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Saturday, July 03, 2004


"it's perfect," the extremely critical mr. right said. "just like the challah my mother used to get at the bakery in miami. . ."

and it is perfect. despite my deep trepidations earlier this morning, the challah emerges light, springy, stretchy, lightly eggy with a gentle buttery taste.

you won't mistake it for brioche, but that's not the object i'm trying to re-create for mr. right here. said challah of his childhood probably came from the late lamented wolfie's.

to match it is a tall order. but success is sweet.

the recipe, by weight, as always:

  • 25 oz. (about 700g. or 5 cups) unbleached bread flour, sifted
  • 1/2 oz. minus a pinch (12 g. or 2 teaspoons) fine sea salt
  • 1 oz. sugar (28 g. or about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/4 oz. (7g or about 1-1/2 or 2 teaspoons) saf instant yeast
  • 8 fl. oz. (240 ml. or 1 cup) water
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 3 oz. (85 g. or 6 tablespoons) plugra or french butter, melted

melt the butter and let cool to lukewarm. toss all this into your trusty stand mixer fitted with the paddle or k-beater, and mix until the dough coheres shaggily to it.

gently pull the dough off the paddle and knead lightly for about 30 seconds just to get the dough into a ball.

leave the dough in the mixer bowl and cover with plastic wrap. let it rest for 10 mins.

then fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead on low speed for 10 mins.

again, let the dough rest covered for 10 mins. then round nicely into a ball, oil the bowl lightly, cover again, and let rise for 70 mins. or until doubled in bulk.

once the dough has risen, gently deflate and turn it, to reshape into a nice ball. (i'm not a believer in beating up your poor innocent bread dough; put love in, get love out.)

let double again, another 60 mins. then decide whether you want 1 nice big loaf or 2 smaller ones. i made 2 today.

thus deflate the dough again, round it, and cover to let it rest 10 mins. then divide it into however many pieces you need for strands to braid.

i made 2 loaves of 3 strands -- thus 6 pieces for me. roll the pieces out with your fingertips into fat, even lengths.

make 'em fit the length of your pan or baking peel, if you use a baking stone like i do. then braid 'em, just like hair, tucking the ends under at the front and back.

if you start the braid in the middle of the loaf and braid backwards to the ends on each side you'll usually get a more even and attractive design.

preheat the oven to 375 degrees f. set the loaves on your cookie sheet, baking peel, whatever. just be sure to oil it or use baking parchment.

cover the loaves with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 45 mins. or until double.

the quickly beat together 1 egg and 2 oz. water to make a glaze. brush the loaf this egg wash.

if you want, sprinkle the loaves with 2 or 3 teaspoons poppy seeds.

bake a large loaf for about 35-40 mins.; smaller ones, 25-30 mins. your instant read thermometer should be between 195-205 degrees f. when plunged into the bottom of the loaf.

so simple! and yet, if i may repeat, "perfect."

those who insist on gilding this lily might consider adding a few gratings of fresh whole nutmeg and 1 tablespoon vanilla. . .

posted by fortune | 3:12 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments


i love new recipes, and i loathe them. you never know exactly how they will work out.

for example, today i'm making a new recipe for challah. i'm looking at the proportions, thinking, going hmmmm.

the recipe begins with 25 oz. flour. it also calls for 8 oz. water, 2 eggs, 6 tablespoons melted butter.

naturally i immediately sit down and try to work out this recipe's hydration percentage by the baker's formula.

8 oz. water plus let's figure the eggs contain another 4 oz. water: that's 12 oz.

the butter is about 12-14% water by weight. so let's figure this at an extra 0.5 oz. water.

this gives us 12.5 oz. water for the recipe, or only 50% hydration. and that's making me nervous. very nervous!

i'm worried the challah will be dry & crumbly with so little water. i'm used to working with european breads that are 68, even 72% hydrated!

still, i understand challah isn't that kind of loaf. but it's just unsettling.

should i have added more water? another egg? some milk? ( i know the role of milk in traditional jewish breads can be controversial, but don't beat up on me!)

what in heavens name should the hydration for a good challah be? i don't make this bread often, so i just don't know. . . i do want challah to "kvell" (gush, praise wildly) over.

once i get this worked out i'll go on to the more interesting challah types: apple, chocolate, etc. etc.

however, i do find the story of why challah is braided to be charming. some say that each strand has a meaning. the first braid stands for "remember;" the second, "protect" or "cherish;" and the third braid, the one that unites the other two, is said to mean that you must do the remembering and cherishing at the same time -- they cannot be separated, just as after baking the braids grow together into one loaf.

