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Saturday, June 05, 2004


baking update

the italian chocolate olive-oil cake with chocolate satin icing was so delicious, mr. right may have actually licked the plate. he couldn't keep his fingers out of the icing bowl. . .

the cake's based on the orange-flavored olive-oil cake in nancy silverton's pastries from the la brea bakery. i was actually on the way to making her russian coffee cake, but was halted at this recipe while flipping thru.

something about it just caught my attention. and then once i realized i actually had all the ingredients for it in the cupboard, no need for shopping, my fate was sealed.

but you know me: why make a cake that's not chocolate? so i simply sifted 7 tablespoons valrhona cocoa into the recipe!

and that was a good idea. the cake emerged rich, moist, very chocolate-y. i substituted vanilla for the orange in the recipe, altho' orange actually goes quite well with chocolate and would have been fine as well.

what did concern me at first -- having never made this recipe before -- was the consistency of the batter. it was thin, watery, like no cake batter i'd ever seen.

thinner than crepe batter even. but it baked up beautifully.

the icing was your standard cream, butter, cocoa, confectioner's sugar, vanilla, all cooked together in a heavy copper pot and beat until thick enough to spread. but not as thick as you know, buttercream frosting.

this icing emerged sweet, but not too sweet, and beautifully glossy. a thin layer over the entire cake was all it took!

posted by fortune elkins | 6:01 PM | top | link to this |



why we love jessica

or more accurately, why my husband loves jessica. devoted readers know jessica as ms. batdorf.

she's very kindly a regular reader here. and understanding my current lack of mr. right's favorite espresso, the dancing goat, she sent a fresh pound.

needless to say, he's very thankful. . . as am i. perhaps the worst thing about slowly converting one's spouse to some coffee drinking after years of only diet coke is that then one ends up with a real snob.

if the microfoam isn't perfect. . .if the coffee's brewed too hot. . .he puts the cup down. "the coffee in italy's great," he'll say with a sigh. . ."a tazzuella 'e caffé there. . ."

note to self: how much robusta is in that kimbo, hmm? even if it's fresh in naples! well, actually i shouldn't be so harsh. . .kimbo does make an all-arabica blend.

yesterday i also fed the chef. this is as simple as kneading in 4 oz. water, 2 oz. white whole wheat flour, and 4 oz. first clear flour. i let this rise overnight on the counter and then popped it back into the fridge for another 2 or 3 days. . .

this morning's task: an italian chocolate olive-oil cake. . . must see if i have enough chocolate for glaze!

posted by fortune elkins | 7:27 AM | top | link to this |


Friday, June 04, 2004


on those new brewers

devoted readers may recall i've written about these new 1-cup brewers before. (and here!)

today finds a semi-decent review of the more popular ones. but their appeal continues to mystify me.

not only are those pods and capsules roughly twice as expensive as buying whole beans and grinding them fresh at home, but they contain pre-ground and thus stale coffee. why pay so much for an inferior cup of coffee?

that, as the article says, they make coffee as good as your local coffeeshop is alas in most places scant praise.

and by the time you reach the high-end of these new brewers -- the lavazza machine at US$895 -- why, you could buy an amazing, gorgeous, real espresso machine for that kinda cash. . .

by the way, have i remarked that after the slitti 62% lattenero, i'm totally addicted to that amedei porcelana. the flavors are so complex, intense. . . that stuff is heroin, utter heroin.

posted by fortune elkins | 12:36 PM | top | link to this |


Thursday, June 03, 2004


good news: coffee prices rising

long-time readers know i talk often about the world-price depression known as the "coffee crisis." about how these low prices are bad for coffee farmers and coffee lovers alike.

recently prices have been on the uptick. whether that will be sustained is as yet unknown, although for months importers and brokers ("greenies," because they sell green, unroasted coffee) have been suggesting that coffee prices would rise for technical market reasons.

i heard one greenie predict in march that coffee on the new york exchange would move to US$1; while a london market expert, the russian prince serge cantacuzene, appears to have predicted 956 a metric ton there.

today i had the privilege of speaking to an independent roaster/retailer (a "brownie") of my acquaintance on the subject. he notes that when coffee prices are too low, the coffee farmers can't afford to take care of the coffee properly.

they are forced to neglect the coffee somewhat to minimize their losses. the result of this: lower-quality coffee. not good.

so a fair increase in price is good for both farmer and consumer, in that we consumers get a much better product for just a fraction more and farmers of course don't have to live in miserable poverty.

my friend believes that coffee is good quality and fairly priced for both parties in the general range of about US$1.20-1.40 a pound. while this sounds like a big price increase, actually it's not bad.

