Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Featured Ingredient : Fiddleheads


      I never knew what these are. I must've seen them a hundred times without ever once figuring it out. They look like alien pods of some kind. As if I could throw a pack of them into water and they would grow into a small army of aliens. If you live in New England you most likely have seen these in the supermarket May-July or possibly spotted some in your local wild. Fiddleheads are actually not alien pods but young "ostrich fern" (Matteuccia struthiopteris)  fronds. Given the name because of the resemblance to scroll shaped top of a fiddle or violin. A traditional dish in Quebec and the Martimes, Fiddleheads are a delicacy that Northern (and most southern) New Englanders and few others find in the wild. With a flavor somewhere between asparagus, okra and artichoke with a hint of nuttiness they are good for you and full of trace vitamins and minerals. Fiddleheads are very low in cholesterol and sodium and a very good source of protein, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, iron and more. 
     If you spot some in the wild there's a bit you should know before you dine. You need to pick them during a two week window when they are bright green before the fern unfurls about an inch or two from the ground. Definitely make sure you know what an edible fiddlehead looks like before you chow down because some ferns can be poisonous. Fiddleheads can be identified by the brown papery covering on the uncoiled fern, as well as the smooth fern stem, and the deep ”U”-shaped groove on the inside of the stem. Look for ostrich ferns emerging in clusters of about three to twelve each on the banks of rivers, streams, and brooks April though July. Once you've harvest a reasonable take, brush out and trim the brown ends off the stalks. Fiddleheads start to brown and become dry shortly after harvest so cook them up asap. Boil the fiddle“heads” in a small amount of salted boiling water for ten minutes or you can steam them for 20 minutes. Butter, garlic and lemon are common for preparation. Now that you're up on fiddleheads you might want to consider dandelion greens (best when harvested before they bloom) or morels they all share the same foraging season. -K.C.C.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Basic baking ingredients and their functions

                                              Baking Fundamentals

    I was recently assigned to writing a 6 page paper on the basic ingredients used in baking and their functions. After a bunch of reading and research (see references) I turned out about 13 pages M.L.A. format. I have been in baking and pastry class for about 3 weeks now and I am very pleased. I love it, as I do most anything that has to do with the world of food and cooking. My chef instructor (chef Maria Cavaleri) is great, super knowledgeable, organized etc..  I figured since I wrote such a lengthy paper that I might as well kill two birds with one stone and share some of the info with you guys here at The Bleu Ribbon Blog. Sorry if this post reads a little "text-bookie". I wanted to relay the info in my own words without confusing it at the same time, at any rate most of this stuff is pretty cut and dry. Hopefully the information is at least, say... 2x as interesting to read as when I first discovered it. It's definitely a little different than your average culinary school text book.

Flours -

     The flour most commonly used in baking is made with wheat, although it can be milled from corn, nuts, rice, legumes, and some fruits and vegetables. Wheat and related species like barley and rye contain the protein gluten, Latin for "glue". The gluten gives the dough elasticity to rise and hold shape as well as vary in texture.  Glutenin and gliadin are the two most key proteins found in wheat flours. The type of flour that is used is vital for getting the product right. Different flours are suited specifically to different items and can not be switched without sacrificing the recipe and desired finished product.
Texture,structure,binding, absorbing and flavor are the main functions of flour. Flour is the dominant stabilizer in any dough.

    All-purpose flour: The most commonly used of flours made of a blend of hard and soft wheat and comes bleached or unbleached, that has "bleached" naturally with age. Bleached flour has less gluten than unbleached and therefore is best used for pie crusts, cookies, quick breads, pancakes and waffles etc., whereas unbleached AP flour is used for yeast breads, Danish pastry, puff pastry, strudel, éclairs, cream puffs and popovers. White wheat flour is milled from wheat kernels after the bran and germ are removed. AP flour has 8% - 11% protein.

    Whole wheat flour:  Whole wheat flour is flour made from the "whole grain" (bran, germ and endosperm), white wheat flour is made with only the endosperm. By leaving in these other parts of the grain the flour has a grittier texture and a brownish hue. Whole wheat flour contains certain micro-nutrients that are commonly added back into white flour in the enrichment process whereas it is naturally contained in the bran and germ. Whole wheat flour also contains certain irreplaceable macro-nutrients, favored in macrobiotic diets since whole grains make up 50% to 60% of consumption therein. Whole wheat flour is also between 8% - 11% protein.

    Bread flour: Bread flour is a strong white flour made from hard, high protein wheat and often bromated (enriched with potassium bromate or ascorbic acid) to promote gluten development. The increased gluten helps to create volume and texture. Bread flour is commonly the best choice with yeast products. Bread flour is 12% to 14% protein. 

