fat Cookbook; it is absolutely chock full of fabulous recipes, and it doesn’t rely on the wads of oil and cheese that are in some of the other books. It also has a lot of different flavor profiles in it, from many parts of the world, which is useful for figuring out what you like. It’s actually one of my favorite cookbooks of any kind.

That said, for all of the cooking I do, you’d think I’d have (and use) a lot more cookbooks than I actually do. I tend to lean on a few favorites, if I use a cookbook at all, and I supplement all of the cookbooks with online browsing (epicurious.com, because it has a lot of recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit; the King Arthur baking site). When it comes time to actually apply heat to ingredients, however, at this point I am just as likely to make it up as anything else. I still like the cookbooks, though, because they often provide guidance on a particular technique, ingredient, and/or flavor profile, which helps me not make the same things over and over. I will still sit and browse through my favorites, on occasion, just to jog my memory about what’s in them.

All the cookbooks in the world can’t help with the Turnip Problem, however. Specifically, I have a refrigerator drawer full of the damn things. They keep forEVER, so I can’t secretly wait until they rot, and then throw them out, and, just to make things fun, I’m getting more of them next week, as the first CSA delivery is Thursday. The first share will have carrots, cabbage, onions, garlic, a jar of tomatoes, and the aforementioned turnips. I think what I’m going to try is some kind of curried turnips, perhaps with a little coconut cream, and probably onions, garlic, and carrots as well. (I still have onions, garlic, and carrots from the last of the fall share.) Normally I’d add some beans, too, but beans AND brassicas is a prescription for, as they say, intestinal distress.

This morning I used the last of a stale loaf of dried-cranberry-swirled whole wheat bread to make French toast (some roasted pineapple and blueberry compote in the fridge helped round that out), the leftovers of which will be breakfast a couple of days this coming week. To make blueberry compote: dump a bunch of frozen blueberries–300-500 grams, or a bag of frozen from the store, or even fresh if that’s what you have–in a saucepan, with a little lemon juice or grated lemon rind or even preserved (in simple syrup) lemon rind if you have it, and a little swirl of honey, and cook it on low heat for a half hour or so until it simmers and reduces. It won’t be as thick as jelly while it’s still hot, and you can make it as thin or as thick as you like, but it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks before getting moldy, and it’s fabulous on top of pancakes or french toast, in crepes, or in oatmeal. It would probably work with peanut butter, too.

This afternoon I’m mixing up another batch of crackers. I bought sesame seeds the other day and will make the recipe as written, more or less. Tonight’s dinner starts with a recipe I found in a sample issue of the Cooks Illustrated spinoff–something like Country Home Cooking, or Cooks Country, or something. (I’m too lazy to go look it up.) It’s simple as anything, and it’s a great way to use cabbage–which you may remember is also in my fridge. I have since modified the recipe a bit.

Chop and start cooking some onion; I like to leave it in thin slices rather than chopped for this recipe, but whatever suits you. (And I nearly always cook my veggies in a combination of olive oil and a little butter; I like the flavor of butter, but the olive oil has a higher smoke point and is somewhat healthier, so the combo is a perfect compromise.) When the onion has started to caramelize, add some garlic if you like it, cook it a minute or two more, then add some chopped up venison ring bologna, leftover ham, sausage, whatever. You can completely do this without meat–the original recipe did not have meat in it–but it’s also fabulous with the ring bologna. I would not use ground meat, though.

Add a tablespoon of good spicy mustard–again, whatever kind is to your taste and/or in your fridge–and some thyme if you have it. (I rarely do, and so just leave it out when it’s not around.) Also add a half cup of beer; the recipe calls for a light-bodied lager. You can use anything here, too, though I strongly recommend you avoid anything that’s very hoppy; an IPA, for example, is likely to make the whole dish too bitter, even for us hops-lovers. While the onion was cooking, you were coring and thinly slicing the cabbage; after the beer mixture cooks for a minute or two, put in the cabbage and cook it covered for ten minutes or so. The recipe also calls for two teaspoons of cider vinegar, but I bet I’ve left that out a bunch of times, too. With a hunk of crusty bread or a pretzel roll, it makes a really nice winter dinner, and the leftovers make good lunch fare, too.

The other thing I’m starting today is some pretzel rolls, using a combination of the recipes in the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking book, a version of Peter Reinhart’s soft pretzels I found online, and the formula I got from the bakery. I will use at least half whole wheat flour, possibly all whole wheat, and I will make rolls rather than pretzels.

Weights, Not Measures

The crackers are pretty awesome. They were time-consuming, in the sense that rolling out the dough to the right thickness  and putting them all on the pans takes time, but they’re really quite tasty and I will definitely be making them again.

