29 March 2010

Rye? Because.

Rye flour can be difficult to work with.  When flour is hydrated, gluten forms.  Scientifically speaking, gluten is made up of glutenin and gliadin.  Rye flour is grossly lacking in glutenin.  It also contains alpha and beta amylases which are also present in saliva.  Amylase breaks down starch into sugar.  What does this mean in practice?  It means that rye flour, on it's own, can not create a gluten structure that will trap steam.  If you've ever seen a traditional German, 100% rye loaf you'll understand.  These loaves are more like doorstops.  I love them but they are not exactly what you think of when you think of bread.  The Jewish ryes that you find in the grocery store are not 100% rye.  They all contain some percentage of white or wheat flour.

The 2nd practical problem with the rye stems from the amylase.  If the dough is over-mixed, it starts breaking down and becomes incredibly sticky.  This becomes even more so when caraway seeds are added.  The sharp, pointy seeds cut through the, already lacking, gluten structure.  This brings me to the 3rd, totally unscientifically related, problem with rye.  People tend to associate rye with caraway.  I hear people claim to not like rye bread all the time.  Dollars to doughnuts, it's the caraway they don't like.  When you take the seeds out, rye has a very mild, earthy flavor.  Rye also has a high ash content which, I think, gives it the earthiness.  Ash is a byproduct of the milling process and it is what makes rye flour ferment like crazy, problem #4.  If rye flour is present in a sour, it ferments more rapidly than any other flour.  Whole wheat has a higher ash content than white flour so it too ferments fast but not as quick as rye.

Enough with the science.  What does it all mean and why am I concerned?  Rye is one of the products I have been working to improve in the last couple weeks.  When I arrived at my current job, the rye loaves were flat (over fermented, over mixed, improper gluten structure...the science is unavoidable) and long.  Most often, customers buy bread for sandwiches.  They are looking for the most sandwichable slices possible.  This means the center of the loaf should be bulbous and the ends should be pudgy, not pointy.

First, we changed the flour from a light, fine rye to a medium, coarse rye.  If you've seen regular ground flour against stone ground flour, you'll know what I'm talking about.  Then, I paid careful attention to the mixing process and educated my team on the variables....don't over mix and incorporate the seeds gently and quickly.  Next we worked on shaping.  Instead of pre-shaping the dough into logs as one normally would for a final batard shape, we shaped them into rounds.  This, in an effort to get the nice bulbous center.  We focused on shaping short, fat loaves for at least a week before we got it right.  It's hard to make your hands change what they do automatically day in and day out.  We still weren't getting exactly what we wanted so we started looking at the bake.  Often rye breads are cut with several short lines going side to side across the loaf.  This helps loaves maintain their structures.  We decided to change the way our rye loaves were scored.  Several cuts call for more handling which is not really a good thing when there are thousands of loaves to be handled.  We moved to one cut, end to end for the non-seeded and two cuts for the seeded.  This change was like finding the Holy Grail.  Our rye went from grocery store blunder to artisan beauties over night.

21 March 2010

Wheels and Motors

Our new Joovy Caboose

In the last couple months, Kevin and I have purchased both a new car and a new stroller.  The later was the more difficult process and decision to make.  When Josie was in utero, I researched strollers for months before deciding to buy a Combi stroller and infant seat.  The package was less than $200.  The stroller was super light which was high on my priority list because I anticipated many subway trips.  Once Josie was born and I started using the stroller, I quickly changed my mind about my great new purchase.  The front wheels would lock sideways making it impossible to push and this would happen on city streets.  Forget about trying to push the thing on the unpaved Milford, PA roads.  One day Alex, Ciaran, Kevin and I were shopping in Brooklyn and Ciaran was having trouble pushing Josie in the stroller.  This was the day we decided to start looking for stroller #2.

