October 2006 Archives

Last night I baked Apple Crumble, which has always been a speciality of mine. However I'd never made it for Astrid before, she loved it - which made me happy.

I know in the fast moving culinary world of Sydney a dish like apple crumble has rapidly dated to the late 80's - nowadays you would need to serve a tricked up version like quince & rhubarb with home made granola and yoghurt (which I thoroughly enjoyed at Hopscotch a few months before leaving Oz)

As far as I can recall, Apple based dishes were my first real experience with cooking, we had our own Granny Smith apple tree in the yard, so we always had a over supply of fruit.

Sometime around the age of nine, I started with Apple Pies, making my own shortcrust pastry. These were enjoyed by all in the household and were a great way to get rid of the excess apples.

But we always had so many apples, and a pie has a much higher percentage of crust to filling, so without realising it I guess I started looking for something that would use more apples.

Then I started flicking through another cookbook in the house and saw a recipe for an apple crumble - but with a healthier more whole food twist. Almonds, coconut and oats, rather than just plain flour. Honey instead of brown sugar. Ginger to spice up the Apples.

I'd always struggled with the English idea of apple crumble, flour, fat and sugar crumbed together just seemed such a poor mans food, which it is - originating during the rationing of World War II.

So when I found a recipe that created more of a granola style topping, I jumped on it. When I made the crumble everyone loved it, so I started making this dish on a regular basis. I've made it so much that long ago I stopped needing to refer to a recipe at all. Which was convenient because at some point the cookbook that I sourced this dish from went missing. For the crumble recipe I didn't mind, but there were some other excellent and simple vegetarian recipes in that book that I'd longed to make again.

Without a recipe to guide me and with a love of experimentation, I've made countless variations over the years, the primary being adapting a dairy free version to suit my decision to eat more vegan. This involved substituting coconut cream for butter and optionally substituting out the honey if you want to go strict vegan.

Mostly though I experimented with different spices trying to bring out a contrast of sharp/tangy (for the apples) and sweet/nutty for the crumble. Recently though I have been trying to cut down the complexity somewhat, as I think I was trying to over complicate the dish. It is amazing though how many variations on a theme one can come up with.

A few years ago whilst shopping in Goulds second hand bookshop with an family friend I stumbled upon another copy of this now out of print Oz cookbook that contained the original recipe. It's nice to have the book back, but I still don't refer to it for this recipe.

Scoop

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Last night Astrid and I went to see Scoop - the latest Woody Allen film. I was very keen to see Scoop as I'd really been blown away by Allen's previous film - Match Point, also starring Scarlett Johannson.

Whereas Match Point was a thriller, scoop is a comedy, with a dash of murder mystery thrown in.

We both enjoyed the film for what it was, a light hearted romp, it didn't blow me away at all - but was a fun 90 minutes of distraction, with a solid cast and Woody Allen doing his best to make me cringe, but also laugh at his character's send up of what Americans think of the British.

Went for a job interview at Schlumberger on Monday arvo. I've found it harder than expected to get a job here in Norway, they want IT people who speak Norwegian. Which is a pretty tough ask seeing as they don't seem to have a lot of focus on getting young Norwegians into IT courses. Also anyone with real IT smarts would be off to work in the US or UK pretty quickly as the opportunities are greater there.

I guess i must have screwed up the interview, because I got the call from Adecco today turning me down for the job. I was hoping this would go the other way, as I've been applying for a while and this was the first time anyone has showed interest.

On the flipside I baked three loaves of bread this afternoon, got them out of the oven just before the call came through.

Pain au Levain with mixed sourdough starters - from Bread - A Baker's Book of techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman. I'd made this one in Oz before, but been trying slightly different techniques over here, kind of a modified pain a la ancienne technique to draw out different flavours in the flour.

The difference is I am using sourdough culture, wheras all the ancienne recipes I have seen use regular yeast.

Well, my latest batch of bread baking is done.

Earlier this week I started my own sourdough culture from scratch, something I guess I should have done a while ago.

The main reason why I picked now to start is that my most successful results with making sourdough cultures (flavour and ease of creation) have been by using an apple starter recipe that is given in the Village Baker, this is another good thing about this book, when introducing a bread it will often give the recipe for making the sourdough starter specific for that type of bread. many other books just simplify it to one starter - described at the beginning of the book.

It's apple season here and the Norwegians grow plenty of heritage varieties that don't have great shelf lives, but if you catch them before they turn floury they have the most amazing flavours.