remember, in general, to grow high-quality coffee costs a farmer about US$0.90-0.95 a pound. considering that these farmers have been accumulating big debts for years now, and have to pay their workers, as well as invest in the coming crop and make capital improvements to their farms, US$1.20 isn't bad.

the fair-trade set price, after all, said to give farmers a living wage, is US$1.26.

that's why when i read articles like this today, warning of higher coffee prices, i don't flinch. many of the super-premium specialty coffees i most enjoy already cost more than this, and yet they often retail for less than or around US$10 a pound.

for example: don schoenholt's gillies; oren bloostein's oren's daily roast; david haddock and peter g's counterculture; holly & jessica's batdorf; doug zell and geoff watts' intelligentsia; kevin cuddeback and mike white's gimme; mark inman's taylor maid; and george howell's terroir. let's say coffee prices were to rise a lot: 40%!

even at US$14 a pound, coffee would remain a fine-beverage bargain. after all, a pound of coffee makes about 40 6-oz cups.

a US$10 a pound coffee costs you at home just US$0.25 per cup. at US$14, why that's a mere US$0.35! who's going to stress out over a slim dime when you're getting a superior brew?

devoted readers who've patiently suffered thru my long rants on coffee quality and purity know that the stuff in the supermarket cans isn't all it could be. so if anything bothers me about the possibility of coffee price increases, it's that the so-called "big four" -- sara lee, kraft, nestle, p&g -- will be raising their prices disproportionately.

because you know they won't be investing in better quality beans. . .they're more likely to be squeezing quality more than ever to pocket the increase. . .(devoted readers may recall i actually predicted this in april.)

let me echo scaa chief ted lingle's famous statement: "buy whole beans." from your local independent coffeehouse or roaster, please!

posted by fortune elkins | 10:06 AM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, June 02, 2004


the last loaf & scaa consumer event

patient readers recall that of this now 8-day bread extravaganza, i had one batch of full levain left, besides what i set aside to be the chef for next week's baking.

so last night i made it up into a loaf in the usual way. measure out:

  • 15 oz. white whole-wheat flour
  • 10 oz. volvic water
  • 0.5 oz. fine sea salt

place the levain into your mixing bowl, add the water. let sit for a minute or two to soften the levain. then add the flour, and attach the bowl to your trusty stand mixer (or mix by hand).

mix gently to create a shaggy, sticky mess, about 2 mins. let this rest for 30 mins., covered with plastic wrap or a towel.

now you're ready to knead: if you're hand-kneading, give it 10 mins.; under the dough hook, 8 mins. at the lowest speed. either way, 2 min. before you're finished kneading, begin to gradually incorporate the salt.

the dough will be sticky, clinging to your hands or the dough hook -- all good. don't add flour.

if necessary, oil or moisten your hands lightly. that's all. as you incorporate the salt, the dough will begin to change and stiffen up.

you'll end up with a soft, pliable, slightly tacky dough. perfect. flour a fine linen dish towel very heavily, and place in a colander.

gently place the dough into the towel and drape the ends over. let the dough proof here until it rises adequately.

and this is the tricky part! in general, this dough will take about 4 hours to proof, depending on the weather. in hot summer weather, it could double in 2-1/2 hrs.

that's enough! in moderately warm weather -- say 70 degrees f. -- it could take 4 hrs. to double. and it might not double; it might rise only 30-50%. and that's enough too!

or you can cover the colander with plastic, pop the puppy in the fridge, and let it proof overnight. hey, whatever works for your schedule.

if you retard the dough in the fridge, let it come up to room temperature on the counter for 1 hr. before you bake it.

since i pre-heat my oven and pizza stone to 475 degrees f. for 45 mins. before i bake, bringing it up to room temperature isn't a problem for me.

once the oven's hot, i line my peel with a piece of baking parchment, gently unmold the loaf onto the peel and check the top crust.

usually it needs another light coat of flour to acheive that attractive country look. so i gently smooth on a little flour with my fingers.

then i slash the dough with a big square, cutting at a slight angle about 1/4-in. deep. i also take a cake pan and toss in 12 ice cubes.

finally, i slide the dough into the oven onto the pizza stone and close the door. i set my timer for 25 min.

at 30 seconds, i mist the top and sides of the oven with water from a plant mister. i repeat the misting at 60 and 120 seconds.

then i slide the cake pan and ice onto the floor of the oven below the pizza stone, and reduce the oven temperature to 450. after that, the loaf is on its own.

bake until the timer beeps. grab your oven mitts, slide the loaf out of the oven, and plunge your instant-read thermometer into the bottom crust.

the loaf's internal temperature should read between 195-205 degrees f. it should also be nicely brown, the color of hazelnut skins.

go ahead and rap on the bottom, which should sound hollow like an old oak door. let the loaf cool on a rack for at least 2 hours.