however, i have to confess that it's common to see challah of 4, 6, even 8 braids. and of course on some holidays, the challah is formed as a wreath -- so i'm not sure how reliable this explanation is!

posted by fortune | 10:40 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Friday, July 02, 2004

proposed programs for scaa consumer track at seattle 2005

the last scaa coffee conference in atlanta ended just a few weeks ago really, in april. and yet here we are, already planning for next year's conference in seattle, april 15-18, 2005.

previously, i floated to you some ideas of conference events i had hoped the scaa would consider offering its coffee-loving consumer members for seattle. but time, money, and space being what they are, the now-proposed schedule is looking much different:

  • Saturday, 9:00-10:15 am, Meet the Experts: Descriptive Cupping with Paul Songer of the Cup of Excellence
  • Saturday, 10:45am-12:00pm, Coffee & Philanthropy: Karen Gordon, Karen Cebreros
  • Saturday Afternoon, TBA, In the Beginning: the early days of espresso in Seattle, the SCAA's own Mike Ferguson
  • Saturday, Afternoon TBA, Seattle Coffee House Tour: Don Holly
  • Sunday, 9:00-10:15am, Ethiopian Culture and Ceremony: Tadesse Meskela
  • Sunday, 10:30am-12:00pm, Coffee Tasting with Ken Davids: Pulped Naturals
  • Sunday, Afternoon TBA, Pod-Brewer Demo: Bunn
  • Sunday, Evening TBA, C-Member Reception
  • Monday, Morning TBA, Show floor tour with technical demos: David Schomer?

the sad fact is that seattle seems to have a very small and somewhat antiquated conference center, one in which apparently electricity and internet access are hard to come by.
this has really limited what we had hoped to offer. some small revision might still be possible, however, so i encourage all scaa consumer members to comment below on this very preliminary and rough outline!

i will gladly take your ideas back to the committee and see if we can get any wiggle room. . .

posted by fortune | 10:39 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Thursday, July 01, 2004


"the largest java chip frappuccino weighs in at 650 calories -- 50 calories more than a big mac -- and contains 25 grams of fat, compared with 33 grams for the big mac."

this article is certainly eye-opening. who knew that the mermaid's supersize fraps basically contain about a 1/2 cup cream, fat-wise? see for yourself.

the message here is: make your own iced coffee drinks at home! save calories, money, and get a better-quality, more satisfying drink!

and the story of the naturally bred decaf coffee tree has taken an interesting twist. . .

also, get ready for a new coffee drink to come south from canada to the u.s.a. -- the double-double.

finally, salvation came yesterday in the form of a care package of fresh don schoenholt's gillies coffee: 12 oz. each moka yemen; guatemala shb (strictly hard bean, or "strictlies"); my favorite sumatra lintong "kuda mas" grade 1, triple-pick, japanese prep; the famous yrg; the exclusive "dns private reserve" (a.k.a. that life-changing blend); and more. . .

posted by fortune | 8:46 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

sancerre magic

the more i eat at the french culinary institute, the more i like it. the food is always delicious and elegant.

even on days when my favorite bartender matthew isn't there.

today i was honored to have lunch with the charming scaa board member kimberly easson of transfairusa, who's also the chair of the consumer marketing committee, the body responsible for the consumer member program i'm always doing stuff for and writing about here, such as the cupping last sunday.

we had some of the most beautifully plated food i've ever seen: her crab cakes were too lovely, poised in a pool of sauce that reminded me of the delicate orange color peeking from the interior of a seashell. my bouillabaisse was arranged like a japanese jewel box.

the waitress recommended the white sancerre by the glass; sadly i neglected to write down the name. . . its flowering-meadow and apple flavors were enchanting [update: ah! i'm now informed it was the henri bourgeois port de caillou 2002. i personally don't agree with the "citrus, straw and chalk" review at all; but do affirm that the wine is beguiling].

the chocolate-raspberry mousse came in the most delicate little phyllo purse, complete with bow and ribbon. anyway, over lunch we discussed the consumer programs for the scaa coffee conference in seattle in 2005.

i'll post a complete list later. but the highlight i'm excited about is an actual tour of all the major seattle coffeehouses!

kimberly said she would contact the (in?)famous david schomer of espresso vivace and see if he would lead it. . .

posted by fortune | 2:02 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

for all the world to see

and a huge bccy thank-you to incredible altie and scaa consumer member eric sakowski for taking fabulous pix of sunday's coffee cupping event.