Regardless, I love the apple starter idea as I find that (at least for the first batch or so) you end up with a lovely sweet aroma from the apples, unless the replenishable bacteria and yeast specifically produce any apple flavours, this trait should disappear as the starter progresses, however my experience last year with making a variant starter based on quince rather than apple, I found the aroma stuck around for quite a few refreshes. Granted quinces are incredibly aromatic.

So I made a traditional Normandy apple sourdough bread, with chunks of Gravenstein apples embedded through the dough.

Also (as with sourdough you always end up with heaps of starter, that I can't bear to throw away) I made a Pain au Levain with Whole-Wheat flour. This recipe was from Bread - A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes.

Both turned out quite well, the sourdough starter was possibly not active enough (needs to be used for a month or so before it gets to full strength) So i ended up having to spike the doughs with a little bit of commercial yeast before the final proof and bake.

Baking was probably ten minutes longer than necessary because I wanted good crusts and was worried about the crumb in the wholemeal dough needing a longer (or hotter) bake. So the crusts are thick (but oh so flavourful) and both breads rose more than I was expecting. Because both breads were baked at the same time, and they were close to each other, most of the steam escaped at the side, rather than the top, so creating slightly lopsided loaves - which definitely are not amongst my most aesthetic creations. The taste is fantastic though, almost no sour from the sourdough culture, just the sweet flavour one can extract out of flour with skill and the right micro-organisms!

Wolf population on the rise - Aftenposten.no: "The total wolf population in southern Scandinavia may be up by more than 50 percent"

(Via Aftenposten in English.)

This is something that makes me glad, I feel Scandinavia would not be the same without wolves. Although I am sure that this will be used as a justification to try and cull wolf numbers again. Last time they tried this, they shot the wrong wolf, supposedly accidentally.

The farmers simply see the financial cost of wolves, but in reality it is they who are doing more damage with their practices of open grazing on the mountains in the summer. It's as simple as this - wolves are native to Norway, sheep are not. By farmers practising open grazing, sheep destroy delicate alpine environments that should be protected.

As for the loss of autumnal hunting incomes due to wolf activity during the summer, these same hunter go on about back to basics, nature as part of the appeal for hunting. They will just have to compete with wolves for the food in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

Like Australia, the change of environment - from woodland to farmland and open grassland has changed the ecosystem in favour of some animals. In both cases, if the country would focus on trying to work out how to sustainably farm their native animals, they would end up doing a lot less damage to the ecosystem.

A pet hate of mine is recipe books (especially baking ones) that only use loosely defined measurements.

There is way too much variance worldwide for kitchen measurements to be able to reliably specify things in cups, spoons etc. For a small scale, a teaspoon or a pinch, it's not so bad. But worldwide, there are vastly different ideas on what a standard cup and tablespoon should be measurement wise.

In addition, many dry ingredients (flour, salt sugar, spices) have differing volumes depending on the humidity and how much water they have absorbed.

Weight is the most reliable method. I can always convert ounces and pounds to gram, in fact most scales work for both! Much easier than converting from US fluid cups (approx. 236 ml) to Oz fluid cup (250 ml) for example.

If you specify everything in weight, it makes it simple and helps those who want to cook precisely or easily scale their recipes.

Ironically, aside from baking I really am a very imprecise cook, preferring to guesstimate quantities, but I do this from experience and mix to taste, not to a fixed recipe.

However, when you are making a cake or baking bread - or trying a recipe for the first time, you need to start by being very precise. This allows you the flexibility to make minor adjustments after the initial mixing, but you get the basic proportions right first and you will definitely produce a more reliable end result.

On the flipside, "The Village Baker", which is frustratingly vague with measurements contains this gem about baking.

"The French baker's term for adding more water to a dough after it has been completely kneaded is called bassinage. (The opposite procedure, adding more flour to a dough, is called contre-frasage.) Bassinage is done to correct the consistency of a dough or to create a wetter dough."

Then there's a fantastic description of this technique, something I've not seen mentioned in any of my other bread books, mostly they just recommend stand mixers and food processors to mix very wet dough.

And yes I know there is a separate section at the back of the village baker with proper measurements, but this is aimed at the professional baker (quantity wise) and the recipes aren't always identical to those described earlier in the book.

Also, once a home baker gets their head around the baker's formula way of writing - which is based on weight, almost any bread recipe can be represented very concisely and simply.

Update:

If you do want to utilise recipes with non-weight measurements, this is one of the better sites I have found for converting the recipe.

http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/cookingconversions.asp

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