The banana muffins also came out well. For those, I actually wrote down what I included (!):
60 g dried nectarines, cut (with kitchen shears) into small pieces
60 g date pieces
60 g flax seeds, somewhat ground up but not flour
45 g barley flakes, ground (in the extra coffee grinder) to coarse flour
48 g oats, ground to coarse flour
100 g honey
30 g buttermilk powder (mine’s from KAF, but there are grocery store brands available)
120 g whole wheat flour
about 330 g bananas (more on that in a sec)
50 g butter
2 eggs
baking soda, a little baking powder, and salt (I can provide amounts if anyone cares)

For the bananas, as they thawed, I put them in a strainer over a bowl. This left me with mushy bananas (which I mashed with a pastry cutter) and about a cup or cup and a half of banana juices. I took that and reduced it somewhat, and I also put the honey in with that, because otherwise the honey is harder to mix in.

When I started mixing them up, I had one bowl of dry ingredients (flours, including the oats and flax and barley; salt; buttermilk powder; and baking powder/soda), one bowl of wet ingredients (the mashed bananas, the melted butter, the honey/banana juice mixture, and, after all of that cooled, the two eggs, whisked until combined well), and the dates and nectarines. I dumped the wets into the dries, whisked enough to combine them all, then stirred in the dates, nectarines, and chocolate chips. Oh, wait–didn’t mention them, did I? They were a last-second addition, because why not. I made 24 smallish muffins–perfect size for a breakfast or a snack. I gave away a couple, tasted a couple, left one out for breakfast, and, yes, put the rest in the freezer. I can grab one in the morning and it’s thawed out by the time I get to work.

You will notice that I provided you with weights rather than measures. I had always used measures, too, but then I went to pastry school, where EVERYTHING is by weight, as it was at the bakery where I worked for two years. And, not just weights, but, at school, in grams. (The bakery was pounds and ounces, which was a pain. The metric system has much to recommend it–way easier to divide and multiply in your head by 10 than by 16.) More and more cookbooks, especially baking books, are beginning to give weights, and, the more you work that way, the more you just translate measures into weights as you go. (For example, a cup of flour is 120 grams.)

For cooking rather than baking, weights are somewhat less important, but I still find it to be much more precise, which is useful if you’re trying to figure out the nutritional content, among other things. My four tablespoons of butter is likely to be the same as yours, given the handy markings on the package, but my four cups of cubed vegetables may be very different from yours, depending on how small our respective cubes are, or even depending on the vessel we use to measure, and flour can vary wildly, depending on multiple factors. I also use my kitchen scale at the other end of the process: when I’m portioning out the final product for lunches, I just weigh it out, and when I’m making rolls instead of loaves of bread, I weigh out the pieces. If you do decide to go the scale route, get one that weighs grams and ounces, and that goes up to at least 11 pounds. You can get a decent one for under $50, and maybe under $30.

The scale is also helpful if you’re trying to figure out portion sizes. Nutritional info on most packages is pretty useful, and typically gives you enough information to measure out a portion, but other things are more difficult. Bulk cheese, for example: how much is an ounce? How about when it’s grated? It can be quite educational to see just how large or small a “portion” or an “ounce” really is, and, after awhile, you start getting pretty good at estimating.

At the bakery, one of the little games my coworkers would play among themselves was showing off how good they were at portioning. Say you have dough for 25 loaves of bread and you need each loaf to be 12 ounces of dough. You would dump the dough on the work table next to one of the scales and use your bench cutter to hack a piece off. If you throw the piece on the scale and it’s exactly 12 ounces, you then point it out and note that you really don’t need the scale anyway. (Half of this conversation is in Spanish, given that most of my coworkers were Hispanic.) Of course one would continue to use the scale, adjusting each piece as needed, but the point is, after working with this dough for years, or even just a few times, you have a pretty good idea how big a 12-ounce portion looks.

The other thing you do, if you’re the coworker who makes most of the breads, is if you have an 8-ounce piece left over, you can either hack it up or you can bake it separately and call it “lunch.” “Lunch” was the catch-all descriptor for the odd pieces, and the best was getting it hot out of the oven and cutting it open just enough to put a slab of butter inside it. (This is actually bad, in that one should never cut bread while it’s hot, but oh my does it taste good.) Much to my delight, when I stopped in at the bakery about six months ago, that coworker buttered up a lunch piece of sourdough as it came out of the oven, and then hacked it up for me to have some. He would also butter up a couple of sourdough rolls for me, when I still worked there, because he knew how much I loved them, and I usually ended up helping him run the pieces through the roll shaper.

But I digress. As I often do.

I think my point was to urge you to buy a scale and to start using it. Or maybe it was just to think longingly about hot buttered sourdough bread.