Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No Such Thing as an Easy Biscuit

I've been stewing over this article by food critic Sam Sifton since it was published in July. In it, he claims that biscuits are easy to make, that one should let the dough rest for 30 minutes prior to forming rounds, and that there is no clear winner between Northern and Southern biscuits. Foolishness on all three counts. If Northern biscuits were so good, you would see them on a typical breakfast menu in that region. But having been reared in the North, I can tell you definitively that Northerners know fuckall about biscuits.

Biscuits are only easy on paper. Cutting fat into flour properly is hard. Finding the right hydration (e.g. % of buttermilk) is hard. Mixing is hard due to the delicate crumb (e.g. too much mixing, and you get a dense biscuit). These and a hundred other things can go wrong and result in a sub-optimal biscuit. I believe the late Bill Neal (of Crooks Corner) made biscuits at every occasion possible because he knew what a challenge it was to get right, and how just a small change in the method could result in total disappointment. A good biscuit smells like victory. Here's the proportions I use, because those linked from Sifton's article will get you nowhere:

Berenbaum's Cheddar Biscuits

Flour (c) 2.00
Baking Powder (tablespoons) 1.00
Salt (teaspoons) 0.50
Butter (tablespoons) 7.00
Buttermilk (c) 1.20
Cheese (pounds) 0.25

(for non-cheddar biscuits, you may need to decrease the buttermilk slightly)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Week 28

Awesome customers of the week: Suzanne, Christine, A&A, Sue, Brendon, and Aiden, Lindsay, Adam, and Amber.

Bartering: Thank you thank you to Piedmont Biofarm for your kale, basil, and hot peppers. We also dropped a couple of slices of babka off to Drew at Farmhand (dude, that sausage, egg, and tomato sandwich is outstanding) and a whole babka to Kelly from Toast (which she graciously accepted...doesn't Kelly do everything graciously?).

The product: Thanks to Billy for helping with what I felt to be our best non-sweet bread thus far -- the Ciabatta. Billy fed a starter every 12 hours for 3 days straight, resulting in a starter of sweetness, tanginess, and acidity unrivaled in our prior product line. The Chocolate Babka also drew rave reviews, from "sinful" to "are you kidding me? this is real?". At the I Heart Chocolate event (the previous night), MJ Rosensweet from the Chocolate Door talked about maybe hooking us up with some specialty chocolate to further improve the product. I also want to try a babka with cinnamon, brown sugar, and honey.

Sales: We sold it all, no surprise there -- great weather plus more kiddies back in town meant heavy traffic at the FM.

The crew: SZ, RML, thanks fellas -- I think we were all working on about four hours of sleep or less, so hats off to your stamina.

This week: Thinking about whole wheat breads, and possibly some Irish Soda Bread for next week.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Week 27

The weather: We got rained on again (2nd week in a row), and once again Bob from Bull City Custom Trailers helped us out by providing shelter from the storm under his awning. The rain kept away a good number of customers, but we still managed to sell out our French bread and all but about 2 dozen cookies.

The product: Billy N. helped me out with the starter for the French Bread. It was developed over 3 days giving it a nice tart, sweet, milky flavor. I thought that for not being able to bake it off in a hearth oven (we did it in the bakery's large convection ovens; the hearth oven takes four hours to preheat), the product was great -- very good flavor. The whole wheat chocolate chip cookies were fun to eat, and marginally healthier than ordinary cookies, but nothing challenging culinarily speaking. I tried a new tea from Little India this week for our iced tea. Because this tea is brewed with grounds rather than leaves, the tea grounds are twice as potent as leaves per unit weight (as I learned). In the future, I would decrease the amount of grounds used so that the tea is less strong.

The customers
: Big up to the Marvelle clan, Jonathan, Alex R., MPT, BS, and Adam S. for gracing us with a visit.

The crew:
For two weeks in a row, SZ and RML have persisted in the rain. You guys really go beyond the proverbial call of duty, and I truly appreciate it!

Thanks to: Mike and Becca from Piepushers; Don from Don's Italian Ice; Piedmont Biofarm; Brian from Castlemaine Farm; Kyle and Kaitlin from Sunset Farm; George from Lil Farm. I've been making some amazing pasta sauce with the bartered tomatoes. The relative drought we had for 2+ weeks seemed to concentrate the sweet and acid flavors of the tomato into these tiny rubies of flavor -- definitely my favorite time of the tomato season.

Our deliveries have really ramped up ever since I was able to pitch our services at the Oval Park Picnic two weeks ago. I delivered to twenty-four homes in Watts-Hillandale and Old West on Saturday, with a total of 39 items (more than 1.5 items ordered per household).

This week:
Look for us this week at the Chocolate Festival at Casbah Friday night, and of course the Farmer's Market on Saturday.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

George Ash, Mixologist

In Chapel Hill where he resides, mixologist George Ash is constantly wowing friends with his drinks and burgeoning knowledge of spirits. It gives me great pleasure to know he found use for a pickled jalapeno chili puree I had created at home (née "Berenbaum's Sauce"). Recipe follows.


6 cherry tomatoes

6 basil leaves

1/4 oz heavy simple syrup

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce Dry Sack (medium-dry sherry)

2 ounces silver tequila

Pinch salt

1 Teaspoon Berenbaum's Sauce


Muddle tomato, basil, salt and simple syrup.

Add remaining ingredients. Shake and double strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Week 26

So I think our weekly posts are getting repetitive enough that we can now do an abridged version of all the Saturday happenings.

1. The weather: Heavy rain, followed by sun and humidity. Bob from Grill-Me (next to the Piedmont) was kind enough to offer us the shelter of his awning. Thanks, Bob!
2. Bartering: Thanks to Greg and Josh from the lemonade stand, Don from Don's Italian Ice, the folks at Lil' Farm, and Matahitu from Piedmont Biofarm.
3. The product: One customer told us we had the best doughnuts she had ever tasted. And we're not done yet. I still tweak the recipe here and there. The shortbread cookies were pretty good -- I think they would work as cookies for a Chipwich (especially if Parlour ice cream was inside). I would like to experiment further with more wheat flour and more brown sugar.
4. Our customers: With the rain, the market was a little light, but we managed to sell all the donuts and all but a dozen of the cookies. Big up to the Marvelles and JW for coming through.
5. The crew: Thanks to RML and SZ. Guys, putting up that umbrella in the rain, your bake stand green beret cred just keeps on rising. SZ, thanks so much for frying all the donuts...120 donuts in 120 minutes...you're the man.

Food Service Labor Economics



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chocolate Festival

There is a chocolate festival going on at Casbah on the 19th. We will be there, with chocolate babkas in tow!