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Saturday, December 04, 2004

massive relief

hamelman challah altho' i keep saying that the canonization of j. hamelman must cease, events cry out otherwise, even in the face of disaster. despite these pitfalls, you see the beautiful result here.

i was discussing challah with a long-time friend of mine friday afternoon, at which time he remarked that he had never actually seen a 6-strand challah. well, he has now.

like all the hamelman breads i've tried, it emerges large, lofty, beautiful and delicious. despite the 6 egg yolks, the bread isn't excessively decadent -- i mean, we're discussing 6 yolks for 2 loaves, each more than 16 in. long and 3-3/4 in. high.

as you can see, the hamelman braiding diagrams are excellent, as i had never made anything more than a regular 3-strand challah braid before. but this is how nice the bread looks on only the first try!

the bread is painted with an egg-white wash for light sheen. after only 30 mins. in a 375 degree oven, out pops these gorgeous challah, their mouth-watering aroma drifting thru the house.

in the future i'm going on to the challah recipes from maggie glezer's new book. and still pondering what to do about my mixer situation.

but in the meantime i can highly recommend hamelman's challah to all. mr. right, who gets the photo credit here, snarfed down several pieces before it even had a chance to cool.

at first when he heard the amount of egg yolks in the recipe, he insisted that i give away a loaf; it was obviously too unhealthy. but once he tried a slice, he reversed course and declared both loaves keepers!

"but i promised at least one as a gift," i protested. "you can make more," he said. . .

posted by fortune | 2:13 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

sudden death

diaster is when you have promised loaves of j. hamelman's challah to various people, which has to be made up the night before, only to have blanche -- the beloved kitchenaid stand mixer -- die again mid-stir.

saint hamelman's 3 loaves worth of challah dough is stiff, but not that tough! blanche has confronted worse and survived; this shouldn't have been cause for her electrical mahasamadhi!

what's dispiriting is that i just had her fixed this august for US$125. another similar repair would put me near the cost of a brand new one.

kitchenaid appliances once lasted a lifetime. . .what's happened here? altho' the repair warranty has expired, mr. right might call 'em up and try to, as the godfather says, "reason" with them.

otherwise, i think i'm looking at purchasing an electrolux magic mill. (can you make cakes and cookies in this thing or is it only for bread?) in the end, i had to drag out the kitchenaid hand mixer to finish up the dough.

but of course the hand mixer doesn't having blanche's oommph, so i have no idea how this 6-egg-yolk challah is going to come out.

you found me near midnight with flour in my hair and yeast on the floor. it was ugly. ugly.

as it is i have to get up in the middle of the night and fold this dough. . . .

posted by fortune | 1:01 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Friday, December 03, 2004

a turning point and the peaberry

let's start, as i did this morning, with the gillies tanzanian highland peaberry, as i promised.

everybody knows i'm gonna say now: grab your scaa flavor wheel while we talk about this coffee. . .tanzanian peaberry, as you all know, is a consistent favorite among many consumers, and my retailer friends report that it sells steadily.

and not just because the little round peaberries are really, really cute! part of it may be the myth that a peaberry -- or "caracol" bean -- contains more flavor than regular flatbeans. some think peaberries are more desirable; others still find them technically a defect, or flaw.

i've made this coffee 3 times now: twice in the vac pot, and this morning again in the cafetiére (a.k.a. french press). i prefer it in the latter.

why? i think the vac pot overemphasizes the coffee's brightness and underplays its nice body.

i also like it as a breakfast cup, altho' don schoenholt, the roaster, intends it as an after-dinner coffee!

but let's get started. this peaberry is a full coffee, roasted to what i would call low-medium full city -- a nice color, no oil.

the dry grounds had a lovely floral quality. tasting it, i found a nice fruity, nutty note -- not the usual almond or walnut, maybe more hazelnut -- i thought at first a brazil nut, but brazil nuts are buttery and coat the tongue in a way this coffee doesn't -- and a long, mouth-watering aftertaste.

even in a vac pot, it has a lovely body, but the press pot allows this coffee the best expression of its mouthfeel. in the press it developed a surprisingly thick body!