At the time, Josie was big enough to move into the stroller without the infant seat so our options were increased.  We went to Babies R Us and test drove several models before deciding on a Maxi Cosi Foray for the bargin price of $350.  I am one of the first people to slander the owners of the $800 Bugaboos on the streets of NY but the high end Maxi Cosi was a blessing.  It has the big, off-roading, tripod wheels like a jogging stroller.  The seat can face forward or backward and it can go completely flat for sleeping babies.  It also has a space age rain cover that turns the stroller into a pod.  On the downside, it is large, cumbersome and heavy.  In over a year of use, I still have trouble collapsing the thing.

Shopping with the Maxi is near impossible because it never fits between the racks.  This is why we purchase stroller #3, the $20 umbrella stroller.  This stroller handles well enough for store use and it is small enough to keep in the car at all times.  It was the best $20 we ever spent.

When I found out I was pregnant a second time which would give us 2 babies under 2 years, I knew we would need another stroller upgrade.  I decided we could wait until spring to make the purchase.  Winters here are too cold to go outside let alone take a stroller ride.  Last winter we didn't use the stroller and this winter was the same.  Now that the weather is improving and Keegan is ready for fun on the run, it's time for stroller #4.  Of course, I read review after review and talked to moms on the streets but at the last minute I had a lapse in judgement and I ordered a Kolkraft double stroller for $200.  Kevin and I knew we didn't want a side by side stroller because we talked to a dad of twins one day in New Paltz, NY who was very unhappy with his.  He couldn't get through a single doorway and his kids were too young to get out and walk.

The Kolkraft arrived and it took Kevin over an hour to assemble.  It was pretty exciting.  It had two seats like the one the Maxi Cosi has.  The seats can face each other, go back to back, both face forward or both face backward.  There was a huge storage bin under the seats which we've never had the luxury of having.  We put the kids in the stroller and gave it a test drive through the living room.  After a week of having it in the house, we decided to return it.  It was just too big.  The trip to the store to return it sealed the deal.  It was too heavy for me to lift into the car and Kevin could barely get it to fit into the car once the kids were strapped inside.

I went back to the drawing board and purchased stroller #5, the Joovy Caboose sit and stand for $99.  There is an 'ultra-light' model for and extra $100 but I thought back to the bargin umbrella stroller and I decided whatever the difference, it couldn't be worth $100.  This is the one I originally wanted to try out before my judgement lapsed.  There's a front seat for the younger child which can even accomodate an infant carrier.  The back has a platform for the older child to stand on and a jump seat in case they get tired and want to sit.  It's easy on and off for the older kid which is great because at this age, Josie wants to walk on her own but sometimes she gets tired and wants to sit.  We took the stroller out on Saturday morning and it was magnificent.  Both kids seemed to love it and it prooved to be the easiest stroller to collapse that we've ever had.  Yes it is heavier than an umbrella stroller but I could still easily lift it in and out of the car on my own and it didn't take up any more space than 2 umbrella strollers would.

The car....

I've had a Subaru wagon for the last 6 years.  I love it for the rough weather but after renting a minivan for the weekend to accomidate us and our out of town guests we decided it was time to take the plunge into parenthood.  I looked to Parents Magazine for reviews of the best, safest, most affordable family cars and I fell in love with the Mazda 5.  It's like a mini, minivan.  It has three rows of seating but you'd never know it because the exterior isn't much larger than a Honda Fit.  Sure, the 3rd row isn't too comfy for adults but it doesn't have to be.  It's a good place to put the kids when we want to travel with another couple or more kids for that matter.  We went to the Mazda dealer, traded the Subaru and walked out with a 2010 Mazda 5 on the same day.

The end...

The whole car buying process was sooo much easier than buying a new stroller.  It's funny to think about the stroller purchases.  Three years ago I would have never imagined giving it this much thought but now I'm a certifiable stroller expert.  All the reviews, manuals and magazines can't begin to prepare you for the real thing.  In the end, it seems that different strollers are better for different applications and no matter what, you're bound to suffer from stroller envy when you see all the bugaboos strolling down the path in central park.  I know $300 wasn't a steal but who can afford an $800 stroller?!

