It all started with a post-wedding cake in aBatteredOldSuitcase. Daniel and Frances were married in Sacramento, then honeymooned in Egypt. Upon returning to the States they stopped by South Florida for a second reception for our friends and family who couldn’t travel to California. I made my first “wedding” cake for the party.
Once safely ensconced in retirement I expanded both my baking and short story writing. I recently joined an online forum which provides writing help for amateurs like me and am currently revising everything I wrote over the past few years, including my first book “Ruth,” several short-stories basked on our rescued Havanese/Poodle, Rosalita. I also wrote a political thriller, ”The Star Alliance”, and science fiction with “The Quantum Butterfly Effect,” all of which should be considered proofs until they have been revised—ToAHotelSomeplace.
GhostsThatSell Memories is my sporadically updated travel blog. I wrote it primarily for friends and family we visited during our 2018 cross country road trip.
Header photo of my hometown, Middlebury, Vermont by my life long friend David Griggs. Please visit his website www.djgriggsphoto.com.
Chocolate bars do NOT grow on trees. Growing chocolate is labor intensive as most of the harvesting and processing of cocoa and production of chocolate is done by hand. We toured the Lavahola Cocoa farm yesterday (Monday, May 17,) in the rain.
The Lavahola Chocolate Farm maintains a small garden near the visitor center. It contains a variety of native plants, and houses a few ducks.
There are three types of cacao, Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario, all of which are grown at Lavahola.
Forastero is the hardiest, higher yield and most reliable strain. It is therefore the least expensive and most profitable. Unfortunately, it is bland and bitter and requires more additives to make it into a salable product.
Criolo is the connoisseurs go-to chocolate. It is quite rare and accounts for about 3% of the worlds supply, and therefore quite expensive.
The Trinitario bean was the happy result of a disaster in Trinidad. The Criollo plantations were destroyed by a hurricane (or disease) so the farmers replanted with the high yield Forastero to rebuild their industry. The new trees were planted on/near the roots of the Criollo trees and the resultant hybrid, Trinitario, is hardier than Criollo and tastier than Forastero.
Cacao grows on small trees and start producing after about 4 years. It is climate sensitive and this latitude is as far north as cacao will grow. In fact the higher elevation (200’) on one end of the farm is too cool to grow cacao.
The pods are harvested after they turn red and when scraping the outside exposes a yellow interior. They are cut open and the beans are dried for several months before being examined and selected by the chocolatier. The highest quality beans are roasted and puréed in what looks like a peanut butter mill.
If you happen to be in Hilo on the Big Island take a trip up the mountain and visit Lavahola Chocolate Farm. It’s well worth investing the hour. The staff was knowledgeable, friendly and fun.
Let me say up front, I am NOT a millennial. You might even say I am multi-millennial, somewhat akin to being multi-generational. That is my excuse for taking photographs of my meals before eating… and I am sticking it.
Last night we ate at Island Lava Java in Kona, HI. We asked for, and were seated, at a table with a view of the ocean. (Center picture.) We wanted to watch the sun set over the Pacific. (Right hand picture.)
We sat at the bar (surprise, surprise) waiting the few minutes for the very pleasant hostess to shoo out the previous party. They had been there for three hours. Time to leave folks. The bar had two brews that sounded acceptable, a nice porter and a Kona red ale. I settled on the porter while waiting at the bar.
I had pan-seared mahi-mahi with macadamia nut and coconut crust, herbed scallop potato, fresh wilted spinach, mango buerre blanc, and topped with an orchid. (Left hand picture.) This dinner was the second best mahi-mahi I have ever eaten. (Also, I had the red ale during dinner.)
When visiting the western side of the Big Island I strongly recommend Island Lava Java. It’s 15 minutes south of the airport and while waiting for your room to be available, swing by.
From the minute we stepped up to the hostess podium I felt we were home. The hostess, bartender and waitress were outstanding at their craft and warm and friends. Definitely a go to restaurant.
I attended a fascinating seminar by MOF Chef Stephan Tréand. Chef Tréand earned the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France, or “best craftsman in France,” award in 2004. The seminar was described as “Tempering Chocolate.” Chef Tréand dispensed with that discussion in the first two minutes, then spend the next ninety minutes demonstrating how to make a pure chocolate showpiece.
Rather than try to explain the process here are a few photos from start to finish. He brought some of the pieces with him, but made most of them during the seminar.
I will say I did learn new concepts and methods about tempering and using tempered chocolate.