there's no doubt that the coffee is medium bright. i wouldn't use the term winey -- although in the link above long-time bccy pal dougie cadmus does, as does don himself -- because they use that term differently than i do, to indicate that fruity quality, whereas i feel winey's a taste quality, not an aroma quality, so we're talking about different sides of the wheel with this -- and in the press pot the brightness and body come into a more pleasing balance, i think.

why is this coffee so consistently popular? i think because many consumers want some of that bright african taste, but might not like the razor-sharp brightness (as don described it, "the gleam on the edge of a wilkinson sword" -- don, i didn't know you were a fencer!) often associated with kenya. the tanzanian is grown in roughly the same region and has some of the same characteristics, but in a milder form.

and with it's noteworthy body, it's a pleasure to drink. however, i will note that the peaberry is best hot. when i let it cool a bit to better judge the brightness, it lost some of its charm.

what does this mean? to my mind, you wouldn't make iced coffee with the tanzanian peaberry alone!

when i tried it with a tablespoon of light cream and a touch of raw sugar, the brightness diminished further, and a more vanilla sensation developed. since i think most new yorkers drink coffee with milk and sugar, it's easy to see why they like the tanzanian peaberry -- that lightly fruity, nutty, vanilla thing is appealing!

finally, long-time readers have patiently listened to me rant about the world-price depression known as "the coffee crisis" for years now. about how this situation not only causes human suffering, but also surprisingly contributes to the problems of illegal drugs and illegal immigration, as well as just plain lowers the quality and purity of coffee in our coffee-lovin' cups.

thus i have amazed everyone -- myself including coffee market professionals -- by somehow persuading a number of otherwise ordinary normal consumers to become coffee market price watchers! and yesterday was a most interesting day for us.

why? the coffee market crossed the US$1 point for the first time in 4 long years. since the fair-trade people estimate that coffee has to be at US$1.26 for farmers to make a living and be able to invest in really taking care of the trees, we still need coffee prices to move up a bit, and for the increase to sustain itself for a while, say, more than 6 months.

while the market closed below US$1, march coffee is still above that level. what this means for consumers is that if these prices hold, we will see higher-quality, better-tasting coffee in our morning mug!

but it also means we may pay a few cents more at retail for our beloved java. even should it increase, gourmet specialty coffee remains a bargain beverage -- a pound of coffee makes about 40 cups, meaning even pricey-feeling kona at US$24 per lb. costs only US$0.60 a cup, less than a can of [insert soft drink/soda brand here]!

so even if a truly beautiful costa rica coffee rises from, say, US$11.50 a pound to US$13.00 retail, that means cups of costa rica are still only US$0.33, up just US$0.04 per cup. mere pennies, pennies that make such a difference for the farmers!

however, before we celebrate too widely, we have to remember that recently many farmers have entered into longer-term relationship-style contracts. this means they may have promised their coffee earlier this year for US$1.20!

so it will be a hard moment for them should prices reach US$1.30, even tho' the lower price seemed like a good deal at that time. with this in mind, we have to remember that higher prices have to be sustained for a good length of time before we consumers will see the improvements in quality we desire, for us and the farmers!

posted by fortune | 6:59 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Thursday, December 02, 2004

coffee -- quality and not; or what's in those cans, part iii

yesterday afternoon i was thrilled to hear from coffee visionary marty diedrich. i don't need to explain who he is to you coffee lovers (here and you know, here), since most of you have been drinking coffee from his family's roasting machines for years!

indeed, if you ask most consumers to describe a coffee roasting machine, they will immediately outline the classic diedrich ir-7 drum roaster for you, down to the famous red color.

what's fascinating about marty is that he's one of those true entrepreneurs who's not happy unless he's shredding the envelope in his industry, which is why he's struck out on his own to once again set a new standard for excellence in coffee.
the new coffeehouse(s) will be located in marty's homebase of southern california. he's naming them "kean," after his son; look for the first one to open around may 2005.