15 March 2010

Hold Dough

Most, 95% say, of the Fairway bakery staff speaks Spanish.  Of those Spanish speakers, maybe 3 people (out of 70) speak enough English to have a conversation.  I don't speak Spanish.  I speak fluent French which comes in handy an over-estimated ten times annually.  The delivery drivers at Amy's Bread were African and they all spoke a French patois but they understood my French which made it easy to communicate with them as they spoke little English.  The screaming chef I worked under at the Ritz Carlton was from France.  I never let him know I could understand every word he dictated to his sous chef who was the only one he would give helpful hints on how to handle his antiquated formulas thus making it possible for me to figure them out when it came to my turn to make them.  One day he started screaming obscenities in French and I dropped the egg I was separating on the floor.  Busted!  That's when he asked if I spoke French, in French and I fessed up to my language skills.

If I played my cards better in college, I would have double majored in Spanish and French but alas I took classes like 'Floral Arranging' and 'Women, Work and Family' instead.  I was able to make my own floral arrangements for my wedding reception but otherwise my elective choices have proven to be pretty useless.

My day is spent playing a never ending game of charades in which I'm allowed to talk but no one understands me.  It is mentally exhausting!  When I lived in France, I became fluent pretty quickly only because I love to talk and I couldn't stand around mute.  I'm hoping this acquisition process works in a similar fashion at Fairway.  Fluent by next month!

After a long day at work, I come home and get to play the same game with my daughter who is little by little learning to talk.  She knows the basics and she is starting to put them together into sentences.  My husband has a thick Irish accent which most people can't understand.  Josie pulls words from his brogue and pairs them with mine to make her own language.  For instance, no one 'leaves' or 'is gone, they are 'away'.  Josie spends endless amounts of time saying 'Mommy away,' 'Daddy away,' 'milk away,' 'fuck (that's fork) away.'  Kevin is trying to teach her to say 'fork away off' but, thank God, it's not taking.  Yesterday she said 'Mommy away work push.'  Which translates to 'Mommy is away to work for push.'  'Push' is what Josie calls money.  She has a piggy bank that counts the change as you 'push' it through the slot.  When she began to understand, we would call her over to help us 'push' the coins into the bank.  Now she raids our pockets for push so she can fill her bank.  Good thing too, as that's the only way she's going to save for college!

The language acqusition at the bakery works much the same as Josie's.  Our health inspection was last week and every food item had to be accurately labeled and dated.  While checking the cooler to make sure this was taken care of, I noticed a bin of 'hold dough' from March 9th.  I was trying to figure out what we were holding the dough for when it dawned on me.  It should have read 'old dough,' as in 'pate fermente,' as in the starter dough for one of the formulas.  It made me chuckle at the same time as it warmed my heart to know they were trying so hard to please.  It took me back to the time I found a tub of 'robster bisque' at the Ritz Carlton.  The Asian intern had labeled the lobster soup he made earlier that day.  I also thought back to the time I informed my French host family that my friend was off fucking their daughter.  I meant to say he was kissing her and I meant it as a joke but my mispronunciation changed 'bisou' to 'baiser' and everyone gasped.  As least I can sympathize with my new Mexican friends.

02 March 2010

Vegan Cowboys?

In college, I always took reading material to the big lecture hall classes.  I graduated from the University of Florida where it was nothing to have 300 people in class with you.  This was only the case for the general education classes.  There were only four students in one of my senior level French classes and those were the classes that mattered.  On one particular day, in this particular psychology class, I had a copy of the now defunct Gourmet magazine.  In the 'readers write' section, there was a recipe for 'Colorado Cowboy Cookies' as made by a small bakery in Manhattan.  The recipe made me drool on my syllabus.  The cookies had oatmeal, chocolate chips and walnuts...no raisins!  I love oatmeal cookies but I can't stand the texture of chewy, gummy raisins.  As soon as class was over, I went to the store and gathered the ingredients to make Cowboy Cookies.