You may know I use a Joule Sous Vide for everything I possibly can. Last month I saw how to make raspberry jam with no fuss and nearly no mess. Right up my alley! By using the sous vide you avoid cooking the crap out of the berries and the fresh taste is preserved. (Pun intended.) Make this in small batches and store in the fridge. You won’t be disappointed.
My first attempt (following ChefSteps instructions exactly) resulted in a jam that was runny and separated when cool. Today, I increased the amount of pectin from 15g to 20g and the result was a thicker jam that did not separate. Once I open the jar I will decide if I should bump the pectin up another couple of grams.
Recipe, Ingredients and Method all in one.
Thoroughly mix 20g pectin, 125g granulated sugar, and 4g salt in a medium bowl. Add 354g fresh raspberries and mix well. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to extract the juices from the berries. Spoon the mixture into two 8oz mason jars and put the tops on, sealing finger tight. Place in the sous vide, set the temperature to 194F and cook for 30 minutes. It truly is that simple.
After the time is up remove the jars from the water bath and shake vigorously several times as they cool.
One of my sons asked if I could make conchas as a surprise treat for his wife for Mother’s Day. Of course, I said yes, then searched the internet to see what the hell conchas are. I found three or four recipes that seemed sensible, watched two YouTube videos on technique, then tried two “practice” batches.
The first batch was ok, but the texture was wrong. They were tight crumbed and tough, although the flavor was acceptable. Bear in mind, I had never eaten (or heard of) a concha before this week, but I do know what good bread texture and flavor is. QC reminded me I couldn’t even pronounce “concha” until a friend corrected me. My pronunciation was so off, she didn’t know what I was talking about until I showed her one and she said “Oh! Concha. I love them.” The sugar topping used vegetable shortening rather than butter. The author thought the resultant topping would be less grainy. I liked the ones with butter better.
The second batch was better. I used butter based topping and bread flour rather than AP. The crumb still wasn’t acceptable but the flavor remained good. QC thought they needed a little more cinnamon so in the final batch I doubled the cinnamon from one-half to a full teaspoon.
If you make conchas do not over knead the dough. It will be, and should be, very slack,. Proof in a warm, dry, draft free environment. I did as one of the authors recommended, when I started, I turned one of my ovens to “Proof” then just before putting in the dough, turned it off. If you don’t have a proofing oven, just put the light on and leave it on. Proof this way for exactly two hours.
I changed how the topping was formed. After rolling, pressing and buttering the dough balls I rolled the topping out between two sheets of parchment paper, then chose a round cookie cutter the same size as the flattened dough balls. This worked much better than using my hands to flatten the topping into disks to put on the buttered dough balls. Trust me on this.
Conchas Mexicanas Pan Dulce
INGREDIENTS: (Makes about 8-12 conchas it all depends on how large you want them. 10 conchas will be about five inches diameter each.)
After a grueling day of golf yesterday, praying to the golf gods the storms would stay away (they did) and preparing for another round tomorrow, I needed something to occupy my time today
I haven’t made white sandwich bread in a while so I made the dough early this morning. It needs a minimum 8 hour refrigerated rest which will be over at 2:30 this afternoon. I can then shape and bake it. If the results are good there will be a second post later.
While waiting for the sandwich bread to rest and ferment I decided to make a recipe of honey Pumpernickel bread. I am glad I did. I made this once or twice before but never with such great results. Great flavor, texture and crumb.
HONEY PUMPERNICKEL BREAD
• 2 ½ cups warm water (100°-110°F) • 50 g (1/4 cup) vegetable oil • 40 g (2 Tbl) molasses • 170 g (1/2 cup) honey • 3 ½ cups (400g) pumpernickel flour • 2 Tbl unsweetened cocoa powder • 2 Tbl Vital Wheat Gluten • 13.5 g (1 ½ tbl) instant yeast • 1 tsp (6g) salt • 240-360 g (2-3 cups) bread flour • rolled oats (for dusting loaves)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with a dough hook, stir together water, oil, molasses, and honey until mixed well.
Add pumpernickel flour and Vital Wheat Gluten to water mixture.
Add cocoa, yeast, and salt, and stir until blended.
Allow mixture sit for 10 minutes.
Stir in bread flour, one cup at a time, until dough clings to hook and almost clears the sides of mixer, about 3-4 minutes. The dough should weigh about 1880 g.
Cover bowl with greased plastic wrap.
Allow dough to rise in the bowl until doubled, about 30-60 minutes.
