Friday, August 21, 2009

Vacation Beer Reviews

I spent the weekend visiting my friend Kelly in Hollywood, Florida. It's a cute little town on the coast between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. While I was visiting I did my best to try as many new beers as I could, and Kelly definitely aided me in the process!

Knowing my great love of beer and being the wonderful friend that she is, Kelly got me an assorted six pack of local beers (save one from CA, which she picked out because the label was cool). I drank these over the course of the weekend along with a few other brews out at bars/restaurants. I took notes on a few. Nothing incredibly remarkable, the Monk in the Trunk was my favorite by far.

Holy Mackerel Special Golden Ale Ft Lauderdale, FL
A- opaque golden color, like cloudy honey. Thin head with persistent lacing

S- smelled like a hefeweizen, banana, slightly floral, alcohol aroma.

T- bit of a sharp/sour tang at first, but overall mild flavor in spite of the alcohol content. still put me in the mind of a hefeweizen

M- slightly viscous and heavy on the edges of my tongue.

D- pretty well balanced, and goes down easier than one would expect from an 8.5% abv, but not really one that I'd drink again.

Hurricane Reef Pale Ale Melbourne, FL
A- Poured a golden honey color with a thin head that quickly dissipated but left some lacing. Visibly highly carbinated.

S- Not a very strong nose on this beer, either that or my own was stuffy. Malty perhaps.

T- light, very mild hop taste, slight spice taste

M- light, again very carbinated, kind of thin.

D- very drinkable, goes down quick and easy, perhaps the only upside of an otherwise kind of boring beer. I wouldn't go out of my way to find this one again, but it was neat to try it.

Monk in the Trunk Amber Ale Jupiter, FL

A- pours amber with golden hues, thin head that lingered a bit

S - sweet, malty nose, faint hops and some alcohol

T - had a coppery metallic tang that reminded me of some copper ales I've tried, otherwise malty and sweet

M- crisp, not over or under carbinated

D- definitely could have had a few of these, and would drink it again. it was a good, solid amber and organic as well!

Heavy Seas Peg Leg Imperial Stout
, Maryland

I had this one at a restaurant, served from a bottle. I was really not impressed and then I gave the bottle a better look over and noticed that it said to serve before May 2009. Since I drank it in August, I figured it was 3-4 months past its prime and will blame the restaurant for now instead of the beer for my underwhelmed reaction. Perhaps I'll get a chance to try it again sometime.

A-dark but thin pouring with ruby notes and little to no head
S-roasted smells on the nose, coffee and chocolate perhaps, but very faint
T-yeasty taste, alcohol-sweet with a kind of stale malty flavor that lingered after
M- thinner than most russian imperial stouts i've had
D-definitely wouldn't have had another, for the abv and the taste. i'll have to try this on tap before i pass final judgment, but overall i thought it tasted bad

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

In March I made sourdough cinnamon rolls following a recipe by Mountaindog on The Fresh Loaf.

The Fresh Loaf this really useful online community about bread and baking. It has a lot of great information on sourdough in particular. I converted the recipe to an excel spreadsheet to keep everything straight (it’s a 4 day process!). I’ll see if there’s a way to post the spreadsheet here, but for now I’ll just post the above link to the original recipe and tell you about any notes or changes I made and what did and didn’t work. It was one of the most involved sourdough recipes I’ve tackled yet and it was a lot of work, but the end result was definitely worth it. The cinnamon rolls didn’t last long!.

Day 0 (Thursday) 8pm, Freshen up starter

This was not part of recipe, but always needs to be done. I brought my starter to room temperature and fed it and tracked rise and fall so I had a sense of its peak rising time etc. My starter was at 100% hydration,.

Day 1 (Friday) 11pm, Build the levain

I fed my starter according to the recipe and let it sit at room temp until doubled, which was overnight or about 10 hours. The recipe calls for 850g of levain total, which is much more than I’m used to dealing with for a bread recipe. You can see here that my starter doubled and then some overnight.

Day 2 (Saturday) 10am, Build the dough and Bulk Fermentation

I made the mashed potatoes the night before so it could cool sufficiently and mixed the final dough Saturday morning. This was particularly difficult because I don’t have a mixer and was stirring everything in by hand. I also didn’t have any buttermilk, so I added a bit of lemon juice to milk, which has worked well for me in other recipes. I didn’t have a large enough bowl to let the whole thing bulk ferment so I split it into two bowls and left it on the counter at about 60°. I also made the filling that afternoon. I followed my mom’s recipe for cinnamon roll filling instead of the ingredients in this recipe, just because I like it better and it’s simpler.



Day 2 (Saturday) 10pm-12am, Shaping

This was where I ran into a bunch of problems and diverted from the recipe’s instructions. The first step after the dough has doubled is to divide it into two pieces (check) and then roll it out into a rectangle. The recipe says that the dough should be sticky, which it definitely was. Then I spread the filling and rolled up the first rectangle.

At this point you’re supposed to be able to slice the logs into rounds and put them in a pan or on a cookie sheet to rise. The recipe says, “Slice each log into 8 or 12 rolls with serrated knife and place them just barely touching each other on baking parchment on sheet pan. Don't worry if log gets flattened as you slice each roll, you can straighten them out once placed on the sheet pan, and they should rise very high and straighten out when proofing”. No such luck. The dough was way too soupy and thin to roll. The first half turned into a cinnamon roll blob and was not even close to sliceable. I remedied this by putting the whole thing in a bundt cake pan, so that it turned out like a coffee cake kind of thing. It actually worked really well and it was nice to have both a cake and cinnamon rolls in the end. It’s a huge recipe by the way. I’d definitely cut it in half next time.