not only will marty be roasting his own coffee himself -- and no, i couldn't worm any info about the espresso blend out of him, not a peep! (sigh) -- he also has ambitious goals in terms of coffee quality. he intends to buy only the highest-quality, sustainable coffees from former scaa prez david griswold's firm, sustainable harvest.

and to instantly achieve world-class beverage service quality, he's retained the barista goddess sherri johns to set up his staff. but! beyond that!

marty said to me, "i really believe in the 'triple-bottom line' theory. i can't do well unless the farmers are, unless the baristi are."

what does this mean in practice? marty told me that as soon as he could get the business on a sound footing he was absolutely committed to providing a living wage to his employees -- including health insurance -- which in pricey southern california is one bold statement!

no mere "people behind the counter" (pbtc) for him! marty seems to be looking to establish his baristi on the italian model -- true professionals who will stay with him for many years on a real career path and who are encouraged to excel in their art.

let's contrast this goal with the recent news from commercial coffee land (thanks, oren for alerting me to this horrible news story!):

"we have capacity to raise the quality. that is demanded by our customers," van thanh huy, chairman of the vietnam coffee and cocoa association (vicofa), told reuters on the sidelines of a coffee conference.

industry experts say vietnam should consider wet processing and steaming to improve the taste of robusta, which will also raise the price of the beans by $100 per tonne over ordinary beans.

grade one contains 12.5 percent of moisture, 2 percent of black and broken beans and 0.5 percent of foreign matter, such as crushed stones, tree branches or nut shells."

yup: steamed robusta comprising defective beans blackened by disease, attacked by fungus (i could link to a picture of this, but the fungus is so gross-looking you'd freak out), and then mixed with tree bark; that's what you'll be drinking in "higher-quality" commercial coffee soon.

of course once they've ground it up, added the requisite amount of pelletized chaff, mixed in some not-much-better arabica for marketing cover, and put this nightmare in the cans and jars, consumers can't tell what's in it. . .

long-time readers know i often ask "what's in those cans?" now, thanks to reuters, we know; and it's just as bad as we feared. . .if the disgusting stuff above is considered news-worthy substantial improvement, and being called "grade one"!

let's take a moment to review the specialty "grade one," whole-bean coffee you can buy from your local neighborhood independent roaster/retailer or coffeehouse. specialty grade-one coffee must be free of any so-called "primary defects."

this means no black, fungus-eaten coffee beans allowed. none. zero. zip.

none of this "2% broken" allowed stuff; a mere 5 broken beans equals a full defect in specialty. that means 25 broken beans, just 25, will disqualify that coffee from being specialty grade one.

let's recap: the vietnamese commercial "grade one" above allows for 2% broken beans and that yummy fungus, with just a soupçon of tree bark. the specialty "grade one" forbids any fungus and even 1% of broken beans or tree bark disqualifies the coffee.

how do they calculate these percentages? they take a 350g (about 11 or 12 oz.) sample and count the beans, each bean individually. then they take the number of individual broken beans in that sample and compute the percentage.

you can do this for yourself at home. buy a 12 oz. bag of whole-bean coffee and count out 25 beans. look at how tiny a part those beans are of that whole bag. (to save you the headache of counting, scaa chief ted lingle tells me the average 12 oz. contains approx. 1,750 beans.)

yet in specialty coffee that tiny number of beans would disqualify the whole bag! i know many people, coming here to bccy for the first time, are confused by all my talk about coffee quality.

that's because commercial marketing doesn't educate the consumer, but instead pushes those "coffee-by-products" on its supposedly delicious aroma, as advised by the weird clotaire ripaille, who believes he can psychoanalyze us all en masse.

but we won't talk about that fake "aroma," which i am reliably informed by people in a position to know, is even sometimes artifically added to that, um, stuff!

meanwhile, most specialty roasters believe the subject is too complex for coffee lovers and so don't talk about coffee quality or coffee purity with consumers. but not so!

once you've seen the kind of green coffee usually used in commercial products placed next to that used in specialty, the entire situation is obvious (pretty jade-green good coffee left, tolerable coffee middle, "coffee-by-products" right). obvious.

the simple question to ask yourself is: "how much fungus do i want in my coffee?"