you really have to resist tearing at the bread immediately; the center of the loaf is still setting up and the bread's flavor will truly improve over this time.

by following this technique, last night's final levain produced the best loaf of the three. it emerged from the oven with lovely spring, beautiful crust, nicely floured top, and pretty slash marks.

really just cookbook-picture perfect. altho' i tried to beat back mr. right, after an hour i gave up!

the loaf was sliced in just 1-1/2 hrs. still, the crumb boasted large, irregular holes, a great moist texture, the sought-after opalescent starch gels, and tremendous wheaty flavor.

a victory! and on this high note, i'm now pleased to announce that scaa consumer members will be meeting for an event on sunday, june 27!

we're going to be meeting for espresso at gimme in brooklyn, then tour the new grading room at the exchange, and finally meet with oren bloostein for a formal cupping at his 58th st. store in manhattan.

this event is limited to 12 people; i already have 9 on my list. that leaves 3 spaces open.

this event is free for consumer members; non-members are welcome at US$20. (since the entry level for c-membership is US$18, it might just be cheaper to join. . .)

if you're interested in attending, please email me pronto. you can use the link below.

posted by fortune elkins | 6:28 AM | top | link to this |


Tuesday, June 01, 2004


beloved by god indeed

i know everyone's interested in the latest study on chocolate and anti-oxidants/ polyphenols/ flavonoids. long-time readers know we here at bccy have been discussing this for years now (and here, for example).

eating 1.4-1.6 oz. of 70% dark chocolate a day does appear to expand your arteries, increase your blood flow and stave off arterial disease.

chocolate seems to have many unexpected scientific health benefits! that's why i personally like this website of chocolate and scientific health information.

sure, it's run by mars. they are honest about it, however.

and let's face it, in today's economic climate, fewer and fewer truly independent agencies or universities can afford to do this kind of research. so i feel you can look at this information and judge for yourself over time if it's biased.

that much of the information they cite has been published in peer-reviewed journals does add to its credibility, to my mind.

but what has me truly happy today is the famed amedei! i have a bar of both the porcelana and the chuao: heavenly, heavenly stuff.

posted by fortune elkins | 7:49 AM | top | link to this |


Monday, May 31, 2004


2 down, 1 to go

and a big sigh of relief that both loaves baked so far -- even the problem loaf -- are edible. surprisingly, the troublesome one that i despaired would ever rise and which stuck to the cloche is actually the best of the two.

the sweet neighbors upstairs got 1/2 a kilo loaf of nicer-looking, very rye-tasting pain de campagne. what surprised me was how moist the loaf was when cut. it had almost a pound cake feeling in that way.

the texture was great -- perfect actually -- all huge giant holes and opalescent starch gels. the bottom crust was perfect, but the top obviously left something to be desired. . .a little thin, altho' crackly enough.

about an hour after the bread was out of the oven, it began to pour, and the bread's crust immediately began to soften. just a damned monsoon, and my poor bread soaking in the humidity. . .

both loaves taste great: light tang, strong whole-wheat flavor. but the rye really stands out; surprising, since i think each loaf has less than 1/2 cup of rye flour. . .

where did i put the rest of that goat cheese? to prevent gluttony, i sliced it all up and froze as much of it as i could while my will power was strong! the remaining loaf gets baked tomorrow night.

posted by fortune elkins | 7:21 PM | top | link to this |



memorial day baking . . .

every memorial day, i remember the most poignant veteran in my family, homer kurtz.

i've written about him before. homer left the family farm in fort scott, kansas, and went over there in the big one.

where, being a relative of mine, naturally, he fell madly and passionately in love with a french mam'zelle. who alas did not return to kansas with him.

still he hoped. "how're ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm once they've seen gay paree?"

he loved until despair. and then he threw himself out of the hayloft.

thus i consider homer a veteran of 2 wars: wwi and that of the urequited heart. is it clear which actually killed him?

this year my melancholy story is literally leavened by humor, however.

the "thin" loaf, which gave me so much trouble yesterday, did eventually rise about 50% on its own.

ok! so after it rose, i shoved it back in the fridge overnite to retard, woke up this morning, let it come up to room temperature, heated the oven.

i carefully turned it out on the peel, slashed it, and put the cloche bell over it.

(devoted readers may recall how the base of la cloche cracked long ago. since i have a pizza stone, i usually just bake the bread on that.)

popped into the oven and merrily enjoyed the delicious scent of baking bread.