devoted readers know that one of the yoga pose flow combinations ("vinyasas") i've been working on for a while now is bakasana (known as "crow" or "crane") up to sirsasana 2 (known as "tripod headstand") back down to parshva kakasana (known as "side crow") and jump back to chatarunga (known as "four-legged staff" or "crocodile"). the flow itself is actually not difficult.

what's hard is to accomplish the entire vinyasa with the breath and with that slow, gentle, effortless, floating quality. this is why i've been taking viniyoga lessons for a couple of years now once a week, to help perfect my moving on the breath and also to develop that weightless, molasses-motion float, which comes about only from being perfectly on when it comes to the inhale and exhale.

and i'm writing to report that i'm almost there! changing the way i'm breathing also changes the way i jump, not only back to chatarunga in surya namaskar (known as "the sun salutation"), but also into inversions such as pincha mayurasana (known as "peacock feather" or "forearm stand") -- which i now easily do in the middle of the room -- or adho mukha vriksasana (known as "downward facing tree" or "handstand"), which i'm still working on pressing up into from adho mukha svanasana(known as "downward facing dog"). . .

posted by fortune | 8:01 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Monday, June 28, 2004

cupping swanky

please remember that the scaa consumer member nyc event concludes this evening with the cocktail party at the nybot grading room.

this event is open to all scaa members, pro and consumer, even if you didn't make yesterday's incredible cupping. see you at 6pm!

as for yesterday's event, 10-14 of us managed to navigate new york city well, with only one small transport bobble, as the l train to williamsburg was apparently running backwards and only on one track.

but fortunately that didn't stop us from getting to gimme, where we consumer members got to chat with barista mike white (of coffee party fame) and watch kevin cuddeback pour amazing latte art -- 2 and 3 strand laurel wreaths that delicately wove their way around the cup edge like an ancient olympic crown.

at the exchange consumers benefited from the expert tutelage of former scaa prez steve colten and green coffee association vice prez john stefenson as we cupped 2 flights of 8 coffees each -- 16 in all -- to see the wide range of quality available -- everything from a lovely ethiopian harrar with an amazing blueberry note that sang as clear as a bell to a repulsive vietnamese grade 2 robusta.

the harrar was probably the most lovely i've ever sampled in my life. it was so good in fact that several of the home roasters with us frankly and openly snatched the green to take with them.

even tho' the grades of vietnamese robusta on the table were frightening -- frightening because they do appear in the coffees americans drink every day -- i have to admit that the samples of el salvador and peru arabica presented to us were in fact worse.

the low-quality, trash or "triage" peru coffee actually made me nauseated briefly with its ammonia odor, which came from rotten, nasty defective beans included in the sample. not that they were actually representative of the finest coffees peru and el salvador can actually produce!

but the coffees i want to focus on and describe with the great linglese are the three we cupped at oren's daily roast with oren and genevieve:

  • nicaragua: this fair-trade, organic coffee is the wiwili "la provedencia." it was so floral and a little bright at first i mistook it for an african, esp. since it lacked with bittersweet finish i associate with similar coffees, such as the organic nicaraguan i had from counterculture a few months ago.
  • jamaican blue mountain: this coffee was from the "rsw" estate. this one also completely fooled me; i was convinced it was a central american coffee, perhaps a mexican altura. that oren's a tricky guy! it was bright, floral, and woody spicy -- i thought allspice, nutmeg, mace.
  • sulawesi kalossi: this coffee cried out indonesian. just a mellow coffee with that great scent of fresh soft moss, heavy body, nutty aroma, and dutch chocolate aftertaste. i personally found it to be far the most striking of the three.

all of these coffees are of fantastic quality. as oren explained (ruefully?), "i never cup on price. i cup it as it is and buy only what i really like."

he laughed a little and looked at his shoes: "that it always seems to be the best quality, most expensive coffee is just the way it is." well oren, i have to say we coffee lovers are glad that this is how fate works out for you.

because it certainly works out well for us! finally, let me bestow a huge bccy thank you on everyone who helped make this event happen, and to the consumer members who attended, esp. those who travelled great distances to participate.

posted by fortune | 7:14 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

Sunday, June 27, 2004

wish me luck!

i'm off on my way now to the scaa consumer member nyc coffee cupping event at oren's daily roast.

the definition of chutzpah? attempting to drag 14 out-of-towners on a coffee tour of new york on a tight schedule during the total traffic chaos that is pride day.

fortunately i'm starting above the parade and should within 2 hours get safely below it. . . .

posted by fortune | 6:28 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments

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