    Buckwheat flour: Buckwheat flour is a gluten free product good for gluten sensitivities or those who have celiac disease. Due to the lack of gluten, products made with buckwheat flour will not rise or keep their shape alone and a gum substitute such as guar or xantham might be added to simulate the effect and texture. "Buckwheat flour is rich in flavanoids which are phytonutrients that help protect against disease by acting as antioxidants" - "celiacdisease.about.com". Buckwheat is also full of magnesium which helps relax blood flow and contains other nutrients that help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels which is a huge benefit to those with diabetes.  

    Cake flour: Cake flour is considered a weak flour, very fine in texture with a high starch content and the least gluten content of all the wheat flours roughly 7% to 10%. Cake flour is chlorinated which in the bleaching process leaves the flour slightly acidic allowing cakes to set faster and for fats to distribute more evenly through the batter therefore creating a smoother texture. This is the flour best used in recipes with a high ratio of sugar to flour.

    Gluten Flour: Gluten flour is a wheat flour that has been treated to remove most of it's starch, leaving it with proportionately more of the proteins that promote gluten. Typically added to doughs made with low-gluten flours such as rye flour to add elasticity that cant be achieved by its self. Lower in calories, more expensive in the market place. Gluten flour is 13% to 15% gluten.

    Pastry flour: Made with soft wheat, pastry flour falls between AP flour and cake flour in regards to protein content and baking properties. Pastry flour is used in making biscuits, pie crusts, brownies, cookies and quick breads with a tender but crumbly finished product.

    Self Rising Flour: Low protein flour with salt and a leavening agent such as baking powder previously added. Used for biscuits and quick breads but never to be used in yeast applications.  

    Rice flour: Flour made of finely milled rice, known as "mochiko" in Japan

Fats -

    Considered as stabilizers, there are many different fats that can be used in baking and just like your selection of flour, the fat you use plays a major role in the recipes outcome. When a semi-solid fat is beaten into flour it holds air bubbles and can work as a leavening agent giving the finished product a lighter texture. Liquid fats such as vegetable oil can't hold air like solid fats such as butter or vegetable shortening therefor are only used in appropriate applications. 

    Butter: Butter is a product of an animals milk that has been churned until the fat separates from the liquid known as buttermilk. Most of the butter used is from cows milk but butter can be made from the milk of many different animals including buffalo, camels, ewe, goat and mares (adult female horse). Butter is used as a leavening agent and is essential in certain recipes such as puff pastry and pie crusts.

    Margarine: Developed in 1869 by chemist Hippolyte Merge-Mouriez and made it's first appearance as a butter substitute for the French navy. Originally made from beef tallow and skim milk whereas modern margarine is made with vegetable oils. The original product was made by a process using margaric acid hence the name. 

    Shortening: Shortening is any animal product or oil based semisolid fat usually refering to Crisco and other vegetable oils that can solidify at room teperature such as cotton seed oil corn oil and soy bean oil. Suet. butter, margarine and lard are also referred to as shortening in baking. Shortening works by assisting in the formation of gluten in wheat based doughs. 

   Lard: Rendered pork fat. High in saturated fats, used as cooking fat or shortening.

Milk -

    Raw Milk: Raw milk or (unpasteurized) is milk that hasn't undergone the pasteurization process, therefor retaining some of the vitamins and enzymes that would normally be lost in the act. Raw milk is smoother, creamier and has better flavor than pasteurized milk and has been used in baking since milk was milk (I would think). Due to all the icky pathogens raw milk should only be acquired from reputable certified sources that adhere to very strict health and hygiene standards. Any milk you would find at your average market is going to be pasteurized whereas raw milk is best purchased farm fresh. If your doing good and you drink a lot of milk you can have it delivered to your doorstep old-school style from a local dairy farm, if your lucky. The different milk  varieties are all considered liquefiers in baking.

this bottle of "Robot Milk" claims to be 100%  non-organic
    Butter Milk:  Buttermilk refers to the liquid that remains when churning butter, traditionally strained and left to ferment. Commercial or cultured buttermilk is made by adding lactic acid bacteria to 1% skim milk that is left to ferment at a low temp. for 12 - 14 hours. Slightly acidic, often used in conjunction with baking soda as a leavening agent in quick breads.

    Cream: Not often used as liquid in doughs and batters except in a few specialty products. In these instances it serves as a shortening and a liquid due to its fat content. Cream is more important in fillings and toppings.

Starches -

    Starches are complex carbohydrates that are made from glucose these carbohydrates are classified as polysaccharides.  Whole-wheat flours includes the bran, endosperm and germ. The bran makes this type of flour a high starch flour. Cracked wheat flours are similar to whole-wheat flours and are high starch flours too. AP flour or White flour is a wheat flour where much of the starch and bran have been removed, making this a low-starch, high-protein flour. Starch has a very distinct role in the baking process. Starch helps to produce fermentable sugars for yeast fermentation, serves as a reservoir for water absorption and as diluent for gluten contributing to the viscoelastic properties of the dough, very scientific.