20 minutes passed. time to remove the cloche so the top can brown in the 475 degree f. oven. i open the blazing oven, lift the cloche bell by its handle and. . .

and the loaf comes with it. that's right, the loaf has stuck to the cloche on one edge.

i will not be deterred! i place the cloche on its side on the cooling rack, hold it carefully with my oven mitt, and dementedly attack the stuck side with a butter knife.

the cat wanders into the kitchen to see my going all psycho-shower-scene on the loaf. 2 minutes and moderate crust damage later, i rush the loaf back into the oven to brown for 7 minutes.

when the interior temperature of the loaf reads 200 degrees f., it's done. i take it out. now to let it cool for an hour or two so the interior can develop its full flavor. . .

sure, it looks a little funny but you know, it could still taste terrific! i'm eating this puppy not photographing it, after all. when sliced, the tear on one side won't even be noticeable.

one loaf down, two more to go. 2? attentive readers may be asking. wait! you started out with 2 chefs, that you brought up to 2 full levains!

and right you are. but this second levain, the "thick" levain, grew so vigorously, i divided it into two. one i made up into a loaf last nite, and proofed cool in the fridge overnite.

the other i just retarded in the fridge and made up into a loaf this morning. so i will be baking 2 more loaves today several hours apart.

um, i think i'll leave the cloche out of it. . . but i may post a baking update later today.

what's interesting to note here is temperature: when brewing coffee, the water temperature should generally be between 195-205 degrees f. when baking bread, it's done when its temperature is between. . . 195-205 degrees f.

an interesting co-incidence! speaking of coffee, i think my lunch will be a slice of cracklin' fresh rustic country bread thickly spread with basil and herb-infused soft chèvre and a cup of don schoenholt's gillies famous yrgacheffe.

after this exercise, i think i'm going back to italian slack breads! ciabatta suddenly seems so much easier. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 8:54 AM | top | link to this |


Sunday, May 30, 2004


never can break the chain

i'm not flashing back to the glorious clinton-era (ah! 1993!) for nothing here. . .but merely to point out that once established, few things in life are more reliable than a natural leaven bread starter.

the caveat is that "once established."

the ones i've been working on all week are new. of the 2 i currently am nurturing, it seems like one's alive, and one's not making it.

unfortunately, the one that's dragging is the one that been made into a full dough and is sitting in a floured linen-lined colander for final proof.

this is the so-called "thin" one. it was rising like gangbusters, which might have been its problem.

when i set it in the fridge overnite for that long cool final proof before turning it out on the peel, slashing it, and slapping the bread cloche over it, it was great.

but this morning, it just didn't warm up. it looked a little lifeless. uh-oh: it may have out-grown its environment and consumed itself overnite.

sometimes a sudden halt in rise indicates poor kneading. but this dough got a good 8 minutes with the dough hook.

or it could just be really slow. some naturally leavened breads take an 8-hour proof at room temperature. . . so i'm letting this one enjoy the counter for a few more hours.

if it doesn't revive, then we go to overdrive mode! you see, in bread-making, there are few absolute failure points.

most obstacles can be overcome, which is perhaps why more bakers should adopt ganesh instead of st. pasquale as a patron being. . .in this case, we can rescue this loaf with a little trick the french call bassinage.

of course, it is a departure from purism; it is a pragmatic step.

but that's what's great about baking; it forces you to deal with reality, the situation on the ground.

i've spent a lot of time with this loaf, invested energy and expensive organic flour! i could walk away from it, chalk it up to bad conditions, etc. . .or i could accept the situation and act accordingly.

thus, the bassinage. this term refers to a technique where you gently deflate the dough, flatten it with care, sprinkle water on it, roll it up, knead it and let it rise again as if you had just mixed it.

it's often done for dough that's too stiff, or dries out, or to help develop a dough that will be slack.

in this case, i'd simply mix some commercial yeast into the water, and proceed.

sure, it's not perfection. but a new leaven is new. things like this sometimes happen.

if you're making bread for an occasion, you may really need the loaf, and not have time to start all over again. bassinage can be a lifesaver then.

i'm not in this situation. but i'll probably do it anyway and bake both loaves tomorrow morning or early afternoon.

the so-called "thick" levain has grown much more slowly than the "thin" did; but so far it appears more reliable.

more results tomorrow. what's clear is that i will be pinching off about 1/2 cup of dough to reserve in the fridge as a new base for next week's chef.

with care, this saved "old dough" will provide a reliable starter as long as i keep up with it. bits of chef like this only get nicer the longer you run with them.

they're good in the fridge for 4 or 5 days in a good tupperware. they certainly make baking once a week much easier!

note to self: henceforth, maintain chef!

of course today i still need to make pizza, pizza sauce, and arrive at yoga for my usual 5p.m. class.

so it's a yogic moment -- i just have to say, i've done what i can, here's what i will do at the right time in the future, and now, i have to be calm and one-pointedly focus on the things currently before me. ganesh can take care of the rest!

this is a great technique, and probably why so many people with serious meditation practices have taken up baking. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 8:25 AM | top | link to this |

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