For two 9×5 loaves • Divide into 2 pieces.Each should weigh about 940g. • Cover each piece with greased plastic wrap, and let dough rest for 5 minutes. • Shape pieces into loaves, and sprinkle with oats. • Place each loaf in a greased 9×5-inch loaf pan. • Let dough rise until doubled, about 30-60 minutes. • Toward the end of the rising time, preheat oven to 350 F. • Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the internal temperature is about 200 F.
For 16 mini-loaves • Divide into 16 balls 112 g each. • Cover with greased plastic wrap, and let dough rest for 5 minutes. • Shape pieces into loaves, and sprinkle with oats. (Gently roll into a small cylinder, don’t deflate!) • Place 8 loaves in a greased 8 cell mini loaf pan. • Place the remaining 8 balls in the refrigerator. o Let dough rise until doubled, about 30-60 minutes. o Toward the end of the rising time, preheat oven to 350 F. o Bake for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature is about 200 F. o Cool on a cooling rack and remove the remaining balls from the refrigerator o Gently place the second batch in the still warm to touch baking sheet and repeat 20 minute baking. Don’t roll these. Just gently place in the mini baking sheet.
During my first airplane flight in a year, and second in two years, the airline (Delta) served Biscoff cookies. (That was about the ONLY thing Delta did right) I love those cookies. They have a wonderful blend of spices, a crispness, and refreshing taste that is perfect. I said to myself, “Self, you can bake. Make you own damn Biscoff cookies!” And I did. First try the are nearly there. I think a couple more minutes baking they would have been nearly perfect. They flavor and crispness is just about right and the flavor is spot on. Lots of ingredients, mostly spices but I had them in the pantry anyway, but well worth it.
• 250g (2 cups) all-purpose flour • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom • ½ teaspoon salt • ¼ teaspoon baking soda • ¼ teaspoon baking powder • 227g (1 cup) unsalted butter room temperature • 100g (½ cup) sugar • 55g (¼ cup) dark brown sugar firmly packed
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour, spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom), baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar, and brown sugar.
Gradually blend the flour and butter mixtures until well combined.
Divide the dough into flat discs. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (Overnight works well too.)
Roll half of the dough at time to 1/4 inch thickness between two sheets of parchment paper or two silicone mats. Cut out using your favorite cookie cutters. They do spread a little bit so don’t choose something with an intricate shape.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned. Be sure they are browned! They will still be soft. The cookies crisp up as they cool.
Spring is thin mint cookie season. At QC’s request. I made Not Very Thin Mint Cookies for her Mah Jongg group. This was not my first thin mint rodeo. The mint flavor was strong the first time, so this time I didn’t add mint extract to the chocolate coating and the hint ‘o mint was perfect.
I coated the cookies with milk chocolate (31% cacao) rather than the dark chocolate (first attempt) or the second attempt with semi-sweet chocolate coating. The dark (64%) and semi-sweet (46%.)
The dark chocolate did not add enough sweetness to counter the strong mint flavor. The semi-sweet was a big improvement, so why not go a little sweeter yet? I am not a big fan of milk chocolate and I felt the last attempt was past the mark. I remember back when I was a professional photographer—when printing photos always go past what you think the perfect exposure/contrast is… just to be sure. Semi-sweet is the winner.
The liquidity of the chocolate is inversely proportional to the sweetness. This means the thickness of the chocolate coating increases with sweetness, which if you are not a fan of milk chocolate, is not a plus.
Thin Mint Cookies
INGREDIENTS • ½ cup butter • ½ cup granulated sugar • ½ cup brown sugar • 1 egg • 1 cup AP flour • ½ teaspoon baking powder • ½ teaspoon salt • 1/3 cup special dark cocoa powder • ½ teaspoon pure peppermint extract Chocolate Coating: • 8 ounces baking chocolate • ¼ teaspoon vegetable oil • ¼ teaspoon pure peppermint extract
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. Whisk until smooth.
In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg and peppermint extract. Gradually mix in the dry ingredients until the dough comes together. Use your hands to form the dough into a ball.
Place the ball of dough onto a sheet of parchment paper. Flatten it into a disk and put another piece of parchment paper on top.
Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thick. (I like to use chopsticks on either side of the dough to control the thickness.) Transfer the rolled dough, with the parchment paper, onto a baking sheet.
Place the baking sheet in the freezer to chill for 10 minutes.
Transfer the flattened dough to a countertop. Remove the top sheet of parchment paper and use it to line the baking sheet.
Use a small, circular cookie cutter to cut out disks of dough. Transfer the cut disks onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving space in between. Because the dough is chilled, these cookies won’t spread while baking.
Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 11 minutes. Once baked, remove the cookies from the oven, then transfer the parchment paper and cookies to a cooling rack to fully cool.
I temper chocolate using a sous vide. I find it is easier to control the temperature to modify the chocolate’s crystal structure. It is also easier to maintain the proper temper temperature while you dip and coat the cookies. Stir the chocolate until fully melted and stir in the peppermint extract.
Use two forks to tip and flip the cookies. Once covered in chocolate, transfer each cookie back to the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 20 minutes to allow the chocolate to fully set and harden.
• Thin Mints are best enjoyed cold. • Store in an airtight container in the freezer or fridge. • Keep in the freezer for one to two months, or in the fridge for two weeks. This will also keep the chocolate coating at its best. • Store in an airtight container for two days.
I ran across a four ingredient, no knead, no stretch and fold, Italian bread. I am on my third bake of this bread, each with minor tweaks.
Version 1 was as presented. Version 2 was as presented but baked in a Dutch oven (my preferred baking method.) Version 3 included Cake and Bread Enhancer (fifth ingredient) and was baked flat on a baking stone.
Version 1 was excellent. Version 2 was excellent. Version 3 was excellent. All three had great, crispy crusts and a soft tender crumb on the inside.
My current favorite is (was) my high hydration honey no-knead bread, but this may be my new go to. It’s even easier than the honey no-knead. Simply mix everything together the let it ferment for 2 hours. Gently pour out, (I do mean pour, it is high hydration, slack and sticky,) minimally shape and bake. All done!
My goal is to create larger holes in the bread. Version 2 (center) and 3 (right) were the best. I overworked the fermented dough a little too much in Version 1. Try, try, and try again!
Rustic Italian Bread
INGREDIENTS • 380 g AP flour + more for dusting • 20 g (3 Tbl) Bread Enhancer • 1 tsp sea salt • 350 g warm water • 2 tsp active dry yeast
Add the flour, enhancer, salt and yeast to your stand mixer. Use the paddle attachment to mix and combine so no dry patches remain.
Add the warm water and mix until everything is incorporated and a soft, wet dough forms. It will be a slack, sticky dough.
Loosely cover the bowl with plastic and let the dough rise at room temperature (See tip below) for 2 to 3 hours or until doubled in size.
Dust your kitchen counter with flour and scrape the very sticky dough out with a bowl scraper.
With floured hands shape the dough into a ball (or batard,) deflating it as little as possible.
Line a banneton with parchment paper. (See tip below)
Place the ball of dough in the lined banneton smooth side up and let it rest while your oven heats up.
Use a sharp knife or lame to lightly slash an X in the top of the loaf.
Preheat your oven to 450 F with a dutch oven inside for about 45 minutes before baking the bread. Fill an oven proof bowl with 2 inches of water and place it on the bottom rack.
Once hot, carefully transfer the bread loaf into the dutch oven using the parchment paper.
Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake another 5 minutes until golden brown on top. The internal temperature should be 205 F
Remove the bread from the dutch oven and transfer to a cooling rack or it won’t stay crispy.
Lining a round banneton: Crumple parchment paper starting from the edges. You should end up with a ball which will smooth out to fill the round banneton
Room temperature proofing: I like to put the bowl in an “off” oven with the light on. In the winter my kitchen tends to be cool (62-65 F) My “off” oven with the light on is 78o F.
From King Arthur Baking’s Cake and Bread Enhancer: A “miracle” ingredient for your cakes!
(From KAB) Our bakers have called this the “miracle” ingredient for many reasons: it makes cakes and other baked goods softer, moister, and helps them stay fresher longer. Our blend contains vegetable fats that act as emulsifiers, allowing the fats and liquids in your favorite recipe to combine more easily. The enhancer also acts as a stabilizer and texture enhancer. Cake enhancers are commonly used in professional bakeries to keep breads fresh and soft, and help cakes stay light and fluffy. It’s especially great for making soft sandwich loaves.
While I was waiting for other items to mix/chill/rise/etc I made a few other items this morning.
We were nearly out of bread (amazing.) I made a loaf of my honey high-hydration no-knead bread. This may be the prettiest loaf I have made. The slashes on top were well defined and kept the bread from blowing out anywhere else.
Oh, by the way, there are three-berry scones in the background. I like to freeze them, then on golf days take them from the freezer and snack on them on the course. They don’t seem to help my game, but do make it more enjoyable.
This time, I made the scones bigger than usual. I used some frozen berries we had (ever frugal) and had trouble incorporating them into the dough. They ended up being delicious!