"1. A naturally abundant nutrient carbohydrate, (C6H10O5)n, found chiefly in the seeds, fruits, tubers, roots, and stem pith of plants, notably in corn, potatoes, wheat, and rice, and varying widely in appearance according to source but commonly prepared as a white amorphous tasteless powder." - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/starch

Corn starch - Products that are thickened with cornstarch set up like gelatin when cooled. For this reason cornstarch is used in cream pies and other products to better keep their shape. 

Waxy maize - A modified starch that becomes a clear, soft paste when cooked and maintains the same consistency when hot or cold. Different starches can be modified from their natural form to act or react differently in use, waxy maize is  modified specifically not to break down when frozen. 

Instant starches - Another modified starch that is pregelatinized to thicken cold liquids without cooking.

Gelatins and Pectins -

    Pectin is a water soluble fiber used primarily in cold confections.Pectin is abundant in apples, plums, cranberries and citrus peels. Gelatin is an animal protein extracted primarily from pigs skin though cow bones and hides may be used. 

Sugars and liquid sugars - 

    Sugars and sweeteners play a valuable role in baking. Ofcourse, sugar is sweet and adds a sweet flavor.  Sugar gives tenderness and fineness of texture to a baked product by weakening the gluten structure. Sugar gives crust a rich color and helps to increase the keeping qualities in a product by retaining moisture. Sugar also acts as a creaming agent with fats.We commonly use the word sugar when referring to regular granulated table sugar (sucrose) derived from the sugar cane or beet. There is "fine" and "ultra-fine" grain sugars that are best used in cakes and cookies because they help make a more uniform batter and support higher quantities of fat. There is also a coarser grain sugar called "sanding sugar" that is used for coating doughnuts, cakes and other items.

Confectioners' sugar - Also known as powdered sugars, these types are ground to a fine powder and mixed with a small amount of starch to prevent caking. They are classified by fineness of grind, 10x being the finest, 6x being the standard confectioners sugar and 4x and xx are used for dusting when a less fine sugar is required.

Molasses and Brown Sugar - Concentrated sugar cane juice is known as molasses. A thick syrup that pours very slowly, hence the expression "slow as molasses". There is a couple different varieties of molasses that one can procure. "Sulfured molasses" is a natural bi-product of sugar refinement as it is the product that remains after most of the sugar has been extracted from the cane juice. "Unsulfered molasses" is not a natural bi-product of sugar and is specially manufactured with a "less bitter" taste. Molasses contains large amounts of sucrose, other sugars, acids and traces of natural impurities.
Brown sugar is mostly sucrose but also contains certain amounts of molasses and impurities, the more molasses the darker the sugar. Due to the acid content of brown sugar and molasses when used with baking soda they can provide leavening. 

Corn syrup
Corn Syrup - Corn syrup is a liquid sweetener mainly consisting of glucose  but still contains other sugars.It is made by converting cornstarch into simpler sugars by using enzymes. Corn syrup helps to retain moisture and is commonly used in icings and candy making.

Glucose syrup - Unike corn syrup, glucose syrup contains no other sugars, just pure glucose. Glucose syrup can be substituted with light corn syrup in a baking recipe. This product is colorless and nearly tasteless.

Honey - Containing mostly glucose and fructose and other compounds that give it flavors that vary by its sources, Honey, um... comes from bees. Honey is mostly used for flavoring due to its sweet-sweet taste and not-so-sweet cost. Honey stays smooth and resists crystallization because it contains "invert sugars" and can also, like molasses, be used as a leavening agents with baking soda due to its acid content.

Malt Syrup - Malt syrup is used to add flavor and crust color to breads. Used primarily with yeast products serving as food (fermentable sugar's) for the yeast. Its a yeast feast.

Salt - 

    Salt is not only used for flavor in baking. Salt strengthens gluten structure, making it more stretchable (viscoelasticity) and improving the breads texture. Salt inhibits yeast growth therefor it is important in controlling fermentation in bread doughs and preventing undesirable wild yeast growth. The amount of salt used in a recipe should be carefully controlled for these reasons.

Leaveners -

    Yeast - Yeast is a living organism that is grown in a giant petri dish under extremely controlled conditions. In baking yeast feeds on fermentable sugars turning them to carbon dioxide and alcohol that is trapped as gas in the dough forming air pockets therefor causing the bread to rise in natural process. Yeast can be found in a couple different forms: 
    Fresh yeast - Also called compressed yeast is moist and perishable, preferred by professional bakers. Fresh yeast can be purchased in 1lb. packages.
    Active dry yeast - Dry granular form that needs to be rehydrated  in 4 times its weight in water before use.  
    Instant dry yeast -  Also known as rapid rise or quick rise yeast does not need to be dissolved in water before use because it absorbs water very quickly. It produces more gas than regular dry yeast therefor less is needed in proportion. 