At the time, I was living with my boyfriend Geoff and our friend Cristina.  As many college kids do, we have tons of guests in and out of our house throughout the day.  I wasn't baking for money.  I was working at an Asian place called 'Maui Teriyaki,' home of the chicken bowl.  I had to stand over a hot grill, flipping marinated chicken or stand at a cutting board hacking the chicken to bits with a cleaver.  I still prefer a heavy knife as opposed to the super light models on the shelves now.

The first batch of cookies didn't last long.  I followed the recipe exactly.  The dough was measured in 1/4 cups which made for Texas sized cookies.  I liked them the way they were but I decided to start using pecans because they were plentiful in Florida and I felt they had more flavor than walnuts.  In both cases, I ground the nuts to a flour before folding them into the dough because I don't like large nut chunks in my cookies.

These cookies were the turing point in my life as a baker.  My friends insisted I try to vend them to local cafes and maybe on the street for football game days.  Gainesville, and my social group, is very vegan.  I wanted all my friends to try my handy work so I made a few changes and ended up with vegan Cowboy Cookies.  That's when I hit the pavement.  My first stop was one of my favorite dives, 'Steamers'.  Art, the owner and also the founder of Flying Dog Brewing Company in Colorado, made loose meat sandwiches and yummy, spicy  stir fried veggie versions of the same.  It was cheap, good food.  This is also where I met Kevin and James.  Kevin was the original drummer for the band Against Me!, back when all they could afford were buckets.  James is still the bassist for the band.  The first time I saw them play, it was at an acoustic show in a laundry room.

Art agreed to buy my cookies so long as they weren't vegan.  I sold them to him for $1/cookie and I think he charged $2.  I delivered once a week.  When I arrived there were always people waiting inside just to get some of my cookies which Art lovingly called 'Rachel's Treats.'  I found out that Art was telling everyone they were vegan even though I was baking the original recipe for him.  The next week, I switched it up and sent him the vegan version but I didn't clue him in.  He reported that they were the best batch yet, amazing!

After I graduated, I was living in my hometown, Chestertown, Maryland.  I was teaching history classes at the county high school.  In the mornings before school and on the weekends, I was helping my friend Diane get her bakery business going.  I loved working with Diane.  She used to be an accountant and she just walked out one day to live her dream of baking.  She made lots of classy cakes and upscale brownies.  I just baked what she told me to.  She gave me a recipe for cookies that came from the back of the Ghirardelli    chocolates package.  The recipe was very similar to my cowboys but it included some spices like cinnamon and cloves.  I liked the combo and the next time I baked a batch of my cookies, I added the spices.  It was the enhancement they needed to put them on a higher tier.  

Soon after that school year was finished, I started culinary school instead of getting my master's degree to continue teaching.  During my second year of school, I had a class in nutritional baking.  Our final project was one in which we took a familiar recipe and made a vegan version, a low-fat version and a sugar-free version.  It was very involved and it included a power point presentation of the findings.  I chose to make the cowboy cookies.  It was intense and exciting.  I enjoyed the experimentation and I enjoyed the butter.  I decided to stop toying with the vegan recipe and stick with the full fat, animal content of the originals.  I did, however, start putting golden raisins in the cookies to up the nutritional content.  Cowboy cookies are the original Powerbar.  History states, cowboys used to make them for riding the trails.  They were a quick, easy way to get a lot of nutrients and they kept well for travel.

A few months after I started baking for The Patisserie, I pulled out the Cowboy card.  I felt the showcase needed a non-chocolate alternative to the super chocolate chunk cookies.  After baking the first batch, I thought they needed something more to compete with the chocolate cookies.  It had to be something that added a textural component and also provided more nutrients (just because I like the idea of a healthy cookie).  I went with pumpkin seeds.  The current cowboy cookie is not vegan (though I could whip up a batch if I needed to).  It is comprised of oats, pecans, golden raisins, dark chocolate chunks, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, cloves and the usual cookie components.  They are still big beautiful cookies though I do make mini's for snacking at home.  As a matter of fact, I just baked a batch last night so I can ship some to my mother-in-law in Ireland.

That's it.  The history of my Cowboy Cookie with all its trials and tribulations.