For the second half of the dough I chilled the dough before trying to roll it out so that it was at about 40-45° instead of 60°-65°. I also didn’t roll the rectangle out as thinly as it said I should and rolled the log tighter than the first time (the first time was sloppy I think due to my lack of skill and the slackness of the dough). The second batch held its shape much better and I was able to slice it into rounds. I think that I would chill the log again before slicing it next time to retain the roll's shape. You can sort of round them out once they’re turned on end in the pan, but the colder it is the easier it is and the less filling squishes out. They were also huge. If I made the full recipe again I’d split it into 3 logs I think. No one could finish a whole roll.

Okay so once the rolls are cut and on a cookie sheet they go into the fridge for an overnight/10-12 hour fermentation.

Day 3 (Sunday) 10am Bake

Bake the rolls right out of the fridge and make the icing while they’re in the oven. This part went just fine. In addition to the icing, I had some extra filling that we spooned on top of some of the rolls. Everyone loved them and I took a bunch to work to share. The bundt cake roll turned out well too.

Notes on the recipe: I think they have a noticable sour tang that I would like to avoid next time, although none of my friends thought so. It might go nice with the sourcream icing I guess, but I thought they should have been a little sweeter. I also don't think they needed to rise for as long as they did. I think next time I would bulk ferment in the fridge at 40°-45° instead of on the counter at 55°-65°. Then I would try to roll the logs, then chill again and slice them while the dough is cold. Mountaindog does suggest other ways of chilling the dough in the recipe, “(NOTE: I've not yet tried this, but it should also be possible to chill the un-sliced logs in frig overnight and slice just before baking, or freeze the logs for up to 1 month, take out the night before baking and defrost in frig. Next morning, remove from frig., slice, and let warm up at room temp about 1-2 hours before baking.)” So yeah, I think I’ll do something akin to that the next time.

Perhaps to cut down on the fermentation time and the sourness that develops I could also try a shorter fermentation on the counter instead of in the fridge once the rolls are cut. Or I could possibly play with my starter to get more lactic acid out of it than acetic acid. Who knows. They also required quite a bit longer to bake than the recipe suggested, even though my oven was at 400°. Overall, they were really tasty but difficult to shape, so their appearance wasn't quite as nice as I would have liked. It was a fun process and an interesting recipe!

a weekend of bread

Back in February I was house/dog sitting for Jay out in Shutesbury and I decided to make use of Jay’s oven, which is much larger and fancier than mine, to bake some bread.

This was the same weekend that I decided to try making sourdough English muffins, which I wrote about previously. It was convenient to make the English muffins the same weekend that I was planning to bake bread, because I was able to really ramp up my sourdough starter and use the excess sponge for the muffins. I ended up making a dozen or so muffins that turned out fairly well. I’ve tried 3 different recipes at this point and haven’t really been satisfied with any of them. My muffins tend to be denser than I think they should be and the dough is always much stickier and difficult to handle than the recipe makes it sound. The first time I followed the recipe’s instructions and patted/rolled the dough out and used a circular cookie cutter to cut the muffins. This was a complete mess. No amount of flour or cornmeal could keep the dough from sticking to the cookie cutter and to the counter. I think the honey was responsible for making the dough particularly tacky. The second time instead of cutting out rounds, I rolled the dough into balls and flattened them into rough circles, then let the dough rise. This was much easier to handle than the cookie cutter technique. The only downside I discovered was that my English muffins weren’t exactly round, but they still tasted delicious so I didn’t really care.

So about the bread; I made four loaves of bread, 2 large and 2 small. I vaguely followed Hamelman’s Vermont Sourdough Rye recipe, with which I have had much success. It was my go to recipe for sandwich bread this winter. I doubled the recipe in order to make four loaves and skipped the rye flour. I also made 3 of the four loaves with cheese, which is something I’ve only experimented with a few times. Jay had a bunch of cheese in his fridge that needed to be used right away, or a trip to the trash can in the near future. I used two soft cheeses, brie and camembert, for two of the small loaves and a big hunk of local cheddar for one of the larger loaves. The fourth loaf did not have any cheese in it. I wanted to try following instructions I had read for a torpedo loaf. The shaped turned out well I think. The technique created a lot of surface tension, which caused the loaf to split in places other than where I had scored it. I think next time I might need to score it differently, but the shape was roughly what I had expected.

I made boules for the two smaller loaves, folded the cheese into the center, and scored them in a cross pattern. The cheese melted as it baked and some of it bubbled out of the top of the loaf, which you can kind of see in this picture. The cheese on the outside of the loaves was crispy and delicious. The cheese on the inside caused the bread to have an uneven crumb with several large pockets where the chunks of cheese melted. It was incredibly good lightly toasted or just sliced plain. I confess I ate most of one of the smaller loaves myself almost as soon as it had cooled standing at the kitchen counter and just tearing hunks off. I managed to save the other one to share.

For the cheddar loaf I cut the cheese into cubes and worked it throughout the bread and put that one in a banneton to rise. Like the torpedo loaf, it split on the side in the oven even though I had scored it. I think that either the bread needed to rise longer or I didn’t score it well/deep enough. Or both! The crumb was a little denser than it often is with this recipe, but I think that actually worked well given the weight of the cheese. I definitely want to try cheese breads again, but I think I’ll find an actual recipe that calls for cheese next time instead of just adding it to a recipe that does not.


I also made black bean chipotle bread at Jay’s once a while back, for which I’ll have to track down the recipe sometime. It was really tasty and had an incredibly interesting color and texture from the purred black beans. The chipotles gave it a really spicy kick that you don’t necessarily expect from a slice of bread!