as scaa chief ted lingle sez: "buy specialty whole-bean coffee." as i say: "'cuz any fungus is scuzzy."

posted by fortune | 6:55 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

at long last, namarupa!

like many people who subscribed to eddie stern's awesome and intellectual yoga magazine namarupa, i've been on tenterhooks awaiting the latest edition. and boy howdy was it a worthwhile wait!

billed as the "photography" issue, it's truly filled with breathtaking pix of india taken over decades. but the second i write this, i have to confess that every issue of namarupa has contained incredible photos.

really i'm surprised the magazine hasn't won awards for the photography -- the magazine is worth its price for the images alone. i sat on this cool, rainy morning with a sunny cup of gillies fresh, bright tanzanian highland peaberry (more on this later) just delighting in the art. . .

but this issue also contains an amazing set of interviews with tkv desikachar, bks iyengar, and p. jois. i was particularly thrilled by their answers to the question of who, what, and how -- or what makes a good yoga teacher.

the magazine would be worth its price for this discussion alone. but, as the t.v. sez, wait, there's more!

this issue also offers an interview with swami satchidananda of kerala. there are more tremendous articles of historical interest about two famed yoginis, sri anadaymayi ma and atmanananda (scroll down this page to atmanandaji), as well as swami laxmanjoo.

not to let its more scholarly ambitions lapse, there are also in-depth translations and analyses of part of the yoga sutras and the lesser-known gheranda samhita.

in short this issue appeals to all schools of yoga, to those with a cultural interest in india, to those with a philosophical, scholarly, or historical interest in indian thought, as well as to those who just like to look at great photos and read amusing travelogues.

the crowning jewel of this issue is the multimedia cd describing a tour of the indian holy city of varanasi. future issues of namarupa apparently are going to be more and more multimedia, which only makes sense to me, as publishing so many high-quality pix on dead trees and shipping them about has got to be absurdly expensive. . . .

posted by fortune | 8:33 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

jeffrey hamelman, zen master

ok, ok, i'm sure by now, dear readers, you are waaay tired of this j. hamelman hagiography. this is because you haven't read the epilogue to his book, bread, which is possibly one of the most beautiful, plain-spoken, and sincere-without-being-earnest statements of what is good in life i've ever read.

sit the man next to the dalai lama. but seriously, to prove that hamelman is only human, i do have one minor beef with his book.

it's in his instructions for creating and maintaining a sourdough culture. he says that when you feed and refresh the sourdough as it ferments, you should discard "a portion." um, how big is a portion?

i understand that people differ over this "portion." when you discard some of the sourdough culture, you do so to improve the bread.

sourdough cultures capture both wild yeasties and good bacterial beasties from the environment -- your kitchen. one kind of good beastie creates acetic acid (think vinegar) and another lactic acid (think yogurt).

too much acid makes for really bad, inedible bread, just nasty tasting. and it smells bad too!

so when you toss the extra culture, you are reducing the acid load to make sure you don't have too much. what most people prefer in their sourdough breads is a nice balance of acetic and lactic cultures. a light gentle tang.

we've all suffered thru overly-sour bread, so i won't go there. . .but people have different tastes for what that acid balance should be.

i myself prefer a more yogurt-y type feeling in bread, and with a whispered suggestion, not a full shout. so the question: how much to throw away?

other books i've read suggest you toss about half -- and if i were to make hamelman's culture (very tempting, very tempting; but i have to move onto the challah next!), this is the amount i'd start with. if that turned out too assertive for my taste, i'd move to discarding 2/3s. . .

one thing i do like about hamelman's sourdough culture instructions is that he makes something a few other books overlook quite clear. and that is that the lactic acid takes longer to develop than the acetic acid.

so some books will say you can bake with your culture in 6 or 7 days. yeah, you can, but in my experience, you'll get a more vineger-type sour taste.

the nice gentle yogurt taste takes 2 or 3 days longer to develop, as those beasties are slower to emerge in the culture. . .so my advice is to wait! develop your new culture 9 days or so before baking. . .