    Baking Soda - A.k.a. sodium bicarbonate. With moisture and acid in cooperation baking soda releases carbon dioxide that leavens the product. The gas is released faster at higher temperatures though heat is not needed for the reaction. When using soda the product must be baked immediately or the gases will escape. Acids that react with baking soda include; honey, molasses, fruits (citric), buttermilk, cocoa and chocolate or sometimes cream of tartar. The amount of soda is generally the amount needed to balance the acid. 

    Baking powder - A mixture of baking soda plus an acid. Single-acting baking powder needs only moisture to be able to release gas. Like baking soda when used the product must be baked immediately or the gas will be released prematurely. 

    Baking ammonia - A.k.a ammonium carbonate. This wonderful little chemical leavener decomposes in moisture with heat during baking, releasing carbon dioxide.  No acid is necessary for the gas to be produced. Only to be used in smaller products so the ammonia gas can be completely expelled. Good for products like cream-puffs where quick leavening is desired.

     Air - Incorporating air into a batter is another common leavening practice. In the "creaming method" fat and sugar is beaten together to incorporate air, common in cookies and cakes. In the "foaming method" eggs are beaten to incorporate air, whole eggs or just plain egg whites. Whole eggs are used for sponge cakes while only egg-whites are used with angel-food cake, meringues and souffles.

     Steam - Water expands to 1,600 times its original volume when it turns to steam. Since all baked products contain some form of moisture steam is an ever-present leavening agent, though not always notable or important. In most instances products relying on steam are started at high temperatures to achieve maximum steam/ leavening. "Cream puffs, puff pastry, pop-overs and pie crust use steam as their major or only leavening agent". Steam is used to generate roughly 80% of the worlds electric energy.

Eggs - 

    Eggs come from "oviparous" animals (animals that lay eggs), Birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish even insects and arachnids. Chicken eggs are the normal choice of most bakers and they usually come in one of three forms; whole eggs, frozen eggs (whites, yolks and whole with extra yolks) and dried eggs (whole, whites and yolks). Egg proteins coagulate and add structure to baked products making them essential in products with high sugar and fat contents that weaken the gluten. Too much egg can make a product tough and chewy unless tenderized by high fat and sugar, thats how you get chewy cookies. Egg yolks help make smooth batters due to natural emulsifiers contributing to both body and texture. The fat in egg yolks work as a shortening which is important in products that lack other fats. "Whole eggs are about 70 percent water, egg whites about 86 percent water and egg yolks about 49 percent water." Eggs add flavor, nutritional value and color in batters as well as crust. The platypus and the echidna are the only two egg laying mammals, classified as "monotremes", you probably wouldn't want to bake with their eggs .  -K.C.C.

source: "Cuisine Foundations" p.356-357
source: "Cuisine Foundations" p.933
source: "Cuisine Foundations"  p.928-929
source: "Cuisine Foundations" p.925-927

source: "Cuisine Foundations" p.360
source: "Cuisine Foundations"p.392-393

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Delicious Dictator


     In France the Napolean is known as "mille-feuilles" (a thousand leaves). It is constructed of layers of puff pastry with pastry cream, whipped cream, fruit or jelly and iced with fondant, chocolate or confectioner's sugar. The Napolean as we know it is believed by many to have been developed in France during the latter part of the 19th century. The Danish people have been told for generations that a Danish royal pastry chef invented the dessert in the 1800s on a state visit between the Emperor Napoleon and the King of Denmark, in Copenhagen. Apparently some sources think that the chocolate lines on the pastry appear to form the letter "N" for Napoleon, I don't see it. Some people believe that the dessert was actually a French invention after all, and that it was indeed Napolean's favorite sweet treat. It's been said that he ate so many of them on the eve of Waterloo that he lost the battle distracted by his dessert, maybe feeling too stuffed to fight.

    Most food historians would disagree believing that the name is the result of a misunderstanding of the French word "Napolitain" which should have been translated as "Neopolitan" pertaining to Naples but it sounds like Napoleon when your mouth is full of cake. "Napoleans" in design, are very much like the French "mille-fueille" or the Italian "mille foglie" both of which mean "a thousand leaves". Marie-Antonin Careme, writing at the end of the 18th century, considered it of "ancient origin." Interestingly, I found that the similar layered Italian dessert Tiramisu is said to have been invented by Sienese chefs in the late 1600's to honor the Grand Duke Cosmo III de' Medici who also was known for his sweet tooth, much like the Danish legend of the precious Napolean and the French mille-feuilles, only 200 years earlier.        -K.C.C.

Napoleon was known for riding his Ducati to get dessert

source: François Pierre de La Varenne "Cuisinier françois"  1651.
source:Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes, Patricial Bunning Stevens (p.202).
source: Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 586-7)