posted by fortune | 6:43 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Monday, November 29, 2004

coffee farming in pluma & chocolate from ecuador

long-time readers may recall that i have in the past really enjoyed a bag or two of mexican pluma hidalgo. the one that struck me most recently came of course from david haddock of counterculture coffee.

thus i was really moved this morning to see a fantastic and in-depth article on the situation of a coffee farmer near pluma hidalgo. it's easy when you are drinking a beautiful single-origin or estate coffee to focus on the artisan who roasted it for you.

and of course i would never give short shrift to the talents of great roasters. but the true loveliness of the coffee does come from the farmer; and sadly it's so common to overlook that. . .

reading this article really makes me want to catch another bag of pluma!

also, i bought a bar of the rainforest-alliance certified (hiya sabrina! when are we going to yoga together?) single-origin plantations arriba 75%, a new-ish chocolate line, which features beans from ecuador.

this chocolate hasn't gotten the best reviews (scroll down to read the comments). i think the lack of vanilla in the bars is a mistake; a careful touch of vanilla isn't an adulterant to chocolate, but rather a positive addition, to my mind.

it's true some chocolatiers use too much vanilla; i won't deny that at all. but that of course doesn't make proper use of vanilla bad.

i have to agree with the reviews, personally: the 75% bar is a bit dry, and it's no valrhona in the mouth. long-time bccy pal clay gordon believes we should support this line for its positive social & environmental benefits.

i am somewhat sympathetic to this argument, but i do also want a higher-quality product. i do hope that the makers of this line will work to improve the chocolate!

a few tweaks to the production and they would have a wonderful, distinctive candy.

posted by fortune | 7:12 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Sunday, November 28, 2004

what we in new york call a sicilian

here in new york, we have basically 2 kinds of pizza: the usual, often sold by the slice -- except famously at john's and grimaldi's, where you don't even ask for anything less than a whole pie -- and the sicilian. the usual is often called a thin crust, which it isn't.

compared to the really thin, almost cracker-y pizza crusts of rome or the chewier thin crusts of naples, the new york "usual" is denser, thicker, and contains more oil. again, john's, grimaldi's, patsy's: these are usually cited as the epitome of the new york pie.

the sicilian is less discussed. i think the best new york sicilian pizza is at di fara's in midwood, brooklyn, off avenue j. the sicilian is a very thick, chewy, bready crust, is always made on a rectangular sheet pan, and has a heavier layer of cheese.

of all the pizzas i've made here in new york -- every sunday for oh, 6 years now, before i even started this dopey blog -- i've never made a sicilian. until today. however it was rather unintentional. ..

i wanted to try the hamelman pizza recipe, which is 68% hydration and based in a biga that sits overnight. his baguette was so amazing i had to try the pizza.

it's interesting in that you make the biga, cut it into the mixing bowl with the remaining flour (i used a mixture of durum and first clear that comes out to 13% protein), water, yeast, and salt. then after the first mix is done, you drizzle the oil into the mixer as the dough hook kneads.

his mixing and folding process gives you super-tall, super-springy balls of dough.

i heated the pizza stone to 550 degrees f, spread the dough out as i usually do, and laid on a thin layer of sauce and fresh mozzarella. bake for 6 mins.

and what comes out? i couldn't believe my eyes: it was a sicilian crust! the edge (what most people call "the crust" proper), not being weighed down by ingredients, rose to an astonishing height.

it mean, it was literally a good 1-1/2 inches high! light as a feather, lovely, deliciously browned, crispy, and chewy.

altho' the center was fine, that edge was thick, thick, thick. . . not because i patted it out thicker than usual, but because . . .i don't know, i suppose because all of hamelman's recipes give you lofty, mile-high results.

hamelman lives in vermont, so perhaps that counts as great pizza there. and it was quite tasty, a real pleasure to eat. and yet!

new yorkers are a stubborn lot. mr. right wanted a usual new-york-style pizza; he's no sicilian fan!

but if you are, the hamelman recipe is what you're after. me, i'm still in pursuit of the perfect new york usual pizza crust. . .

posted by fortune | 7:19 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

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